What Dancers Eat
Maria Kochetkova blatantly breaks the not-eating-in-your-Serenade-costume rules with a personal pint backstage. Photo via Instagram

One of the biggest myths about ballet dancers is that they don't eat. While we all know that, yes, there are those who do struggle with body image issues and eating disorders, most healthy dancers love food—and eat plenty of it to fuel their busy schedules.

Luckily for us, they're not afraid to show it:

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For Dance Magazine's 90th anniversary issue, we wanted to celebrate the movers, shakers and changemakers who are having the biggest impact on our field right now. There were so many to choose from! But with the help of dozens of writers, artists and administrators working in dance, the Dance Magazine staff whittled the list down to those we felt are making the most difference right now.

Click through the links below to find out why they made our list.

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The secrets of creating onstage chemistry

Kochetkova and Boada in Romeo & Juliet. Photo by Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB.

As Lasha Khozashvili eases Lia Cirio down from a lift, the pair work out the exact angle of her hips. They try again and again, reading each other’s responses until they have it right. They’re rehearsing for their first Swan Lake as partners. But after four years of dancing together, these Boston Ballet principals have created what feels like an innate rapport. “I know her now like my 10 fingers,” Khozashvili says later. Cirio playfully interrupts him to add, “Sometimes we bicker like an old married couple.”

A successful dance partnership is not unlike a successful romantic relationship: It requires an intimate emotional process that involves caring, respect and trust. It also takes that ephemeral quality known as chemistry. “Chemistry can be that instant drawing together in a physical and an emotional way,” says Dr. Nadine Kaslow, a psychologist who works with dancers. “It is a combination of biology and psychology.”

But in contrast to romance, dancers don’t typically get to choose the person with whom they have to connect. If that natural spark isn’t there, how can you nurture the kind of relationship that leads to transformation and spontaneity onstage?

 

Sync Up Your Styles

No matter how well you get along with your partner personally, whether you’re close friends or strangers, what’s most important is developing a sense of trust in each other as professionals. Amy Fote, ballet mistress at Ballet San Antonio, coaches this in her rehearsals through repetition and allowing for trial and error. “Once you know how to deal with the steps, as well as how your partner deals with them,” she says, “you can be more daring and go for it.

Being open to your partner’s learning process in the studio is key. “I am a dancer who likes to have time to work things out in the studio, not a big fan of going onstage unprepared,” says San Francisco Ballet principal dancer Maria Kochetkova. She and regular partner Joan Boada get extremely focused on the technical details whenever they’re paired together. “We try to make the technical aspect of the performance perfect so when we go onstage, we can just enjoy and be in the show.”

Cirio and Khozashvili in Petr Zuska’s D.M.J. 1953–1977. Photo by Rosalie O’Connor, Courtesy Boston Ballet.

When Fote observes two dancers struggling with different ways of moving, she tells them to go back to the music: “In order to move the same, you have to hear the music the same.” Take time to listen to the music together without dancing, making sure you are on the same page with counts, phrasing and interpretation.

And, of course, eye contact and acting also come into play. “Once you look at someone, things begin to be more natural,” says Fote. “It’s not a solo, so you have to ask ‘What are we trying to convey? Are there key words you could use to describe the feeling of the dance?’ For Black Swan it might be toying, tempting, sharp. These are tools that might help you feel and respond to your partner as a character more.” Talk through these concepts together after rehearsal; you can decide on key words together, or you might find that simply being clear about your character’s motivations is enough to send the right vibe during a pas de deux. Either way, communicating with your partner about ideas is as crucial to creating chemistry as giving each other feedback on technique.

Get To Know Each Other

Spending some time together outside of the studio can expedite a friendly rapport. Kaslow recommends that partners hang out and talk in a place where you both feel comfortable, and that’s likely to “loosen up a warmer side of yourself.” Taking a walk in a park can sometimes feel more casual if having dinner or a drink seems too stiff.

It can also be helpful to get to know the loved ones in your partner’s life. “Sometimes people are afraid to feel a spark with a partner because their romantic partner gets jealous,” says Kaslow. Getting together in groups can temper this mistrust and make everyone more comfortable. Understanding your partner as a human and finding a way to genuinely appreciate each other’s company can help bridge gaps that may occur when working through trouble spots in the studio.

If your partnership continues to struggle, Fote pragmatically recommends returning to the discipline of professionalism: “Just remember that you both have the same goal—it is simply your job to pay attention to the details and work for the best product.”

