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In a still from The White Crow, Rudolf Nureyev (Oleg Ivenko) looks out over Paris from the roof of the Palais Garnier. Photo courtesy Sony Pictures Classics

I caught a preview screening of The White Crow earlier this week at New York City's 92Y, and I have to say: Even with a solid grasp of dance history and a smattering of film studies knowledge, I had some questions when the credits rolled. The Ralph Fiennes–directed Rudolf Nureyev biopic dramatizes the events leading up to the ballet star's famous defection from the Soviet Union, touching on incidents from his childhood and his years at the Leningrad Choreographic School.

So before you check out the film (which has a limited release in NYC and Los Angeles today), here are a few details that might be helpful to know.

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Viral Videos
Bucharest National Ballet's 2013 trailer for "La Sylphide,' via YouTube

Few things are more powerful for promoting ballet performances than captivating trailers—especially in today's visually-focused, digitally-connected world.

We've rounded up some eye-catching ads from seasons past and present that not only make us wish we could have seen the show, but also stand alone as short films.

Bucharest National Opera's La Sylphide

Magnifying the scarf which—spoiler alert—brings about the ballet's tragic conclusion, this 2013 Bucharest National Opera's trailer turns that fateful fabric into a beautiful, deadly web. Its windswept movements form a dance of its own.

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Just for fun
Bucharest National Ballet's 2013 trailer for "La Sylphide,' via YouTube

Few things are more powerful for promoting ballet performances than captivating trailers—especially in today's visually-focused, digitally-connected world.

We've rounded up some eye-catching ads from seasons past and present that not only make us wish we could have seen the show, but also stand alone as short films.

Bucharest National Opera's La Sylphide

Magnifying the scarf which—spoiler alert—brings about the ballet's tragic conclusion, this 2013 Bucharest National Opera's trailer turns that fateful fabric into a beautiful, deadly web. Its windswept movements form a dance of its own.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars

We've all dreamt of it: dancing a romantic pas de deux with your real-life love interest. Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg have done it countless times as one of ballet's most beloved on- and offstage couples. In this immaculate 2003 performance with The Royal Ballet, where they were then principals, their chemistry brings magic to their roles in Sir Frederick Ashton's Cinderella.


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News

Fresh off the heels of Aurélie Dupont's appointment as artistic director at the Paris Opéra Ballet, and Julie Kent's appointment to the same position at The Washington Ballet, further changes are hitting the ballet world.

This morning Johan Kobborg, international star and director of the National Ballet of Romania, tweeted that his name had been removed from the company's web page listing artistic staff. It's now, strangely, listed under "Artists"—the equivalent of the corps de ballet.

 

Indeed, the only name currently listed for company management is interim general manager Tiberiu-Ionuț Soare. As of yesterday, Kobborg was two years into a four-year contract and had instigated upgrades to the company's repertoire and physical infrastructure. In December, 2015, Kobborg and his on- and offstage partner, the iconic Romanian ballerina Alina Cojucaru, organized a gala to raise awareness for the company. Neither the company nor Kobborg have yet responded to inquiries about the situation.

Additionally Ballet Nacional Sodre artistic director and former American Ballet Theatre star Julio Bocca is taking an undefined leave of absence from the company. In a statement, he wrote that it was "not a goodbye, but a see-you-later." Sofía Sajac, who Bocca describes as his "right hand," will step into the leadership position during his absence. Reasons for his leave aren't clear. Argentine newspaper La Nación reported that Bocca had faced bureaucratic obstacles, including union protests (follow the link for reporting in Spanish).

In happier news, Scottish Ballet assistant artistic director Hope Muir has been selected as Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux's successor at Charlotte Ballet. Her tenure begins in July, 2017.

For more news on all things ballet, don’t miss a single issue.

 

 

News

Johan Kobborg and Alina Cojocaru in Romeo and Juliet. Photo by Elliott Franks, via Instagram

When Johan Kobborg took over as artistic director of the Romanian National Ballet after retiring from The Royal Ballet in 2013, he vowed to heighten the Bucharest-based company’s profile. Now, Kobborg and his longtime fiancée, Romanian-born English National Ballet star Alina Cojocaru, are getting ready to introduce the company to New York City audiences. Tomorrow night, they are hosting the World Ballet Stars gala at Lincoln Center’s Rose Hall, a fundraising event for the Romanian National Ballet that features eight of its top dancers alongside a stellar lineup of international guest artists.

