Ballet Stars
Maire-Agnès Gillot in The Sleeping Beauty, via YouTube.

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
Evelyn Hart in "Swan Lake," via YouTube.

The individual touches that ballerinas incorporate into well-known classical variations are a source of endless fascination for us bunheads. (The abundant "variation compilation" videos on YouTube is proof of our obsession!) Odette's solo in Swan Lake's Act II is one that is particularly open to interpretation. The style is lyrical and introspective, giving dancers ample opportunity to make personal choices about choreography, musicality and character. The Canadian ballerina Evelyn Hart, a former principal with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, performs a fairly traditional version in this clip, yet with each nuance she defines her own Odette.

Evelyn Hart as Odette (1988) www.youtube.com

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Ballet Stars
Irina Kolpakova in "The Sleeping Beauty." Still vIa YouTube.

Irina Kolpakova, currently a ballet mistress at American Ballet Theatre at age 85, is a living dance legend. She studied under Agrippina Vaganova and went on to dance as prima ballerina at the Kirov Ballet (now the Mariinsky). In the '60s, she astonished American audiences with her interpretation of Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty during the Kirov's U.S. tours. She was a partner to Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov, and for the last 30 years she has set and coached ABT dancers in the classics.

With an influence that spans so many generations of dancers, it's not surprising that Kolpakova's youthful energy is one of her calling cards. That infectious quality is part of what makes Aurora her signature role. In this clip from 1982, Kolpakova, who was 49 at the time of the performance, channels the teenage Aurora's unbridled joy with purity and lightness in each step.

Kolpakova Sleeping Beauty Aurora Variation www.youtube.com

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Ballet Stars
Natlaia Makarova, via YouTube

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
Steven McRae at the 2003 Prix de Lausanne performing the variation from "Le Corsaire." Photo Courtesy Prix de Lausanne.

This week, young ballet dancers from across the globe have been studying and competing for coveted scholarships at the Prix de Lausanne. This infamous competition has been a launch pad for many of the ballet world's biggest stars. One such star is Royal Ballet principal Steven McRae, who was a prize winner in 2003 with these two outstanding performances in the finals.

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Ballet Stars

At just 16 years old, the Bolshoi Ballet's Maria Alexandrova already had the makings of a great artist. In this variation from Coppélia, she portrays the carefree Swanilda with blithe, youthful ease.

When she bounds on stage in her perky pink tutu, you immediately notice her legs–they just go on forever. In the first sequence of steps she keeps her jetés and développés low, but then the phrase repeats and she lets her gorgeous extensions fly. She sails through Italian fouettés and whirls around in piqués en manège that get faster and faster. While she nails all the virtuosic movement, Alexandrova also pays beautiful attention to detail throughout the variation. Even the simplest steps become something exciting, like her precise pas de bourrées beginning at 1:03 that sing with musicality.

Swanilda has been one of Alexandrova's signature roles throughout her career. For a fun side by side, watch her perform the same variation almost 20 years later in this video. Although Alexandrova formally retired from the Bolshoi in February, she still performs frequently in Moscow and internationally as a guest artist. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!


Ballet Stars

Last week, The Royal Ballet's Zenaida Yanowsky took her final bow at Covent Garden—a stage she called home for 23 years. Beloved by Britain's loyal ballet fans, she captivated audiences throughout her 16 years as a principal dancer. At 5' 9" Yanowsky is regal and striking, breaking the mold of the more traditional, diminutive English ballerina.

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Ballet Stars
Jim Caldwell, Courtesy of Houston Ballet

The '90s were an exciting time at Houston Ballet. Lauren Anderson, who became Houston's first AfricanAmerican principal dancer in 1990, reigned as its queen of virtuosic technique; a few years later, a young Cuban wonder named Carlos Acosta joined the company and became one of her regular partners. The results were nothing less than explosive, as this clip of their Don Quixote pas de deux proves. Dancing at a brisk pace, they imbue the choreography with high-flying allégro, crisp energy and charismatic flair. Within a minute Acosta has Anderson in an overhead press (no biggie!). Later, she attacks her pirouettes with pointed musicality, slicing the air with a dramatic grand ronds de jambe.

In a recent interview with Pointe, Anderson talked about their partnership. "It was a little bit of a battle at first because he's strong and I'm strong," she said, adding that she had already been an established principal when Acosta, who is eight years younger than Anderson, joined the company. "But we found that there was chemistry there. And what was fun was that we were both heavy on the technique side, so we'd compete a bit onstage, especially when we'd get to the coda. As we'd each come out for our solos, we'd try to kick it up a notch." It's easy to see how much fun they're having here. Happy #TBT!

Viral Videos
Via YouTube

Known for her long limbs and leggy grace, Tanaquil Le Clercq was one of the most transcendent American ballerinas of her generation. George Balanchine's fourth and final wife, Le Clercq was an inspirational muse for both Balanchine and Jerome Robbins, who choreographed Afternoon of a Faun for her in 1953. The ballet, described as “a chance encounter between two young dancers in a studio," is dedicated to Le Clercq, who shines in this 1953 clip alongside partner Jacques d'Amboise.

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It's often said that the key ingredient in a successful partnership is trust. In this 1994 clip from a Dancers for Life benefit performance, Royal Winnipeg Ballet's Evelyn Hart and National Ballet of Canada's Rex Harrington demonstrate trust in action as they perform Jiří Kylián's Nuages. The two stars of Canadian ballet frequently danced together, and the result is a beautiful example of vulnerability and strength. The aquatic, push-pull effect of Kylián's choreography appears seamless, as if they were breathing as one. Watch the sequence at 1:30, as Hart arches over Harrington's arm, then falls forward over her pointe shoes to her knees—it's a cantilevered moment that could easily look manhandled if not perfectly timed. But these two make it as elastic as taffy. Hart dances completely free, because she has no doubt that Harrington will catch her.

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Young Misty Copeland at her ABT Audition.

I think we can all agree that Misty Copeland has that special something: a mix of killer technique and eye-catching charisma. But did she always have that spark? While Copeland has certainly grown as an artist through the years—she's even making her Giselle debut tomorrow on American Ballet Theatre's tour to Oman—one video shows a glimmer of the star-in-the-making 20 years ago. Copeland recently shared this clip of one of her early student performances on Instagram. Her pirouettes? Pretty clean. Her feet? Hello, arches. And her smile? Undeniable. According to Copeland, she'd only been dancing one year when this video was taken. We're totally impressed. Happy #TBT!

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Viral Videos

What do you get when you mix a dizzying amount of pirouettes with Mikhail Baryshnikov? Pure cinema gold—and one of the most famous dance movie scenes of all time. In this clip from the 1985 hit movie White Nights, Misha combines his technical prowess with his effortless cool. Raymond, played by legendary tapper Gregory Hines, challenges Kolya, a Soviet dancer who has defected (played by Baryshnikov) to a bet. In order to take Raymond's 11 rubels, Kolya must do 11 consecutive pirouettes. It's a feat that even today's most talented dancers can't accomplish. But Misha, is, well, Misha. Check out his mesmerizing turns—and then practice your own. Happy #TBT!

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