Collaborate Honestly

Nobody is perfect, so don’t expect your partner to be. In fact, struggling to get something right can often be the glue that brings two partners together. “When mistakes are made, that is when you are your most genuine, that is when you are alert and grow,” says Fote. “If something isn’t working, grab your partner after class to work on it again, or, better yet, swap partners with the second cast and see if there is anything new you can bring to each other that would be helpful.”

Try to switch your mindset from success-or-failure to viewing your partnership as an evolving collaboration. “If someone is easily offended, the process is not going to go anywhere,” says Kochetkova, who adds that one of the secrets to her and Boada’s success is being completely open with each other. However, people respond to feedback based on the manner in which it is given. Kaslow recommends bringing up suggestions or questions that apply to both of you in order to avoid blaming your partner. If there are language barriers, don’t be afraid to get hands on and experiment with demonstrating your thoughts. And if your partner’s feedback is overly harsh? Remind yourself that you both just want to create the best performance. Frustrations can run high, especially when two people are exhausted, so practicing patience with one another is essential.

Cirio and Khozashvili laugh at their misses in rehearsal, and their shared humor keeps the tone light even while working out some important notes. They tease each other about a missed moment of eye contact that made them both look like lost puppies instead of Siegfried and the Black Swan. They give each other nods of approval after nailing fouettés and a manège in the coda. “No matter what, I am always working for her,” says Khozashvili.

When you and your partner are able to enjoy your time with each other, it becomes something the audience will enjoy watching, too. Though there is an element of risk in truly opening yourself up to another person, the reward of a thrilling onstage relationship is worth it.

Candice Thompson is a former dancer and frequent contributor to Dance Magazine.

Magazine

Maria Kochetkova is constantly on the move. This is a dancer with relentless drive who’s determined to conquer every opportunity. As writer Claudia Bauer explains in “Being Masha,” that has turned the 5' dynamo into an international ballet superstar. What’s most impressive is how, with each performance, Kochetkova continues to develop her artistry. She never settles. She keeps questioning her approach so she can get even better.

We do, too. As you’ll notice, with this issue we’re moving to a new format and giving Dance Magazine a fresh look. We’ve grown, literally, with bigger pages and more space to offer the best possible dance coverage—and to showcase our unparalleled original photography. Among other changes, we’re stepping up our health and fitness reporting to help you meet the ever-increasing demands of today’s dance world. This month, for instance, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company star Shayla-Vie Jenkins takes us inside her kitchen, sharing the rationale behind every bite she eats in a day. We’re also sending our photographers and writers into rehearsal studios across the country to capture the creative lives of professional dancers—because we all know that for every glamorous minute onstage, the real work happens in sweaty leotards in front of a mirror. In “Dancing Under the Big Top” we head to Las Vegas for an exclusive glimpse behind the scenes of Cirque du Soleil, one of today’s biggest dance employers. And while it’s the artistry that draws us all to dance, our revamped In Training and Your Career sections have practical advice, like why students should consider training as teachers and how pros can gracefully turn down a gig. Looking for work? Our biggest Jobs Guide yet highlights dozens of companies that are currently hiring.

But we’re growing everywhere, and if you’re only catching us in these pages, you’re missing out. Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest to get our take on the latest dance news and share your own thoughts. We want to make Dance Magazine as useful as possible for you—so tell us what you think. Is there something you want to see more of? Drop us a line on any of our social media channels or send us an e-mail, and we’ll keep your ideas in mind as we build our future issues.

As jazz icon Luigi always tells his students, “Never stop moving.” Smart advice both onstage and off.

 

Jennifer Stahl

Editor in Chief

jstahl@dancemedia.com

Photo from top: Headshot by Quinn Wharton. Kochetkova in company class by Nathan Sayers.

Magazine
Nathan Sayers

You can tell when Maria Kochetkova is thinking hard about something, because her lips purse and her eyes darken. The look crosses her face frequently during a rehearsal with fellow San Francisco Ballet principal Vitor Luiz for the Kingdom of the Shades pas de deux from La Bayadère. The sequence of entrelacés from pirouette to attitude derrière is especially vexing her.

“Can I try again?" she asks, then attempts it another time. And another. American Ballet Theatre régisseur Susan Jones, in town to set Act II for SFB's spring season, offers suggestions on the transitions, then throws in some unsolicited wisdom. “Don't do it five million times," she warns. Turning to Luiz, Jones adds, “Vitor, tell her not to work quite so hard."

