Imagine stepping into an iconic role made famous by one of ballet's greatest living legends. That was the challenge for Boston Ballet's Derek Dunn in the company's premiere of Vestris, a solo that Soviet-era choreographer Leonid Yakobson created especially for the physical and dramatic artistry of a young Mikhail Baryshnikov. Yet Dunn pulled it off with dazzling élan and technical assurance.
It's summertime, the perfect opportunity to get together with your dance buddies for a ballet movie night! For your convenience, we've put together a list of some of our favorite Hollywood dance films, along with info on where to stream them. (Some are even available for free!) So whether you're planning a Center Stage party, in need of a Mikhail Baryshnikov fix or have yet to see The Red Shoes, get ready for some serious ballet binging.
What does Mikhail Baryshnikov have to say to dancers starting their careers today? On Friday, he gave the keynote speech during the graduation ceremony for the inaugural class of the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance.
The heart of his message: Be generous.
Alessandra Ferri and Mikhail Baryshnikov are two dancers whose physicality and artistic prowess truly pushed ballet to a new level. Their careers have spanned decades and continents, making them icons of the ballet world. In the late 1980s both dancers were working at American Ballet Theatre, Ferri as a principal dancer and Baryshnikov as artistic director and performer, when they co-starred in the 1987 film Dancers, a drama centered around a ballet company that included a staged production of Giselle. This clip from the film shows Ferri and Baryshnikov as Giselle and Albrecht in the last moments of the ballet, highlighting their dramatic chops with up-close camera angles.
Alessandra Ferri and Mikhail Baryshnikov - Last dance of Giselle and Albrecht www.youtube.com
If you are a dancer in high school, listen up! The National YoungArts Foundation has announced that now, through October 12, it is accepting applications to become a 2019 YoungArts winner. Every year the foundation identifies talented teenage artists across multiple disciplines, providing monetary awards up to $10,000, mentorship opportunities (with renowned professionals like Mikhail Baryshnikov), and a chance to participate in regional workshops in New York, Los Angeles and Miami. To qualify, dancers need to be between the ages of 15–18 or in high school grades 10–12, as well as a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.
One of the titans among choreographers of the 20th century, Jerome Robbins will be celebrated by a number of ballet companies worldwide in 2018 for the centennial of his birth. He died in 1998 at age 79 after a prolific career. His rare talent enabled him to direct and choreograph Broadway hits (West Side Story, On the Town and Fiddler on the Roof, among many) and to create sublime ballets, such as Afternoon of a Faun for New York City Ballet; Fancy Free (his first ballet) for American Ballet Theatre; and NY Export: Opus Jazz for his short-lived troupe Ballets: U.S.A.
Jerome Robbins. Photo Courtesy Dance Magazine Archives.
Gelsey Kirkland and Mikhail Baryshnikov in The Nutcracker are simply iconic—two of the world's most celebrated dancers in the world's best-loved ballet. Starring as Clara and the Prince in American Ballet Theater's 1977 made-for-television film, these two superb talents bring both technical and dramatic brilliance to the ballet's culminating scene.
In this version, which Baryshnikov himself choreographed, Clara and the Prince dance the grand pas de deux. He also mixes up the order so that the variations and coda precede the adagio. The clip begins with the tail end of Kirkland's variation, followed by a flawlessly danced coda. Baryshnikov, looking debonair in all white, flies in his jumps, rebounding off the floor like a spring, and Kirkland's impressive diagonal at 0:43 boasts triple fouetté turns.
The mood changes when Drosselmeyer, played by Alexander Minz, arrives in the first chords of the adagio to usher Clara away from her dreamland. In a pas de trois, Clara is torn between her beloved godfather and her prince, reluctant to choose between childhood and the promise of her dreams. In her gauzy nightgown, the delicate Kirkland is ethereal and waif-like as she is promenaded and passed in the air between her partners. She and Baryshnikov make a tender couple and in the end, as she chaînes into his arms, it is clear that she longs to stay with her prince. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!
Adding another milestone to his already untouchable career, Mikhail Baryshnikov will take on the role of iconic ballet dancer Vaslav Nijinsky in director Robert Wilson's one-man show, Letter to a Man. The work had its premiere in Italy in 2015 and had its U.S. debut as part of the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Next Wave Festival on October 15. The show completes its New York run on October 30.
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Mikhail Baryshnikov may have left the classical ballet stage long ago, but his artistic curiosity remains endless—and at 68, he remains endlessly captivating. Whether he’s mentoring emerging choreographers at his Baryshnikov Arts Center, performing Samuel Beckett short plays or dancing alongside Lil Buck in a Rag & Bone fashion campaign, the former American Ballet Theatre star is constantly exploring new avenues of self-expression.
Now, he’s portraying famed dancer Vaslav Nijinsky in Letter to a Man, a solo theatrical work directed by Robert Wilson. The production is based on Nijinsky’s haunting 1919 diaries, written over a six-and-a-half week period as he struggled with the onset of schizophrenia. A groundbreaking, controversial dancer and choreographer with Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, Nijinsky would spend the next 30 years under psychiatric care. Letter to a Man explores his descent into madness. Although it seems more avant-garde theater than dance, there is a considerable amount of movement throughout (choreographer Lucinda Childs collaborated on the project). With or without pirouettes, Baryshnikov’s stagecraft is as galvanizing as ever, as evidenced in this preview clip:
Baryshnikov is touring with the production in Europe this summer, performing in Lyon, France, this week before heading to the Monaco Dance Forum June 30–Jul 3. American audiences will have to wait until the fall—Letter to a Man has its U.S. premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music October 15–30 before heading to Berkeley, California, and Los Angeles in November.
New York City Ballet's home away from home, Saratoga Performing Arts Center, will reach the half-century landmark on July 8. In 1966, NYCB opened SPAC with a performance of Balanchine's A Midsummer Night's Dream, and the company has returned every summer since. "When I stand onstage at SPAC, I can't help but think of how many people have stood in the exact same spot," says principal dancer Sterling Hyltin. "It adds to the magic that is SPAC."
Sir Frederick Ashton created his 1980 ballet Rhapsody in honor of Elizabeth The Queen Mother (mother of Elizabeth II) for her 80th birthday. I’d say this serene, elegant pas de deux is fit for a queen—and for the strengths of its lead dancers, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Lesley Collier, on whom the roles were created. In her shimmering blush-pink dress, Collier wafts across the stage, feet fluttering to the piano’s peaceful notes. With his effortless partnering and her full, graceful port de bras, it seems as if there’s no transition from floor to air. My favorite moment is when Collier ducks under each of Baryshnikov’s arms and he reacts with a barely-there embrace, eyes gazing outwards. They strike a perfect balance between dancing for themselves, for each other and for us.
Baryshnikov actually requested the commission for Rhapsody. Judging by the thriving success of the Baryshnikov Arts Center, the creation and performance space he founded in New York City 25 years later, he’ll continue to be a pioneer in the arts for years to come. Lesley Collier became a widely respected coach and teacher after her retirement from the stage. Below, watch her lead Royal Ballet principals Natalia Osipova and Steven McRae in rehearsals for the sublime ballet she starred in. Happy #FlashBackFriday!
Susan Jaffe was barely 19 years old when she leapt into the spotlight at American Ballet Theatre. 1982—the year that her Swan Lake debut had critics raving—also revealed her contemporary chops in works like Lynn Taylor-Corbett's Great Galloping Gottschalk. In this clip from a 1985 recording, Jaffe dances a pas de deux from the piece with Robert La Fosse, who had a successful career as a principal dancer at both ABT and New York City Ballet.