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Houston Ballet's Karina González and Chun Wai Chan in rehearsal for Jerome Robbins' The Cage. Lawrence Knox, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

Wonder what's going on in ballet this week? We've rounded up some highlights.

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The Royal Ballet's Marianela Nuñez in "Swan Lake." Image via YouTube.

Need an excuse for a YouTube ballet break? Probably not, but just in case, here are videos to celebrate some of this month's off-the-beaten-path holidays.

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National Ballet of Canada's Skylar Campbell and Elena Lobsanova in "The Dreamers Ever Leave You." Photo by Karolina Kuras, Courtesy NBoC.

This week is bursting at the seams with ballet. Earlier this month multiple companies performed the same ballet (think Romeo and Juliet), but this week brings a truly eclectic mix of new works, company premieres and old classics all around the U.S. and Canada. We've rounded up programs by eight companiesNational Ballet of Canada, Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Houston Ballet, American Repertory Ballet, Sarasota Ballet, Ballet Memphis, Texas Ballet Theater and Indianapolis Balletto give you a sense of what's happening.

National Ballet of Canada

In honor of Canada's 150th anniversary in 2017, the Toronto-based National Ballet of Canada is presenting a mixed bill February 28–March 4 titled Made in Canada. The program features works made on NBoC by three of Canada's most lauded choreographers: Robert Binet's The Dreamers Ever Leave You, James Kudelka's The Four Seasons and Crystal Pite's Emergence. Check out the preview below.

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Marcelo Gomes and dancers of Sarasota Ballet in Ashton's "The Two Pigeons." Photo by Frank Atura, Courtesy Sarasota Ballet.

American Ballet Theatre principal Marcelo Gomes heads south this winter to create a piece on Sarasota Ballet to premiere December 1 at the Sarasota Opera House. Following the success of his 2015 ABT main-stage production AfterEffect, the burgeoning choreographer is looking forward to continuing to create outside of New York City. "We all know the big companies, but there are some really beautiful groups all throughout the U.S. that deserve just as much praise, and I'm really looking forward to spreading my work to them," he says.

Gomes comes to Sarasota Ballet from a place of familiarity. After following Gomes' career for years, director Iain Webb invited him to guest star in Sir Frederick Ashton's The Two Pigeons for a company gala last season. "He seemed to fit like a glove with us down here," says Webb about the experience. He commissioned this premiere soon after. Gomes' work will be featured on the company's Metropolitan program alongside Balanchine's Theme and Variations and Ashton's Illuminations. When asked how it feels to be grouped in with these masters, Gomes broke into laughter. "It's intimidating. It takes a lot of courage for directors to take a chance on young choreographers. But I'm humbled and honored to be next to those geniuses of ballet."


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The Royal Ballet principal Marianela Nuñez exudes femininity and strength. It's no surprise, then, that her interpretation of the mythological huntress Sylvia, an independent, cunning young woman, is spot on. In this 2008 clip of the ballet choreographed by Sir Frederick Ashton, Nuñez commands the stage with her natural presence and effervescent personality.

Performing Sylvia's Act III variation, the Argentinian ballerina captures the pure, English style with expressive epaulement, fluid port de bras, and crystalline clarity in her legs and footwork. Her calm musicality throughout makes Ashton's intricate choreography look easy. The variation begins with a challenging sequence of hops on pointe which Nuñez executes with delicate lightness. Then at 0:50, her snappy petite sissones are buoyant and precise. Perhaps the most beautiful moment in this variation is Nuñez's gorgeous balance at 1:34. She sustains an arabesque with her face lifting upward toward her arms in a high, open fifth position. She has a huge smile and you can sense the joy she feels on stage. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!

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Zenaida Yanowsky and Roberto Bolle in Sir Frederick Ashton's "Marguerite and Armand." Photography by Tristram Kento, Courtesy ROH.

If you, like many of us here at Pointe, wish you could have seen Royal Ballet star Zenaida Yanowsky's retirement performance on June 7, you're in luck. The Royal will screen a recording of it in select movie theaters across the U.S. starting Sunday, June 25. (In many cities, it will be screened on Tuesday, July 11.) The program includes three works by the company's founding choreographer, Sir Frederick Ashton: The Dream, Symphonic Variations and Marguerite and Armand—the latter of which stars Yanowsky and Roberto Bolle. You can also catch other Royal favorites like Marianela Nuñez, Vadim Muntagirov, Steven McRae, Akane Takada and Yasmin Naghdi. Make sure to bring tissues!

