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From left: Photo via Mattel; Photo by Erik Tomasson, via San Francisco Ballet.

Mattel has just announced the newest 14 dolls in its Barbie Global Role Model series, and we're thrilled to see that San Francisco Ballet principal Yuan Yuan Tan has made the list. Tan joins the ranks of Misty Copeland, who was immortalized in Barbie form just last year.

The Barbie Shero program honors real women who have broken boundaries in their fields, and can act as an inspiration to the next generation of girls. Tan certainly fits that bill. She was both the youngest dancer ever promoted to principal in SFB's long history and the first Chinese-born ballerina to maintain a principal position at the top of the American ballet world. Her doll wears her Swan Lake Odette costume and is in relevé in white shoes (though any bunhead knows that those untucked ribbons would never pass). "It's important to me that young girls know that they can be anything they want to be, so they should dream big and never give up," Tan told the San Francisco Chronicle.

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Viral Videos

The tambourine variation from La Esmeralda is a competition favorite, but the full pas de deux isn't seen as often. That's a shame, because it contains some of the most technically challenging classical choreography to be found. In this video, Yuan Yuan Tan and Felipe Diaz take on this balletic feat with amazing power and ease.

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Scarlett rehearses Fearful Symmetries with SFB principals Yuan Yuan Tan and Carlo Di Lanno. Photo by Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB.

Royal Ballet artist in residence Liam Scarlett is noted for the psychological themes of his one-act ballets, like 2014's The Age of Anxiety. On May 4, he pushed those themes further with the premiere of Frankenstein—his first full-length work for The Royal Ballet's main stage. Frankenstein marks a first-time collaboration between Scarlett and composer Lowell Liebermann, and is co-produced with San Francisco Ballet, which will give the U.S. premiere in 2017. Pointe spoke with the choreographer about his process and why he thinks Mary Shelley's novel is “perfection in literature."

Why were you drawn to Frankenstein?

I first read Frankenstein as a child. Now, it's less a tale of gothic horror and more a story of love: innocent love, the lack of love for oneself, betrayed and jealous love, and the desperate need to be loved by another. Every great story ballet has love at its center.

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Iana Salenko, photo courtesy Zarely.

If you're wishing events like World Ballet Day LIVE came around more than once a year, you're in luck: Next week brings not one, but two ballet livestreams that you can enjoy right from your phone or computer. Mark your calendars, and prepare for a week of stellar ballet:

Zarely's first World Online Gala. This Sunday, more than 20 principal dancers from around the world will participate in a 10-hour online performance. The star-studded lineup includes Staatsballett Berlin's Iana Salenko, American Ballet Theatre's Isabella Boylston and James Whiteside, San Francisco Ballet's Yuan Yuan Tan, New York City Ballet's Lauren Lovette and The Australian Ballet's Amber Scott—to name just a few. The dancers will perform their favorite classical or contemporary works, and share personal stories of their own dance journeys. The event promises to be an inspiring way to kick off your week.

Catch it: January 31, beginning at 10:30 am EST. Watch the livestream here.

Yuan Yuan Tan, photo courtesy Zarely.

The 44th Prix de Lausanne. After all that starpower, tune in on Monday for the beginning of the 2016 Prix de Lausanne, and watch some of ballet's most exciting emerging talent. All week, the annual competition will stream daily backstage events, giving viewers behind-the-scenes access to the action. It all culminates in the finals on Saturday, February 6, when 20 young dancers will compete for one-year scholarships at the Prix's partner schools and companies. This will be livestreamed as well.

Catch it: February 1–6 on the Prix de Lausanne's website or YouTube channel. Find the full livestream schedule here.

Proceed with caution: This emotionally charged death scene is balletic but brutal. San Francisco Ballet principal Yuan Yuan Tan and former American Ballet Theatre principal Desmond Richardson perform in this excerpt of Lar Lubovitch’s Othello. The ballet, based on Shakespeare’s play of the same name, was jointly produced by SFB and ABT in 1997, and the companies’ respective stars are brilliantly paired. As Othello, Richardson emanates chilling menace as he stalks around Desdemona. Tan aptly blends Desdemona’s palpable fear of her husband with complete devotion to him. She yields her limbs to his manipulation and lies prone and submissive while he pulls out the handkerchief with which he’ll murder her. Though innocent of the adultery she’s accused of, Desdemona helps him wrap the silk around her neck, reaching desperately for Othello as he strangles her to death.

 

These dancers have taken vastly different career paths over the past two decades, but neither has lost momentum. Richardson, between stints on Broadway and dancing in films, continues to break boundaries as the co-director (with Dwight Rhoden) of Complexions Contemporary Ballet, and Tan is lauded in both her adopted and home countries as a sublime ballerina. She is currently on tour with SFB in China (following a successful tour there in 2009)—a homecoming and a celebration of her 20 years with the company. Happy #TBT!

