Ballet Stars
Beth Maslinoff, Rachel Little and Jackie McConnell in San Francisco Opera's Rusalka. Cory Weaver, Courtesy San Francisco Opera

There was a special surprise for ballet lovers hidden in San Francisco Opera's June production of Antonín Dvořák's tragic fairy tale Rusalka: a magical five-minute dance that celebrated and sent up the fairies, sylphs and swans of the Romantic era. Most of SFO's productions offer small roles for the company's talented corps dancers, who hail from companies like Smuin Contemporary Ballet and Post:Ballet. But in Rusalka's Act II ballroom scene, the ensemble got well-deserved center stage and brought the house down with historically detailed, hilarious choreography created by Andrew George and staged by SFO dance master Lawrence Pech.

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Ballet Careers
Miko Fogarty left her corps position at Birmingham Royal Ballet to pursue a college degree. Sonata Dancewear, Courtesy Fogarty.

"I was living my dream, but I wasn't happy," recalls Alexandra Pullen. Since starting ballet at age 5, the Chicago native aspired to join American Ballet Theatre and dance the roles her mother, Ellen Krafft, had performed there a generation before. And she achieved it: Fast-tracked from the ABT Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School to the Studio Company, and then to the main company, by 20 she'd performed her mother's parts in Giselle and Don Quixote, toured the world, and attended galas and New York Fashion Week. And she was miserable.

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Ballet Stars
Yasmine Naghdi in The Sleeping Beauty with Eric Underwood. Bill Cooper, Courtesy The Royal Ballet.

What is the hardest role you've learned?

Swan Lake. You need so much endurance to get through it. Especially in Act III, when you're about to do the fouettés—I feel like I can't see, I'm so tired by that point. It's a battle of your own mind.

You've danced Aurora for The Royal Ballet and at San Francisco Ballet—how were they different?

In London it was my debut; it was 10 times harder dancing it for the first time. Revisiting it in San Francisco, I had so much more experience—it wasn't as hard as I remembered. Anytime you revisit a role, it becomes slightly less hard than the first time.

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Ballet Stars
Megan Amanda Ehrlich, Courtesy LEAP Program

Claire Sheridan wanted to change the status quo. Leading up to the 1990s, she recalls, "there was a 'shut up and dance' mind-set," and as the founder of the dance program at St. Mary's College of California and a longtime teacher in professional companies, she had seen too many dancers retire with no plan for a successful career transition. "At that time, if you thought about education and the future," she says, "you were not a committed dancer. I wanted to fight that."

With the support of St. Mary's, Sheridan developed the Liberal Education for Arts Professionals program, or LEAP, an innovative liberal-arts bachelor's degree program designed especially for professional dancers. She first presented her idea to executives at San Francisco Ballet. "Kudos to that company, because they said, 'This is great,'" she says. "Eleven of the first 18 dancers who started in August 1999 were from SFB."

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Ballet Stars
Jasmine Jimison as the Fairy of Playfulness in The Sleeping Beauty. Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB.

Jasmine Jimison is just 17, but she's already experiencing a fairy-tale ballet career: In her first year as a San Francisco Ballet apprentice, Jimison made sparkling main- stage debuts as Cupid in Don Quixote, the Ballerina Doll in The Nutcracker and, in The Sleeping Beauty, the Fairy of Playfulness and the Enchanted Princess, partnered by principal dancer Esteban Hernandez in the Bluebird pas de deux. Her tenure as an apprentice came to an abrupt end when artistic director Helgi Tomasson promoted her to the corps in March, just eight weeks into the season.

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Trending
Newly appointed principal WanTing Zhao in Helgi Tomasson's The Sleeping Beauty. Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB.

San Francisco Ballet has announced its 2019 company promotions, and artistic director Helgi Tomasson has elevated five talented young artists who all started in the company's corps de ballet. With several world premieres along with Balanchine's A Midsummer Night's Dream and the full-scale Jewels planned for the 2020 season, there will be ample opportunities for these dancers to shine on the SFB stage. Read on to learn more about them, and congratulations to all!

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Ballet Stars
The Mariinsky Ballet's Maria Khoreva. Svetlana Avvakum, Courtesy Kennedy Center.

Before Maria Khoreva danced her first performance as a member of the Mariinsky Ballet, she was already a superstar, with devoted Instagram fans following her life as a pupil in the Vaganova Academy (follow her @marachok). Her talent was already obvious—as were her exceptionally long lines, elegant technique and charisma—and when she joined the company's corps de ballet last summer, it was apparent that her artistry was also far beyond her 18 years.

Khoreva didn't last long in the corps: in November artistic director Yuri Fateev promoted her to first soloist, the Mariinsky's second-highest rank. Not even one year into Khoreva's professional career, her repertoire already includes the title role in Paquita, the lead in Balanchine's "Diamonds" and Terpsichore in his Apollo, plus Medora in Le Corsaire, which she is performing this week during the Mariinsky's annual tour to the Kennedy Center. Between performances in Washington, D.C., we spoke to Khoreva via Skype about her life in ballet, overcoming injuries and keeping in touch with 300,000 friends on Instagram.

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Ballet Stars
Jayme Thornton

This is Pointe's February/March 2019 Cover Story. You can subscribe to the magazine here, or click here to purchase this issue.

When Natasha Sheehan debuted in The Sleeping Beauty's Bluebird pas de deux last season, she enchanted the San Francisco Ballet audience with her filigree footwork, elegant lines and effortless charisma. It was a big moment for the then-19-year-old, who was just beginning her second year in the corps, but it wasn't her first—Sheehan has been in the spotlight since she was a 16-year-old trainee in the company school.

That's when SFB artistic director Helgi Tomasson gave her the lead in his Bartók Divertimento for the 2016 season gala, an evening featuring the company's biggest stars. Before that she was a cygnet in Swan Lake. "It felt like a dream," Sheehan says of getting featured roles so early. But it was also high-stakes. "During the 'Little Swans,' I could see Helgi watching me in the wings," she recalls vividly. "It was like, 'This is my one chance. I have to do this right.' "

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