Everyone who knows Kochetkova remarks on her relentless drive. “She will try to get into the building on weekends and holidays," says Helgi Tomasson, SFB's artistic director. “It's all-consuming to her. I sometimes say, 'Go home. Take a day off.' But that's not her." Luiz agrees: “She wants to conquer everything. I think she probably gets tired at some point, but I don't know—what does she drink?"

Kochetkova, 29, seems well on her way to “conquering everything." She has reached a rarefied frequent-flyer status, crisscrossing the globe to perform with high-profile partners and the world's preeminent companies: In 2013 alone she danced in St. Petersburg, Moscow and Paris, had her American Ballet Theatre debut opposite Herman Cornejo and gave the title role in Christopher Wheeldon's Cinderella its stateside premiere. A winning appearance on NBC's 2009 Superstars of Dance TV series kicked off a social-media presence that's now grown to over 193,000 followers on Twitter and over 128,000 likes on Facebook. She is the subject of a documentary, Masha. And her fearless fashion sense has led to haute couture spreads in international magazines and features online.

In the San Francisco Ballet studios. At left, rehearsing with Davit Karapetyan. Photos by Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB.

She's also something of an evangelist, bringing ballet to cities that don't see much dance. Audiences there often respond to her with overwhelming enthusiasm; after a guest performance in Cordoba, Mexico, last fall, she needed a security escort to help her through the thronging crowd. She grins at the memory, but doesn't spend much time contemplating her fame. “Celebrity," she muses, “what is it, anyway?"

Although she makes it all look ethereal and effortless, surprisingly, she still feels she has to constantly prove why she belongs up on that stage. “Ballet is really hard for me," she says. A slight five feet tall, she finds mastering the classical vocabulary a unique challenge. “My physique is so unusual, sometimes things need to be explained to me differently than other people," she says. “Every day I struggle."

Kochetkova has an exceptionally steely will, which grew out of early disappointments. After graduating from the Bolshoi Ballet Academy—with medals from Moscow International Ballet Competition, Varna and Prix de Lausanne—she was deemed too short for the company. Her soft voice, with its London-inflected Russian accent, drops to a whisper when she explains, “There was nothing for me, not a single door open to stay."

The story that followed is now familiar to her fans. Her Prix de Lausanne win earned her an apprenticeship with The Royal Ballet, and from there Kochetkova went on to the English National Ballet. But after four years, she felt more frustration than growth. “I would do Sugar Plum and go back into the corps the next day," she recalls. “Once you taste it, you do not want to go back."

Right: Kochetkova with Joan Boada in Yuri Possokhov's Francesca da Rimini. Photo by Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB.

She'd seen SFB perform in London, and on her first trip to America she took class with them. “The minute I saw her, I knew this was a major talent," Tomasson says. He invited her to join as a principal. Although Kochetkova had danced mostly in the corps and knew only one person in San Francisco (her English husband, Edward King, relocated to join her six months later), the chance for artistic freedom trumped fear: “I did not think for a second. I signed the contract."

Something akin to happily-ever-after began that day. Since joining SFB in 2007, she has become one of the 21st century's most sought-after ballerinas. “You see her in Giselle and she is beautiful. You see her in Romeo & Juliet and Onegin, she has dramatic quality," says Tomasson. “And yet at the same time you have Wayne McGregor adoring her. You wonder, Is this the same person?" Kochetkova was nominated for a 2013 Benois de la Danse Award for her Tatiana (danced opposite Luiz's Onegin) and a 2014 National Dance Award for Best Female Dancer, a prize given by the Critics' Circle in the UK.

She could easily rest on these laurels, but there are roles she hasn't danced yet and places she hasn't performed. “I constantly have so many ideas in my head, things I want to do, that I just keep working. I realize how little time I have, and how much time I wasted already," she says, referring to her years in the ENB corps. So she takes on as many opportunities as she can manage. “When you go onstage you are free," she explains. “No one can tell you what to do. And there are moments when you are so in harmony with the music, with the steps, and you know that people understand. And you feel it. It doesn't always happen, but when it happens…" She thinks a moment, then adds, “It's like explaining what love is."

Kochetkova's recent guesting gigs at the Bolshoi and Mariinsky show just how far she has come. “First time going back, I was not just nervous—I was really scared," she says. “To go back after you leave, you have to deserve to do it. I felt like I accomplished so much with SFB that I was ready to show what I learned and what I am. I knew half the people were going to criticize me for being short, but I was ready for it. The emphasis on the way people look is so strong in Russia. It needs to be broken down." This core belief is the bedrock of her motivation. “So many great dancers suffer in Russia—they don't even have the opportunity to try something because before they even try, they are told no."

