Seven All-Time Favorite Pas de Deux

What makes a pas de deux great? Is it the choreography, the dancers, the story, the music? To be sure, it’s a combination of all these factors, and many beautiful pas have been choreographed in the history of ballet. But taking stock of them all, seven stand out to The Boston Dance Journal as exceptionally memorable.

1. Grand Pas de Deux, The Nutcracker by Marius Petipa; music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
It’s simple, but romantic and truly grand, with that tear-jerking music. This is the quintessential pas de deux; for many, it was the first introduction to classical ballet and as a result, it remains ever near our hearts. Performed here by Anna Tsygankova and Matthew Golding with the Dutch National Ballet.


2. Lady of the Camellias by Val Caniparoli; music by Frédéric Chopin
The way Val Caniparoli orchestrates this intricate pas de deux aligns beautifully with the score of Chopin’s second piano concerto, and the effect is emotional and intimate. Performed here by Lucia Lacarra.


3. Act III Pas de Deux, Onegin by John Cranko; music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Talk about drama! John Cranko wonderfully tells a story through dance and manages to create signature moments in the wealth ballet history. Performed here by Anna Ol and Arthur Shesterikov with the Dutch National Ballet.


4. White Adagio, Swan Lake by Vladimir Burneister and Lev Ivanov; music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
This tender pas de deux feels like the purest form of ballet. It frames the story beautifully, meanwhile offering room for dancers to leave their mark on a performance. Performed here by Svetlana Zakharova and Roberto Bolle with La Scala.


5. Act V, The Third Symphony of Gustav Mahler by John Neumeier; music by Gustav Mahler
John Neumeier incredibly expresses a powerful spectrum of emotion through movement with a profoundly beautiful, dynamic and raw pas de deux. At times, the poses look like they were painted by a master. Performed here by Isabella Ciaravola and Alexandre Riabko with the Paris Opera Ballet.


6. Knave of Hearts Pas de Deux, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Christopher Wheeldon; music by Joby Talbot
This pas de deux is sweet, aesthetic and memorable. It’s a breath of fresh air both on its own, and in the hugely theatrical ballet. Besides, you’ve got to love that heart. Performed here by Sarah Lamb and Federico Bonelli with the Royal Ballet.


7. Balcony Pas de Deux, Romeo and Juliet by Kenneth MacMillan; music by Sergei Prokofiev
Dreamy and whimsical with such abandon. The lifts are so delicate, and that kneeling press lift is pure iconic ballet romance. Performed here by Alessandra Ferri and Wayne Eagling.


25 Thoughts That Crossed my Mind When Doing Ballet for the First Time in a Year

By Mary Hierholzer


Ballet is my favorite form of exercise (unsurprisingly), so when I have time after work I love to take adult classes. It’s been 10 years since I danced seriously as a student, and, admittedly, about a year since I took a class. It’s an interesting experience to dance ballet casually after all these years, and it’s also interesting to get back in the studio after a while. Here are a few thoughts that floated through my mind as I recently danced:

  1. There’s nothing like a wide-open studio.
  2. Ballet fashion is so fun. I totally get why some people have closets full of leotards.

  3. Feelin’ this stretch in the glutes. Definitely gonna feel that tomorrow*.

  4. Is my hip supposed to pop like that?

  5. As a kid, I thought barre was so boring. But now I love the opportunity to focus on technique.

  6. It’s amazing how much attention to detail and body awareness dancers have—toes flat on the floor, feet turned out and rolled up, knees straight, thighs turned out, hips aligned, bum tucked under, core straight, chest lifted, shoulders down and pulled back, elbows rounded and lifted, wrists soft, fingers in line, neck long, head up… and that’s just first position.

  7. This is why I respect dancers.

  8. I’ll never forget one of my teachers telling us to pretend we had a little mouse under our arches, and if we rolled our feet in, we’d smash it-- an oddly effective thought exercise.

  9. Arm in second. Elbow. Up. (A dancer called me out on that once in a master class, so now I’m legally obligated not to forget, or something like that.)

