Ballet Stars

Noëlla Pontois, the striking, lithe and fiercely technical former étoile of the Paris Opera Ballet, was renown for her interpretation of aristocratic roles in 19th-century ballets. In this 1983 performance from Rudolf Nureyev's production of Raymonda, Pontois is at her most imperious and entrancing in the title role's wedding variation.

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Sir Anthony Dowell dedicated four decades for his life to The Royal Ballet, first as a principal dancer, and then as the company's artistic director. His monumental career is a testament to his love for the art form. That love can also be seen in this solo from a 1980 performance of Dutch choreographer Hans van Manen's Four Schumann Pieces, created for the company five years earlier. Van Manen's choreography slips in and out of pedestrian and balletic vocabulary. Dowell demonstrates his virtuosity by ascending into sublime classical shapes without an intimation of effort.

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What do Diana Vishneva, Olga Smirnova, Kristina Shapran and Maria Khoreva all have in common? These women, among the most impressive talents to graduate from the Vaganova Ballet Academy in recent years, all studied under legendary professor Lyudmila Kovaleva. Kovaleva, a former dancer with the Kirov Ballet (now the Mariinsky), is beloved by her students and admired throughout the ballet world for her ability to pull individuality and artistry out of the dancers she trains. Like any great teacher, Kovaleva is remarkably generous with her wealth of knowledge; it seems perfect, then, that she appears as the Fairy of Generosity in this clip from a 1964 film of the Kirov's The Sleeping Beauty.

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French ballerina Zizi Jeanmaire first gained fame when she premiered the titular title role in Roland Petit's Carmen in 1949, opposite Petit as Carmen's lover Don José. With her famously cropped hair (and cropped tutu!), Jeanmaire's performance as the seductive gypsy took the world by storm, catapulting her and Petit's careers.

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Tetsuya Kumakawa, a former principal with The Royal Ballet and the founder and artistic director of K-Ballet in Tokyo, could make an audience gasp with his wildly powerful and inventive allegro. A boyish, dare-devil dancer, Kumakawa was a natural fit for roles like Franz in Coppélia. Watching him in this clip of Franz's Act I variation, it seems Kumakawa must have some sort of gravity-defying DNA.

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Ballet Stars

Fairies crop up everywhere in classical ballet, from sylphs to dryads to, of course, the ranks of fairies who attend Aurora's christening in The Sleeping Beauty. These delicate and mystical creatures stretch the reaches of ballet technique, forcing dancers to embody an otherworldly ideal. In this 1999 clip from the Paris Opéra Ballet's The Sleeping Beauty, former étoile Marie-Agnès Gillot dances the luxurious Lilac Fairy variation. With her refined, gentle power, Gillot truly finds the sublime in her interpretation of this magical character.

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Ballet Stars

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.

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Ballet Stars

In the early years of professional ballet in the United States, influential American dancers played key roles in changing perspectives of ballet as a strictly European art form. Maria Tallchief and Royes Fernandez were among those dancers who helped establish and define an American ballet aesthetic and identity: she as the original prima ballerina of New York City Ballet and he as American Ballet Theatre's Siegfried in the company's first full-length production of Swan Lake. These two exceptional performers are mesmerizing together in this 1963 excerpt from Fokine's Les Sylphide.

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Ballet Stars
Boston Ballet principal Derek Dunn at age 12 in a variation from Flames of Paris at the 2008 YAGP finals. Courtesy YAGP.

The Youth America Grand Prix New York Finals are starting up again this week, running April 12-19. This year, YAGP is celebrating its 20th anniversary. April 18-19 marks the competition's annual Stars of Today Meet the Stars of Tomorrow gala, featuring 13 pros who are also YAGP alumni. We've rounded up photos and videos from those stars' YAGP years and shared them with you here.

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The Diana and Actaeon pas de deux, from the ballet La Esmeralda, is a bravura tableaux ideal for festivals and galas. In this clip, we see Viengsay Valdés and her frequent partner Romel Frometa perform the piece at Japan's 2006 World Ballet Festival. Valdés, Ballet Nacional de Cuba's prima ballerina and now the company's deputy artistic director, epitomizes the fierce, independent goddess Diana with radiant confidence. Together with Frometa, a current dancer at BalletMet, the two elevate the pas deux to new levels with balletic fireworks that demonstrate their immense strength and trust in one another.

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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

Alessandra Ferri and Mikhail Baryshnikov are two dancers whose physicality and artistic prowess truly pushed ballet to a new level. Their careers have spanned decades and continents, making them icons of the ballet world. In the late 1980s both dancers were working at American Ballet Theatre, Ferri as a principal dancer and Baryshnikov as artistic director and performer, when they co-starred in the 1987 film Dancers, a drama centered around a ballet company that included a staged production of Giselle. This clip from the film shows Ferri and Baryshnikov as Giselle and Albrecht in the last moments of the ballet, highlighting their dramatic chops with up-close camera angles.

Alessandra Ferri and Mikhail Baryshnikov - Last dance of Giselle and Albrecht www.youtube.com

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