The Lady With the Little Dog, Part II

I rang the doorbell at photographer Nathan Sayers' studio a couple of weeks ago, and was surprised to hear the sharp yapping of a little dog.  The door opened to reveal a little Yorkie (I think), and a laughing voice called "Henry! Come here!".  Henry turned and trotted into the studio, making a beeline for Sterling Hyltin, a principal with New York City Ballet, who was having her trademark mermaid hair coiffed by hair and makeup artist Chuck Jensen.

 

Some dancers can appear sweet when they are in character onstage, but sometimes are quite the opposite offstage.  Sterling, however, is just as funny and upbeat as she seems when performing the role of the Mad Ballerina in Jerome Robbins' The Concert, or as Juliet in the first part of Peter Martins' Romeo + Juliet.  To me, one of the hallmarks of her dancing is an exuberant energy, reflected in her beaming smile and the charmingly coltish quality she sometimes displays.  During our shoot, I was also struck by the way in which she could stretch her long lines just that much more, to push a pose over the edge of being just a static image, to endowing the picture with real movement.  Her willowy frame and long arms and legs form a continuous line, and energy shoots from her fingertips.

 

But back to Henry, who, though adorable, reflected his mistress's bouncy personality by scampering around the studio constantly, always in and out of the frame.  The soundtrack to the shoot ceased to be the indie music that played softly in the background, and became a chorus of voices constantly calling "Henry, Henry", to distract the pup from butting in on Sterling's solo camera time.  However, when his time came to shine, Henry was nothing if not professional.  He had a walk-on role in City Ballet's production of Alexey Miroshnichenko's The Lady With the Little Dog, which starred Sterling, and he reprised it briefly for the shoot.  As she rose onto pointe in her costume for the ballet, Henry came, he sat, and he stayed, his attention focused on his owner, while the cameras flashed, and we applauded.

Ballet Careers
Lenai Alexis Wilkerson. Christopher Duggan, Courtesy Michelle Tabnick Public Relations.

This is one of a series of stories on recent graduates' on-campus experiences—and the connections they made that jump-started their dance careers. Lenai Alexis Wilkerson graduated from University of Southern California with a BFA in dance (dance performance concentration) and a political science minor in 2019.

As Lenai Alexis Wilkerson looked at colleges, she wanted a school that would prepare her for two totally different professions: dancing and law. "I knew, pretty much when I was 16, that I wanted to go to law school," she says. "So I wanted the opportunity to have a dual college experience, where I could have a conservatory training style within a university and I could focus equally on my academics." When she auditioned for the inaugural class of University of Southern California's Glorya Kaufman School of Dance, she knew it was the right fit.

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Sponsored by Ballet Arizona
Tzu Chia Huang, Courtesy Ballet Arizona

These days, ballet dancers are asked to do more than they ever have—whether that's tackling versatile rep, taking on intense cross-training regimens or managing everything from their Instagram pages to their summer layoff gigs.

Without proper training, these demands can take a toll on both the mind and the body. But students can start preparing for them early—with the right summer intensive program.

The School of Ballet Arizona's summer intensive takes a well-rounded approach to training—not just focusing on technique and facility but nurturing overall dancer growth. "You cannot make a dancer just by screaming at them like they used to," says master ballet teacher Roberto Muñoz, who guests at the program every summer. "You have to take care of the person as well."

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News
Nicolas Pelletier in Carmina Burana. Francisco Estevez, Courtesy Colorado Ballet.

Last week, Colorado Ballet interrupted Nutcracker rehearsals for an exciting announcement: Four dancers were being promoted. Though all made the jump from the company's corps de ballet, Nicolas Pelletier ascended directly to the rank of soloist, while Sean Omandam, Emily Speed and Melissa Zoebisch were promoted to demi-soloist. This news comes hot on the heels of last August's promotion of Francisco Estevez to principal.

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Courtesy School of Pennsylvania Ballet

While many of us are deep in Nutcracker duties, The School of Pennsylvania Ballet director James Payne has been looking further ahead, finalizing preparations for the school's summer intensive programs. In January, he and his staff will embark on a 24-city audition tour to scour the country for the best young dancers, deciding whether or not to offer them a spot—maybe even a scholarship—in the school's rigorous 5-week intensive focused on high-caliber ballet instruction. Though he'll be evaluating aspirants, he urges that as a student, you should be equally selective in choosing programs that could galvanize your training—and possibly even your career.

We got Payne's advice on strategizing your summer intensive plan before the audition cycle kicks in:

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