What's been going on in the wonderful world of the Cindies (a.k.a. American Ballet Theatre principals James Whiteside and Isabella Boylston)? Just a casual visit at the ABT studios from actress Jennifer Garner, of course.
Judging from both Boylston's and Whiteside's Instagram accounts, Garner dropped by ABT's company class this week while in New York City promoting her new movie, Peppermint. And this means two major things: Garner has officially earned her Cindy title—at least according to Boylston's Instagram caption, which is about as official as it gets. And, perhaps even more importantly, this picture of the Cindies together means we can finally stop photoshopping Garnerhotoshopping Garner onto photos of the dancers (you're welcome).
While we hope there's more Cindy content on the way, we needed to take a minute to give Garner's tendu the recognition it deserves.
We'll admit it: As excited as we are for fall performance season to start, we are in deep, deep denial that the end of summer is in sight. And we're also experiencing some serious FOMO looking at the vacation photos flooding our Instagram feeds from some of our favorite dancers and choreographers. So where in the world do they go to unwind before gifting us with yet another season of incredible dance?
At a time when the political climate is increasingly divisive, it's no wonder people want to compartmentalize. Some want their pirouettes separate from their politics, and can be quick to protest when dancers challenge that both on and off the stage.
Most recently, American Ballet Theatre principal Isabella Boylston was scrutinized when she shared this post on her Instagram.
Big Hollywood movies featuring dance are few and far between, so curiosity about the thriller Red Sparrow, opening Friday and starring Jennifer Lawrence as a Russian ballerina-turned-spy, is understandably at a high pitch. The production, which also stars Jeremy Irons, includes not one but four familiar dance names: Sergei Polunin, the enfant terrible of the ballet world, plays Lawrence's ballet partner; Justin Peck choreographed all the dance sequences; Kurt Froman, former New York City Ballet dancer, trained Lawrence; and American Ballet Theatre's Isabella Boylston performs as Lawrence's dance double.
How'd you get involved in Red Sparrow?
Justin Peck, who choreographed the movie, reached out to me. I've never done anything like that. And any chance to work with Justin...
While undoubtedly best known for her dancing, American Ballet Theatre principal Isabella Boylston has also been getting noticed for her style by Allure and Vogue—and with good reason. Her Instagram feed features a mix of on-trend athleisure wear and detailed dresses from runway designers like Valentino and Anna Sui, none of which would be complete without the makeup and hair to match. With a penchant for skin care and an ever-growing lipstick collection, Boylston talked us through some of her beauty must-haves on and off the stage.
Photo by Jayme Thornton
American Ballet Theatre is officially on the road. Since kicking their national tour off at Washington D.C.'s John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts this past week, ABT has been keeping us up-to-date: From how many pointe shoes they need to pack (spoiler alert, it's a lot), to rehearsal silliness and even an onstage moment or two. W
e rounded up our favorite moments so far—including a Facebook Live where Isabella Boylston and James Whiteside finally explain the meaning behind their nickname, The Cindys. Next stop, Detroit!
Principals Isabella Boylston and James Whiteside and corps member Lauren Post make travel sweats look chic.
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Oh, Hollywood. In any given year, Tinseltown's use of dance in film veers from the woefully disappointing to the surprisingly delightful, but one thing's for certain: It's rarely boring. Here's our not-at-all-comprehensive and completely-subject-to-change list of the new dance-related movies coming soon to a theater (or laptop screen) near you.
It is a great tragedy for dance history that iconic ballet partnerships like Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev or Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov weren't able to document their backstage shenanigans on social media. (Okay, maybe not a great tragedy, but you have to admit that you're curious.)
Lucky for us, that isn't the case with today's star dancers—like American Ballet Theatre principal dancers Isabella Boylston and James Whiteside, aka The Cindies. These two aren't just onstage partners. They're serious #BestieGoals. Our evidence, as documented on Instagram, is as follows:
As Nutcracker season winds down (and our energy with it), we're turning to the best of the best to give us a boost. Whether you've resolved to improve your strength, flexibility, balance or a combo of all three in the new year, these pros' cross-training routines are all the motivation you need to put in the work.
Ahead, check out some of the most mind-blowing moves to pump you up for your best year yet.
Svetlana Lunkina, National Ballet of Canada
You know you've got something going for you when stars from New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre—plus our favorite celebrity dance fan, Jennifer Garner—are all fangirling about you on Instagram.
The man of the hour is Nick Palmquist, a choreographer and teacher who can often be found dishing out irresistibly sultry commercial jazz combos at New York City's Steps on Broadway. (You may have also heard of his boyfriend, ABT star Marcelo Gomes.)
When conveying a story onstage, certain roles come more easily than others. Some dancers naturally possess the regality of the Lilac Fairy, others the attack of Kitri. Some take on the naïve Aurora with ease, but have trouble with Myrtha's complexity. Tackling a role that's outside your character wheelhouse can be tricky—especially since ballet's princesses, creatures and sylphs can be hard to relate to.
