8 Movie Stars Who Were Dancers First
It seems like more Hollywood actresses are taking on the physical challenges of action movies. For both Zoe Saldana, starring in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and Charlize Theron, the bombshell in The Fate of the Furious, previous dance training has been a plus.
Saldana has said that she felt her ballet background helped her get her breakout role in Avatar. "I thank god for something like ballet, which gave that space for me to be by myself and find peace," she said recently in an interview with The New York Times. "Ballet was my meditation, my therapy, my escape, my answer."
Zoe Saldana as Eva in Center Stage (2000)
For Theron, her high school years were spent training at the Joffrey School in New York until a knee injury made her rethink her career. In her more athletic movie roles, that training kicked in. "As a former ballerina, Charlize brings all that physicality, and a special awareness and discipline and sense of valuation of her character through gestures," said George Miller, director of Mad Max: Fury Road.
That got me to thinking of other movie stars who trained intensively, some of them hoping to dance professionally. They each have a special elegance, an aura that marks them as dancers first. Here's a partial list:
• Neve Campbell, who studied at the National Ballet School of Canada from age 9 to 15, starred in the fictional movie The Company (2004) about the Joffrey Ballet. About her training, she told SF Gate, "It was my life and my introduction to the arts." But with her, too, injury forced her to turn to acting.
• Claire Danes took lessons with master teacher Ellen Robbins in New York from the age of 6 to 14. Robbins' approach is to focus on creativity, which helped build a foundation for Danes' work in Hollywood. In Showtime's Homeland, she plays a bi-polar expert at solving intrigue.
• Sarah Jessica Parker, star of Sex and the City, studied at the School of American Ballet. She is the New York City Ballet board member who came up with the brilliant idea of making NYCB's annual fall gala a hub of collaborations between choreographers and fashion designers.
And of course, there are those stars of Hollywood's Golden Age that we can't get enough of: Audrey Hepburn, Cyd Charisse and Leslie Caron.
• Audrey Hepburn trained with Marie Rambert in London in the late 40s and performed the lead in Gigi on Broadway in 1951. In this 1952 film, Secret People, her youthful, unpolished talent is on full display. And then in 1953, she hit it big in Funny Face as Fred Astaire's gamin model and love interest—the same year she did Roman Holiday, a huge non-dancing hit. Her ballet ability ensured the effervescence of her dance numbers in Funny Face as well as her regal bearing in Roman Holiday.
• Cyd Charisse started lessons at the age of 6 and danced in the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. In one of her early films, The Harvey Girls (1946), she played a dreamy ingenue who breaks into a lyrical solo steeped in romantic feeling. Later she played a vixen whose allure for Gene Kelly in An American in Paris (1951) and Fred Astaire in Band Wagon (1953) is legend.
Leslie Caron, MGM
• Leslie Caron danced since childhood in France. Gene Kelly spotted her with Roland Petit's company, Ballet des Champs Elysées, cast her in An American in Paris (1951), and the rest is history.
Troy Schumacher is on a roll. The 31-year-old was recently promoted to soloist after almost 12 years with New York City Ballet, but that's nothing compared to what he has going on this month. Over the course of a few weeks he will premiere three ballets of his own creation: his third work for NYCB (Sept. 28), his first commission for Fall for Dance (Oct. 2–3), using dancers from Miami City Ballet, and another for the ensemble he founded back in 2010, BalletCollective (Oct. 25), using colleagues from NYCB, including his wife, Ashley Laracey. We spoke with him just as he was gearing up for this choreographic marathon.
What is it like having these two commissions in a row, plus planning for your own company's season?
I'm loving being so busy, working on multiple projects, all extremely different from each other. It's like when you're dancing a lot of ballets at once, and you're warm, both physically and mentally. You can get back into rehearsals and performances much more easily.
Tell me about your Fall for Dance* commission.
I've been wanting to work with dancers besides my colleagues from City Ballet for a while. I was always kind of secretly hoping Miami City Ballet would be the first, because they exemplify a lot of things that I like: musicality, athleticism and personality.
Who wants to go shoe shopping with
Carrie Bradshaw Sarah Jessica Parker before a night at New York City Ballet?
That's exactly what four people will be doing on October 6 as part of a brand-new Airbnb experience. The spots, which went on sale this morning, quickly sold out. Presumably, they were swiped by mega-fans of ballet (or "Sex and the City"), but that doesn't really matter—all proceeds from the $400-a-pop experience will go directly to NYCB, where SJP is on the company's board of directors.
The dancers file into an audition room. They are given a number and asked to wait for registration to finish before the audition starts. At the end of the room, behind a table and a computer (and probably a number of mobile devices), there I sit, doing audio tests and updating the audition schedule as the room fills up with candidates. The dancers, more nervous than they need to be, see me, typing, perhaps teasing my colleagues, almost certainly with a coffee cup at my side.
Back in July, the Bolshoi Ballet grabbed international headlines after canceling the scheduled premiere of a new full-length ballet just three days before opening night. The ballet was Nureyev, and, as it was centered on the life of an openly gay male dancer who defected from the Soviet Union, it was widely speculated that the decision was an act of censorship.
Further theories of political motivations arose as Kirill Serebrennikov, the project's already-controversial director, was being questioned in connection with an embezzlement investigation. But according to the Bolshoi, the ballet was pulled due to it simply not being ready, and was not canceled but postponed; a tentative premiere was set for May 2018.
But it looks like Russian audiences will be getting to see the new ballet far sooner than they might have hoped.
By itself, a competition trophy won't really prepare you for professional life. Sometimes it is not even a plus. "Some directors are afraid that a kid who wins a lot of medals will come to their company with too many expectations," says Youth America Grand Prix artistic director Larissa Saveliev. "Directors want to mold young dancers to fit their company."
More valuable than taking home a title from a competition is the exposure you can get and the connections you can make while you're there. But how can you take advantage of the opportunity?
New York Live Arts opens its 2017-18 season with A Love Supreme, a revised work by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and collaborator Salva Sanchis. Known as a choreographer of pure form, pattern and musicality, De Keersmaeker can bring a visceral power to the stage without the use of narrative. She has taken this 2005 work to John Coltrane's famous jazz score of the same title and recast it for four young men of her company Rosas, giving it an infusion of new energy.
Photo by Anne Van Aerschot
Before too long, dancers and choreographers will get to create on the luxurious 170-acre property in rural Connecticut that is currently home to legendary visual artist Jasper Johns.
If you think that sounds far more glamorous than your average choreographic retreat, you're right. Though there are some seriously generous opportunities out there, this one seems particularly lavish.