Ballet Stars
Boylston and Whiteside brought charm and technical brilliance to Harlequinade. Photo by Alan Alejandro Sánchez, Courtesy ABT.

Alexei Ratmansky's reconstruction of Marius Petipa's Harlequinade, which debuted this spring at American Ballet Theatre, felt as fizzy and decadent as a glass of champagne. Though resplendently designed and lovingly assembled, the ballet relied on the personal charms of its Harlequin and Columbine to buoy its all-too-poppable bubble of a plot. And nobody brought more charm, or technical brilliance, to the leading roles than the opening-night cast, James Whiteside and Isabella Boylston. The charismatic duo perfectly understood the lightweight fun of the ballet, relishing the beauties of its coloratura choreography while keeping the extended mime passages just to the right side of camp. Their offstage best-friendship—they're known to their Instagram fans (including Jennifer Garner) as "the Cindies"—lent a special warmth to their onstage partnership, especially in the ballet's surprisingly tender climactic pas de deux. Audiences floated out of the theater afterward, pleasantly intoxicated.

Harlequinade www.youtube.com

Ballet Stars
Hyltin in Jerome Robbins' Afternoon of a Faun. Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.

New York City Ballet's Robbins 100 Festival last spring included 19 Jerome Robbins ballets performed over the course of two and a half weeks, requiring extreme stamina and versatility from the company's dancers. No one rose higher to the occasion than principal Sterling Hyltin. The festival showcased the breadth of her range, yet Hyltin shone brightest in Robbins' 1953 Afternoon of a Faun. From her first entrance through the door of the gauzy studio set to the end of the 11-minute pas de deux, Hyltin's embodiment of the role was complete; each movement expressed the naiveté and ethereal sensuality of her character. Her leggy, lithe physique is reminiscent of Tanaquil Le Clercq, the NYCB ballerina on whom the work was made and is now dedicated.

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Ballet Stars
A madcap solstice celebration: The Joffrey Ballet in Alexander Ekman's Midsummer Night's Dream. Photo by Cheryl Mann, Courtesy Joffrey Ballet.

During Alexander Ekman's Midsummer Night's Dream, a singer croons: "By morning the dancers/Will start to wonder/Had it all been a dream?/Had it all been a blunder?" While The Joffrey Ballet's performances of Ekman's 2015 full-length last April were most certainly the former, they could not have been further from the latter.

Ekman's 'Midsummer Night's Dream' | Official Trailer www.youtube.com

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Ballet Stars
Alicia Amatriain in the title role and Roman Novitzy as Dr. Schöning in Christian Spuck's Lulu. A Monstre Tragedy. Photo Courtesy Stuttgart Ballet/

It's not every day that a company presents a work so original, both in concept and execution, with dancers so well suited to its unique strengths, as Stuttgart Ballet in Christian Spuck's revival of Lulu. A Monstre Tragedy. Spuck, now artistic director at Zurich Ballet, choreographed the ballet while resident choreographer of Stuttgart Ballet in 2003.

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Ballet Stars
Powers with William Newton in Edwaard Liang's Giselle. Photo by Jennifer Zmuda, Courtesy BalletMet.

While its minimalist costuming and sets gave Edwaard Liang's new Giselle for BalletMet a nontraditional look last February, there was nothing spartan about Grace-Anne Powers' performance in the title role. Powers' radiant smile, warmth and happy disposition made Giselle's betrayal by Albrecht (danced by William Newton), and her subsequent death of a broken heart, a real tearjerker. She had you believing that an entire village could, indeed, love her.

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Ballet Stars
Weeks, a newly promoted SFB soloist, in Christopher Wheeldon's Bound To. Photo by Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB.

If a dancer is very lucky, and very prepared, one performance can transform their career. Lonnie Weeks was that dancer on the opening night of San Francisco Ballet's Unbound Festival in April. Chosen by Christopher Wheeldon for the emotionally wrenching final solo in Bound To, Weeks, 27, went onstage as a superb but largely unsung company artist. When the curtain came down 30 minutes later, he was, rightfully, a star.

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Ballet Stars
Bourbonniere as Bernardo in Robbins' West Side Story Suite. Photo by Aimee DiAndrea, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre.

When Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre corps de ballet dancer Corey Bourbonniere arrived onstage in the company's production of Jerome Robbins' West Side Story Suite last May, he wore the role of Bernardo like a custom-made leather jacket. Bourbonniere's Bernardo was puckish and sly, with a command and subtle likeability that made him the most delicious of anti-heroes. He shone brightest during the "Mambo" scene, where he deftly partnered his Anita (principal Julia Erickson) without missing a beat.

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Ballet Stars
Ballet Nacional de Cuba's corps de ballet performs Giselle's famous arabesque chugs. Photo by Carlos Quezada, Courtesy The Kennedy Center.

During the Ballet Nacional de Cuba's tour to Washington, DC's Kennedy Center earlier this year, the company brought longtime artistic director Alicia Alonso's Giselle. And while the production was admittedly well-worn and the style of dancing old-fashioned, the dancers rose to the occasion, led sensitively by longtime BNC star Viengsay Valdés in the title role.

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Ballet Stars
Iijima with Cuhan Wai Chan in Stanton Welch's Just. Photo by Christopher Duggan, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

Houston Ballet first soloist Nozomi Iijima transformed into a Zen goddess in the pas de deux for Stanton Welch's Just, commissioned specially for Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival in August. Partnered by Chun Wai Chan, Iijima moved as if in a dream state, casting a deliciously hypnotic spell. It was as if she was literally pouring her weight from one movement to another. Welch's sculptural choreography brings out her most mesmerizing abilities. Even though the ballet is completely fluid, tension slowly builds to a crescendo until finally we feel the pain of loss that memory holds. Her stoic but powerful performance held the audience captive—it was the kind of dancing that you don't want to exhale during.

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