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

Quinn Wharton

Yuan Yuan Tan is one of San Francisco Ballet's most stunning classical dancers, but her flair for timeless elegance reaches beyond the stage. Her street look is grounded in clean silhouettes and dark shades, but has an edge; she loves leather and isn't afraid of a pop of color. “I look up to Audrey Hepburn, Cate Blanchett and Maggie Cheung for fashion inspiration," says Tan. The one thing she truly couldn't live without? Earrings—but not just any pair. “I got a pair of antique crystal earrings in Prague in 1999, and I wear them onstage for good luck."

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Alessandra Ferri in "Romeo and Juliet." Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy ABT.

To watch Irina Kolpakova coach Swan Lake is to witness a true artist at work. Although long retired from the stage, the American Ballet Theatre ballet mistress still possesses a commanding presence and an instinctive artistic spirit.

"Don't think about your shape when you first see Siegfried," she tells principal Isabella Boylston during rehearsal for Odette's Act II entrance. "This is not 'port de bras.' This is 'Don't touch me!' " Kolpakova demonstrates, transforming instantly into the Swan Queen. Her eyes sparkling and alive, every inch of her diminutive stature swells with a palpable energy capable of reaching the highest ring of the balcony.

Call it stage presence, call it the "it" factor, some dancers just have a natural ability to draw people in and change the atmosphere around them. Stage presence can carry a dancer to a higher artistic realm. It's the final piece of the puzzle, the emotional heart of a performance that can bring an audience to tears. Without it, even the best choreography risks falling flat.

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You have been at San Francisco Ballet for 15 years. How do you feel your dancing has changed or improved?

I feel I am more myself these days. There was something bottled up in me that needed to come out emotionally. It wasn’t just the steps. Surprisingly, the process is still happening.

 

What qualities in your dancing do you feel you still must work on?

The articulation of the foot.

 

If you could change one thing about your body, what would it be?

My knees. They’re too big in proportion to the rest of my body.

 

What is the least glamorous aspect of being a ballet dancer?

Repeating things over and over again in the studio. There’s nothing glamorous about it. We just try to be better, to prepare and repair ourselves.

 

What skill would you like to have that you don’t possess now?

I want to be freer on stage. I try not to worry about technique or that the music is too fast or too slow.

 

Do you suffer from stage fright?

I do. I deal with it by practicing before the performance and meditating a bit.

 

If you were not a dancer, what would you like to be?

A fashion designer.

 

What is your favorite food?

Chocolate. Dark chocolate.

 

What is your greatest indulgence?

Basically, it’s what I can’t do as long as I am dancing. I want to go skydiving and to drive very fast.

 

Do you have any pre-performance rituals?

I pray.

 

How would you like to be remembered?

If an audience thinks my dancing was beautiful, that is enough.

The following is a guest blog by San Francisco Ballet principal Yuan Yuan Tan, currently on tour with the company in Copenhagen, Denmark. Stay tuned for more posts from Yuan Yuan!

Today is Friday [August 21] and I'm in Copenhagen—jet-lagged, big time!

Yesterday, I went to class and then to a contemporary art museum with fellow dancer Gennadi Nedvigin. It required a train ride out of Copenhagen of about half an hour. On the train platform we ran into some other dancers and SF Ballet staff, and we ended up all going to the museum together. I was really impressed with the work of the Danish artists that I saw, including the beautiful outdoor sculptures. After we looked around, we sat outside at a cafe that overlooked the sea and talked, enjoying the nice weather. At about 7:30 pm, we took the train back to the city—and I crashed as soon as I got back!

This morning I feel more awake. I just took class. Next up for me, two rehearsals and the opening of the first program tomorrow. I'll keep you posted on how the first performance goes; we're all really glad to be here!

The following is a guest blog by San Francisco Ballet principal Yuan Yuan Tan, currently on tour with the company in Copenhagen, Denmark. Stay tuned for more posts from Yuan Yuan!

Things are going very well here on our tour to Copenhagen, but there was a bit of drama on our way to the residence of Laurie Fulton, US ambassador to Denmark, for a reception Monday night. As one of our two buses left the hotel, the second bus got a flat tire. Luckily, I was able to fit into one of four extra seats on the first bus—which I was very happy about, especially since it was raining pretty hard!

By the time we got the reception, the rain had stopped, and we had a lovely time. Ambassador Fulton gave a very warm speech and Helgi [Tomasson] presented her with our 75th anniversary book. Since I was performing for the opening night of our second program on Tuesday, I stayed in my room and rested once I got back from the event.
 
Yesterday was a long day with the dress rehearsal and opening of Program 2. The opening proved how warm and gracious the Copenhagen audiences really are. On stage, we could 100% feel their energy and we were very appreciative of all the curtain calls! I also saw an old colleague from SFB, Peter Brandenhoff, and it was really nice to catch up with him. We're in the home stretch now, with only three shows to go!

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When a ballet dancer hears Cesare Pugni's familiar score, and sees a dancer holding a tambourine, she knows the imperishable variation from La Esmeralda will follow. One of the most recognizable pieces of choreography, it is often taught and performed to showcase a dancer's strength and technical ability. Esmeralda is one of a handful of ballet heroines to triumph at the end of her story—so pride and power are critical.

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