But luckily, just like your technique, you can strengthen your acting chops. American Ballet Theatre's go-to acting coach Byam Stevens, who's worked with everyone from Kevin McKenzie to Isabella Boylston, shares how he helps dancers connect with a character.
Between her work as a principal with American Ballet Theatre and her ever-increasing number of side projects in the fashion world, Isabella Boylston's schedule is pretty packed. But she is showing no signs of slowing down, currently working on her biggest project yet as the artistic director of Ballet Sun Valley. Running this week in her hometown of Sun Valley, Idaho, the inaugural festival includes two nights of performances from some of ballet's best (Boylston and pals James Whiteside and Tiler Peck are among the dancers participating). Plus, an education day consisting of free dance and choreography classes taught by some of the stars from the program.
Given that more dancers seem to be trying their hand at directing and curating festivals, we spoke with Boylston about some of the challenges of putting Ballet Sun Valley together, and why it means so much to her.
Gemma Bond's intelligence—and knack for detail—never fails to shine through her dancing. It makes sense, then, that the American Ballet Theatre corps members is also a budding choreographer. After making works for ABT's Innovation Initiative and New York Theatre Ballet, as well as for her own pickup ensemble, her name is beginning to pop up with increasing frequency in ballet circles. She just made her first work for Atlanta Ballet, and was invited to take part in a festival at New York City's Joyce Theater. Next season she will create a work for The Washington Ballet. Her latest piece will be unveiled during a festival organized by fellow ABT dancer Isabella Boylston in Sun Valley, Idaho, August 22–24.
How did you get the Ballet Sun Valley commission?
Isabella has put together a wonderful program for the festival and wanted to do one new work. She has always come to see everything I've done; she's hugely supportive. She just said, "I want you to do this."
What is the idea behind the ballet?
There is this solar eclipse happening in Sun Valley on August 21, and we decided to use that as inspiration. There are two groups of dancers; Marcelo Gomes is the leader of one group and Isabella is the leader of the other. I call them the sun and moon. Judd Greenstein wrote the score. It's really about gravity and the tension and suspense that happens when everyone is there waiting for the eclipse to happen. It seems to take forever and then it happens and it's gone.
To be honest, we never tire of watching non-dancers tackle a day in the life of the pros. From athletes to average Joes, these videos always give us a good laugh, and they remind the rest of the world that a whole lot of work goes into every dance performance you see. But often times, these dancer-for-a-day videos don't fully understand the importance of training (i.e., you can't just throw on a pair of pointe shoes and give it a go).
That's why we're especially loving this video by Refinery29 that actually gets it. Lucie Fink, host of the R29 YouTube series Lucie For Hire , got a private lesson from American Ballet Theatre principal Isabella Boylston, and it was endlessly entertaining.
Sergei Polunin has a penchant for unexpectedly bursting into the news. Since DANCER, a feature-length documentary that proved to be a sympathetic portrait of ballet's favorite bad boy, he's been increasingly visible, popping up everywhere from "So You Think You Can Dance?" to Sadler's Wells. So what's the international star got next on his dance card?
Teaching a Master Class
Some very lucky ballet students will be taking class with Polunin at Danceworks London on July 18. (It's currently sold out, but interested students can add their names to a wait list.) It was announced this spring that Polunin would team up with the studio for a scholarship to its summer dance program, the Sergei Polunin Inspiration Scholarship, which has since been awarded to two young dancers.
The New York City premiere of Alexei Ratmansky's sugary sweet story ballet, Whipped Cream, made for one of the most exciting spring galas at American Ballet Theatre yet. While we're usually in awe of the gowns the dancers sport on the red carpet beforehand, this time around, it was all about Whipped Cream's colorful and over-the-top costumes by Mark Ryden—and, okay, a few major dress moments, too. Ahead, check out what went on behind-the-scenes.
NOWNESS has a solid track record when it comes to putting dancers on camera, from exquisite fashion spots to intimate portraits featuring a who's who of the dance world. Their most recent collaborators: American Ballet Theatre principals (and real life best friends) Isabella Boylston and James Whiteside. But "Just Dance: Early Sunday Morning" is not at all what we expected from this team-up. Yes, there is gorgeous dancing wrapped in stunning editing and cinematography, and yes, the choreography is by the endlessly inventive Justin Peck, who has been making moves for the lifestyle brand since before he was New York City Ballet's resident choreographer. But director Yoonha Park takes Peck's choreography and the haunting Sufjan Stevens score and launches us into a strange, disconcerting world.
Ballet lovers everywhere are dreaming of DC this week: Ballet Across America is taking over the Kennedy Center with help from two of ballet's favorite stars, Misty Copeland and Justin Peck.
