This Saturday, you can take a class with Rex Harrington—on your laptop! To celebrate Canada's Culture Days, The National Ballet of Canada is hosting a live webcast of a master class led by the former NBC principal and current artist-in-residence. Barre and center work will be streaming live from 2:00 to 3:30 pm EST from the company's rehearsal studios in Toronto. Check it out at http://national.ballet.ca/education/programmes/culture_days.aspx.
Complexions Contemporary Ballet's Tatiana Melendez Proves There's No One Way to Have a Ballet Career
This is Pointe's Fall 2020 cover story. Click here to purchase this issue.
Talk to anyone about rising contemporary ballerina Tatiana Melendez, and one word is bound to come up repeatedly: "Fierce." And fair enough, that's a perfectly apt way to describe the 20-year-old's stage presence, her technical prowess and her determination to succeed. But don't make the mistake of assuming that fierceness is Melendez's only (or even her most noteworthy) quality. At the core of her dancing is a beautiful versatility. She's just as much at ease when etching pure classical lines as she is when boldly throwing herself off-balance.
"Selfish choreographer that I am, I want Tatiana to stay with Complexions for all time," says her boss Dwight Rhoden, Complexions Contemporary Ballet's co-artistic director and resident choreographer. "She has a theatricality about her: When the music comes on, she gets swept away." Not too shabby for someone who thought just a few years ago that maybe ballet wasn't for her.
Training Grounds<p>Melendez was born and raised in Tampa, Florida, where she danced from age 4 at a small recreational studio. "I did everything from ballet to contemporary, jazz to acro," says Melendez. At 8, she switched to All American Dance Factory and Classical Ballet School, studying and competing in the standard comp-kid fare of jazz, acro, contemporary and hip hop. Yet Melendez found herself drawn to ballet's clear structure. "My first ballet competition was Youth America Grand Prix in 2011," she remembers. "I did it on flat because that was my first year on pointe." Before long, she became a regular in the top five at ADC|IBC, World Ballet Competition, YAGP and New York City Dance Alliance.</p><p>Melendez says there wasn't any one lightbulb moment that made her realize ballet was her dream. But that doesn't mean the ballet world wasn't taking notice of <em>her</em>. In 2015, the Ballet West Academy had already offered 15-year-old Tatiana admission to their year-round program when she was spotted at ADC|IBC by Houston Ballet II's ballet master Claudio Muñoz, who was judging. "My eyes went right to Tatiana, because her jumps and turns had phenomenal energy," Muñoz recalls. That "raw, incredible talent" netted Melendez a full scholarship to the Professional Program at Houston Ballet Academy. After taking time to consider Houston Ballet's rep (contemporary-leaning), her connection with Muñoz (strong and encouraging), and friends' testimonials about the year-round program (glowing), Melendez moved into student housing.</p>
Going Pro, With Cons<p>After graduation, Melendez headed to Fort Worth, where she'd landed a trainee contract with Texas Ballet Theater. It was a tough transition. "I went from training all day every day, to one morning class followed by standing on the side during hours of rehearsal," she says. Melendez's gifts were far from ignored, though. As a trainee, she danced in the corps of productions like <em>Swan Lake</em> and <em>Beauty and the Beast</em>, was one of six lead women in Ben Stevenson's world premiere <em>Martinu Pieces</em>, and led multiple performances of <em>The Nutcracker</em> as Clara.</p><p>At the end of the season, however, Melendez's worst nightmare came true. Her contract was not renewed because, at 5' 1", she was considered too short for the company. "My height had always been an insecurity," Melendez says. "Once, at a ballet competition, someone told me as I came offstage that I would never make it because I'm 'not built for dance.' " </p>
From left: Candy Tong, Melendez and Eriko Sugimura in Dwight Rhoden's Love Rocks
Justin Chao, Courtesy Complexions Contemporary ballet
Taking Flight<p>Thus began what Melendez calls the hardest, happiest two days of her life. More than 400 dancers showed up to the Complexions' open call in April 2018, but after technique classes and "the fastest I've had to learn choreography, ever," Melendez made it all the way through the final cut. By the end of the two nonstop days, she felt sure that Rhoden's daring, athletic contemporary movement was her true calling—but still assumed she wouldn't get the job.</p><p>She needn't have worried. As Desmond Richardson, Complexions' co-founder and co-artistic director says, "Tatiana clearly made her presence known from the moment she walked through the door. I remember Dwight and I saying, 'Wow, she's really something.' Her professionalism, her innate sense of musicality and the sheer force of her were quite nostalgic to me." Rhoden adds, "What made Tatiana stand out was her fearlessness. She applied corrections, dynamics and ideas immediately in the audition. She knows how to cross the t's and dot the i's."</p>
Simon Plant and Melendez performing Dwight Rhoden's WOKE
Stephen Pisano, Courtesy Complexions Contemporary Ballet
Whether it's cubed and roasted or puréed into a comforting soup, butternut squash takes center stage this fall. The flavorful seasonal favorite is an excellent nutritional choice for dancers. Here's what's packed into one serving:
Nutritional Snapshot<ul><li><strong>Potassium: </strong>Surprisingly, it has more than you'll get from a banana and may help you avoid muscle cramping.</li><li><strong>Vitamin A: </strong>Satisfy your daily value and then some. It's good not just for your eyes, but also your bone and immune health.</li><li><strong>Fiber: </strong>About 7 grams to help keep you full.</li><li><strong>Plus, </strong>it has smaller but significant amounts of vitamin C, calcium, iron, niacin and vitamin E.</li></ul>
Short on Time?<p>Try this quick cooking method: Poke a few holes in the squash with a fork. Cut it in half lengthwise, and scoop out the seeds. Microwave cut-side down on high in a glass baking dish with 2 tablespoons of water for 9 to 12 minutes, or until the squash is soft. Scrape the squash out of the skin with a spoon. Mix it into a recipe, or add seasoning and mash it with a fork for a hearty side.</p>
Save the Seeds<p>Toss them in olive oil and a pinch of salt, and roast them for a portable, nutritious snack or salad mix-in. The seeds are a good source of fiber and healthy fats.</p>
A seasoned dancer, Dara Holmes' career with The Joffrey Ballet has consisted of a lot of heavy lifting in the ensemble. "As a new company member, I was onstage all the time," says Holmes, 28. "The older you get, the more you start to appreciate your body and want to preserve it. If I want to keep dancing and do bigger roles, I need to be healthy."
Holmes in Val Caniparoli's Incantations
Cheryl Mann, Courtesy Joffrey Ballet