Ballet Stars
ABT in "Swan Lake." Petipa often collaborated with Lev Ivanov, who choreographed this ballet's white acts. Photo by John Grigaitis, Courtesy ABT.

Two hundred is the new 30. Or at least it seems so for Marius Petipa, whose ballets are as active as ever as we celebrate his 200th birthday this year.

Nearly all major ballet companies dance Petipa's iconic ballets, which reflect his prolific creative output. And they are heavy hitters: Swan Lake, La Bayadère, Le Corsaire, Don Quixote, The Nutcracker, Paquita, The Pharaoh's Daughter, Raymonda and The Sleeping Beauty, to name just a few of the 50-plus ballets he choreographed. He also revived and reworked earlier productions of Coppélia, La Fille mal gardée and Giselle. During American Ballet Theatre's 2018 spring season, five out of its eight weeks will be attributable to Petipa, including the debut of artist in residence Alexei Ratmansky's newly reconstructed Harlequinade.

Gabe Stone Shayer and Misty Copeland in "The Sleeping Beauty." Photo by Doug Gifford, Courtesy ABT.

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Ballet Stars

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.

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Ballet Stars

Bolshoi ballerina Evgenia Obraztsova is sunny and spritely in this 2003 video clip from the Grand Pas Classique Hongrois in Raymonda. She performed this solo at 19 during her first year with the Mariinsky Ballet. Audiences around the world love Obraztsova's contagious sense of joy, and this fun little variation is a preview of her successes down the road in other high energy-roles.

Obraztsova beams as she flies across the stage in this video, nailing the fast footwork. At some points she seems to barely touch the floor. She incorporates folksy details, like a charming head wobble, with a natural flair for character. Even in this light-hearted and super-quick dance, Obraztsova lets her soul shine through. It's sure to make you smile. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!

Sylvie Guillem in Raymonda. Photo via Pinterest.

Every year, a select few dancers join the Paris Opera Ballet. An even smaller percentage make world headlines like former étoile Sylvie Guillem, who joined the company in 1981 at age 16. Three years later, after winning gold at the Varna International Ballet Competition, then-director Rudolf Nureyev made her the youngest étoile in the company’s history. Her promise was as undeniable as her decisions were bold. In 1989, Guillem left POB to join the Royal Ballet as a principal guest artist, a move that allowed her to freelance with companies around the world.

Although Guillem was young when she began performing soloist and principal roles, her maturity and self-awareness translated beautifully into her performances. In this clip from the television documentary Sylvie Guillem at Work, her precise footwork and elegant upper body mirror the grace and sophistication of Raymonda’s Act III variation. I love how she dramatizes her movements by contrasting expansive port de bras with sharp arm gestures. Her piqués at 1:48 (besides being perfectly placed) are taken with just enough momentum to sustain her flowing balance before relinquishing it into a series of bourrées. After a demanding series of sissonnes and pirouettes, she completes the variation with a renewed sense of composure.

Sylvie Guillem commanded the stages of both the Palais Garnier and the Royal Opera House. Although she retired last December, she set a precedent for artistic freedom, leaving a lasting impact on the dance world. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!

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

Is anyone more at home onstage than Nina Ananiashvili? Her majestic stage presence is on display in this 1993 clip of her and fellow Bolshoi Ballet star Alexei Fadeyechev dancing Raymonda's Act I pas de deux. The two make a commanding pair, refined and elegant in the opening partnered section. Fadeyechev is a sturdy partner and a solid technician, as evidenced by his wobble-free variation. Ananiashvili draws on her delicate charm, cocking her head sweetly and lightly hopping on pointe in her variation (6:20). Yet underneath that grace lies a steely strength. Just watch the way she attacks her pirouette diagonal (7:33) and performs a sweeping manège of coupé jeté turns (9:05) in the coda.

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It seems the most natural place for a dancer to perform is within a dream. Once the stage transports you deep into the world of the ballet, the audience experiences a surreal vision. Many ballets incorporate a dream scene, but Petipa’s Raymonda comes from the dreams of any girl who has fallen in love. The entire world slows as Raymonda floats through a heavy sleep, moving as if she imagines each step with closed eyes.

 

In this video from 1980, the Kirov Ballet's Irina Kolpakova-—now a ballet mistress at American Ballet Theatre—lulls the audience into a dreamlike trance. Her movement is legato and smooth, as if she’s manipulating the air. Kolpakova is the master of control—from her slowest renversé to her sprightly piqué attitudes. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!

From the audience’s perspective, dancers can appear to be six feet tall. It’s a beautiful illusion, but most often not the case. Being a tall dancer can be difficult; while long limbs are a blessing, they are often hard to manage. But as this video proves, the gorgeously tall Ulyana Lopatkina, who stands at 5’ 9”, commands impeccable control.

 

Lopatkina was only two years away from being promoted to principal dancer at the Mariinsky Ballet in this recording from 1993 (and at only 20 years old, there’s no question she was destined for the “prima” title). As you watch this Act II soloist variation from Raymonda, notice how seamlessly she moves through each transition. Sometimes the most demanding work a ballet dancer can perform is slow and controlled, full of traps to stumble and waver off-balance. But Lopatkina accepts the challenge—and succeeds. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!

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