Ballet Stars
Magda Saleh in "La Bayadere." Photo Courtesy Saleh.

When you think of Egypt, you might not immediately associate it with ballet. But during the late 1950s and 1960s, the country worked hard to establish its own world-class ballet company. With the help of the Soviet Union, Egypt's then minister of culture Dr. Tharwat Okasha established Cairo's Higher Institute of Ballet in 1958, bringing in teachers from the Bolshoi Ballet Academy to train the country's first generation of ballet stars. In 1963, five female students from the Institute's inaugural class were invited to finish their training with the Bolshoi in Moscow.

One of them, Magda Saleh, would become Egypt's first prima ballerina, and go on to perform with the Bolshoi and Kirov (now Mariinsky) Ballets as a guest artist during her career. "Young girls in Egypt live a very sheltered life, and even to be studying ballet was exceptional," Saleh said in a phone interview last week. Their time studying abroad in Cold War-era Moscow was "character forming," she says. "Life was tough then for the majority of Russians, but it became very helpful for us during our careers, where we had to overcome many obstacles." In 1966, shortly after the women returned, the Cairo Ballet Company produced its first ballet, Boris Asafiev's Fountain of Bakhchisarai, in which Saleh starred. The performance was enormously successful, and for the next several years the new company enjoyed an exciting golden era.

Film clip courtesy of "A Footnote in Ballet History?"

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Ballet Stars
Violette Verdy and Jacques d'Amboise

"The Bell Telephone Hour" TV program broadcasted performances of world-class music, opera and ballet to millions of Americans throughout the 1960s. Many of the dance world's biggest stars frequently appeared on the program. In a 1961 Shakespeare special, New York City Ballet principals Violette Verdy and Jacques d'Amboise danced the title characters in Romeo and Juliet by choreographer Donald Saddler.

Although this version lacks some of the emotional intensity of other renditions, watching these legendary dancers perform together is a treat. Their duet is accompanied by Shakespeare's "Sonnet No. 18," bringing to mind contemporary choreographic endeavors involving spoken word in place of music. Verdy dances with an openness and grace that contrasts d'Amboise's more stoic, commanding presence. At 3:00, he sweeps Verdy off her feet and above his head in one fantastic fell swoop. Their duet is followed by an acrobatic fight scene and a stunt-filled sword fight in which both Mercutio and Tybalt are killed. When Romeo disappears after the fight, Verdy shows us Juliet's despair in a dramatic pantomime ending. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!

Ballet Careers

Between book deals and Under Armour endorsements, her own Barbie doll and a spot at the judges table on NBC's "World of Dance," Misty Copeland has been one of the few ballerinas to break into mainstream pop culture. Now she's conquering the world of cosmetics. Yesterday, Esteé Lauder announced that Copeland is the new spokesmodel for its fragrance, Modern Muse. The name seems fitting, given how her journey to becoming American Ballet Theatre's first black principal woman has inspired so many. She'll front the fragrance's campaign across digital, print, in-store and television advertisements.




The dancer-as-brand-ambassador theme is catching on. Back in ballet's glory days, Suzanne Farrell was the face of L'Air du Temps perfume, while Mikhail Baryshnikov attached his name to not one, but two colognes. After a prolonged dry spell, we're happy to see dancers receiving mainstream visibility again as more companies book them to represent their brands. Here are just a few recent examples:

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