Viral Videos
Viengsay Valdés and Romel Frometa, via YouTube

The Diana and Actaeon pas de deux, from the ballet La Esmeralda, is a bravura tableaux ideal for festivals and galas. In this clip, we see Viengsay Valdés and her frequent partner Romel Frometa perform the piece at Japan's 2006 World Ballet Festival. Valdés, Ballet Nacional de Cuba's prima ballerina and now the company's deputy artistic director, epitomizes the fierce, independent goddess Diana with radiant confidence. Together with Frometa, a current dancer at BalletMet, the two elevate the pas deux to new levels with balletic fireworks that demonstrate their immense strength and trust in one another.

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Ballet Careers
The Washington Ballet's Tamako Miyazaki and Colorado Ballet's Ariel Breitman as Diana and Actaeon at the 2014 USA IBC. Photo by Richard Finkelstein for Pointe.

A frequent gala and competition showpiece, the variation from "Diana and Actaeon" is a thrilling technical beast. The Washington Ballet's Tamako Miyazaki—whose performance as Diana at last summer's USA International Ballet Competition earned her the silver medal—shares her tips for a winning performance.

1. Channel Your Inner Goddess

In Greek mythology, Diana, goddess of the hunt, turns Actaeon, a mortal hunter, into a stag after he sees her bathing in a river. The "Diana and Actaeon" pas de deux, from the ballet La Esmeralda, doesn't follow the myth's story. Nevertheless, Diana's goddess status should guide your characterization—and in some versions she even carries a bow. "You have to be really strong in your port de bras," says Miyazaki, "and dance bigger than life."

2. Take the Plunge

Miyazaki as Diana. Photo by Richard Finkelstein for Pointe.

The variation opens with a huge sissonne in penchée arabesque. The key? "Just go for it," says Miyazaki. Think about making the longest line possible, from the tips of your fingers to your back toe. Approaching it tentatively won't give you the necessary power for finishing in a strong arabesque position. "Otherwise you'll just fall backwards." But for the double piqué attitude turn that follows, take the opposite approach. "I always try to stay calm," says Miyazaki. "If you have too much force in the attitude turn, it's harder to control rolling down."

3. Press Down to Lift Up 

After the turn finishes in arabesque, precipité into a series of attitude hops on pointe. The last hop extends to arabesque. "You have to be on your leg and controlled in order to transfer into the next step," says Miyazaki. "Rather than think 'Lift up,' I think about pushing down into the floor and creating length in my supporting side so that I can stay on balance and extend my leg to arabesque."

4. A Solid Landing

Miyazaki and Breitman. Photo by Richard Finkelstein for Pointe.

To nail her en dedans pirouette after the tour in à la seconde, Miyazaki makes sure she lands with her heel down in plié. "Then your weight is on your whole foot, and you can control the turn better," she says. "When you land, your body wants to go sideways because you're lifting your leg in second, but if you're leaning, you won't be able to turn. Your pelvis needs to be absolutely square."

5. Push Yourself

For the tour jeté section towards the end, you'll likely feel tired—but don't fizzle out. "You have to jump," says Miyazaki. "This is the finale of the variation, so you have to really sparkle." After the tour jeté, think of jumping down to your knee so that it feels less laborious. "Then push off your back leg to pop up into arabesque."

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 During ballet competitions or gala performances, dancers have only a short amount of time to convey the power of a pas de deux. Without the context of the entire ballet, they must bring the story's energy to life with only their bodies, costumes and the music. This clip from 2011 shows American Ballet Theatre principal Xiomara Reyes and Rolando Sarabia performing the Diana and Actaeon pas de deux at the 5th International Ballet Star Gala in Taipei. The divertissement makes an appearance in a number of Romantic ballets, and depicts the mythological character of Diana, goddess of the hunt--a role that undoubtedly requires a dancer with a strong and commanding presence. 

Xiomara Reyes masters this challenge with sound tenacity, lighting fire to the stage with her strong lines and powerful limbs. She portrays her character's joy and pride, revealing fearlessness in her movement (just watch that sauté into a penché at 2:50). After an international career and 14 years with American Ballet Theatre, Reyes will retire from the company on May 27. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!

 

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