The first time I saw Sleeping Beauty was on video, the Kirov version with Larissa Lezhnina. The music for the first entrance gave me butter- flies. Aurora comes out, and it captured my heart. Larissa coached me for my first sea- son of Aurora, and just the fact that we were sharing the same studio—I couldn't get over it. One of the things she encouraged me to explore is after Aurora faints: You get back up, you look up at your parents and re- center yourself. For me, what feels natural is that you don't want anyone to worry. Maybe there is a moment where you get a little embarrassed. It's those small moments that make it feel very personal to me.
Like so many little girls, I grew up watching the "four little swans" dance. It always pops up on your YouTube feed if you're a dancer, so I saw lots of different versions. I figured I fit the type—I'm short and like to do petit allégro—so to do it was definitely on my wish list as a professional.
Because everyone's coordination is different, I knew getting four girls to dance in such perfect unison would take a lot of rehearsal. Our ballet mistress, Louise Lester, had us practice the dance in chunks: First we'd walk through each section to synchronize our head movements and get our timing perfect, and then we'd run each part multiple times for stamina. We'd have hour-long rehearsals for a one-minute dance!
Tricia Albertson, as told to Gavin Larsen.
I like to make people laugh, so I was excited to be cast as the Mad Ballerina in Jerome Robbins' The Concert. But the character herself didn't feel like me. She's so bubbly and excited, and I'm a bit more pensive (when it comes to ballet, at least). I didn't want her to come across as stupid—she's still thoughtful. I guess you could say she's flighty, but it's just that she's so excited about the music at the concert that everything else is a blur to her.
As told to Gavin Larsen by Whitney Jensen
My first time dancing Petite Mort—or any ballet by Jiří Kylián—I was 17 and in the corps of Boston Ballet. I didn't know it then, but the stager, Roslyn Anderson, was nervous about me doing it because I was so young. I was super-naïve and had never seen the ballet before, but I just tried to listen to Roz and emulate what she was describing. She said that she knew I could do it when I applied every single one of her corrections after our first rehearsal.
As told to Laura Cappelle.
I knew before Christopher Wheeldon even started Alice's Adventures in Wonderland that he wanted me to create the title role. We made Alice together. We feel like she is our girl! She's charming, witty, tough, curious. She's got a very big heart. She's also spontaneous, which helps the show, because you don't have to be calculated the whole time. You can bounce off the characters you come across, because everyone plays them slightly differently.
Our company's Nutcracker was choreographed by Sir Peter Wright, and it's very traditional. We usually only have two weeks to prepare after the end of the autumn season, so my partner and I start going over the grand pas de deux on our own time before rehearsals start. I like to do my own research through social media or by watching how other company dancers interpret the role, drawing from what I like best and trying to apply that to myself. I also video my rehearsals and later critique them, to try to get my performance up to another level.
I just can't help feeling joy when I dance the Waltz Girl. Afterwards, I feel so at peace and nourished as a ballerina.
I love to scuba dive, and Serenade reminds me of a reef, with schools of fish in all these different groupings, and singular entities darting in and out. Everything is blue, and the sweeping, wavelike movements take me to this happy place of doing something else that I love.
Balanchine didn't give it a story, but there's sort of a skeleton, a whisper of something being there—it's the story that you make it. Technically and emotionally, Serenade feels spiritual. I think that the Waltz Girl's first partner was perhaps a great love in her life, and in the "Elegy" she realizes he's gone and not coming back—the Dark Angel boy represents the spirit of the Waltz Boy.
As told to Julie Diana
Juliet is one of my favorite roles—you go through every emotion in just three acts. I had done different versions of the ballet before, but it was an amazing opportunity when my director Stanton Welch created the role for me. I watched a lot of videos to prepare and struggled at the beginning because I was trying to copy what other ballerinas had done. It took me a while to find my own way. But now, every step comes from deep inside.
I love that Juliet starts as an innocent little girl, playing with the nurse like she's her best friend. When she goes to the ball, she sees this person that moves her world around. I'm married now, and know what it means to give everything to someone and make decisions that will change your life. And because of the love you have for that person, it is worth it.
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In Wayne McGregor's high-octane Chroma, The Royal Ballet's Sarah Lamb finds meditative stillness.
As told to Laura Cappelle
Chroma was the first ballet I worked on with Wayne McGregor, and it was like embarking on a relationship for the first time. There's a heightened energy, an expectation and also the desire to be a vehicle for the choreographer's ideas. The creation process was very easy. Wayne didn't give me any information about my role before we started—he doesn't try to analyze anything before it happens. The whole piece is a painting with people: We're in a monochrome environment, wearing light colors, in a white spot.
The first time I appear onstage is for my pas de deux. It often stands out because it comes after a period of loud, staccato, energetic music, and then there is this calm. It's quiet piano music, very meditative—the composer Joby Talbot's title for this section is “…a yellow disc rising from the sea…" One image that I have in my head is of a pebble being dropped into water, and the circles emanating out from it. There's a stillness, but there is also a continuity of movement, an echo and a reverberation.
As told to Amy Brandt by Leta Biasucci
I first saw a video of The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude as a student at the San Francisco Ballet School summer program. Then we learned a little bit of it in variations class, and it made such an impression on me. It was unlike anything I had learned in my technique classes. It really opened my eyes, and I was so enchanted by this whole new dimension of ballet.
At 11 minutes long, it's very much a sprint. When you hear the first “da-da-da!" you know how exhausted you're going to feel by the end. But with that feeling of exhaustion comes this great sense of exhilaration—every moment of it is thrilling.
Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy New York City Ballet
As told to Amy Brandt by Joaquin De Luz
Prodigal Son is the most important role of my career, and the most challenging. It's not only powerful physically; it takes you on a journey, and hopefully you take the audience with you. It's also pretty elusive; I still haven't found a formula that I'm content with.
The beginning feels most natural to me. I was a bad kid growing up, very rebellious. The son feels oppressed, like no one understands him. He thinks he knows best. That first entrance is full of power, big jumps and energy. That's the easy part. But the value of this role is in the character and the story.
In August Bournonville's 1836 ballet La Sylphide, every gesture has meaning. The National Ballet of Canada's Jurgita Dronina talks about her first time portraying the Sylphide. As told to Amy Brandt
I had never danced the Sylphide, so I didn't have a full idea of who I wanted to be. It was like writing a new story, on an empty piece of paper. To be honest, I started by watching videos of someone else—I just wanted to get the vision of the ballet. Then we worked on it little by little, scene by scene. I don't think I've ever done a ballet with so much detailed mime. There is meaning behind every step, so you really have to talk with every gesture. Even the smallest turn of the finger makes a difference. I practiced the mime over and over until it became more natural, and I realized eventually that the more simply you say something, the more it comes through. It was a fascinating process.