Pretty much every ballet student struggles with fouettés, those fiendishly difficult turns that require both crazy strength and laser-sharp precision. But even the pros, who can make 32 of 'em look effortless, still get a bit of fouetté fear—especially when they're fouetté-ing at the end of Swan Lake's Black Swan pas de deux, one of the most difficult, and exhausting, pieces of classical choreography.
Pacific Northwest Ballet's Swan Lake opens this week (be sure to tune into their live-streamed rehearsal this afternoon!), and the Seattle Times caught up with three of the company's Odette/Odiles—Laura Tisserand, Lesley Rausch, and Elizabeth Murphy—to talk about those infamous fouettés. Their consensus? Yes, they're intimidating, even for gorgeous principal ballerinas, and getting through them is a matter of finding ways to push through the nerves.
From meditation to Pilates to Drake playlists, no two preshow rituals include exactly the same ingredients. But just like bakers following a recipe, most dancers follow a very specific—and very important—routine before every performance. We asked six pros to share what they do precurtain to make sure they're at their best onstage.
Six ballerinas discuss why they love their pointe shoes.
Kajiya in Ben Stevenson's The Nutcracker (Photo by Amitava Sarkar, courtesy Houston Ballet)
Yuriko Kajiya, Principal, Houston Ballet
Foot type: Wide and flat, with long toes
Shoe: Capezio Tiffany
Customizations: “I like my heels and sides to be lower than those of the stock shoes. One of the biggest things Capezio does for me is cut down my shank to almost nothing. I really like how light the shoes feel on my feet.”
Kajiya’s advice to dancers: “Pointe shoes are like Cinderella slippers—you’re always trying to find the style that’ll help you dance your best. I’d advise younger dancers not to go with shoes that are too hard in the beginning. They can cause damage to your Achilles tendons if you aren’t strong enough.”
Rausch in Ulysses Dove's Red Angels (Photo by Angela Sterling, courtesy Pacific Northwest Ballet)
Lesley Rausch, Principal, Pacific Northwest Ballet
Foot type: Long and narrow, with very high arches
Shoe: Freed of London “V” maker
Customizations: “I wear wing-blocked shoes and ask them to bang out the bottom
and platform so they’re really flat. Freed also three-quarters the shank and makes the vamp and sides to my specifications. A lot of shoes try to make you go over your pointe more, and that just doesn’t
work for my ankles.”
Rausch’s advice to dancers: “Talk to someone who has a foot shape similar to yours, especially if you like the way her shoes look. Find out what she wears and what her tricks are. It’s really a matter of trial and error.”
Button in Jose Martinez's Resonance (Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy Boston Ballet)
Dusty Button, Principal, Boston Ballet
Foot type: Wide at the ball, narrow at the heel
Shoe: Bloch Inc. Jetstream
Customizations: “To accommodate my foot shape, Bloch makes the heel of my shoe much narrower than the base. Because my arch is closer to my heel than the middle of my foot, they remove one of the nails from the bottom so it breaks right where my arch is.”
Button’s advice to dancers: “Don’t just follow what’s trendy. I think it’s silly when people tell you not to wear a certain brand or type of shoe. Find what actually works for your foot, regardless of anyone else’s thoughts or what your favorite dancer wears.”
Erickson in La Bayadere (Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre)
Julia Erickson, Principal, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre
Foot type: Wide and square, with bunions
Shoe: Gaynor Minden #4 box
Customizations: “I have some of the material cut down on the sides, and the back half of the upper is made with Gaynor Minden’s Luxe fabric lining, which prevents the wrinkling that can happen when you point your foot in your shoe. I also have a box liner because I’m kind of in between sizes. I wear both the hard shank and the ExtraFlex shank, depending on the role I’m dancing. These shoes are great, because they really let my metatarsals spread and alleviate the pressure on my bunions.”
Erickson’s advice to dancers: “Be patient. It takes time to find the shoe that feels like an extension of your body. Wear what makes you feel free to dance the way you want to dance.”
Angelova in Balanchine's Walpurgisnacht Ballet (Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy The Suzanne Farrell Ballet)
Violeta Angelova, The Suzanne Farrell Ballet
Foot type: Under-pronated with a recovering injury on the fifth metatarsal
Shoe: Sansha Etudes
Customizations: “I don’t have a special order on this particular shoe. I actually wear a few different brands of pointe shoes depending on the role that I’m dancing. These shoes are very quiet, so when I recently danced Giselle, which has so many jumps, they worked well. I do have to make sure my shoes are softened properly to avoid aggravating my fifth metatarsal.”
