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.
Looking for some dance inspiration? Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is beaming no fewer than FOUR works, including the beloved classic Revelations, to a movie theater near you this Thursday, October 22!
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's Linda Celeste Sims in Wayne McGregor's Chroma. Photo by Paul Kolnik
In addition to Revelations, theatergoers and dance lovers alike will also get the chance to view Chroma by Wayne McGregor, Grace by Ronald K. Brown and Takeademe by Robert Battle, AAADT's artistic director.
This screening is part of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts’ exciting new cinema series, Lincoln Center at the Movies: Great American Dance, which also includes performances from San Francisco Ballet, Ballet Hispanico and New York City Ballet. Check out the news section of our November issue for more info.
To purchase tickets, visit fathomevents.com or participating theater box offices.
If you've already gotten your hands on DS's October issue (and if you haven't, click here!), you've seen our "Choreographer's Collage" with Justin Peck. The 25-year-old is pretty busy these days: Not only is he one of the ballet world's most talked about up-and-coming choreographers, he's also a corps dancer with New York City Ballet.
As Peck's collage reveals, his ballets are inspired by anything from the George Balanchine classics he's danced to restaurant meals. Sounds fascinating, right? Which is why I kind of can't wait to see his new work for NYCB, Year of the Rabbit, when it premieres this Friday. The piece is set to music by indie star Sufjan Stevens, who worked with Peck and conductor Michael Atkinson to translate what was originally a lot of beepy electronica into a score for a string orchestra. (Check out the three of them talking about the process in this recording of their Guggenheim "Works & Process" presentation—it's pretty nifty!)
Can't make it to NYC for the premiere? Well, here's a little taste of Year of the Rabbit: a promo video featuring NYCB dancers Janie Taylor and Craig Hall doing some beautiful things on the beach. Enjoy!
Miller in costume for the role of Titania in Balanchine's A Midsummer Night's Dream (photo by Lucas ChilczuGlamorous Titania in George Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
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.
Meet Miriam Miller. Though the luxuriously leggy, quietly magnetic dancer only became a full NYCB company member this past January, she’s already set the ballet world buzzing with her authoritative portrayals of those two principal parts. One night, she’s earning ovations at center stage; the next, she’s hanging out in the corps’ back row. It’s a fairy-tale story, the kind that, if her life were a movie, would end with Miller as the company’s Next Big Thing. But this is the real world, and while Miller may be on the path to stardom, she isn’t racing down it. Instead, she’s steadily and thoughtfully exploring the many facets of her artistry—trying, like most teenagers, to figure out exactly who she is.
From Iowa City to the Big City
Miller grew up in Iowa City, IA, which isn’t exactly a dance hotspot. “As a kid, I definitely didn’t know what NYCB was,” she says. “I didn’t know much about the dance world at all.” But when Miller turned 3, her mother put her in dance classes at the University of Iowa Dance Forum (now called The University of Iowa Youth Ballet and School of Dance). Though Miller also tried out “pretty much every sport, from soccer to softball to basketball to tennis,” it was ballet that stuck.
When Miller was 11, then–Dance Forum co-director Sarah Barragán—who is both an alum of the School of American Ballet, NYCB’s official school, and a certified teacher of American Ballet Theatre’s National Training Curriculum—founded her own studio. Miller followed Barragán there, and began taking her ballet training more seriously, learning NYCB’s Balanchine technique and ABT’s more generalist style simultaneously. “I felt a real connection to Balanchine,” Miller remembers. “It seemed to have fewer limitations. It gives you plenty of space for expansion and play.”
As a young teen, Miller spent two summers at SAB’s NYC home, falling even more deeply in love with the Balanchine style. At 15, she enrolled at SAB full-time, and immediately caught the attention of Kay Mazzo, the school’s co-chairman of faculty. “Right off the bat you notice Miriam, because she’s so beautiful—her line just goes on and on,” Mazzo says. “But you need more than that to make people keep watching you, and she has that capacity. It’s a kind of authoritative calmness. The statement she makes is not ‘Look at me!’ but, rather, ‘Here I am.’ ” Miller improved rapidly at SAB, and took advantage of every opportunity to see NYCB in performance. “During that period, watching the company in its element, I realized NYCB was where I wanted to be,” she says. “I loved that every one of its dancers was an individual.” At 18, she got her wish, earning an apprentice contract with the company.
