Ballet Stars
Students from Walnut Hill School for the Arts perform Gerald Arpino's Birthday Variations during the school's anniversary gala at The Joyce Theater. Christopher Duggan, Courtesy Walnut Hill School for the Arts.

If you could ask a professional dancer's advice for starting a ballet career, what would you want to know?

Earlier this month, Walnut Hill School for the Arts celebrated its 125th anniversary with a gala performance of students and alumni at New York City's Joyce Theater. And with graduation on the horizon, we thought it would be fun to arrange a Q&A session between upper level ballet students and the visiting graduates of Walnut Hill School for the Arts, among them San Francisco Ballet principal Joseph Walsh '06, Houston Ballet soloist Harper Watters '10, Ballet Arizona dancer Alison Remmers '12 and former Sacramento Ballet/Twyla Tharp dancer Charlie Hodges '98.

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Ballet Stars
Wendy Whelan leads a crowded morning class. "The energy was amazing," she says. "Among the visiting companies, there was such a shared respect and friendliness toward each other." Kyle Froman.

On a crisp day in late October, the studio air is thick and hot as dozens of sweaty dancers finish up grand allégro at New York City Center. Despite the fact that many of them are jet-lagged, there is a palpable, positive energy throughout the studio. Teaching class is former New York City Ballet star Wendy Whelan, which seems fitting. The dancers, culled from eight major companies around the world, are getting ready for opening night of Balanchine: The City Center Years, a five-day festival highlighting the choreographer George Balanchine's early works.

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Everything Nutcracker
San Francisco Ballet principal Joseph Walsh at age 3 as the tiny green elf in his local Nutcracker. Courtesy Walsh.

Oh, Nutcracker... It's the ballet experience that unites us all, from young student to seasoned pro. Whether you made your entrance in a mouse costume or under Mother Ginger's skirt, do you remember the choreography and costume of your very first role?

Today, six professionals share their favorite childhood Nutcracker photos and memories.

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O'Connell and Sisk performing William Forsythe's In the middle, somewhat elevated. Photo by Luke Isley, Courtesy Ballet West.

This article originally appeared in the February/March 2016 issue of Pointe.

Murphy and Stiefel. Ogden and Côté. Osipova and Polunin. Ballet inspires as many thrilling partnerships offstage as on. Company romances are so common, in fact, you might say they're a perk of the job. “You're with each other all day—it happens a lot," says San Francisco Ballet soloist Lauren Strongin, who is married to SFB principal Joseph Walsh. Chemistry flourishes in the hothouse of a rehearsal studio, and choreographed embraces have a way of breaking the ice—who could resist? In celebration of Valentine's Day, four company couples share the ups and downs of love at the office, and some of their sweetest moments, with Pointe.


Sisk and O'Connell.

Ballet West principal Beckanne Sisk and soloist Chase O'Connell

Ballet romances typically develop under the watchful eyes of other company members, but Beckanne Sisk and Chase O'Connell's also played out on TV. Filmed two months into their relationship, the 2013 season of “Breaking Pointe," a reality show about life at Ballet West, exposed their tribulations to the world: Would he get into the main company from Ballet West II? Could they last if he didn't? “It was really awkward," recalls Sisk, now 23. “Awful," says O'Connell, 22. “The show was pushing us to talk about this situation that we didn't want to discuss yet."

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In three brief years, Houston Ballet’s Joseph Walsh has become a dancer to watch in works as different as William Forsythe’s The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude and Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon. (His recent debut as Des Grieux earned raves.) Houston Chronicle critic Molly Glentzer describes him as “elegant and light on his feet, with a princely but not arrogant lift of his chin that also gives him a slight air of mystery.” After winning a 2009 Princess Grace Award, Walsh was promoted to soloist—though he only joined the second company in 2006, and the main company the following year. This month, Walsh turns his talents to Mark Morris’ Sandpaper Ballet. —Nancy Wozny

 

Joseph Walsh: I’ve tried to emulate ballet dancers that I’ve seen do Morris’ work, like Ethan Stiefel;
that floating, airy quality really fits my body. Morris choreographs in sentences and paragraphs rather than words, so the steps flow well. The looseness is another story, especially in the men’s dance. Morris suggests whistling while we dance, because male dancers can be too stiff. That’s where the sandpaper part comes in—it’s like we do a soft shoe. We are all supposed to be buddies and super-relaxed, but the patterns are actually very complicated, so I am still thinking a lot. It’s not second nature yet, but I’m getting there.

 

I have the trumpeter solo, which morphs into a pas de deux with Emily Bowen. The phrasing stops and starts with the breath of the trumpeter and it’s complex in its coordination and timing. It’s also very theatrical. Emily is a great partner—when I look into her eyes, she’s always emotionally connected. After doing so much solo and duet work this season, it’s really fun to be in such a huge group ballet. That feeling of being absolutely together, when we all know where we are onstage without looking around, is so satisfying. Of course, the challenge is getting to that place.

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