The Cinderella Story
Popular story ballets come in waves, and it seems like we’re now experiencing a virtual tsunami of Cinderellas. We’ve counted at least 25 companies who mounted a production in the last few years. Riding that crest, we interviewed five ballerinas who have danced the role of the girl who sobs into the cinders, is blessed by a Fairy Godmother, and blossoms into a beautiful princess, reflecting the nobility of her soul.
Dancer, the Joffrey Ballet
Choreographed by Frederick Ashton in 1948 for The Royal Ballet (then Sadler’s Wells Ballet), U.S. premiere by the Joffrey in 2006
I loved the variation in the ballroom scene. There’s a manège at the end of it—two circles around—and I’ve never been dizzier in my life. I remember laughing through the second circle because I couldn’t see anything.
Ashton was brilliant at bringing life to different characters. The stepsisters, honestly, steal the show. You wouldn’t really notice that they’re dancing, but it has to be musical or it loses some of the comedy. There’s one part where Cinderella has to mock one of the stepsisters. A dancing coach comes in and teaches the stepsisters how to dance, and one of the stepsisters dances terribly. I would have to watch each night because they would do it differently and I would try and do exactly what they did. It’s a lot of fun to play off of them.
The production is so lush and grand; so many things are almost over the top—not in a gaudy way but in a breath-taking way. I remember coming out of the stagecoach that circles around the stage at the end of the first act, and I would have chills. Then Cinderella comes down the stairs on pointe, looking straight ahead, with her cape behind her. The prince helps me; he’s holding my hand, but I can’t look, so he has to be my eyes. You have to come down a few stairs, bourrée forward a little bit, and come down a few more stairs. He has to squeeze your hand when you’re at the edge. It’s a little scary; I don’t think anyone’s breathing at that point.
The ballet is about Cinderella finding confidence and having this magical experience. It’s incredible to go from rags to one of the most stunning tutus I’ve ever worn. It all ends back in that dark house, but you see the beauty in it at the end—not everything is so bleak. It definitely says something about class issues. This girl who’s dreaming of something she thinks she could never have is still seen with open eyes by the prince.
Principal, National Ballet of Canada
Choreographed by James Kudelka in 2004
This production is not your traditional fairy tale. It’s set in the late 1920s and has a very art deco feel. Cinderella’s stepmother is an alcoholic and her sisters take things out on her. It’s so in-your-face that sometimes it’s funny. If you really look at it, it’s pretty sad. But Cinderella’s an idealist: Her values are pure and simple. She shows the prince what is important in life, brings him down to earth and makes him become a better person. His world is all about the paparazzi. She’s a little bit feistier and she knows there’s something better out there. She’s constantly put down, but she’s got an inner strength that allows her to not give up. There are times when she feels that her world is crumbling, but she keeps fighting.
Principal, Royal Danish Ballet
This Cinderella is a collaboration between the Royal Danish Ballet and Danish Dance Theatre, choreographed by Tim Rushton in 2008.
It’s very special to dance with Tim Rushton’s modern company, because Cinderella is the only girl on pointe. I start out with a lot of modern steps, then switch in the second act to more classical ballet. It’s a challenge to play a 16-year-old girl! Especially in the first act, I have to be very cute, very hyper, with a fire inside.
My favorite part is when I first see the prince. Maybe you can’t see it from the audience, but I have a very strong feeling inside. I tell myself this is the person I really love. The music is so big, and we have this moment of eye contact. It feels great.
Principal, Staatsballett Berlin
Choreographed by Vladimir Malakhov in 2004
Our version takes place in a ballet studio with dancers training. Cinderella is a girl who loves to dance, but the director doesn’t choose her. She falls asleep and dreams of performing a beautiful ballet with a principal dancer as her partner. I love the moment when she wakes up and understands it was imagined, sees her old training clothes and the studio walls. Slowly, through the steps, she remembers how she danced in the dream, until the “prince” appears in real life. The dancers in the school come in to give her flowers and congratulate her on a dream come true.
I think every young dancer has this dream—to become a soloist, dance with a star partner, have the audience adore you. It’s very close to the feeling of a girl in the beginning of her career.
Parts of the ballet are very funny. Instead of stepsisters, there are two ballerinas. One, danced by Vladimir Malakhov, is very fat, eating chocolate all the time onstage, and the other is wild and drunk. The audiences love it.
It’s very nice when a choreographer creates something for you, like Vladimir did for me with this role. It is an amazing present.
Choreographed by Vicente Nebrada for the company in 1995
Vicente Nebrada’s choreography is all about pas de deux work; it’s unique and very circular. It’s difficult and if you can do that, you can do any partnering there is out there. Vicente doesn’t tell you what story to tell. He leaves a lot of room for each Cinderella to interpret what she wants to be. I get taken away by the Prokofiev music; it always tells me what I need to do.