Left: With Herman Cornejo in Swan Lake. Photo by Gene Schiavone, Courtesy ABT.

Ironically enough, Kochetkova's height has ended up being a selling point. Last year she and her husband took their first vacation in years, going to Venice with friends. On the second day, the phone rang: An injured Alina Cojocaru had suddenly dropped out of ABT's Swan Lake a few weeks before the performances, and artistic director Kevin McKenzie thought immediately of Kochetkova as a partner for the five-foot-six Cornejo. While everyone else enjoyed Venice, Kochetkova stayed in the hotel room doing barre so that she'd be ready.

Kochetkova will return to ABT after the SFB season ends this May, to dance Don Quixote, again with Cornejo. “She moves so big," McKenzie notes. “And there is no baggage—none! She came fully prepared, and fully open to making adjustments. She's able to process information and make it her own, and then give it back to you with such clarity that you think, How much further can she go?"

Claudia Bauer is a dance writer based in the Bay Area.

Magazine

Adé Chiké Torbert, Maria Kochetkova, and Allison Holker talk about TV's impact.

 

 

ADÉ CHIKÉ TORBERT

 

Since finishing in the top four of So You Think You Can Dance Season 7, Adé Chiké Torbert has performed on Broadway in Fela! and NBC’s SMASH Season 2, and Dancing With the Stars. He appears in an upcoming film with Cuba Gooding Jr., Something Whispered. 

 

“Being on So You Think has given me a certain visibility. I can walk into an audition and some people are already familiar with my work. But it’s a blessing and a curse. The show forces you to wear a label. On the show, I was Adé Chiké the contemporary dancer. But I do everything.”

 

“Right after So You Think I got a gig on Saturday Night Live with Nicki Minaj. I had just signed with an agent on Tuesday, and I was booked for SNL that Thursday. I didn’t even audition! Having an agent has really helped with weeding out some projects. It’s so cool that I now have the ability to be selective.”

 

Photo by Mathieu Young, Courtesy FOX.

 

 

MARIA KOCHETKOVA

 

A principal with San Francisco Ballet, Maria Kochetkova appeared on the short-lived NBC competition show Superstars of Dance in 2009. After she won the gold medal in the solo category, her Twitter followers spiked, and now the number has surpassed 188,000, likely the most for any ballerina. “Masha” guests at galas near and far, and is also working on film projects.

 

“I definitely got a lot of attention during Superstars of Dance. I think it’s great that ballet was out there, especially for people who have never seen ballet before. If you think about sports, first people see it on TV and then they watch the game live. It would be great if the same thing could happen in ballet. In Russia, there is a special channel where you can see the latest premiere or debut at the Bolshoi every week or two.”

 

“I was the first ballet dancer on Twitter [in 2007]. Living in San Francisco, where the social network companies are based, I was curious. I get a lot of replies—when I’m dancing in New York and Moscow and London—from people saying they were at the show. And in cities where I haven’t appeared yet, people write and say they would like for me to dance there someday.”

 

Photo © Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB.

 

 

ALLISON HOLKER

 

She may have a home in Los Angeles, but Allison Holker lives on TV. First competing on So You Think You Can Dance Season 2, this self-proclaimed contemporary dancer returned to the show as an all-star on Seasons 7, 9, and 10. She’s also appeared on Dancing With the Stars, Ovation’s A Chance to Dance, Oxygen’s All the Right Moves, and VH1’s Hit The Floor. In 2008 she gave birth to a daughter, Weslie. 

 

“So You Think is truly what gave me the career that I have today. The show puts you under excruciating circumstances—I’ve had to learn new styles in a short time and perform them to the best of my ability. Now when I get a job anywhere else, I feel prepared for anything.”

 

“Season 2 was during the days of MySpace. But back then, you weren’t allowed to use social media at all during the show. Then, when I was brought back as an all-star, they said, “You have to have Twitter!” I didn’t even know how to use it. But now, all of my followers [close to 53,000] come out of So You Think. I have a lot of young girls who want to be contemporary dancers—convention goers and comp kids. And I talk to a lot of moms who ask how I’m able to work and be a mother.”

 

Photo by Mathieu Young, Courtesy FOX.

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