Ballet Stars
Paloma Herrera. Photo by Maximiliano Amena, Courtesy La Nación.

In a surprise announcement last February, former American Ballet Theatre principal Paloma Herrera was named director of the Ballet Estable del Teatro Colón, Argentina's most prominent ballet company. After her farewell in New York City in May 2015, Herrera had returned to her native city, Buenos Aires, and was enjoying her new life there: "teaching, coaching, traveling." Just as she was putting the final touches on her memoir, Mi Intensa Vida, she was contacted by the general director of the Teatro Colón, which was about to undergo an administrative shake-up. Both the artistic director of the theater (Darío Lopérfido) and the head of the ballet (Maximiliano Guerra) were about to be replaced. Would she be interested in the latter job?

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Ballet Stars
Ashley Tuttle at her ABT Audition

In the midst of American Ballet Theatre's annual eight-week long season at the Metropolitan Opera House, so much focus is on the company's rising stars. But it's always fun to look back at some of our ABT favorites from years past.

We love this full-length film of the third movement of Clark Tippet's 1987 Bruch Violin Concerto starring Ashley Tuttle and Ethan Stiefel. In case that's not enough, Julie Kent, Robert Hill, Paloma Herrera, Keith Roberts, Yan Chen and Angel Corella join the leads on stage in a flurry of jewel-colored tutus.

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Since 2000, megastars and budding ballet celebrities alike have graced the covers of Pointe. Take a walk with us down memory lane as we recall some of the biggest names from some of our earliest issues. Whether they continue to perform or have transitioned to a position at the front of the studio, these stars have real staying power.

Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Beloserkovsky (May/June 2001)

Then: Pegged as "Ballet's Hottest Couple" on our cover, the duo had recently joined American Ballet Theatre as principals.

Now: Though both have retired from ABT, they run a summer intensive in New York City, give limited performances as guest artists and have even designed items, like ballet booties, for Bloch. Dvorovenko also had a major role in the Starz's ballet drama "Flesh and Bone."

Svetlana Zakharova (July/August 2001)

Then: Zakharova was a young principal with the Mariinsky Ballet.

Now: She's still tantalizing audiences with her breathtaking performances of ballets like Swan Lake—but with the Bolshoi Ballet. Last year, Zakharova also became a guest artist with Bavarian State Ballet.

Tamara Rojo (November/December 2001)

Then: The Spanish dancer was a leading performer with The Royal Ballet.

Now: If someone can do it all, it's Rojo. She's currently balancing dual roles at English National Ballet as artistic director and principal dancer. Pointe even named her performance with Irek Mukhamedov in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's Broken Wings one of the Standouts of 2016.

Misty Copeland (February/March 2002)

Then: Way before Misty Copeland became a household name, she scored her first Pointe cover as a promising member of ABT's corps.

Now: As ABT's first female African American principal, she's an all-around ballet superhero. Copeland has catapulted ballet into the mainstream and has championed issues like having a positive body image and diversity in dance.

Jenifer Ringer (April/May 2002)

Then: a leading principal at New York City Ballet

Now: Ringer traded East Coast for West when she became the director of the Colburn Dance Academy in L.A. If you're not one of her lucky students, you can read about her perspective in her memoir, Dancing Through It: My Journey in Ballet. And, just last year, she also spoke to Pointe about how dancers can foster confidence.

Carlos Acosta (August/September 2002)

Then: The international ballet star had loads of fans at The Royal Ballet, but Big Apple audiences were also getting acquainted with him since he'd recently appeared as a guest with ABT.

Now: He's busy leading his own company, Acosta Danza, in his native Cuba.

Paloma Herrera (December 2002/January 2003)

Then: The Argentinian dancer was wowing New York audiences as a principal at ABT.

Now: Earlier this month, Herrera became artistic director of Teatro Colón's ballet company in Buenos Aires. We can't wait to see what she does in her new position.

Ethan Stiefel (February/March 2003)

Then: Though he launched his professional career with NYCB, Stiefel was an ABT principal by the time he appeared on our cover.

