The corps de ballet make up the backbone of every company. In our Fall 2020 issue, we highlighted 10 ensemble standouts to keep your eye on. Click on their names and photos to learn more!
Dara Holmes and Edson Barbosa in Myles Thatcher's Body of Your Dreams
Cheryl Mann, Courtesy Joffrey Ballet
Wanyue Qiao as an Odalisque in Konstantin Sergeyev's Le Corsaire
Gene Schiavone, Courtesy ABT
Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson (far right) with Saul Newport and Austen Acevedo in Oliver Halkowich's Following
Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet
Leah McFadden as Amour in Colorado Ballet's production of Don Quixote
Mike Watson, Courtesy Colorado Ballet
Maria Coelho and Sasha Chernjavsky in Andy Blankenbuehler's Remember Our Song
Kate Lubar, Courtesy Tulsa Ballet
Alexander Reneff-Olson (right) as Von Rothbart with San Francisco Ballet principal Yuan Yuan Tan in Swan Lake
Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB
India Bradley practices backstage before a performance of Balanchine's Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2.
Erin Baiano, Courtesy NYCB
Bella Ureta performs the Act I Pas de Trois in Kirk Peterson's Swan Lake
Hiromi Platt, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet
Alejandro González in Michael Pink's Dracula at Oklahoma City Ballet.
Kate Luber, Courtesy Oklahoma City Ballet
Nina Fernandes in George Balanchine's The Nutcracker
Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Miami City Ballet
Evelyn Cisneros-Legate is bringing her hard-earned expertise to Ballet West. The former San Francisco Ballet star is taking over all four campuses of The Frederick Quinney Lawson Ballet West Academy as the school's new director.
Cisneros-Legate, whose mother put her in ballet classes in an attempt to help her overcome her shyness, trained at the San Francisco Ballet School and School of American Ballet before joining San Francisco Ballet as a full company member in 1977. She danced with the company for 23 years, breaking barriers as the first Mexican American to become a principal dancer in the U.S., and has graced the cover of Dance Magazine no fewer than three times.
As an educator, Cisneros-Legate has served as ballet coordinator at San Francisco Ballet, principal of Boston Ballet School's North Shore Studio and artistic director of after-school programming at the National Dance Institute (NDI). Dance Teacher spoke with her about her new position, her plans for the academy and leading in the time of COVID-19.
Congratulations on your recent appointment! What does this hiring mean to you?<p>For me, it's kind of the pinnacle of my after-dancing career. To join a wonderful, large organization with such a fantastic reputation in the industry is really rewarding. To have used all my experience with San Francisco Ballet, Boston Ballet and NDI—all of that comes together to give me the experience I need for this.</p>
Courtesy Ballet West
What drew you to this particular opportunity?<p>Ballet West feels like completing a circle. I started at San Francisco Ballet as a student at the end of the Harold Christensen regime. I was hired into the company by Lew Christensen, and Ballet West founder Willam Christensen would come out and visit his brothers often. I had the chance to meet him, and was even able to come to Utah to stage Michael Smuin's <em>The</em> <em>Tempest </em>at one point. It feels like family.</p>
What are your goals for the school?<p>I'm particularly excited about building up our youth—the future generation. It's important that the base of our company pyramid is broad. These dancers are more than just our future company members, they're our future audience, musicians, donors, staff. There is something for everyone. The things these young dancers learn will give them the ability to focus, to understand spatial awareness, to recognize their own physical capabilities, self-confidence, work ethic and critical thinking. These skills will allow them to become the best workers in any discipline.</p>
Beau Pearson, Courtesy Ballet West
What challenges are you anticipating?<p>The climate of our country is our biggest hurdle. We have students in the studios and they are beautiful and so happy to be back dancing outside of their bedroom, but they are still masked. I can feel their trepidation moving forward into the unknown. Our youth are facing things we have never experienced before. The challenge is keeping them inspired and in the dream so we don't lose dancers, who could have otherwise had wonderful careers, to the pandemic.</p>
You’ve been a trailblazer for women of color in the industry. What advice would you give to the next generation of dancers looking to break barriers?<p>I feel this generation has an extraordinary opportunity because barriers have been mostly broken down. There may be a few obstacles, but I would challenge this generation to see them not as hurdles to jump over, but opportunities to take hold of. Use who you are as a strength to benefit ballet.</p>
What advice do you have for dance teachers looking to lead in this difficult time?<p>It is essential you be more sensitive to the youth right now. Have an open door for them so you can stop casualties of the pandemic. I've already had one student quit due to hopelessness. Teach your students that all their dreams can still happen, even if they look a little different than they thought. Help them view this as something empowering, rather than something that will squash them. Ask them to step forward honestly before their concerns overwhelm them.</p>
Complexions Contemporary Ballet's Tatiana Melendez Proves There's No One Way to Have a Ballet Career
This is Pointe's Fall 2020 cover story. Click here to purchase this issue.
