Natalia Makarova's version of Swan Lake, staged in the 1980s for London Festival Ballet (now the English National Ballet), incorporates a pas de quatre choreographed by Sir Fredrick Ashton into the ballet's opening act. Leanne Benjamin, then just 24 and a principal with the company, dances among the couples in this clip from a 1988 film of the ballet. The burgeoning ballerina shines in her minute-long solo, tackling intricate footwork with intelligence and spirit that foreshadow her formidable, two-decade career as a principal of The Royal Ballet.
The Soviet Union redefined standards in classical ballet in the 1960s, producing opulent story ballets and dancers with refined, yet daring technique. Dancers like Natalia Makarova and Valery Panov, who were among the leading performers with the Kirov Ballet (now the Mariinsky) at that time, were at the pinnacle of the art form. In this 1964 film of the Kirov's The Sleeping Beauty, Makarova and Panov dance together as Princess Florine and the Bluebird. Despite the nostalgic trappings of the soundstage dance film, their strength and intention in this pas de deux make for a timeless performance.
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.
Wonder what's going on in ballet this week? We've pulled together some highlights.
Three World Premieres at BalletX Philadelphia Summer Series
Fresh off the heels of its Joyce Ballet Festival performances in New York, BalletX is launching its Summer Series with a trio of world premieres on July 11. The program, which runs through July 22 at The Wilma Theater in Philadelphia, features ballets by Penny Saunders, choreographer in residence for Grand Rapids Ballet; Andrew McNicol, BalletX's 2018 choreographic fellow; and Matthew Neenan, BalletX co-founder and company choreographer. Pennsylvania Ballet principal pianist Martha Koeneman will perform Mendelssohn's Songs without Words live for Neenan's work, which shows dancers attempting to solve a mysterious puzzle onstage. McNicol is inspired by Mozart's Requiem and his appreciation of the speed and athleticism of American dance. Saunders' piece will be accompanied by an original composition by Rosie Langabeer, a Philadelphia composer originally from New Zealand. Listen to the pair discuss the collaboration in the video below.
The third act variation from Raymonda is deceptively simple–legato and heavy on bourrées and épaulement, it has few pirouettes or showy extensions. Instead, the piece calls for artistry and aristocratic command in order to convey the character's regal persona and the dance's Hungarian flavor. Soviet prima ballerina Natalia Makarova is legendary for her emotive, passionate performances. She interprets the variation with rich soulfulness, flowing through positions with sinuous, unfurling limbs. Her feet tremble like the piano keys as she bourrées, surging and slowing with the tempo. Throughout the variation, her lifted sternum and sophisticated épaulement drum up drama that culminates in her final pose with her head tossed completely back over her shoulder.
For dancers, every day is like Halloween. You don't have to wait until October to try on new personas and elaborate costumes. But that certainly didn't stop the ballet world from going full out yesterday. We rounded up some of our favorites across Instagram to help draw the *spooky* holiday spirit out for one more day.
Matthew Bourne's New Adventure's production of The Red Shoes is nearing its final performances at New York City Center this weekend. American Ballet Theatre's Marcelo Gomes is guest-starring in the production as Julian Craster, the composer boyfriend to protagonist Victoria Page. But for Halloween, Marcelo donned the infamous red shoes himself to dress as the leading ingenue.
Dance Theater of Harlem's Ingrid Silva (and Pointe's June/July cover star) dressed as a unicorn alongside her dog, Frida Kahlo.
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Audition season is one of the most grueling parts of a dancer's year. But don't let cattle call burnout keep you from getting into the company of your dreams. To offer a dose of inspiration, Pointe peeked inside an open call for Boston Ballet and picked artistic director Mikko Nissinen's brain for his best audition advice. In the feature, he gives the best defense of falling I've ever heard: It just means he's sure to notice you. He also offered this tip:
"Naturally, I’m looking for strong technical ability and musicality. But more than that, the dancer has to be interesting. And as an artist, if you're really open and vulnerable, you will be interesting. Be yourself. I don’t want you to pretend to be Natalia Makarova, because you’re not going to succeed in that!"
Check out our auditions page to see which companies are currently looking for dancers.