Now: Stiefel had a short stint as artistic director of Royal New Zealand Ballet from 2011 to 2014, but now, he's focusing on choreographing. His first major choreographic commission will premiere in May at The Washington Ballet.

For more news on all things ballet, don't miss a single issue.

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This morning, the Argentine newspaper La Nacion reported that Paloma Herrera has been appointed artistic director of Teatro Colón’s ballet company in Buenos Aires. The longtime American Ballet Theatre star replaces current artistic director Maximiliano Guerra, starting next week.

Herrera in Giselle. Photo by Gene Schiavone, Courtesy ABT.

Herrera, who trained at Colón’s school, has long been one of Argentina’s most celebrated ballerinas. She left Buenos Aires to study at the English National Ballet School and the School of American Ballet, and she spent the bulk of her 24-year career as a principal with ABT. (She earned that title at the tender age of 19—the youngest dancer at ABT to do so.) After her retirement in 2015, many wondered what her next step would be. Now, along with fellow ABT star Julie Kent (who recently took the helm of The Washington Ballet), Herrera joins a growing roster of female artistic directors.

 

For more news on all things ballet, don't miss a single issue.

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Paloma Herrera in ABT's Le Corsaire via Photobucket

When it comes to gender roles, Le Corsaire is anything but modern. The female characters are passed from pasha to pirate and back again, and they do little else than dance for the men—whether those men are good or evil, lover or foe. (With the ballet’s excessively convoluted plot, it’s often hard to tell). In “Jardin Animée,” the second scene of Act III, Medora, Gulnare and the other enslaved women dance charmingly in the pasha’s dream—all smiles, flowers and cotton candy colors. Former American Ballet Theatre principal Paloma Herrera performs Gulnare’s variation in this clip from ABT’s 1999 PBS special, and her usual power and precision shine through. Just look at her dynamic, buoyant tombés into quick, trilling bourrées; her darting feet in simple jetés and the control she maintains during the ending’s dizzying turns. I find myself rewinding every few seconds, just to watch each step’s exacting execution.

In the PBS special, ABT artistic director Kevin McKenzie jokingly admits to the ballet’s slightly absurd plot, its “politically incorrect attitudes” and its “over the top performance values.” However, he says, “with its variety of roles, [Le Corsaire] offered incredible opportunities for virtuoso dancing,” which Herrera and other ABT stars have in abundance. In the ballet’s story, true love prevails, but it’s the truly spectacular dancing (which we’re sure to see at ABT this spring) that earns standing ovations. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!

For more news on all things ballet, don’t miss a single issue.

Ballet Stars
Ballet mistress Irina Kolpakova rehearses Diana Vishneva and Marcelo Gomes. Photo by Kyle Froman for Pointe.

It's two weeks before the March world premiere of American Ballet Theatre's The Sleeping Beauty at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, and principals Diana Vishneva and Marcelo Gomes are hard at work. As the couple begins Princess Aurora and Prince Désiré's Act III wedding pas de deux, they exude a rediscovered sense of classicism that seems strangely exotic. Instead of six o'clock penchées and indulgent développés, Vishneva luxuriates in a world of arabesques allongées, modest extensions, lowered passés and softened ports de bras. But rather than appear antiquated, these stylistic inflections further accentuate what is going on above the waist—the engaging relationship between Aurora and her prince.

ABT's new Sleeping Beauty, a labor of love spearheaded by artist in residence Alexei Ratmansky and co-produced by La Scala in Milan, stands to be the crowning glory of ABT's 75th-anniversary season. “Of all the great full-lengths, The Sleeping Beauty stands as a perfect symbol of classical ballet," says artistic director Kevin McKenzie. “I wanted a production that we could call our own, and Alexei delivered it. It's a perfect anniversary gift."

Gillian Murphy with her partner, James Whiteside. Photo by Kyle Froman for Pointe.