 

I, for one, can’t wait to see this much talent in one place. Joining the company onstage will be English National Ballet’s Tamara Rojo and Isaac Hernandez, the Mariinsky Ballet’s Ulyana Lopatkina (dancing her world-famous rendition of The Dying Swan), New York City Ballet’s Daniel Ulbricht, American Ballet Theatre’s Daniil Simkin, Stuttgart Ballet’s Friedemann Vogel and Norwegian National Ballet’s Osiel Gouneo.

 

In a 2014 video, Kobborg praised his dancers, saying, “We have so much to offer, and I think the quality of what we have here deserves the attention of the world.” And while Wednesday night’s gala will help do just that, the proceeds from the performance will fund resources necessary to continue building the company’s momentum: equipment, teachers, trainers, scholarships and salaries, as well as an endowment and a pension plan for older dancers. For tickets, click here.

 

For more news on all things ballet, don’t miss a single issue.

 

Ballet Stars
Miami City Ballet's Nathalia Arja with Renan Cerdeiro in Ballo della Regina. Daniel Azoulay, Courtesy MCB.

​Steven McRae

Commanding presence: McRae in Ashton's Rhapsody

Tristan Kenton, Courtesy ROH

The Royal Ballet's Steven McRae danced with a power and speed most people would need figure skates to achieve at Covent Garden in February, but the amplitude of his chaînés, barrel turns and rivoltades was just the icing on the cake during his finely calibrated performance in Sir Frederick Ashton's Rhapsody. Dancing the lead role originally made for Mikhail Baryshnikov, the 28-year-old Aussie also excelled in the small gestures and precise positional details for which Ashton's work is known. McRae says the music, Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, is the key to balancing athleticism and artistry in the piece. "It's easy to get caught up in the technical demands of the choreography," he says. "However, when you really listen to the music, something magical starts to happen." The same can be said for the moment when this dynamic and versatile principal takes the stage. —Michael Northrop

​Diana Vishneva & Marcelo Gomes

Vishneva and Gomes brought their partnership to greater heights.

Gene Schiavone, Courtesy ABT

One of the biggest thrills of Diana Vishneva and Marcelo Gomes' longtime partnership at American Ballet Theatre is its ability to transcend to greater heights each season. It was ever apparent in their performance of Giselle last June. While they've performed the roles together in years past, familiarity and experience have allowed them to bring deeper richness to their characters. Vishneva's Giselle was shy and vulnerable, coming out of her shell gradually in response to Albrecht's affections until she almost seemed to burst with joy. Meanwhile, Gomes—a cocksure but lovable Albrecht—grew more and more smitten with his conquest. Once his ruse was discovered, you sensed not only Giselle's disbelief but her painfully public humiliation, making her breakdown all the more understandable and heartbreaking. In Act II, Vishneva was otherworldly in her lightness, accentuated further through Gomes' reverential, seamless partnering. Together they drew the audience into their story and held them, spellbound. —Amy Brandt

​Connor Walsh

Princely polish: Walsh in Swan Lake

Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet

When Houston Ballet's Connor Walsh first danced Siegfried in the premiere of Stanton Welch's fast-paced, dreamy version of Swan Lake in 2006, he was technically impressive, holding his own with the elegant Barbara Bears. But watching him reprise the role some eight years later, it became clear just how much he has grown. It's as if his edges have become sharper—not just technically but in all aspects of his artistry; he's developed a distinctly refined performance polish. There's ample heart behind his princely swagger now. Walsh's noble command of the stage, solid virtuosity and well-tempered bravado all add up to one convincing prince. His involvement in the ballet's original creation process, along with added years of experience, certainly helped deepen his interpretation. The HB principal is moving into his own, and his performance in Swan Lake provided the evidence. —Nancy Wozny

​Bolshoi Ballet

Shakespeare with a modern edge: Lantratov and Krysanova in the Bolshoi's Taming of the Shrew

Alice Blangero, Courtesy Bolshoi Ballet

It was a gamble on all sides: a new, full-length Taming of the Shrew by a foreign choreographer at the Bolshoi Ballet, just over a year after the acid attack on Sergei Filin. Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo's Jean-Christophe Maillot, who was creating his first ballet for an outside company in two decades, proved undaunted, and the result was a team effort that showed the Bolshoi's young generation in a new light. Each of the 10 soloist roles was choreographed with and for the first cast, from Vladislav Lantratov to Olga Smirnova, Vyacheslav Lopatin and Anna Tikhomirova, channeling their offstage personalities to show a new facet of their talent; their bold classical technique was in evidence throughout yet colored by the spontaneous, naturalistic approach Maillot favors. It was the Bolshoi as the world loves it, with a modern edge—and the Shrew herself, principal Ekaterina Krysanova, led the pack with a nuanced, career-defining performance, her power matched by a new abandon. —Laura Cappelle

