When San Francisco Ballet soloist Elizabeth Miner found herself huffing and puffing through David Bintley’s The Dance House, she knew it was time to increase her cross-training. “The piece was nonstop,” says Miner. “Just running it was not enough. I needed to build my aerobic capacity.” In addition to Pilates—which she already did—Miner began using the elliptical trainer for 30 minutes three times a week. She noticed a change almost immediately. “I could finish the ballet and not be completely exhausted,” says Miner. “I felt more in control, able to think about other things onstage, like the music and movement. Being tired is the last thing you want to focus on.”
Whether it’s running, yoga, spinning classes or weight lifting, non-dance exercise can help improve your technique. Marika Molnar, director of physical therapy at New York City Ballet, believes cross-training is an essential part of any dancer’s regime. “I don’t just recommend it, I insist on it,” says Molnar, who has been working with NYCB dancers for the past 30 years. “Because dancers perform the same movements using the same muscles all the time, strength, flexibility and motor coordination exercises help to nourish the body.” NYCB apprentices are offered a full wellness program that includes an individualized workout. “Once they experience how great it is, they make time for it,” Molnar adds.
Hours before the Paris Opéra Ballet was scheduled to broadcast La Bayadère live to cinemas worldwide this March, Gamzatti got injured. In a stroke of bad luck, all of the alternates had also been injured. Ludmila Pagliero got the emergency call; the 28-year-old première danseuse had performed the part two years earlier, but was busy dancing Mats Ek’s Appartement on the company’s other stage. Despite having less than a day to relearn the role, Pagliero managed a blend of technical and theatrical authority that didn’t betray any lack of preparation. And in a true coup de théâtre, at the end of the curtain calls, she was rewarded with the Paris Opéra’s ultimate crown: a promotion to “étoile,” which literally means “star.”
By phone from Europe, where she now performs with a major ballet company, a 24-year-old dancer we’ll call “Claire” recalls the moment she realized cocaine would ruin her life if she kept doing it. She was 19 and training at a renowned ballet academy in New York City. “I’d been living on my own for four years and had met some interesting characters. I knew a dealer who would deliver cocaine to my apartment, like it was pizza.”
Since being named chief dance critic of The New York Times more than four years ago, Alastair Macaulay has become one of the most talked-about people in dance. His reviews, whether passionate or critical, generate instant buzz. Before his move to New York, Macaulay was chief theater critic for London’s Financial Times, and covered dance for a variety of publications. Last winter, after writing that New York City Ballet’s Jenifer Ringer “looked as if she’d eaten one sugar plum too many” in The Nutcracker, he set off an international firestorm. Ringer is a beloved ballerina; weight is a volatile subject in ballet. Before it was over, Ringer had given a gracious interview on The Today Show, saying that Macaulay was entitled to his opinion, and the controversy had been featured in news coverage on three continents.
When what one British writer dubbed “the ballet wars” had subsided, Pointe decided to find out more about the critic who is reshaping the dialogue on ballet. This fall, Pointe editorial advisor Kate Lydon took Macaulay to lunch near Lincoln Center to find out what he sees as a critic’s role. Macaulay agreed to answer Pointe’s questions via a follow up e-mail. An edited version appears in our December 2011/January 2012 issue, and below are his unabridged answers.
On a stage filled with dainty Danish dancers, Shelby Elsbree looks very American: spunky, playful and a little bit feisty. Even in the prim, polite confines of Bournonville choreography, this 20-year-old Royal Danish Ballet corps member moves with a sense of bubbly abandon.
Summer dance festivals are well known as hot spots for world-class performances. But several also offer one-of-a-kind training opportunities for advanced students—including ballet students. With top companies flying in from around the globe, dancers can experience a diverse array of the most current work being created. Although there isn’t as much time spent on technique as at a traditional intensive, learning directly from world-renowned choreographers, artistic directors and principal dancers can spark new career paths and expand movement possibilities.
Character dancer: To most, it’s a term that evokes an older artist gesticulating dramatically as she savors her last moments in the spotlight. Or, if you’re in St. Petersburg or London, it indicates a member of a subset of classical dancers, a kind of alternate team trained to play the Hilarions and the Lady Capulets, and to fill out Swan Lake’s suite of international dances.
But there’s a new crop of actors in today’s ballet companies, and they don’t fit the stereotypes. Instead, they’re promising corps de ballet members who have carved out a specialized niche, a way to make sure they’re never lost in the corps’ sea of pretty faces. Regularly taking on roles like Bathilde in Giselle, Carabosse in Sleeping Beauty or Herr Drosselmeyer in The Nutcracker is a way for these dancers to get noticed in a company where they might otherwise remain anonymous. Character parts offer them chances to occupy center stage, to read their names in reviews, to develop and perfect and own something. And if the hoped-for big role does come their way, these dancers will already know how to command the audience’s attention.