Shannon Woods's blog

The Vaganova Academy has been a powerhouse for supreme technicians and artists for centuries. Iconic names—Balanchine, Nureyev, and Zakharova, to name a few—have sprung from the St. Petersburg school. Vaganova training transforms students to master the most difficult aspects of ballet technique, allowing room to grow into the utmost performers.

Ballet’s spectacle does not always rest in high extensions and multiple pirouettes. In fact, sometimes precision gets lost in a catacomb of tricks. But moments such as the Dance of the Cygnets from Act II of Swan Lake recapture ballet's purity with meticulous footwork and teamwork. Its cohesiveness reveals how simplicity can enrapture an audience. With hands interlaced, these four Bolshoi ballerinas coordinate their épaulement and piqués as if they are perfect replicas of one another. Enjoy this quick moment of intricacy. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!

Many Romantic ballets revolve around tragedy when dealing with love and romance. However, some simply attempt to replicate the joy of dancing, and produce little conflict other than a delayed marriage (Swanilda’s story in Coppélia hardly compares to the trials and tribulations of Odette's in Swan Lake). Still, beauty remains a major component to all ballets, no matter the conclusion.

There are "firsts" for everything in ballet—from positions of the feet to world premieres of new choreography. But some dancers might not recognize the woman considered to be the first American prima ballerina (and in ballet, holding such a title is comparable to some sort of divinity). But Maria Tallchief, who danced with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and was one of Balanchine's first principal dancers at New York City Ballet, takes this place in history.

 

Ballet dancers never reveal the labor of their work. Whether onstage or in rehearsal, they hurdle through moments of exhaustion to preserve an effortless illusion. Even when a character calls for anger, sorrow or pain, a dancer can still move the audience with beauty. The Dying Swan, originally choreographed by Mikhail Fokine in 1905, breaks this quest for effortless beauty. It presents the ultimate challenge—how to appear weak, and at times, ugly. 

 

Act III of The Sleeping Beauty celebrates the resolution of Princess Aurora’s dramatic curse with her wedding to Prince Florimund, with a cast of fairytale characters in attendance. Two of the most notable are Bluebird and Princess Florine, who dance a call-and-response pas de deux to Tchaikovsky’s sprightly music.

 

When dancers dream, they imagine having Sylvie Guillem’s arched feet, long limbs and impeccable ability to extend, accent and suspend any movement she desires. Her technical mastery and unique sense of artistry make her a choreographer’s dream as well. William Forsythe created In the middle, somewhat elevated on the Paris Opéra Ballet, where Guillem was an étiole, in 1987, a time when ballet was just emerging from the classical realm.

Ballet has come a long way since this performance aired in 1960. Part of a series called "The Bell Telephone Hour," this footage of Lupe Serrano and Jacques d'Amboise performing the famous Black Swan pas de deux was among the first televised programs in color. Viewing a performance like this within an hour-long variety show used to be a once-per-week treat. Since then, dance has become profoundly more accessible, expanding across the internet and social media. 

 

Almost every professional dancer has paid her dues in the corps de ballet. It can be the most rigorous years of a dancer’s life, requiring strength and endurance to function as the backbone of the company. In this video of American Ballet Theatre’s Giselle, we experience one of the most difficult moments in a corps dancer’s repertoire. The cast sets the scene for Act II, clouding the stage with ominous white tutus and broken hearts.

The rehearsal studio is a sacred place for dancers. It’s where they assume roles of new and timeless works, transforming their movement to convey the ballets we cherish on stage.