​Chloe Felesina

Powerfully nuanced: BalletX's Chloe Felesina

Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy BalletX

In the BalletX premiere Sunset, o639 Hours, Chloe Felesina danced front and center, with an abandon, fire and precision that made her riveting. The dreamlike adventure tale, choreographed for 10 dancers by BalletX co-founder Matthew Neenan, was based on the true story of Captain Edwin Musick's ill-fated Honolulu-to-Auckland flight in 1938. As the famous pilot's wife, and in her other roles in the ballet, Felesina's depth of feeling was matched by a robust agility. She shone in scenes portraying the couple's romance, the island life of New Zealand and her solitary bereavement.

Even though her medium height and fine features make her look delicate, she's a powerhouse: at the front of the pack in floor-rolling unisons and sparkling in Neenan's inventive partnering. A full-time company member since 2012, Felesina relishes deciphering each choreographer's intent and seeking more ways to communicate strongly with her audience. In Sunset, o639 Hours, her approach worked: You couldn't take your eyes off her. —Lisa Kraus

​Christine Rocas

Rocas, with Rory Hohenstein, brought sweeping lyricism and dramatic ingenuity to the role of Juliet.

Cheryl Mann, Courtesy Joffrey Ballet

A couple of years back, Joffrey Ballet dancer Christine Rocas confessed: "I'm always scared to do modern things…I try to be spontaneous, but I know I look funny at first."

Rocas, 28, definitely didn't look "funny" in her opening night performance of Polish choreographer Krzysztof Pastor's Romeo & Juliet in Chicago this past April. And Pastor's take on the story was supremely contemporary—not at all like the Kenneth MacMillan or John Cranko versions for which Rocas' lyrical, weightlessly lovely style would have been a perfect fit. In fact, as Juliet, Rocas seized hold of Pastor's starkly modern, sweepingly cinematic reinvention, which used 20th-century Italian history as a backdrop. Masterful in her embrace of the ballet's mix of difficult classical and contemporary technique, she revealed a powerful, highly individualistic, surprisingly dramatic talent.

Her performance had genuine star quality, with pristinely beautiful dancing and fiercely honest acting in evidence from the moment, early on, when she simply walked around the perimeter of the stage, quietly fixing her gaze on Romeo. The palpable quickening in Rocas' face and body was a far cry from simple pubescent awakening. This was the dawning of a young woman with a mind of her own. —Hedy Weiss

Nathalia Arja

Quicksilver brillance: Arja with Renan Cerdeiro in Ballo della Regina

Daniel Azoulay, Courtesy Miami City Ballet

As the recently promoted Miami City Ballet soloist Nathalia Arja can attest, some roles lift dancers to the heights of artistic privilege. While still a corps member last season, Arja—a 21-year-old MCB-school alumna with Rio de Janeiro roots—earned the opportunity to dance the lead in George Balanchine's exquisitely demanding Ballo della Regina. There she was, on opening night no less, fast and fastidious in virtuoso moves: restless changes in direction, riveting hops on pointe, clockwork articulations that teased time itself. "I learned to do what I didn't know I could," says Arja. No small amount of calibration, of course, came from being coached by Merrill Ashley, the New York City Ballet wonder who originated the role. Still, Arja brought strengths she's been honing since dancing the role of Sugar Plum at MCB as a teenager—the verve and knack for detail that also served Alexei Ratmansky when he fashioned a solo on her in Symphonic Dances in 2012. A culmination for many, Ballo figures for Arja as the promise of an ever more thrilling career. —Guillermo Perez

​Ashly Isaacs

A confident debut: Isaacs with Gonzalo Garcia in Symphony in C

Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB

In the third movement of Balanchine's Symphony in C, the leads repeatedly charge onto the stage in a series of grands jetés—irrepressibly buoyant, as if they're more at home in the air than on the ground. In a way, that's a fitting metaphor for New York City Ballet corps member Ashly Isaacs' 2014 season, which saw her star on the rise, achieving greater heights with each successive performance. Her debut as the ballerina in that movement of Symphony showed off not only her preternatural ballon, but also her easy command of the stage. In the wrong dancer's hands (and feet) the always-on-the-go choreography can feel bombastic, but Isaacs colored it sensitively, adding subtle shading to its softer moments. For some years this role has been danced brilliantly by Ashley Bouder; it was hard not to notice the similarities between the two. —Margaret Fuhrer

​Esteban Hernandez

Hernandez (left) stole the spotlight in Les Lutins.

Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB

Season galas showcase principal dancers at their best, but San Francisco Ballet's 2014 gala also introduced a rising star: Esteban Hernandez. Announced pre-curtain as a replacement for Joan Boada in Johan Kobborg's Les Lutins, the first-year corps member faced high expectations from a demanding audience, who rustled their programs looking for clues about this unfamiliar dancer. But in Lutins, an eight-minute battle of the sexes that requires insouciant charm, clear acting and blistering petit allégro—and falls flat if any one of those is missing—the Mexican-born Hernandez proved his mettle as a Royal Ballet–trained technician and a natural performer, with confidence well beyond his 19 years. Not only did he hold his own opposite Gennadi Nedvigin and soloist Dores André, in those thrilling eight minutes he won 3,500 hearts and became a name to remember. —Claudia Bauer

​Gabrielle Thurlow & Luca Sbrizzi

Making their mark: Thurlow and Sbrizzi rehearsing Don Quixote

Aimee DiAndrea, Courtesy PBT

When lead casting was announced for Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Don Quixote last season, there was a surprising pair included in the mix. While Gabrielle Thurlow and Luca Sbrizzi have long been regarded as cornerstones among PBT's ranks, their star power was relatively untested: Thurlow was a longtime corps member and Sbrizzi, a soloist, had been away from the stage nearly nine months following a career-threatening back injury. But they more than delivered. Thurlow entered the first act as an energetic Kitri, all spry jumps and energetic pas de chevals, while Sbrizzi played an earnest Basilio, his admiration for Kitri present in every carefully finished movement. Later, during their brightly executed grand pas de deux, Thurlow brought playful sharpness, breezy turns and balances that said, "I could stay here all day." Sbrizzi's refined technique and bounding jumps lent his Basilio the elegance of a man in love. Following the performance, Thurlow was promoted to soloist and Sbrizzi cemented his place as a leading man after an uncertain season away from the stage. —Kathleen McGuire

When Johnny Eliasen saw Johan Kobborg for the first time, it was 1988 in Copenhagen, and Kobborg was just a teenager at the Royal Danish Ballet School. Eliasen, a renowned teacher, coach and August Bournonville expert, knew right away that Kobborg had something special. “I considered him a tremendously talented young dancer,” Eliasen recalls. “Early on, I saw a brilliant artist.”

Eliasen couldn’t have been more prescient. Kobborg has become one of the greatest dancers of his generation, joining a noble line of Danish male artists that includes Erik Bruhn, Peter Martins and Nikolaj Hübbe. Now a principal at London’s Royal Ballet, he humbly refers to himself as “one of the guys.” Kobborg is anything but ordinary.

With wide-set blue eyes, a loose crop of sandy blond hair and a boyish grin, Kobborg has cultivated an impressive dramatic range over the course of his career—he’s utterly charming in trademark roles like the sweet and swaggering Gennaro from Bournonville’s Napoli, but easily turns seductive as Cranko’s rakish Onegin. An elegant and leggy dancer known as much for his bravura as for his superior partnering, Kobborg has the precise technique and light step of someone schooled in the Bournonville tradition, but it’s charisma that Eliasen says keeps audiences coming back for more.

“You have people who can turn until the cows come home or jump to the moon, but it leaves you cold and empty,” says Eliasen. “Johan has those things, but he also has something that money can’t buy that makes him interesting to watch.”

At 35, Kobborg has no intention of slowing down anytime soon. When we talked in May, he’d just finished a long day at the theater in London that included class and Swan Lake rehearsals. After our chat, he has costume meetings about a production of La Sylphide he’s staging at the Bolshoi Ballet later this year. He says with a chuckle that this is the “quiet before the storm.”

The summer will be jam-packed with RB’s tour, rehearsals with Christopher Wheeldon’s new company, Morphoses, which has engagements in Vail, Colorado, in August, London in September and New York City in October (see page 22), and preparations for a busy guesting schedule with his longtime girlfriend and fellow RB principal, Alina Cojocaru. And he’s also getting started choreographing two new works to premiere in 2009. But this is exactly the life Kobborg wanted, one in which no day is routine or typical.

