Ballet Training
Matthew Murphy for Dance Teacher

Xiomara Reyes, head of The Washington School of Ballet, describes grand battement as "a very important base step that helps with flexibility, jumps and stability. It's the beginning of a grand jeté, the farthest push of your body in space and movement." Here, she shares how she works on this essential building-block step.

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Ballet Stars
Xiomara Reyes, Herman Cornejo and Erica Cornejo in the "Swan Lake" pas de trois, via YouTube.

This week's TBT is a three-for-one throwback special: A power trio of versatile American Ballet Theatre performers, Xiomara Reyes and siblings Erica and Herman Cornejo, dance the Act I pas de trois from Swan Lake in this 2005 video. Reyes, who now heads The Washington School of Ballet, and Herman Cornejo both became principals at ABT in 2003 and were regular partners. Erica danced at ABT as a soloist until joining Boston Ballet as a principal in 2006. In the pas de trois from Swan Lake, the three dancers' unique camaraderie, exuberance and light, bounding ballon make for a show-stopping performance.

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International performer Joy Womack balances flexibility and strength to maintain her turnout. Photo by Quinn Wharton for Pointe.

Turnout is one of the defining characteristics of classical ballet and the foundation of your technique, but the deceptively simple concept of external rotation can be hard to execute. For those born with hip joints that don't naturally make a tight fifth position, it's tempting to take shortcuts in the quest for more rotation, but you'll end up with weaker technique and a higher risk of injury. We asked top teachers and physical therapists to break down the meaning of turnout and offer safe ways to maximize your range.

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Xiomara Reyes racked up invaluable experience as a principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre. Now, she's sharing that wisdom with students as head of The Washington School of Ballet. Pointe asked Reyes her best advice for dancers as they head back to class in 2017.

Reyes and Jared Nelson in TWB's production of Sleepy Hollow. Photo by Theo Kossenas, Courtesy TWB.

What's your goal for your students right now?

For me, the most important thing is that they get confident enough with their technique so they can move forward and incorporate their artistry.

 

How can dancers do that?

By following the music and trying to hear the differences in it. Like an adagio has a different kind of movement energy than a frappé. All the steps have their own energy.

 

What about students who feel like they're going through the motions at barre?

I was the kind of dancer who loved rehearsal, loved performing, but class was the hard part. So I completely understand. But I found that even when you are tired and burned out, if you are present in the moment and you try to feel the music in your body, it gives you new energy.

 

Reyes with a TWB student. Photo by Jim Lafferty, courtesy Dance Teacher.

Do you have any advice for the more timid dancers who stand at the back of the studio?

This may sound funny, but create a role, a persona that is not scared of being out there. But if you are really uncomfortable pushing your way forward, don't. Sometimes kids think they need to be in front, but when someone is really concentrating and focusing on getting better, the teacher can see them anywhere.

 

Any extra advice you'd offer to dancers going into 2017?

My main thing is whatever you do, enjoy it. Try to learn how to make that show. Sometimes we think, I’m going to smile bigger—that’s not necessarily what I’m talking about. I’m talking about really, truly enjoying something just because you love doing it. If we love dancing, it should show in a natural way. If you don’t feel comfortable with that, go back to the point of why you dance. Why are you spending so much time in the studio with the music and other people around? If you can enjoy that, all the time you are spending will make sense.

 

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

News

Photo by Fabrizio Ferri, Courtesy TWB.

Just a year ago, Julie Kent and Xiomara Reyes took their final bows at American Ballet Theatre. Now, the two ABT stars will be working together even more closely. Kent, who was named artistic director of The Washington Ballet in March, announced today that she has appointed Reyes as head of The Washington School of Ballet, effective September 1. Reyes' husband, Rinat Imaev, a company teacher at ABT, will also join TWSB as senior faculty.

Outgoing school director Kee Juan Han announced his retirement in April, prompting a nationwide search. “I’ve always loved working with Julie at ABT, so I was very excited when she called and asked if we’d be interested in applying,” Reyes told Pointe in a phone interview. She and Imaev have been directing IBStage, a summer program in Barcelona, for four years, and the Cuban-born dancer is no stranger to Washington audiences: Last year she danced the role of Katrina Van Tassel  in the world premiere of Septime Webre’s Sleepy Hollow. Now, she’s getting better acquainted with the school’s workings. “Kee Juan has been amazing and very helpful in explaining everything that the position entails.”

Reyes and Jared Nelson in TWB's production of Sleepy Hollow. Photo by Theo Kassenas, Courtesy TWB.

As for any major changes, Reyes says that she and Kent want to focus on deepening the school’s relationship with TWB, “so that the school can nourish the company and so that the students can be inspired by the dancers.” There are no immediate plans to instill ABT’s National Training Curriculum. “It’s the kind of decision Julie and I need to talk about, because it’s a very big decision,” says Reyes. She is, however, excited to share aspects of her Cuban training with students. “I’m very influenced by what I call its ‘fearless approach,’” she says. “In Cuba, it was a wonderful way of making us work very hard and in friendly competition, but without putting people down. That’s one of the things I really cherish and that I look forward to implementing—that security of confidence in a dancer that allows you to be fearless.”

News

 

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.”

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.”

 During ballet competitions or gala performances, dancers have only a short amount of time to convey the power of a pas de deux. Without the context of the entire ballet, they must bring the story's energy to life with only their bodies, costumes and the music. This clip from 2011 shows American Ballet Theatre principal Xiomara Reyes and Rolando Sarabia performing the Diana and Actaeon pas de deux at the 5th International Ballet Star Gala in Taipei. The divertissement makes an appearance in a number of Romantic ballets, and depicts the mythological character of Diana, goddess of the hunt--a role that undoubtedly requires a dancer with a strong and commanding presence. 

Xiomara Reyes masters this challenge with sound tenacity, lighting fire to the stage with her strong lines and powerful limbs. She portrays her character's joy and pride, revealing fearlessness in her movement (just watch that sauté into a penché at 2:50). After an international career and 14 years with American Ballet Theatre, Reyes will retire from the company on May 27. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!

 

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