Working Out With Anaïs Chalendard
Ballet and scoliosis might seem incompatible. But Boston Ballet principal Anaïs Chalendard, who was diagnosed with severe scoliosis at age 14, says this is a misconception: “Quality strength comes from ballet," she argues. “The doctors were so amazed at the way ballet was such a good balance of work and freedom."
Instead of undergoing surgery as a teenager, she chose to spend 22 hours a day in a full torso brace for five years, just so that she could spend two hours a day dancing at Roland Petit's Ecole Nationale Supérieure de Danse in Marseille. “Ballet was my therapy," she says. “Scoliosis also influenced my way of dancing because, in ballet, I felt so free."
During those years, Chalendard regularly trained in the Mézières Method for breathing and posture. Practitioners hold a series of precise postures while segments of the body are mobilized into alignment. Tight muscle chains are stretched to allow for the greater strengthening of the core and leg muscles. The approach helped Chalendard learn how to relax the muscles around her rib cage, allowing her body to adapt to her unique spinal structure.
Although she was unable to find a Mézières practitioner in the U.S., she still incorporates Mézières principles into her dancing today. She also practices Pilates daily. The emphasis on deep lateral breathing while mobilizing the spine and rib cage has improved her spinal strength, and helps her find her center of balance more easily.
Every day, her center is in a different place. Finding it is crucial for avoiding spasms. She assesses her spine before she even gets out of bed in the morning, but most important is warming up properly at barre. “If I don't have enough port de bras and balances at the barre, it's fatal," she says.
Yet Chalendard insists that scoliosis is not a restriction. “Scoliosis is something I need to be aware of, but thinking about it constantly is not a solution," she says. “I actually ignore it on purpose. Yes, it affects me, but it is also a choice to let it be a part of me. All dancers have a way of working around their limits—that is what makes your movement unique."
As soon as Chalendard wakes up each morning, her warm-up routine begins to prepare her back to support her throughout the day:
• Sits up in bed.
• Starts with soft breathing.
• Focuses her breath on the muscles between the ribs.
• As her lungs expand and contract, focuses on slowly moving each vertebra of her spine.
• Begins to softly open and close her chest to follow the breath.
• Incorporates a gentle shoulder roll to free up her arm movement.
• Finishes by filling her lungs with two more deep, cleansing breaths.
PC Igor Burlak
Be a Mermaid
One of Chalendard's favorite ways to mobilize her spine and rib cage is the Pilates “Mermaid" exercise on the reformer. The side bending action against resistance stretches the muscles on the side of her torso, while the rotational component helps to decompress twisted spinal joints and to restore mobility. The pushing action of the arms also strengthens the stability of her shoulder blades.
We knew that Ivo van Hove and Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker's production of West Side Story would challenge our preconceived notions about the show.
But a recent Vogue story gives us a taste of just how nontraditional the Broadway revival will be. Most notably, van Hove is cutting "I Feel Pretty" and the "Somewhere" ballet, condensing the show into one act to better reflect the urgency of the 48-hour plot. (The choice has been approved by the West Side Story estate, including Sondheim, who has "long been uncomfortable" with some of the "I Feel Pretty" lyrics.)
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:
It's a much-repeated part of Francesca Hayward's origin story that she discovered ballet at age 3, when her grandparents bought a video of The Nutcracker to keep her occupied and she immediately started dancing around the room. What's less well-known is that there was another video lined up next to The Nutcracker that Hayward liked to dance along to: Cats. "I really just did the White Cat bit and fast-forwarded the rest," she remembers. "I'd make my friends who came around be the other cats."
Twenty-four years later, she's not only become a Royal Ballet principal, but has been cast as Victoria the White Cat in Tom Hooper's new movie adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, out in theaters on December 20. "I remember the director telling me I'd got the part: 'Just to let you know you're the lead in a Hollywood film,' he said." Hayward laughs. "This is crazy!"
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.