"I try to bring myself to every moment in the ballet, my own understanding about trusting that all is good in the world: going from Aurora's slightly shy but joyous nature in the beginning to expressing a more serene quality in the second act to awakening back into the world again to meet her soul mate." –Gillian Murphy

What makes this version especially distinct is Ratmansky's commitment to restoring Marius Petipa's original choreography, which premiered in St. Petersburg in 1890. A team of régisseurs at the Mariinsky Ballet, using the Stepanov dance notation system, codified The Sleeping Beauty on paper in 1905. The documents were later smuggled out of Russia during the 1917 Russian Revolution; they are now housed at the Sergeyev Collection at Harvard University. Ratmansky and his wife, Tatiana, both of whom learned to read Stepanov notation, referenced this score as well as photographs and other documents to painstakingly reconstruct Petipa's original intention.

"It's fascinating to explore what we can piece together about the historical style and Petipa's choreography," says ABT principal Gillian Murphy, who is also dancing Aurora. "It looks easier because there are lower legs and more demi-pointe, but it actually feels more difficult because you're constantly restraining yourself. It takes extra energy to sort of put the breaks on."

Murphy notes that, for her, Aurora is one of the hardest roles in the classical repertoire because of the stamina and technical clarity it demands. "Sometimes the simplicity and purity of ballet can be the most difficult thing to accomplish and to make exciting," she says.

For principal Paloma Herrera, who performed as Aurora in March (before her May 27 retirement), that is precisely why the rehearsal process is so integral. "You have the technique inside you so that you can be free onstage, especially in a ballet like this," she says. "It's a fairy tale—complete magic."

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Today, two of American Ballet Theatre’s longtime stars, Paloma Herrera and Xiomara Reyes, retire from the company in what is sure to be emotionally-charged back-to-back performances of Giselle. Herrera, who has danced with ABT for 24 years, will say good-bye during this afternoon’s matinee, while Reyes will give her final performance tonight. The departure of both dancers marks an end of an era, and a sign of change for ABT’s future. In two seperate interviews, both dancers offered reflections on their careers, retirements and future plans.

 

Photo by Gene Schiavone, Courtesy ABT

 

Paloma Herrera

For many of my generation growing up, Paloma Herrera set the bar—she was the one whose abilities we all strove to match. One year older than me, Herrera was a principal dancer before I was even an apprentice. Back in the 90s, my friends and I devoured news articles about the teenage Argentinian prodigy with to-die-for insteps (her name alone becoming a synonym for beautiful feet). We tore out her famous black-and-white New York Times Magazine cover and taped it to our walls. We rewound her Don Quixote video with Angel Corrella over and over, hoping to emulate her never-ending balances and whip-smart attack.

 

As she matured, we looked beyond the prodigious talent and got to know her as an artist. And she is an artist who resides very much in the moment, who loves both the process and the final product. In an interview with me in March, she spoke often about the “magic” she feels and tries to create onstage. “For me, it’s about being natural,” says Herrera. “You have to figure out all of the technique in class and rehearsals, because onstage, it has to be free.” And she sees the learning process as never-ending. “Last year, when I danced my last Don Q, until the last rehearsal it was, ‘Oh, maybe I should do this, or maybe I should do that.’ And how many times have I danced Don Q? I’m always looking for something else, something more.”

 

Herrera was originally scheduled to retire in June as Aurora in Alexei Ratmansky’s new Sleeping Beauty (a decision she says was not hers), but she ultimately changed her retirement date to dance Giselle, a production she feels more attached to. “In a way, I feel like my retirement was last year,” she says. “That’s when I said goodbye to all of my roles—Don Q, Coppélia, La Bayadère. Every performance was huge because they were all ballets I had done with ABT for so long.”

 

Following Giselle, she’ll return to Argentina, officially retiring with Onegin at the Teatro Colón in October and a small tour in November. According to a recent article in the New York Times, she also plans to start a dancewear business. But today, she says farewell to her American audience—and she will be sorely missed.

 

Photo by Marty Sohl, Courtesy ABT

 

Xiomara Reyes

Xiomara Reyes is one of those rare dancers that you never have to worry about onstage. Technically assured, calm and confident, she brings ease and purity to her performances. Dancing effortlessly, no matter how hard the role, is a skill she learned in her native Cuba at the National Ballet School. “I ground myself in the knowledge of the love for what I do," Reyes said in an interview over e-mail. "When I get nervous, I ask myself, ‘What’s really important?’ And the answer is I give it my best, that I forget about myself and become alive to the story. And then I pray real hard and trust!”