To find dates, times and theaters near you, click here.


Ballet Stars
Sarasota Ballet in Ashton's Birthday Offering. Photo by Frank Atura, Courtesy Sarasota Ballet.

It's a truth often repeated about ballet that it is an art with a strong oral tradition, handed down from generation to generation. Aspiring dancers learn the same steps that their teachers learned before them and perfect the same skills: turnout, pointework, épaulement, balance and, above all nowadays, flexibility. Sometimes, in the quest to achieve ever-greater heights of technical skill, other aspects of the art recede into the background. Nuances of interpretation and style can seem less important, even though they are the very things that ultimately make a dancer interesting to watch. That's the paradox: In the age of ubiquitous sky-high extensions, the richness of a performance counts even more.

In part to push back against this single-minded focus on technique, some teachers and company directors are making a conscious effort to right the balance between technical flair and a fuller, more sensitive understanding of the art. This takes many forms: dance history classes, careful coaching or simply conversations about alternative interpretations of a role. There is a hunger for these discussions. "We're living in the age of extreme technique," says Alexandra Tomalonis, a distinguished dance writer who teaches ballet history at the Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington, DC. "But many of the students who come to my classes know little about the history of the art form."

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Sir Anthony Dowell, principal dancer at The Royal Ballet from 1966 to 1984 and director of the company from 1986 to 2001, celebrates his 70th birthday this Saturday, February 16th.

A strong and masterful technical dancer, Dowell created the role of Oberon in Frederick Ashton’s masterpiece The Dream. Anotinette Sibley was his Titania, and the Dowell-Sibley team quickly became a legendary ballet partnership. Dowell also created dramatic dance poetry with Lynn Seymour in Ashton’s A Month in the Country and Natalia Makarova in Swan Lake, and as Solor in La Bayadère. American audiences got to know Dowell in the 1970s, when he danced with American Ballet Theatre and the Joffrey Ballet.

After retiring from the stage in the 1980s, he took the helm of The Royal, where he fostered the careers of Sylvie Guillen, Jonathan Cope, Carlos Acosta, Darcey Bussell and Alina Cojocaru, to name just a few. In the last program he directed, Dowell chose to feature The Dream and A Month in the Country, both left to him in Ashton's will.

It seems fitting that as he celebrates his 70th, Dowell is again paired with Sibley: The pair are coaching The Royal’s tribute to Ashton, which runs through February 23.  

Larissa Ponomarenko, long a revered principal at Boston Ballet, has been with the company through multiple versions of Cinderella—most recently James Kudelka's in 2005 and 2008. Now, as ballet master, she's guiding dancers through Frederick Ashton's classic rendition, which BB performs through this weekend. Pointe talked to Ponomarenko about the similarities and differences between the fairytale worlds of Kudelka and Ashton, and about dancing and coaching the ballet's title role.

In terms of storytelling, how do the Ashton and Kudelka Cinderellas compare?
Well, the basic story is the same in both—a  joyful, witty, lively girl who has a heart bigger than life lives in this unfortunate house, and then the goodness in her heart brings the fairy godmother, who elevates her out of the situation. I think the biggest difference is the timeframe. Ashton's is set in the 18th century, I think, and Kudelka's is in the 1930s Art Deco period. Ashton also has the sisters played by men, but in Kudelka's version they are ladies and actually beautifully choreographed on pointe.

You danced Cinderella in Kudelka's version. What was most challenging about that role?
For me, it was the fact that his Cinderella starts out dancing in bare feet in the kitchen, and then when she's presented with the crystal shoes, she has to put them on onstage and dance in them immediately! I liked to tape all my toes, and that was a big challenge, to find flesh-colored tape that wouldn't leave any residue on the floor while I was dancing barefoot. I think some ballerinas would pre-set their toe pads inside the shoes—everyone had to come up with little tricks.
 