Angelova’s advice to dancers: “Try as many different shoes as possible. If you can, have a fitting with a shoe company and see if they can make a trial shoe especially for you.”
Scheller with Tyler Angle in Balanchine's The Four Temperaments (Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy NYCB)
Ana Sophia Scheller, Principal, New York City Ballet
Foot type: Wide
Shoe: Grishko Nova
Customizations: “My vamp and sides are slightly shorter than those of the stock shoe, and my shank is measured to break with my arch, with additional flexibility through demi-pointe. I like that these shoes last a lot longer than any others I’ve worn.”
Scheller’s advice to dancers: “You always want a pretty shoe, but make sure it’s also comfortable so it doesn’t cause injuries.”
The marketing department at Pacific Northwest Ballet has been going absolutely nuts, posting tons of photos of the company during their latest run of Swan Lake. And of course, we love it. Keep 'em coming, folks.
With beloved ballerina Carla Körbes retiring at the end of the season, this is the last Swan Lake she'll ever dance with the company. And I don't think I'm wrong when I say that everyone wants her perfection to last forever. I mean, just LOOK at this poster!
Carla Körbes as Odette in Kent Stowell's production of Swan Lake
So, it's no surprise that this run of Swan Lake is extra special. But while Körbes might be the epitome of white swan elegance, there are other members of the company ready to help make the ballet shine. I love Swan Lake because the corps, soloists and principals all have important, memorable roles.
The corps de ballet forms the backbone of every classical ballet (and many neo-classical ones too), and the flock of white swans is one of the reasons that Swan Lake is everyone's favorite.
PNB dancers in rehearsal (photo by Lindsay Thomas)
PNB's Swan Lake tutus were designed by Paul Tazewell. (Photo by Angela Sterling)
And as much as we love the corps, we also live for those iconic Odette/Odile moments. PNB principal Lesley Rausch has that dichotomy dialed.
The Icon (Lesley Rausch, photo by Angela Sterling)
The Temptress (Lesley Rausch and Batkhurel Bold, photo by Angela Sterling)
The heartbreak (Lesley Rausch & Batkhurel Bold, photo by Angela Sterling)
And there you have it. #swanlake4life
For dancers who dream of perfect feet, Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Lesley Rausch may be the ultimate poster girl. But it’s not just those daggers that set this principal dancer apart. Rausch’s pristine technique (carried by mile-long legs) and luxurious port de bras take her from classical roles, like Princess Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty, to the more contemporary, like Ulysses Dove’s Red Angels and Jiří Kylián’s Petite Mort.
At age 15 (photo courtesy Lesley Rausch)
Rausch grew up in Columbus, OH, and trained at Columbus Youth Ballet and PNB School before joining PNB’s corps in 2001. She was made a soloist in 2007, and promoted to principal four years later. This month, you can see Rausch in George Balanchine’s Jewels. —Jenny Dalzell
Dear Teen Lesley,
Don’t give up when people say you are too weak. Explore how your body changes with Pilates, physical therapy exercises, gym workouts, yoga and more. You’ll figure out what works for you—trust your intuition. Learning how to coordinate your body will be an ongoing process that will continue far into your career. But becoming a smarter and more efficient dancer will ultimately help you overcome the challenges that come with being hyper-mobile.
Rausch in costume for Kent Stowell's Firebird (photo by Angela Sterling, courtesy Pacific Northwest Ballet)
Trust yourself, and know that you won’t always be perfect. Don’t be embarrassed to try something that may not work the first time—especially when it comes to acting, or difficult steps. Some of the movements you think you’ll never be able to do just require a lot of practice. And with acting, the more you allow yourself to be vulnerable, the more realistic your portrayal will be.
Remember the biggest challenges you face will be the moments that shape you the most. Acknowledge the difficulty, but know you’re strong—stronger than you realize. Try to maintain a sense of humor. Your weaknesses will become your greatest strengths, and the hard times will provide you with material to draw on artistically. You already have so many of the skills you need to be successful. Stay true to yourself, and enjoy the journey.
Your Somewhat Wiser Self,