A Dream Come True
Just a few months into her apprenticeship, Miller had a major surprise: Her name popped up on the Midsummer Night’s Dream cast list as Titania, Queen of the Fairies. “I’d never even seen Midsummer, so I actually wasn’t sure what the part was!” she remembers. “I was looking up YouTube videos of [NYCB principal] Maria Kowroski dancing Titania, like ‘For real? This is going to be me?’ ” NYCB artistic director Peter Martins, however, had zero doubts about Miller’s readiness. “One important aspect of my job is to identify extraordinary talent,” he says. “With Miriam, it was a no-brainer.” And Titania is a role well suited to Miller’s personality. “I’m very waltz-y and dance-y, and naturally more flirty and sweet, which is all part of being Titania,” she says.
(Photo by Lucas Chilczuk)
Still, Miller’s poised, natural, remarkably grown-up take on the Fairy Queen surprised critics and coaches alike. “The whole artistic staff was blown away by the maturity of her interpretation,” says former NYCB principal Jonathan Stafford, who helped prepare Miller for the role. “We saw her let go onstage, allowing her instincts to take over instead of copying some other ballerina’s way of dancing. She was never ‘acting’ acting. It was completely unforced, completely un-campy.” Legendary NYCB star Darci Kistler—who was known for her elegant Titania and is one of Miller’s role models—even brought Miller congratulatory flowers from her own garden. Less than a year into company life, Miller was living the dream.
After the rush of Midsummer, Miller went back to apprentice business as usual during the company’s fall 2015 season, dancing a wide variety of corps parts. “I did feel a little added pressure after Titania,” she says. “But because I was just an apprentice, I think people gave me more leeway. I was still only 18, and still so new to the company. I was happy to be in the background again, absorbing everything.”
She finally earned her corps contract in January 2016. Around the same time, she got her second major break: two performances as the principal woman in Balanchine’s high-wire act of a leotard ballet, Agon, which is set to a complex score by Igor Stravinsky. “Agon had been one of my dream ballets ever since I first saw it as a student. Its energy is electric,” Miller says. “But I never thought I’d dance it so soon, because it’s incredibly difficult and completely exposed, with a spikiness that’s honestly uncomfortable for me. My way of dancing is to sort of ‘sing’ to the music, which you can’t do with Stravinsky.”
Miller looked for a way to bring her natural lyricism into the part—and found her answer in footage of Diana Adams, who danced the principal woman when the ballet premiered in 1957. “Today, Agon is very acrobatic and confrontational,” Miller says. “But when Diana Adams danced it, she was a little—not softer, but less aggressive. That was my way into the role.”
Miller’s Agon debut wasn’t as confident as her Titania triumph; the intricacies of the ballet’s partnering occasionally eluded her. But she loved every second of the experiment. “I’d come offstage completely buzzed!” she says, laughing. “It was a totally different thrill than the one I got doing Titania—pure adrenaline. I knew it wasn’t perfect, but that’s exciting, too. Hopefully, I can mature into the part down the road.”
Despite her heady Midsummer and Agon experiences—she got a second crack at Titania in May—these days Miller still spends most of her time in the corps’ traditional tall-girl spot: the back row. And she’s more than OK with that. “Someday I’d love to be a principal dancer, but as long as I’m healthy and dancing, I’m happy,” she says. She also finds endless inspiration in her fellow corps dancers. “Of course I admire the principals, but my role model is the entire corps,” she says. “They work so, so hard; they look amazing in class every day. Watching them grow, and seeing how that work translates onstage, constantly pushes me to be better.”
Beyond NYCB, Miller has done a video campaign for fashion brand Max Mara, and recently signed with the Wilhelmina modeling agency. But while modeling sounds like a super-glamorous side job, she’s not interested in anything that’ll keep her away from the studio too long. “I haven’t really done a lot of modeling, because they always want me on set from 10 am to 6 pm, and that’s not happening,” she says. “It’s not my passion.”
Plus, she insists, she’d rather spend her downtime doing normal-girl stuff. “After a crazy day of dancing, my favorite thing to do is zone out in front of Netflix,” she says. She also has to budget in some homework time: She’s taking courses at Fordham University on Monday nights. “I really enjoyed a social science class I took on adult and adolescent behavior,” she says. “I think eventually I’d like to do something in the psychology field.”
