20-year-old Daniel Russell Cooke is in his first season with Ballet Memphis. Cooke documented the beginning of his professional career—including work on the company's mixed-repertory program The River Project, which opens tomorrow and runs through October 28—for Pointe.

I arrived in Memphis at the beginning of August and got started right away. Company classes and rehearsals for our season kickoff, a costume fashion show in recognition of the company’s new costume shop, began immediately. This first project was a fantastic icebreaker. It allowed me to get to know the company dancers, and them to get to know me.

But things got even more intense when we began rehearsing our mainstage season opener, The River Project. It includes new works by Julia Adam, Steven McMahon and Matthew Neenan. All the choreography is inspired by the Mississippi River—the people whose lives were shaped by its path, the music that was created on its banks, and the tales of its history.

I’m in the opening piece, Confluence, by  Steven McMahon, who is both a dancer with the company and its resident choreographer. I see his ballet as a story about about creating a home and a community, making something new and maybe even unexpected. The work has three evolving acts—it starts slowly but grows steadily, until it takes on a life of its own. We begin by building a physical place, but by the end of the piece we are trying to ascend to a higher place, maybe a spiritual one.

I love working with Steven. He is a seamless dancer with a beautiful movement quality. Since he's about 6' 5", I literally look up to him (which is rare because I'm 6'4"!). But I also look up to him as an experienced dancer and choreographer. He's constantly in a state of cognitive play, working and re-working ideas, which I believe is a quality of a true visionary.

I’m so excited to be a part of a professional company. I'm finally living the dream—and learning a ton! The advice my coworkers share with me is so helpful. I couldn't be more grateful to them for making me feel accepted and included. I'm lucky to be here. And this is only the beginning.

It’s still hard to believe that I’m making my professional debut tomorrow. I'm so excited. I hope that Steven's piece connects with the audience in a way that leaves them wanting more, and inspires thought and conversation.

Ballet Careers
Sisters Isabella Shaker and Alexandra Pullen. Photo Courtesy Alexandra Pullen.

This is the second in a series of articles this month about ballet siblings.

My mom was in the corps de ballet at American Ballet Theatre. A generation later, so was I. As if that's not enough for one family, my younger sister Isabella Shaker dreams of following in our dancing footsteps. Her endeavor, and her status as somewhat of a child prodigy, stirs feelings of pride and apprehension within me, since I have lived through the ups and downs of this intense yet rewarding career.

Ballet will always be my first love and the thing that brings me the most joy, and my dance career has opened endless opportunities for me. However, it's a difficult career path that requires a lifelong dedication. It's super competitive and can lead to body image issues, physical injury and stress. Most dancers will face some of these problems; I definitely dealt with all three.

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Ballet Stars
Photo by Gabriel Davalos, Courtesy Valdés

For decades the name Alicia Alonso has been virtually synonymous with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the company she co-founded in Havana in 1948. Alonso died on October 17, just shy of what would have been her 99th birthday. In recent years, she had stepped back from day-to-day decision-making in the company. As if preparing for the future, in January, the company's leading ballerina, 42-year-old Viengsay Valdés, was named deputy director, a job that seems to encompass most of the responsibilities of a traditional director. Now, presumably, she will step into her new role as director of the company. Her debut as curator of the repertory comes in November, when the troupe will perform three mixed bills selected by her at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso. The following has been translated from a conversation conducted in Spanish, Valdés' native tongue.

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Ballet Stars
Photo by Jayme Thornton

It's National Bullying Prevention Month—and Houston Ballet breakout star Harper Watters is exactly the advocate young dancers facing bullying need. Watters is no novice when it comes to slaying on social media, but his Bullying Prevention Month collaboration with Teen Vogue and Instagram is him at his most raw, speaking about his own experiences with bullies, and how his love of dance helped him to overcome adversity. Watters even penned an incredible op-ed for Teen Vogue's website, where he talks candidly about growing up queer. Catch his amazing anti-bullying video here—and, as Watters says, "Stay fabulous, stay flawless, stay flexible, but most importantly, stay fearless."

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News
Alicia Alonso with Igor Youskevitch. Sedge Leblang, Courtesy Dance Magazine Archives.

Her Dying Swan was as fragile as her Juliet was rebellious; her Odile, scheming, her Swanilda, insouciant. Her Belle was joyous, and her Carmen, both brooding and full-blooded. But there was one role in particular that prompted dance critic Arnold Haskell to ask, "How do you interpret Giselle when you are Giselle?"

At eight, Alicia Alonso took her first ballet class on a stage in her native Cuba, wearing street clothes. Fifteen years later, put in for an ailing Alicia Markova in a performance of Giselle with Ballet Theatre, she staked her claim to that title role.

Alonso received recognition throughout the world for her flawless technique and her ability to become one with the characters she danced, even after she became nearly blind. After a career in New York, she and her then husband Fernando Alonso established the Cuban National Ballet and the Cuban National Ballet School, both of which grew into major international dance powerhouses and beloved institutions in their home country. On October 17, the company announced that, after leading the company for a remarkable 71 years, Alonso died from cardiovascular disease at the age of 98.

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