Talk to anyone about rising contemporary ballerina Tatiana Melendez, and one word is bound to come up repeatedly: "Fierce." And fair enough, that's a perfectly apt way to describe the 20-year-old's stage presence, her technical prowess and her determination to succeed. But don't make the mistake of assuming that fierceness is Melendez's only (or even her most noteworthy) quality. At the core of her dancing is a beautiful versatility. She's just as much at ease when etching pure classical lines as she is when boldly throwing herself off-balance.
"Selfish choreographer that I am, I want Tatiana to stay with Complexions for all time," says her boss Dwight Rhoden, Complexions Contemporary Ballet's co-artistic director and resident choreographer. "She has a theatricality about her: When the music comes on, she gets swept away." Not too shabby for someone who thought just a few years ago that maybe ballet wasn't for her.
Training Grounds<p>Melendez was born and raised in Tampa, Florida, where she danced from age 4 at a small recreational studio. "I did everything from ballet to contemporary, jazz to acro," says Melendez. At 8, she switched to All American Dance Factory and Classical Ballet School, studying and competing in the standard comp-kid fare of jazz, acro, contemporary and hip hop. Yet Melendez found herself drawn to ballet's clear structure. "My first ballet competition was Youth America Grand Prix in 2011," she remembers. "I did it on flat because that was my first year on pointe." Before long, she became a regular in the top five at ADC|IBC, World Ballet Competition, YAGP and New York City Dance Alliance.</p><p>Melendez says there wasn't any one lightbulb moment that made her realize ballet was her dream. But that doesn't mean the ballet world wasn't taking notice of <em>her</em>. In 2015, the Ballet West Academy had already offered 15-year-old Tatiana admission to their year-round program when she was spotted at ADC|IBC by Houston Ballet II's ballet master Claudio Muñoz, who was judging. "My eyes went right to Tatiana, because her jumps and turns had phenomenal energy," Muñoz recalls. That "raw, incredible talent" netted Melendez a full scholarship to the Professional Program at Houston Ballet Academy. After taking time to consider Houston Ballet's rep (contemporary-leaning), her connection with Muñoz (strong and encouraging), and friends' testimonials about the year-round program (glowing), Melendez moved into student housing.</p>
Going Pro, With Cons<p>After graduation, Melendez headed to Fort Worth, where she'd landed a trainee contract with Texas Ballet Theater. It was a tough transition. "I went from training all day every day, to one morning class followed by standing on the side during hours of rehearsal," she says. Melendez's gifts were far from ignored, though. As a trainee, she danced in the corps of productions like <em>Swan Lake</em> and <em>Beauty and the Beast</em>, was one of six lead women in Ben Stevenson's world premiere <em>Martinu Pieces</em>, and led multiple performances of <em>The Nutcracker</em> as Clara.</p><p>At the end of the season, however, Melendez's worst nightmare came true. Her contract was not renewed because, at 5' 1", she was considered too short for the company. "My height had always been an insecurity," Melendez says. "Once, at a ballet competition, someone told me as I came offstage that I would never make it because I'm 'not built for dance.' " </p>
From left: Candy Tong, Melendez and Eriko Sugimura in Dwight Rhoden's Love Rocks
Justin Chao, Courtesy Complexions Contemporary ballet
Taking Flight<p>Thus began what Melendez calls the hardest, happiest two days of her life. More than 400 dancers showed up to the Complexions' open call in April 2018, but after technique classes and "the fastest I've had to learn choreography, ever," Melendez made it all the way through the final cut. By the end of the two nonstop days, she felt sure that Rhoden's daring, athletic contemporary movement was her true calling—but still assumed she wouldn't get the job.</p><p>She needn't have worried. As Desmond Richardson, Complexions' co-founder and co-artistic director says, "Tatiana clearly made her presence known from the moment she walked through the door. I remember Dwight and I saying, 'Wow, she's really something.' Her professionalism, her innate sense of musicality and the sheer force of her were quite nostalgic to me." Rhoden adds, "What made Tatiana stand out was her fearlessness. She applied corrections, dynamics and ideas immediately in the audition. She knows how to cross the t's and dot the i's."</p>
Simon Plant and Melendez performing Dwight Rhoden's WOKE
Stephen Pisano, Courtesy Complexions Contemporary Ballet