But no matter where you are, you can still catch a taste of the festival. In addition to all the live performances, the Kennedy Center also commissioned a pair of short films by filmmaker (and former Miami City Ballet dancer) Ezra Hurwitz. Both premiered during the opening night celebration on Monday.
It takes pluck to grow up with a name like Hildur.
For Isabella Boylston, born Hildur Isabella, it was just a part of her unconventional, free-spirited upbringing. Her parents met on a ski lift in Sun Valley, Idaho. Her father, Mike, was a country/blues drummer and "ski bum"; her mother, Cornelia, a Swedish electrical engineer. They fell in love and got married, raising two kids in a trailer in Sun Valley, with frequent road-trips to her dad's shows in "crappy towns," as Boylston, now 30, puts it. "It was totally Wild West," she adds, with an easy laugh.
She was named after an Icelandic great-grandmother ("a cool lady") and had never thought of changing her name until a company director planted the seed. Isabella Boylston—it does roll off the tongue. "I think growing up with an unusual name shaped my personality in a way," she reflected just days before the start of American Ballet Theatre's fall season.
Artistic directors reveal how they decide who gets the top promotion.
Isabella Boylston was promoted to principal at ABT in 2014. Photo by Gene Schiavone, Courtesy ABT
There is one question at the ballet that might provoke more curiosity than any other: Who will be promoted to the rank of principal dancer? The answer is at times gratifying, and, at others, totally baffling. One dancer may rise quickly, while another waits 10 years for their big break. We spoke to four major artistic directors to take the mystery out of what they look for when it’s time to make the big promotion.
We’ve started a five-year partnership with William Forsythe, so I’m very deliberately shaping the company right now. I need everybody to be somebody he is going to work well with. It’s not easy to ask the same people to do Sleeping Beauty and Forsythe. But that’s when we’re relevant. That’s a ballet company of the future.
I’m definitely not old-school, where you have to sit in the corps for eight years. I just promoted Seo Hye Han [who joined the corps in 2012] to principal because I saw how well she danced the whole season, whether it was Balanchine, The Nutcracker or Odette/Odile. A good job is one thing, but this art form is about brilliance. I want to be excited.
Miami City Ballet
Going from soloist to principal is about imagination, the ability to take a role and make it your own. You’re responding to the music and the steps; you’re able to dig deep, like an actor, and you’re comfortable with bringing that out.
PC Daniel Azoulay, Courtesy MCB
Mr. B used to say that dancers are like a garden of flowers. I find that some bloom right away and then die; some bloom late and stay for a long time. You can have a really talented dancer hurt themselves, and physically or emotionally they’re never quite the same. Or you give them bigger parts and they can’t deal. But by the time they get to principal level, they should understand how to work well. The 30-year-old is going to be a lot more conscious of that than the 17-year-old.
I do think about looks. You need a leggy Swan Lake, “Diamonds” pas de deux, adagio dancer. You also need someone with the speed, accuracy and technical brilliance for Kitri or Square Dance. You look for those types, but you don’t always get them.
Photo courtesy Ballet West
I think the biggest thing is, Can this person lead an entire show? Can they own the entire stage? And can they do it consistently and in many different roles? Some people, like Beckanne Sisk and Chase O’Connell, walk fresh out of school and have it. Most people grow into it.
When I arrived, Emily Adams was very quiet, and seemed to cling to the back of the studio. Over the years she started moving forward, not aggressively, but just owning her technique. Each assignment she was given she gave 1,000 percent of herself. All of a sudden everybody started noticing her. Audience members were asking me when I hired her.
I think when it takes a long time, it’s easier for the person to appreciate where they are in the work. You should always be asking, What is my next step? Whether that’s a new ballet or your 400th Sugar Plum, you can never go on automatic, and the most successful dancers recognize that. I need people who aren’t afraid to work hard and be vulnerable.
PC Jim Lafferty
It sounds cheesy, but it’s like Spider-Man: With great talent comes great responsibility. It’s not just the capacity to turn and jump, but the way you turn, the way you jump. It’s about work ethic, how fast you learn, how musical you are, how open you are to new things, how willing you are to let people see who you are in a very raw way.
I want people who can transform onstage. For instance, new principal Lillian DiPiazza is a very sweet girl, but when she did Siren in Prodigal Son she came out as a femme fatale—she was such a force.
I was made a principal at 19, but I don’t know if I was completely mature. You have to be careful as an artistic director. If you promote someone too soon and they don’t have a strong sense of who they are, their accomplishments can go to their head. If someone waits too long, they lose hope, and they lose that spark.
At the end of the day we’re doing this for the audience, so yes, there’s an element of star power. What you cast, who you cast—it’s with the audience in mind. But you also have to guide them to new things, whether that’s ballets or dancers.
Kristin Schwab is a writer in New York City.