  10. Petit battement: TURBO MODE.

  11. Oh no, foot cramps. This is how it ends. BEAT THROUGH IT.

  12. Grand battements. Hips STEADY, shoulders DOWN.

  13. Yep, still better at balancing on my left leg.

  14. Don’t give up this balance. Eyes up.

  15. Another classic piece of teacher wisdom: When balancing, imagine a ribbon is pulling straight up through your body and out the top of your head. It seriously works!

  16. Wow, that dancer was right, I really have a lazy elbow issue.

  17. No, lady, don’t walk into the studio while I’m practicing my splits! You could NOT choose a more humiliating moment to return your yoga mat!

  18. And now for fouettes.

  19. Lol jk.

  20. Do I look like Iana Salenko yet?

  21. SOS someone help me with spotting.

  22. When you stop looking in the mirror and just get your head in the game—that’s when you get it right.

  23. That freedom of knowing your steps and just feeling the music, living in the moment—truly dancing—is unparalleled.

  24. The first class back after a break is always tough, and I may not be a pro, but it only gets better from here! *claps for self*

  25. Now I’m going to go home and eat everything in my refrigerator.

*I felt it.

Pink Floyd in a Small Town: Paying Homage to the Unsung Ballet Treasures

By Mary Hierholzer

I will never forget Fresno Ballet’s 2005 Pink Floyd rock ballet, or what it taught me about artistry and industry.

The ballet set to Pink Floyd’s albums The Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall was choreographed by the former Fresno Ballet company’s artistic director, Christopher Doyle, whose artistic eye and sharp ear always produced excellent work. The attitude of Mr. Doyle’s rock ballet, like the music, expressed a range of tones: angsty, edgy, melodic and energetic. The dancers rocked and swayed with so much soul, the moves clean and precise, with no narrative but still telling a story of relationships in the pas de deux and of self-expression in the solos.

Because the performance took place just months before the local newspaper was digitized (and because my high school’s online newspaper didn’t save its archives that included my older sister’s review of the show), evidence of its occurrence exists only on an obscure ‘00s Pink Floyd fan site, which blogged about The Fresno Bee’s print coverage. In the article, a dancer said that “the songs evoke surprisingly strong emotions—from anger in ‘Hey You’ to contemplative melancholy in ‘Time.’ She finds herself in rehearsal caught up in the crashing beat and the wailing score. ‘It's all about the music,’ she says.”

Many years and many ballets later, I still admire Mr. Doyle for conceptualizing this piece, for recognizing this music’s balletic potential and for his tasteful marriage of movement to music. This performance was an early lesson in what true artistry looks like. It’s a vision that encompasses multiple elements, speaks on multiple levels and appeals to multiple senses. And thanks to, we can glean Mr. Doyle’s insights:


“It's stretching the boundaries as far as movement for the dancers," Doyle says. "It's still really ballet based, the bulk of it, but I would say the style has a lot more modern and jazz influence to it."

"From the very first song on 'Dark Side of the Moon' to the last one, I started thinking, 'This is perfect for a rock ballet,' " Doyle says.

The Pink Floyd ballet was also a testament to the many unsung heroes of ballet, whose work is exceptional though their names may not be known. Such hidden gems can be no less talented than the widely circulated stars, but they may simply lack the avenues to and opportunities for fame. With fewer high-profile dance critics, fewer ballets are publicized and reviewed; with fewer ballets getting press, fewer artists are exposed to the public; with less exposure, decision-makers are less willing to give “unknowns” a shot. It’s a vicious cycle that leaves many deserving artists concealed and confined.

I’m convinced that Mr. Doyle’s ballet could have taken off like wildfire had the Fresno Ballet (RIP) not been such a small and under-resourced company. Quite frankly, I would prefer the Pink Floyd ballet to many of the expensive, mainstream ballets listed on big companies’ programs.

I recently discussed this predicament with a low-profile choreographer who wisely noted that triple bills are a wonderful opportunity for companies to take a risk on lesser known names. Throw a wild card on the program between big names like Balanchine and Kylian. Balanchine and Kylian will sell the tickets, so there’s nothing to lose—if audiences don’t like the wild card, it’s not a huge loss next to the two guaranteed successes; if audiences do like the wild card, everyone wins, choreographer, company and audience alike. And, more broadly, it’s a win for the world of art.