Cinderella is your classic little girl fantasy for a lot of people. She keeps her spirit strong even when she’s being tormented, and she doesn’t lose the goodness inside of her. During the Act III solo, you can get so lost, you’re so overwhelmed and happy. It’s like you’re not dancing in front of an audience anymore. You meet your prince and there’s that take-your-breath-away moment; it’s like finding your soul mate.
Photo: Herbert Migdoll, Courtesy Joffrey
On May 18, 1919, Margot "Peggy" Hookham was born. She would grow up to become Dame Margot Fonteyn, England's first homegrown prima ballerina. She joined the Sadler's Wells School in 1934 and was performing principal roles with the precursor to The Royal Ballet the next year. Fonteyn was a company-defining figure, dancing Aurora for the re-opening of the Royal Opera House after World War II, creating numerous roles with Sir Frederick Ashton and forging a legendary partnership with Rudolf Nureyev.
The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.
Memorial Day is notoriously one of Chicago's bloodiest weekends. Last year, 36 people were shot and seven died that weekend. In 2017 and 2016, the number of shootings was even higher.
When Garley "GiGi Tonyé" Briggs, a dance teacher and Chicago native, started noticing this pattern, she was preparing her second annual Memorial Day workshop for local youth.
The event's original aim was simple: "I wanted the youth of Chicago to have somewhere they could come and learn from different dancers and be off the streets on the South Side on this hot holiday," she says.
A recent trip I took to Nashville coincided with the NFL draft. As we drove into town, my Uber driver was a fount of information on the subject.
I learned that there are 32 NFL teams and that the draft takes place over seven rounds. That the team that did the poorest during the previous season gets first pick. That during an earlier event called the scouting combine, the teams assess college football players and figure out who they want.
There is also the veteran combine for "free agents"—players who have been released from their contracts or whose contracts have expired. They might be very good players, but their team needs younger members or ones with a certain skill set. All year round, experienced NFL scouts scan games across the country, checking out players and feeding that information back to the teams. Players' agents keep their eyes on opportunities for their clients which might be more rewarding.
While I sat in the traffic of 600,000 NFL fans I got thinking, is there something ballet could learn from football? Could a draft system improve young dancers' prospects and overall company caliber and contentment?
It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.
Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.
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Despite what you might think, there's no reason for dancers to be afraid of bread.
"It's looked at as this evil food," says New York State–certified dietitian and former dancer Tiffany Mendell. But the truth is, unless you have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, bread can be a healthy source of carbohydrates—our body's preferred fuel—plus fiber and vitamins.
The key is choosing your loaf wisely.
It can be hard to imagine life without—or just after—dance. Perhaps that's why we find it so fascinating to hear what our favorite dancers think they'd be doing if they weren't performing for a living.
We've been asking stars about the alternate career they'd like to try in our "Spotlight" Q&A series, and their answers—from the unexpected to the predictable—do not disappoint:
"New York City Ballet star appears in a Keanu Reeves action movie" is not a sentence we ever thought we'd write. But moviegoers seeing John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum will be treated to two scenes featuring soloist Unity Phelan dancing choreography by colleague Tiler Peck. The guns-blazing popcorn flick cast Phelan as a ballerina who also happens to be training to become an elite assassin. Opens in theaters May 17.
The Brooklyn-based choreographer Gillian Walsh is both obsessed with and deeply conflicted about dance. With her latest work, Fame Notions, May 17–19 at Performance Space New York, she seeks to understand what she calls the "fundamentally pessimistic or alienating pursuit" of being a dancer. Noting that the piece is "quiet and introverted," like much of her other work, she sees Fame Notions as one step in a larger project examining why dancers dance.
What does Mikhail Baryshnikov have to say to dancers starting their careers today? On Friday, he gave the keynote speech during the graduation ceremony for the inaugural class of the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance.
The heart of his message: Be generous.
Launching a dancewear line seems like a great way for professional dancers to flex new artistic muscles and make side money. Several direct-to-consumer brands founded by current or former professional dancers, like Elevé and Luckleo, currently compete with bigger retailers, like Capezio.
But turning your brand into the next Yumiko is more challenging than some budding designers may realize.
When I first came to dance criticism in the 1970s, the professional critics were predominantly much older than me. I didn't know them personally and, as the wide-eyed new kid on the block, I assumed most had little or no physical training in the art.
As slightly intimidated as I felt at the time—you try sitting around a conference room table with Dance Magazine heavy hitters like Tobi Tobias and David Vaughan—I smugly gave myself props for at least having had recent brushes with ballet, Graham, Duncan and Ailey and more substantial engagement with jazz and belly dance. Watching dancers onstage, I enjoyed memories of steps and moves I knew in my own bones. If the music was right, my shoulders would wriggle. I wasn't just coolly judging things from my neck up.