 

Although Reyes danced with the Royal Ballet of Flanders for seven years, joining ABT was a lifelong dream. She didn’t think a career there was possible—but her parents did. They sent her videos and resumé to the company, “and the rest is history,” she says. She recalls one of her favorite memories at ABT, during her first onstage rehearsal for Don Quixote: “It dawned on me that it was the same decor and costumes of the Baryshnikov production, the one from the video that I was in love with growing up. Seeing Natalia Makarova’s name in the costume I was wearing, I understood that I was part of something much bigger than the dreams of a little girl, something that encompassed the dreams and achievements of so many amazing people.”

 

Giselle has special meaning for Reyes—it was the first ballet she saw and the first role she studied in depth. As she matured, Reyes found it easier to personally connect with the role. “The reason is simple,” she says. “I have lived. I know how my Giselle feels because I have experienced a degree of heartbreak that feels like you can lose reason. I understand that someone frail could die from it.” For tonight’s performance, she hopes to tap into those years of experience. “I just want to be present to the moment so the history of my Giselle can flow from me to you. It’s not about a retirement, it’s about having the chance once again to let her live through me.”

 

After she retires, she heads to Spain to co-direct IBStage, a summer intensive in Barcelona. Her advice for young dancers? To search for what is unique inside them and to trust it. “It is the only antidote to the comparison sickness that we all suffer from in this competitive world. Live, feel, trust.”

Ballet Stars
Paloma Herrera. Photo by Taylor-Ferné Morris for Pointe.

Ask Paloma Herrera about her fashion sense, and you'll get a decisive answer. “I hate shopping," she says. “I'm very basic and I know my style well, so when I'm looking through a store window I can see if there's something I want to try on." The principal dancer favors clean, classic lines and beautiful materials from brands like Theory, Helmut Lang and Vince. And whether in rehearsal or on a city street, you'll rarely catch her in color. “If you open my closet, you'll see different textures, but almost everything is black." Her most important style decision? “I don't follow trends," she says. “I never like to wear something because it's supposed to be the thing to wear, and I think that goes with my personality. It's kind of a way of life."

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In the ballet world, great partnerships are rare. The unique chemistry of a splendid ballerina and her attentive partner can hold audiences spellbound. Witnessing a pas de deux by extraordinarily simpatico dancers can fundamentally change the way one perceives ballet.

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Carla Körbes in "Diamonds" from George Balanchine's Jewels (photo by Angela Sterling)

 

For ballet fans around the world, there is a lot to be sad about in the 2014/2015 season. Wendy Whelan ended her career at New York City Ballet, while Carla Körbes will retire in June. At the end of the American Ballet Theatre season, Julie Kent, Paloma Herrera and Xiomara Reyes will all take their final bows with the company. It's enough to make any balletomane cry.

Recently, The Huffington Post and Ballet to the People featured each of the five ballerinas in a long article describing the changes they’ve witnessed throughout their careers, and what they each have planned for their next steps.

Each dancer made pointed comments about the future of artistry in the ballet world, noting that while dance is more accessible than it has ever been, the open floodgates of information can be overwhelming. Interestingly, many of them noted that social media has had the impact of encouraging people to be something rather than do something. They claim that it has influenced young people to seek celebrity or stardom over the less immediately rewarding aspects of a dance career—namely the loyalty of sticking with one company, and the daily grind and reinvention that comes from training regularly. “That,” Herrera notes, “is where the humility is.”

Don Quixote’s flirtatious and spunky Kitri is an exciting character for ballerinas to portray—any role is fun if it includes a prop fan! But it’s also an important stepping-stone in a dancer’s professional career, alongside Juliet, Odette/Odile and Aurora. In this 1998 recording, Paloma Herrera masters the role, raising the standard for future Kitris in only her third year as principal dancer for American Ballet Theatre. As she dances this variation, Herrera consumes the stage, abandoning all fear. She enraptures her viewers with both expansive movement and a simple succession of petits emboîtés. After a 24-year career, Herrera will retire her pointe shoes later in 2015—but we will all continue to thirst for her energetic and captivating performances. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!

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