Happy birthday, George Balanchine! The great choreographer and founder of New York City Ballet would have been 114 years old today. Balanchine revolutionized ballet, especially American ballet—and he also had quite a way with words. To celebrate Mr. B's birthday, we rounded up some of our favorite iconic Balanchine quotes.
New York City Ballet soloist and resident choreographer Justin Peck is never not busy: This year alone, he's created works for San Francisco Ballet, Miami City Ballet and NYCB. But Peck's latest ballet for his home company, The Most Incredible Thing, is his biggest production yet. Based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, it features 50 dancers; a score by Bryce Dessner, of the band The National; and costumes and sets by popular artist Marcel Dzama. Dance Spirit caught up with NYCB corps de ballet member Gretchen Smith, a Most Incredible Thing cast member, to get the scoop on Peck's new work. —Olivia Manno
Here at DS, we're big believers in our Sunday #MomentofZen. It's important to take a day to recharge and prep for the week ahead, especially when it comes to setting goals. Which is why we thought it was the perfect time to introduce our Sunday Spotlight Roundup. Maybe you've been wanting to master a new leap in jazz class, or prep your pointe shoes differently—no matter the goal, we've got you covered with these in-depth, how-to articles, covering everything from convention tips to Balanchine technique.
New York City Ballet in George Balanchine's Serenade (by Paul Kolnik)
For the bunheads:
Did you start at a new studio that teaches Balanchine technique? Our "Dancing Balanchine" spotlight focuses on all the beautiful intricacies of his style and choreography.
Have your pointe shoes been dying faster than usual? "Shank Strategies" offers tons of super helpful advice on how to customize your shoes.
Are you constantly wondering when you'll be getting that first pair of pointe shoes? "Am I Ready for Pointe?" helps you determine if your strength and technique are solid enough.
For the competition and convention regulars:
Not feeling too hot about your competition routine? We broke down all the problems you
Olga Pericet in Pisadas (photo by Javier Fergo, courtesy Jerez Festival)
might have with your new piece (and the solutions).
Only dance on marley at home? Sometimes the floors at conventions can prove to be the biggest challenge. We rounded up the best tips on how to deal.
For dancers wanting to try a new style:
We explain how to execute a perfect Switch Firebird jazz leap.
Curious about finger-tutting in the hip hop scene? We asked the pros to walk us through a sequence.
Looking to spice up your dancing? Learn all about the passionate, musical world of Flamenco.
Glamorous Titania in George Balanchine's A Midsummer Night's Dream. The imperious principal woman in Balanchine's Agon. These are the types of juicy, career-making roles veteran dancers aspire to—but a 19-year-old in New York City Ballet's corps has already put her distinctive stamp on both of them.
In today's ballet world, dancers need to be adaptable. Long gone are the days when a few big companies would dance the classics, while others specialized in contemporary rep; now, everyone does a bit of everything. “You have to be able to put on different styles like you're putting on jackets," says Parrish Maynard, a faculty member at San Francisco Ballet School. “As a professional, one minute you'll be doing a piece by George Balanchine, the next a contemporary William Forsythe work and then a week later Swan Lake."
History: The legendary Russian ballerina and teacher Agrippina Vaganova combined elements of French, Italian and early Russian techniques to create this method. The syllabus is broken down into eight years of training—a slow, steady and deliberate progression.
Emphases: Use of the upper body and placement of the head. "Arms are not just for decoration," says Yuliya Rakova, a teacher at the Vaganova-based Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington, DC. "They support the jumps and turns, and have to be very expressive."
Affiliated company: Mariinsky Ballet in St. Petersburg, Russia
History: George Balanchine, who trained at the Imperial Ballet School (beforeit was renamed the Vaganova Ballet Academy), developed a unique style that was based on his Russian roots but influenced by his adopted American home. "He didn't change the technique, but he stretched it and made it more modern-looking," says Susan Pilarre, faculty member at the School of American Ballet in New York City.
Emphases: Deep plié, the use of épaulement and keen musicality. "Beautiful arms and hands and the shaping and placing of the feet are important," says Pilarre. "Balanchine dancers can move quickly because they dance on the balls of their feet."
Affiliated companies: New York City Ballet, Miami City Ballet
History: Developed by August Bournonville, a Danish dancer who also performed with the Paris Opéra Ballet, this technique has both Danish and French influences. It's the foundation of Bournonville's many famous ballets, such as La Sylphide and Napoli.
Emphases: Light, fast footwork and a quiet upper body. The head and shoulders follow the working leg, and jumps are strong and buoyant.
Affiliated company: Royal Danish Ballet in Copenhagen, Denmark
History: Established by Italian master teacher Enrico Cecchetti, this technique
is maintained in the U.S. by the Cecchetti Council of America, through which students and teachers can complete several grades of exams. There are planned exercises for each day, with a focus on anatomy.
Emphases: Coordination of the head and arms, with smooth transitions between steps. Students are encouraged to work both sides of their bodies equally.
Royal Academy of Dance (RAD)
History: RAD was developed in 1920 by a group of leading dance professionals, who created a series of exams to help raise the level of dance education among students and teachers. The syllabus is influenced by the Cecchetti and Vaganova techniques.
Emphases: Attention to detail, particularly in port de bras and épaulement. Arms tend to be held low and rounded.
Those of us in NYC were lucky enough to catch Pacific Northwest Ballet in performance last week. I'm totally jealous of Seattle audiences right now, because this company is amazing!
I'm still recovering from the brilliant dancing in on the contemporary program, which included David Dawson's A Million Kisses to My Skin, William Forsythe's The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude and Crystal Pite's Emergence. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to see the company's all Balanchine program, which included Prodigal Son, Square Dance and Stravinsky Violin Concerto.
As usual, technology has the answer to my sorrows. This video of Leta Biasucci and Benjamin Griffiths makes you feel like you're standing in the wings during their performance of Square Dance. And what's even more mesmerizing than their stellar technique? The fact that they're obviously having an amazing time dancing together.