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Tamara Rojo joined the elite, though thankfully growing, roster of female ballet company directors seven years ago when she took the helm at English National Ballet. Since then she's managed the even more uncommon feat of continuing to perform as a leading principal dancer for ENB while directing the company. Rojo began her remarkable career in her home country of Spain, but at 22 years old she left for the UK, dancing with Scottish National Ballet, ENB, and then The Royal Ballet, where she spent 12 years as a principal and earned international acclaim for her assured technique and passionate stage presence. Her performances, like this 2009 La Bayadère, show an artist truly in command of her craft.

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Ballet Stars
Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Nikiya's epic “death" solo at the end of La Bayadère's second act is more than a test of stamina: It's integral to the ballet's plot. In it, Nikiya laments her doomed relationship with Prince Solor, rejoices upon receiving a basket of flowers she believes to be from him and collapses after being bitten by a snake hidden in the basket. “There's a lot of storytelling in the steps," says Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre principal Julia Erickson, who danced the role this spring. Here are her tips for navigating the variation's technical and emotional complexities.

1. Let the Character Drive the Choreography

One of the most difficult aspects of the variation is making the spare choreography fill the music. If you're having trouble slowing down, focus on what Nikiya is feeling as much as what she's doing. “Her love has betrayed her—and she's mourning," Erickson says. “When you grieve, it's like you're suspended in time, and that's exactly how the variation should feel."

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All the ballerinas of the Paris Opéra Ballet are renowned for their crystalline precision, honed in the company's notoriously rigorous school. But Isabelle Guérin, an étoile with POB from 1983 to 2001, set an especially high standard for technical purity. The slow, mournful pace of Nikiya's death scene from La Bayadère lets us luxuriate in her flawless lines. Here's a recording of that solo from a 1994 performance in Paris. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!

 

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