In the meantime, it’s a safe bet that there are more big dance opportunities coming Miller’s way—and a safe bet that she’ll handle them gracefully. “The impressive thing about Miriam is how well she’s dealt with everything that’s been thrown at her,” Stafford says. “That sort of instant success, where you’re given a lot right at the beginning, can be hard to navigate. But she’s wonderfully calm under pressure. Nothing intimidates her.”
Birthday: November 13, 1996
Favorite music: “I get obsessed with different genres periodically. For a while it was rap—I used to be in love with Kid Cudi and Kanye West and Drake. But now I’m more into the indie scene, Ellie Goulding and Hozier and The Weeknd.”
Must-see TV shows: “I like the freaky, creepy shows: ‘Criminal Minds,’ ‘Dexter,’ ‘Bates Motel.’ ”
(Photo by Lucas Chilczuk)
Best friend: “Kaitlyn Casey, who was at SAB with me. I’ve never been closer to anyone,
so it was hard when she moved to Germany to join the Dresden Semperoper Ballett last year. But even though she’s living on the other side of the world, she’s still my bestie.”
Weirdest thing in her dance bag: “I went to Turkey with my family a little while ago and brought home two ‘evil eye’ charms that are supposed to be good luck. They seem to be working—everything’s gone pretty well since that trip!”
Celebrity doppelganger: “Maybe Karlie Kloss, the model. People say I look like her, and she did ballet, which is cool.”
Dance crush: “Is it weird if I say someone in the company? I think probably Alec [Knight], who’s a corps dancer. He’s this beautiful, tall, blond Australian boy.”
Favorite costume: “My Symphony in C tutu. It’s brilliant white and covered in Swarovski crystals—the most ballerina-y tutu of all time.”
Dream role: Odette/Odile in Swan Lake
Hidden talent: “I don’t think I have one! I can’t sing. I can’t draw. I guess cooking? I definitely enjoy cooking, at least. I’m getting good at making dinner out of the random things that end up in my cabinet.”
Three words that describe her as a dancer: “Flowy, soft, elongated”
Three words that describe her as a person: “Calm, collected, genuine”
Miriam’s Tall-Girl Advice
At 5'9", Miller’s one long-limbed lady—and she’s never seen that as a disadvantage. “If you’re tall, own it!” she says. “Don’t be shy, because a tall dancer who moves small is the worst. Yes, you’ll have to work a little harder to get your legs up and move quickly. But do Pilates, do cross-training—find the tools you need to dance as big as you can. Then you’ll find that your height is an asset, not a liability.”
The Indiana University dance community, and the ballet world in general, is mourning the loss of legendary ballerina Violette Verdy. Verdy, one of the 20th century's ballet icons and a member of IU's faculty since 1996, passed away yesterday at the age of 82.
Verdy's extraordinary career included 20 years as a New York City Ballet principal (after being invited to join the company by George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein), performances of over 100 ballets and stints as artistic director of Paris Opera Ballet and Boston Ballet.
Violette Verdy performed with over 50 companies in her lifetime. (via Indiana University)
She performed on the major stages of the world including Palais Garnier, La Scala, Bolshoi Theatre, Mariinsky Theatre, Metropolitan Opera and the White House (by invitation of President Gerald Ford). She also worked with over 50 different choreographers and had some of ballet's most iconic pieces created especially for her: Roland Petit's Le Loup, Jerome Robbins' Dances at a Gathering and Balanchine's Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, Jewels, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and more.
Verdy in "Emeralds" from George Balanchine's Jewels in 1967 (photo by Martha Swope, via Indiana University)
"She lit our world, as she did the world of ballet, moving with such joy and imagination, teaching with such passion and living a life in such an engaged way," says Gwyn Richards, the dean of IU's Jacobs School of Music.
Verdy with George Balanchine and Edward Villella at a Pulcinella rehearsal in 1972. (via Indiana University)
She will be deeply missed.
Today, let's take a moment to reflect on the legacy of George Balanchine, the father of American ballet.