How about Cinderella's technical challenges in Ashton?
It has at times been difficult for the dancers to adapt to the Ashton style. I believe there are moments when he wanted Cinderella almost to represent a clock, with a leg and an arm as the clock's hands. Today everyone wants the leg up high in arabesque, but to achieve the clock effect the limbs have to be angled and close to the body.

Wendy Ellis Somes set the Ashton version on the company. What advice has she had?
She's very rich in information. She knows exactly when to turn the head, here you go on pointe, here you stay flat. And she conveys the ballet's history, too. She said that Ashton started to choreograph the part of Cinderella on Margot Fonteyn, and then she got injured, so he called in Moira Shearer for the ballroom scene. Wendy pointed out that much of the first act is lyrical and fluid, like Fonteyn, and then the second act is more sharp and edgy, like Shearer.

As a Cinderella veteran, what advice do you have for the dancers taking on the title role?
First, to enjoy the performance! But also to think about overcoming the sadness in the music. Cinderella's musical themes are quite dark—probably because the score was written while Prokofiev was having a very difficult time—but Cinderella is actually joyful and optimistic. You can't succumb to that heaviness in the music, at least not all the time.

Last night, I saw American Ballet Theatre in Frederick Ashton's Cinderella, a ballet that entered the company's rep just this season. Of course, you're at the theater to see the magical story of Cinderella and her prince unfold. And what magic it was! Julie Kent played an endearing, doe-eyed Cinderella and Marcelo Gomes was princely, as always. But in Ashton's version, the evil stepsisters—men dressed to the nines in corsets and wigs—dare I say it, stole the show. Kenneth Easter and Thomas Forster were the humorous thread that kept the plot moving, from the ballet's witty, subtle moments to its go-for-broke slapstick.


It may seem like playing a caricature-like character would be easy. But there's much more nuance to these roles than perceived. (Not to mention the high heels involved.) In this Time Out New York Q&A, Gia Kourlas talks with ABT dancers Craig Salstein and Roman Zhurbin about the highlights and difficulties of the job.

Think of dancing in front of the love of your life. Suddenly, the thousands of hours you've spent rehearsing leave you stunned as excitement and bashfulness consume every move. Dance presents a new hurdle once it becomes an open expression of love—a gesture Lise offers Colas in Sir Frederick Ashton's La Fille mal gardée. In this Act I variation, Lise seemingly performs to the audience, but each step expresses the joy she feels for Colas as he watches her from stage right.

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Choreography is filled with tricky moments, and sometimes even the simplest steps or sequences can cause the most trouble. (Think of the countless hours you spend perfecting your pliés.) Whether you're trying to capture just the right accent or refine a technical detail of a movement, watching a dance video played back in slow motion can be a helpful tool for identifying what's difficult to pin down in real time. 
Enter Royal Ballet soloist Francesca Hayward. In this short video from the Royal Opera House, she demonstrates the "Fred Step," a famous string of movement that often appears in Sir Frederick Ashton's choreography. Several slightly different versions have been seen in his Cinderella, A Month in the Country, Symphonic Variations and other iconic works. Here, Hayward performs a variation on the classic phrase (arabesque, fondu, coupé, petit développé, pas de bourée, pas de chat), leaving out the pas de bourrée. Her fluidity is stunning and her technique impeccable, but overall, it's just plain fun. Happy dancing!

Choreography is filled with tricky moments, and sometimes even the simplest steps or sequences can cause the most trouble. (Think of the countless hours you spend perfecting your pliés.) Whether you're trying to capture just the right accent or refine a technical detail of a movement, watching a dance video played back in slow motion can be a helpful tool for identifying what's difficult to pin down in real time. 


Enter Royal Ballet soloist Francesca Hayward. In this short video from the Royal Opera House, she demonstrates the "Fred Step," a famous string of movement that often appears in Sir Frederick Ashton's choreography. Several slightly different versions have been seen in his Cinderella, A Month in the Country, Symphonic Variations and other iconic works. Here, Hayward performs a variation on the classic phrase (arabesque, fondu, coupé, petit développé, pas de bourée, pas de chat), leaving out the pas de bourrée. Her fluidity is stunning and her technique impeccable, but overall, it's just plain fun. Happy dancing!

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