Kovaleva soars in Swan Lake. Photo by M. Logvinov, Courtesy Bolshoi Ballet.

Meet Alena Kovaleva, the Teen Tackling Principal Roles at the Bolshoi Ballet

Whether etching the linear purity of Balanchine's "Diamonds" or slowly stretching her long arms as Odette, the Bolshoi's Alena Kovaleva is a promising young talent. Majestic port de bras and impeccable legs that draw into textbook-perfect arabesques make her an ideal choice for both classical and lyrical roles. She's already advancing at record pace and was promoted to soloist in just her second season.

Company: Bolshoi Ballet

Age: 19

Hometown: Saint Petersburg, Russia

Training: Vaganova Ballet Academy

Such great heights: After graduating from the Vaganova Academy, the nearly 5' 10" ballerina wasn't accepted into the affiliated Mariinsky Ballet. But height hasn't mattered in Moscow. "Height holds meaning in ballet, but talent is more important," says Makhar Vaziev, the Bolshoi's ballet director.

Kovaleva as Giselle. Photo by E. Fetisova, Courtesy Bolshoi Ballet

Breakout moment: The lead in "Diamonds" was Kovaleva's first principal role—Vaziev entrusted it to her just three weeks into her first season with the troupe, and cast her in it again for the company's New York City appearance at Lincoln Center last summer. "A lot of people said, 'Maybe it's too early to cast her. But it wasn't a risk. I cast her consciously," Vaziev says. "You have to be demanding of younger dancers, but trust them also."

"She's very bright, catches on fast. I absolutely believe in her." —Makhar Vaziev

Conquering dual roles: "It's always difficult to rehearse something new," Kovaleva says, mentioning Swan Lake. "It has different port de bras, different plastique, and you have to get used to that. You're portraying two characters, not just one."

Preparing for the stage: "Alena and I have a good mutual understanding," says her coach, former Kirov ballerina Olga Chenchikova. "And I'm never one to insist that she continue working when she's too tired." For Kovaleva though, there's never a time that she doesn't want to work. "It's never the case that I don't want to dance or go onstage," she says. "Going onstage is like a celebration. It's the culmination of all of your work. That's the greatest happiness for me."

What's on the horizon: With Nikiya, Odette/Odile, Myrtha and Queen of the Dryads already in her repertoire, it seems almost anything is possible. "I'd love to dance Mekhmene Banu and Carmen, but alongside classical ballets, I'd like to try modern roles, work with various choreographers, and guest with European or American theaters," says Kovaleva. "Working in a system that's different from yours helps you grow."

Kovaleva as Odile in Swan Lake. Photo by M. Logvinov, Courtesy Bolshoi Ballet

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Skylar Brandt's Taste in Music Is as Delightful as Her Dancing

American Ballet Theatre soloist Skylar Brandt's dancing is clean, precise and streamlined. It's surprising, then, to learn that her taste in music is "all over the place," she says. (Even more surprising is that Brandt, who has an Instagram following of over 80k, is "in the dark ages" when it comes to her music, and was buying individual songs on iTunes up until a year ago, when her family intervened with an Apple Music plan.)

Though what she's listening to at any given time can vary dramatically, the through-line for Brandt is nostalgia: songs that take her back, whether to childhood, a favorite movie or a piece she's recently performed. Brandt told us about her eclectic taste, and made us a playlist that will keep you guessing:

Ailey II artistic director Troy Powell teaching an Ailey Workshop at NYCDA. Courtesy NYCDA

NYCDA Is Redefining the Convention Scene Through Life-Changing Opportunities

Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.

"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."

Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.

Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:

Courtesy The Joyce

Dance Magazine Chairman's Award Honoree: Linda Shelton

In an industry that has been clamoring for more female leadership, Linda Shelton, executive director of New York City's The Joyce Theater Foundation since 1993, has been setting an example for decades. As a former general manager of The Joffrey Ballet, U.S. tour manager for the Bolshoi Ballet, National Endowment for the Arts panelist, Dance/NYC board member and Benois de la Danse judge, as well as a current Dance/USA board member, Shelton has served as a global leader in dance. In her tenure at The Joyce, she has not only increased the venue's commissioned programming, but also started presenting beyond The Joyce's walls in locations such as Lincoln Center.

What brought you to The Joyce?

That was many years ago, but it's still the same today: It's a belief in and passion for the mission of the theater, which is to support dance in all of its forms and varieties—every kind of dance that you could imagine.

Diversity is so important in dance leadership today. How do you approach this at The Joyce?

Darren Walker said something interesting at a Dance/NYC Symposium, which was that The Joyce is a disruptor. It was nice to hear in that context, because we don't think of it as something new. We didn't have to change our mission statement to be more diverse. We've been doing this since day one.

Is drawing in new audiences and maintaining longtime supporters ever in conflict?

Of course. I call it the blessing and the curse of our mission. We do present more experimental companies that may attract a younger audience. But it's very tricky. You're not going to tell your long-term audience, "Don't come and see this because you're not going to like the music." We've had people walk out of the theater before, but it's a response. It's important to spark those conversations.

What experimenting have you done?

We've tried a "pay what you decide" ticket the past couple of seasons with some of our more adventurous programming. You would reserve your seat for a dollar and after seeing the show pay what you decide is right for you.

Do you have advice for other dance presenters?

Find opportunities to sit with colleagues from around the country. At Dance/USA there's a presenters' council where we come together and talk about what we're putting in our seasons and what we're passionate about. Maybe there are enough presenters to collaborate and make it possible to bring a company to New York or to do a tour around the country.

Also, remember what it's all about: making that connection between what's onstage and the audience. If we can do that, despite every visa issue and missed flight and injury and changed program and whatever else comes our way, then we should feel good about the job we're doing.

To purchase tickets to the Dance Magazine Awards or become a sponsor, visit dancemediafoundation.org.

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