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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Ballet Careers
Photo by Joe Plimmer

A gentle presence in the studio, Kevin O'Hare was widely seen as a safe pair of hands when he took over as The Royal Ballet's director upon Monica Mason's retirement in 2012. A former principal with Birmingham Royal Ballet, a sister company of The Royal, he had danced much of the British repertoire; as The Royal's administrative director, he knew the London-based institution inside out.

Yet when he was appointed, O'Hare quietly set himself a radical challenge: In 2020, for a full year, he intended to present only works created in the decade prior. "I think we can do it. We're on track," he says now with a laugh. "If we're not pushing ourselves, giving the dancers opportunities to create new roles, then there's no point in being here."

That commitment to renewed creativity, balanced with a sensible respect for the British ballet heritage, has been the hallmark of O'Hare's directorship. Since he took the helm, The Royal has produced at least one new full-length ballet nearly every season, with hits including Christopher Wheeldon's The Winter's Tale and Wayne McGregor's Woolf Works, but not at the expense of his- torical works. A new generation of British- trained dancers has also emerged, nurtured by O'Hare to take over the repertoire.

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News
Benjamin Millepied (right) watches Léonore Baulac in rehearsal. Photo by Agathe Poupeney, Courtesy POB.

Less than a year after taking over the Paris Opéra Ballet, Benjamin Millepied is already making his mark on the venerable company. From the schedule to dancers' health, the young director has left no stone unturned. As the curtain prepares to rise on his first opening gala in September, the ensemble looks newly energized and ready for the challenge.

The upcoming season, the first that Millepied has programmed, speaks to his own history as a New York City Ballet dancer, with a distinctly American flavor. In addition to company premieres by Balanchine and Robbins, Justin Peck will create a new work (his first European commission) and restage his 2012 In Creases. Giselle, Nureyev's Romeo and Juliet and La Bayadère are back, but the POB gets a new Nutcracker, divided among five choreographers.

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Ballet Careers
Watkin leading rehearsal at Dresden Semperoper Ballett. Costin Radu, Courtesy Semperoper.

Every once in a while, a ballet company will come out of left field and reinvent itself in a matter of years. Until Aaron S. Watkin took over as artistic director in 2006, Dresden's Semperoper Ballett was mainly known as a midsize classical hub. As its dancers took to the stage last February in William Forsythe's newly arranged Neue Suite, however, their energy signaled a hungry, fierce and disciplined troupe. Couple after couple put on a display of speed and precision, conjuring feats of articulation as if to the manner born.

Under Watkin, the Semperoper Ballett has fast developed a voice of its own within the well-funded German state theater system, transforming into a modern neoclassical ensemble with a precious calling card: its association with Forsythe. Inspired and shaped by his repertoire, the Semperoper has stressed individuality and creativity, attracting choreographers such as popular Forsythe alum David Dawson—and a slew of dancers ready for prime time, including Sarah Hay, the star of the new TV series “Flesh and Bone."

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