Ballet Careers
Ali Cameron, Courtesy Queensland Ballet

An artistic director's position was far from Li Cunxin's mind when the Brisbane-based Queensland Ballet came calling in 2012. Since his retirement from the stage in 1999, the Chinese-Australian dancer had embarked on a highly successful career at the helm of a stockbroking firm. His wife, former dancer and current Queensland ballet mistress Mary McKendry Li, changed his mind, Li remembers. "She said, 'Wouldn't it be nice to give something back to the art form that we both have benefited so much from?' "

Seven years later, Li's contribution has been dramatic. Queensland Ballet, once a struggling choreographer-led company, has become one of Australia's most exciting repertoire ensembles, with Liam Scarlett on board as artistic associate. The budget has more than quadrupled, to over $20 million USD, and Li has launched not one but three major construction projects, with world-class headquarters, a theater and a new academy all in progress.

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Ballet Careers
Royal New Zealand Ballet dancers Kate Kadow, Katherine Minor and Katherine Precourt rehearse Balanchine's Serenade. Photo by Stephen A'Court, Courtesy RNZB.

Though the Royal New Zealand Ballet has seen a lot of upheaval in recent years, it's now attracting dancers from the U.S. again. Six American women are currently working for the Wellington-based company: Two of them, soloist Katherine Minor and dancer Leonora Voigtlander, joined in 2014, shortly before the end of Ethan Stiefel's tenure as artistic director, while the others were drawn to the vision of current director Patricia Barker. In 2018, the former Pacific Northwest Ballet star and director of Grand Rapids Ballet hired principal Katharine Precourt (previously a first soloist with Houston Ballet), soloist Kate Kadow, and dancers Caroline Wiley and Clare Schellenberg. (Two other American dancers—former Miami City Ballet principal Simone Messmer and 17-year-old Nicole Denney, are currently there through September as guest artists.) We sat down with all six of them to find out what it was like moving across the world and adjusting to life in Kiwi land.

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Ballet Stars
Quinn Wharton

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

The third movement of Balanchine's Symphony in C is designed to wow, but it's not often a dancer manages to bring unadulterated joy to its brutally difficult steps. Yet when The Royal Ballet's Marcelino Sambé ran onto the stage last fall, the bright, cheerful buoyancy of his first grand jeté drew a gasp from the British gentleman sitting behind me in the Royal Opera House's chic Grand Tier.

The stage isn't the only place where Sambé's infectious energy stands out. Time and again, company employees crack a smile at the mention of his name; a stage door attendant perks up when calling him over and chats animatedly about his performances. "He basically cheers up the whole Royal Ballet," says principal Francesca Hayward, a frequent partner of Sambé's. "He's one of those: Sunshine comes with him," Kevin O'Hare, the director of The Royal Ballet, concurs. "He's just a great, positive influence in the room and in the building."

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Ballet Stars
Novikova in The Sleeping Beauty. Photo by Natasha Razina, Courtesy Mariinsky Theatre.

The luminous Olesya Novikova has become one of St. Petersburg's best-kept secrets. Pushed into leading roles early, the 34-year-old has been out of the limelight in recent years, partly because she has given birth to three children with husband Leonid Sarafanov. Last March, however, for the bicentenary of Marius Petipa's birth, she was tasked with leading a revival of Sergei Vikharev's landmark reconstruction of The Sleeping Beauty, first performed in 1999.

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Reverence
Xander Parish in Balanchine's "Apollo." Photo by Valentin Baranovsky, courtesy Mariinsky Ballet.

What do you enjoy more: performing or being in the studio?
Performing. My coaches understand that I'm not a studio dancer—sometimes, in the studio, it can go quite horrendously. They'll say: It's okay, we know onstage you can do it.

In reaching the top, how much was talent and how much was sweat?
A lot more sweat than talent. I've got certain attributes: long legs, nice feet. That's a blessing, but I wasn't naturally coordinated. I was called Bambi in school because I couldn't really control what I had. I was a very late developer: I got my strength together when I was maybe 27.

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Ballet Stars
Lendorf in Don Quixote. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy ABT.

What do you enjoy most: performing, or being in the studio?
The moment right after performing. It's never a perfect show, but however you feel about it, there is a satisfaction, a sense of fulfillment.

What qualities do you admire most in other dancers?
Openness. We're all afraid of being ourselves: Like actors and singers, you're being judged all the time, and you know you're being judged. You need to let go and try to be honest with yourself, because that's what appeals most to the audience and other dancers.

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popular
Angelina Vorontsova in the company's revival of "Cinderella." Photo by Stas Levshin, Courtesy Mikhailovsky Ballet.

Ella Persson remembers the rehearsals for her debut as Giselle. "I was in my first year with the company, and I started preparing with Mikhail Messerer during late evenings," the Mikhailovsky Ballet's Swedish-born coryphée says. "I was definitely not ready, but he gave me a chance to push myself and made me so much stronger, mentally and physically."

Under Messerer, the Mikhailovsky Ballet has carved a niche on the Russian and international stage by investing in coaching and dancers' growth. Unlike the older Mariinsky, St. Petersburg's second ballet company was only founded after World War I. But with a classically focused repertoire and productions that rotate onstage every month, it offers plenty of opportunities for talent to thrive.


Ballet master in chief Mikhail Messerer. Photo Courtesy Mikhailovsky Ballet.

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Ballet Stars
McNally and Marcelino Sambé in Crystal Pite's harrowing "Flight Pattern." Photo by Tristram Kenton, Courtesy ROH.

Kristen McNally has long been one of the most versatile dramatic talents at The Royal Ballet. Since joining the company in 2002, the Liverpool-born dancer has carved a niche for herself by excelling at both character and contemporary roles, from Carabosse and the Queen in The Sleeping Beauty to work by Javier de Frutos or Hofesh Shechter.

Photo by Tristram Kenton, Courtesy ROH.

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