Kobborg’s start in ballet isn’t customary either, though he says he wouldn’t have had it any other way. Unlike most dancers, who begin serious training as children, Kobborg was 16. Born into a family of artists—his mom and half-brother are both actors—Kobborg grew up performing in children’s musicals in his native Odense, Denmark, and gave concerts all over Europe. He thought he was destined for a theater career.

Then his teacher told him about an audition “at this place called the Royal Danish Ballet School,” and Kobborg decided to check it out. “When I got in, I realized that this was what I wanted to do with my life,” he recalls. “Ballet mixes theater, music and moving—all the things I liked.” He entered the school in 1988.

For Kobborg, choosing to pursue ballet as a teenager meant that he had the maturity to understand the weight of his decision. “I don’t think a child at 10 can really know what they’re doing when they say they want to go to ballet school,” he explains. “When you’re 16, you’re not trying to live your parents’ dreams, you’re living your own dreams and it’s going to push you, because you want to catch up with all the things you haven’t learned from an early age.”

It didn’t take him long. Within a year, he debuted with the Royal Danish Ballet in Giselle’s peasant pas de deux. After a few years as an apprentice, in 1991, he joined the company. When Peter Schaufuss took the helm as artistic director in 1994, Kobborg, then just 22, was one of the first to be promoted to principal.

Though Kobborg’s time at the RDB was brief, the support he received from Schaufuss, Eliasen and others was integral to his success. “You need people to believe in you,” he says. “Without that, nobody is ever going to make it. When you’re young, you need to be guided, and I feel that I’ve been guided by some of the best.”

Kobborg’s biggest challenge as a young dancer was honing his technique to a degree that it didn’t interfere with his ability to perform. “When you’re very young, you try to push your technique as far as you can because that’s going to carry you for the rest of the career,” he says. “But I remember some of the first Giselles I did—I don’t think I was particularly bad, but my main focus was on the technical challenges. But Erik Bruhn and Nureyev and Fonteyn probably weren’t that interesting from a character point of view either at that age.”

By 1999, Kobborg was restless. A handful of guesting gigs had whetted his appetite for life beyond Bournonville. Overwhelmed by the sense that if he didn’t leave Denmark then, he never would, he joined The Royal Ballet as a principal that same year. “Because of my background, I’ve always loved doing ballets that tell a story, and I knew the repertoire was based on dramatic sorts of ballets,” he says of his decision to go to London. “I would give up a big part of me if I turned my back on the story ballets.”

Since then, Kobborg has come into his own as an artist of great versatility and has found a satisfying stage partnership with Cojocaru. The two first danced together when Cojocaru, with only a week’s notice, replaced Kobborg’s injured partner in Romeo and Juliet. “I think you know straight away if something is going to work, not necessarily from a technical point of view because you have to get used to each other, but the connection that you can’t discuss in a rehearsal because it is something different than technical timing,” says Kobborg. “It’s an unspoken understanding of each other.”

These days, Kobborg is drawn to more sinister characters, like the sadistic teacher in Flemming Flindt’s The Lesson. The appeal is both personal and artistic. “My career in Denmark was doing these sunny ballets,” Kobborg explains. “There comes a point when it’s still fun to do those of course, but you have to smile a lot onstage and you’d like to maybe not smile so much.”

It also gives him a chance to be wicked. “I love to act these disturbed and not very healthy people, who are completely opposite of who I am,” he says. “I love to find reasons for why they treat people the way they do, and I love to try and find a way of doing these roles in a way that I actually like the characters.”

Even though Kobborg has honed his craft in a diverse body of work, Bournonville remains close to his heart. Last year, he set his own version of La Sylphide (his first full-length staging) on RB to critical acclaim. He worked with a music historian in Denmark to recover some deleted scenes, using Bournonville’s handwritten notes. In addition to the Bolshoi Ballet, which will bring the production to Moscow in early 2008, at press time, Kobborg was in talks with several other European companies interested in performing it. 

Though the experience was rewarding—and one he would like to repeat—fans will be glad to hear that Kobborg doesn’t plan to leave the stage anytime soon. He says his main tasks are to stay fit “so I can keep dancing with Alina for a couple more years” and to find new ways to keep the ballets he’s been dancing for decades fresh and interesting. Always interested in pushing his own limits, he’s choreographing two new pieces (one of which is “quite a big ballet”) for a gala in London in 2009. And as if that isn’t enough, he’s decided to learn how to conduct a symphony, courtesy of lessons from the musical director at the Royal Opera House. “I’m definitely not one of those people who can only see ballet,” he says. “I like to give myself challenges, and I like many different things.”

Kristin Lewis is the former managing editor of Dance Spirit.

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