Cacti on the mind (and in the stores)

Cacti are in this season, and I’d like to think Alexander Ekman has something to do with it.

An ad popped up on my Facebook newsfeed the other day, singing praises for the symbol of individuality expressed in Kate Spade’s south of the border summer line featuring cacti—purses in the shape of cacti, shirts with cacti, cacti charms... “a lesson in cacti,” the ad read, “be sharp, not prickly. embrace uniqueness. surprise people with joy when they least expect it. and lastly, flourish (and encourage) others to do the same!”

 Boston Ballet in Alexander Ekman's Cacti; photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy Boston Ballet

Boston Ballet in Alexander Ekman's Cacti; photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy Boston Ballet

The gospel of cacti is cute, trendy and, admittedly, pretty good advice. Kate Spade is one of many distributors like Forever 21, Urban Outfitters, Target, Etsy and Pier 1 Imports selling cactus gear this season (we’re talking hats, blouses, swimsuits, jewelry, phone cases, lamps, candles, mugs, bedsheets, fake cacti, real cacti, even cacti-shaped ice trays), but this one particularly caught my eye due to its amusing effort to assign deep meaning to a cactus.

This amusement comes with Alexander Ekman’s popular and widely-performed Cacti on the mind. The satirical ballet pokes fun at the pretentiousness of putting stock put in “profound” artistic symbols. The Swedish choreographer uses cacti as props, obscure objects which would be ridiculous symbols for meaning.

When companies perform this ballet, their gift shops sell little cacti trinkets, like charms and pins. Sometimes they’ll feature their dancers sporting the look, for all their followers to see. Many take fashion cues from ballet dancers, so it’s not a bad strategy!

But did Alexander Ekman inspire the cactus trend this season? Maybe. Maybe not. My balletic bias compels me to give him credit, but despite my appreciation for Ekman’s ballet and my Pacifica cactus water makeup removing wipes (which I highly recommend, by the way), you won’t find me boasting any cacti gear this summer. Sorry, Kate!

A Twitch of the Leg

When my leg twitches, I know I’m watching a good ballet. A dancer once told me it’s a habit that comes with the territory. His sympathy was reassuring and empowering. Though I no longer practice ballet with a career in mind, a dancer lives within me. Just the same, The Nutcracker beckons tears every single time even though I know exactly what to expect from a performance. For me, ballet evokes an indescribable sense of passion.

According to my mother, as a toddler I’d dance around the house constantly—until she pulled out the video camera, that is. My shyness kept ballet classes at bay until, in fifth grade, I simply couldn’t stand it anymore—I had to be one of the girls onstage in The Nutcracker. My humble beginnings in the Central Valley of California were, in fact, hardly humble. In awe, I watched professional guest dancers perform their pas de deux; my world-class teachers and directors spurred my love of ballet and challenged me artistically, physically and intellectually.


When toe and ankle injuries called for treatment at age 13, I simply felt unprepared to commit to surgery in order to pursue a profession in ballet. I quit, and have missed it ever since, but I hardly blame my young self for the decision. Though to this day my big toe and ankle still ache, those old pointe shoes hang on my wall, a memory something like a dream.

These days I tend to live vicariously through dancers, though they all say the same thing: “You like ballet more than I do!” It is because I am not confined to rehearsals day in and day out that I may tirelessly enjoy ballet through discussion, contemplation and writing. At the end of the day, I am not escaping ballet; ballet is my escape.

My education equipped me with the tools to study and think critically, and these are skills that I enthusiastically apply to art. My experience in journalism brought out an extrovert in me that finds great interest in people, which compels me to discover the person in the dancer when I interview the godlike creatures who I watch onstage.

Over the years, the dancers who I’ve met all share an unparalleled dedication to their craft, incredible beauty and inspiring creativity that I admire more than (my many) words can express. Through The Boston Dance Journal, I hope to hope to invite readers to share my joy of this beautiful art form, and the incredible work that individuals are daily creating in the world of ballet.