He was an innovator, who took his Russian training and tweaked it to match the frenetic pace of his adopted home. Now, Balanchine dancers are known for their speed, precision and musicality. He was an entrepreneur, who created his own ballet education program and founded his own company. We still look to the School of American Ballet and New York City Ballet to preserve his legacy. He was a visionary, whose first ballet created in America (Serenade, in 1934!) looks as fresh today as it did 82 years ago.
Now, not only is his work exported to companies around the globe, but several other American companies are noted for their relationship to his training and choreography, including Pacific Northwest Ballet, Miami City Ballet and Pennsylvania Ballet. Balanchine really is everywhere.
Bolshoi Ballet principal Olga Smirnova in George Balanchine's "Diamonds" from Jewels (photo by Elena Fetisova)
His legacy isn't without controversy, though, and many people think Balanchine's preference for waif-like ballerinas helped normalize extremely thin bodies in the ballet world. Others don't like his style at all, and consider Balanchine technique to be too affected.
Fortunately, his body of work is so large and varied—and is now danced by so many companies—we can look at it and make decisions about its merit for ourselves. But there's no denying the lasting impact of his work. Who do you think will be the choreographers we still remember in another one hundred years?
Happy National Dance Day, fellow dancers! We asked you the other day how you'd be celebrating our favorite holiday, and while it seems like a lot of you will be taking classes, performing and dancing anywhere and everywhere you can, we're here to suggest an alternative: Ballet binge-watching marathon, anyone?
Nothing's more frustrating than searching for a ballet on YouTube only to find a bunch of short clips. Well, we've done the hard work for you! Behold, our National Dance Day YouTube roundup of the best ballets presented in their entirety. Excuse us while we sit in a dark room with a bowl of popcorn for the next 8 hours:
1. Paris Opéra Ballet performing Jerome Robbins' Dances at a Gathering
This beautiful, light and energetic piece by Robbins is set to a gorgeous Chopin piano score. The stunning étoiles of the Paris Opéra Ballet effortlessly dance their way through this technically demanding choreography—and they do it with grace, musicality and presence.
2. Paris Opéra Ballet performing George Balanchine's Agon
Another stunning display of artistry from POB. This Balanchine classic is widely considered to be one of ballet's most timeless, masterful works.
3. The former Kirov Ballet performing Swan Lake
Yulia Makhalina absolutely shines as Odette/Odile in this Kirov Ballet production of Tchaikovsky's classic Swan Lake.
4. Svetlana Zakharova and Roberto Bolle in Giselle
Superhuman Zakharova and her drool-worthy feet are picture-perfect in the Bolshoi's version of Giselle. Throw Roberto Bolle and his star quality into the mix and you've got an hour and a half of ballet brilliance.
5. George Balanchine's Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux
The sublime Darcey Bussell and Zoltán Solymosi dance Balanchine's 8-minute piece, filled with excitement, fish-dives and fouettés.
I used to be one of those crazy people who danced in 500 performances of The Nutcracker every year. Now I'm an even crazier person who goes to watch 500 performances of The Nutcracker every year. And as someone who's seen all kinds of versions from all kinds of angles, I can tell you that few Nutcrackers compare to the marvelous confection George Balanchine choreographed for New York City Ballet in 1954.
NYCB in the snow scene from Balanchine's Nutcracker (photo by Paul Kolnik)
Odds are you know the Balanchine Nut pretty well, thanks to the 1993 film version starring one Macaulay Culkin. But do you know the history of the production?
Turns out, it's totally fascinating. Dance writer Laura Jacobs recently penned a wonderful story for Vanity Fair about how this Nutcracker came to be, and it's full of gems. Did you know that there's a trap under the Koch Theater stage constructed specifically for the giant tree? That Balanchine lifted the Candy Cane divertissement straight out of the Mariinsky Ballet Nutcracker he performed in as a young dancer? That the cape the Grandmother wears today is from the original 1954 production? That before the Arabian dance became an awesomely slinky solo for a woman, it starred a man with a hookah and four little girls dressed as parrots (!!!)?
There's a heck of a lot more where that came from: Read the whole story here. And once visions of sugar plums are dancing in your heads, watch the Sugar Plum pas de deux from the film version, starring Darci Kistler and Damian Woetzel, below.
Happy Nutcracker, everybody!