#TBT: Sylvie Guillem and Massimo Murru in “Petite Mort” (2005)

From the outside, classical ballet can seem restrictive with its decorum, elaborate costumes and, of course, uncomfortable pointe shoes. Yet as ballet dancers we know that our technique actually allows our bodies to move with incredible freedom. That physical freedom is never more apparent than in watching dancers like Sylvie Guillem and Massimo Murru, both of whom danced with historic ballet companies, take on contemporary masterpieces like Jiří Kylián's Petite Mort. Stripped down to the barest costumes, their musculature and sheer physicality are unencumbered and demand awe.


Guillem, a former étoile with the Paris Opera Ballet and then an international guest artist, could certainly not be contained to classical repertoire. Alongside Marru, a former La Scala Ballet étoile, her legs bend, swivel, expand and fly. Guillem and Marru's intelligent bodies slip from angular shapes into flowing classical lines. Their movement relies on tension, supporting each others' weight in unexpected shapes. In one moment at 3:30, as Murru clasps Guillem's hand between her legs, she flicks her feet off the floor and suddenly levitates in grand plié. Continuously weaving into each others' negative space, they wrap their legs, arms and bodies around each other, dancing as a single organism. The audience was obviously moved—the applause goes on for two minutes! Happy #ThrowbackThursday!

Latest Posts


The author, Lucy Van Cleef, dancing Balanchine's Serenade at Los Angeles Ballet. Reed Hutchinson, Courtesy Los Angeles Ballet

My 12-Year Journey to a Bachelor’s Degree While Dancing Professionally

If you'd have told me in 2009 that it would take 12 years to earn my bachelor's degree, I never would have believed you. Back then, I was a dancer in my early 20s and in my second year with Los Angeles Ballet. I was used to the straightforward demands of the professional ballet world. I knew that hard work and willpower were the currency you paid in the studio, and that the thrill of live performance made all that investment worth it. What I didn't know then is how life's twists and turns aren't always so straightforward. In hindsight, I can see how my winding road to higher education has strengthened me—and my relationship with the ballet world—more than I ever could have imagined.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Michael Cousmano, AKA Madame Olga. Courtesy When I'm Her

New Documentary "When I’m Her" Shows How Madame Olga’s Positive Affirmations Can Transform Ballet

Michael "Mikey" Cusumano was a rising star at American Ballet Theatre in the 1990s, joining the company at 15 years old and dancing principal roles by age 16. But the high pressure of ballet proved detrimental to his emotional and mental well-being. "I couldn't find the joy in ballet anymore," says Cusumano.

After 10 years as a professional ballet dancer, Cusumano transitioned to Broadway, where his alter ego, a sparkly-turban–wearing Russian ballet instructor named Madame Olga, was able to fully emerge. In Madame Olga, Cusumano became the ballet teacher he wished he had growing up. While Olga's classes feature the same technical rigor as any other intermediate-advanced ballet class, they also incorporate her signature humor and positive affirmations. It's common for Madame Olga's students to vocalize those affirmations while dancing (for example, saying "love" out loud while doing an adagio combination).

Keep reading SHOW LESS
New York City Ballet principal and Dance Against Cancer Co-Founder Daniel Ulbricht in New York City's Columbus Circle. Travis Magee, Courtesy DAC.

Dance Against Cancer Is Back With a Starry Outdoor Gala—and It Will Also Be Livestreamed

The annual Dance Against Cancer gala is back in full force this year, bringing major dance stars together on Monday, June 21, to raise money for the American Cancer Society. Held in Lincoln Center's outdoor Damrosch Park, it will be New York City's largest in-person ticketed event since the onset of the pandemic. And for the first time, this year's gala will also be livestreamed by Nel Shelby Productions for international audiences. The evening's finale—a tribute to first responders, medical professionals, educators, mentors and other heroes who have lost their lives to cancer or are battling it—stars special guest Kevin Boseman, a former dancer with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Martha Graham Dance Company, a cancer survivor, and the brother of the late actor Chadwick Boseman.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks