ABT's Gemma Bond: From Corps to Choreographer

Photo by Jim Lafferty

On top of dancing in American Ballet Theatre's corps, Gemma Bond is a budding dancemaker. (Last year, we featured her as one of three rising female choreographers.) Now, she's gathered some fellow ABT dancers for her first full evening of work, Gemma Bond Dance: HARVEST. Catch it Feb. 4-6 at Danspace Project in NYC. For Pointe's bi-weekly newsletter, we spoke with Bond about the program.

How did HARVEST come about?
Originally, the dancers and I just wanted to develop our individual skills. Some wanted to work with a choreographer more, and I wanted to create more. During ABT's layoffs, generally the principals can work with other companies, but there aren't as many opportunities for the corps.
What's the most challenging part of producing your own program?
Being in The Royal Ballet and now with ABT, I never saw that side of preparation. From stage management to how to lay the floor to which floor is best--all those tiny details. And when you're in a small space, like I am, there's nobody producing you. But it's amazing. I've learned a lot.
Where do you find inspiration for your choreography?
I always start with the music and how I feel about it. I have this very famous piece on the program by Liszt, and I know people are going to recognize it. But this is how I see the music. Normally my work is about human relationships, whether it's with your friends or with colleagues from work.
Any advice for ballet dancers interested in choreographing?
It's just practice. The more hours I get in, the more I learn and the less anxious I feel. Try to listen to different genres of music because it pushes you. At first, I thought that wanting to express myself by setting steps to music was part of being a dancer. But when I learned some structural things about choreographing, it really helped me understand why I liked it.
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Photographed by Jayme Thornton for Pointe.

If you are a dance lover in South Korea, EunWon Lee is a household name. The delicate ballerina and former principal at the Korean National Ballet danced every major classical role to critical acclaim, including Odette/Odile, Giselle, Kitri, Nikiya and Gamzatti. Then, at the peak of her career, Lee left it all behind.

In 2016, she moved to Washington, DC, to join The Washington Ballet. The company of 26 is unranked, making Lee simply a dancer—not a soloist, not a principal and not a star, like she was back home.

"I try to challenge myself, and always I had the urge to widen my experience and continue to improve," she says one blustery winter day after company class, still glowing from the exertion of honing, stretching and strengthening. "When I had a chance to work with Julie Kent, I didn't hesitate."

Lee with Brooklyn Mack in the "Le Corsaire" pas de deux. Photo by Theo Kossenas, Courtesy TWB.

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Photo by Matthew Murphy

We do a lot of fast frappé combinations at barre, but my footwork is still a mess. Do you have any tips? —Anna

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Audition Advice
Photo by Jim Lafferty for Pointe.

Have you ever attended an audition and wished that you knew what the director was looking for? We've rounded up some of our favorite quotes from our Director's Notes column over the past few years to give you a deeper glimpse into the minds of 10 artistic directors.

Ashley Wheater, Joffrey Ballet

"I want to develop and nurture artists," says Wheater, seeking "people who are not afraid to be expressive, and understand all the layers that go into making a work above and beyond the steps."

Ingrid Lorentzen, Norwegian National Ballet

"I like athletic classical dancers, with very strong footwork and articulation," Lorentzen says. "But it's also about the feeling I get from them, who I think can adapt to the Norwegian way."

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Photo via Instagram.

When you spend as much time on the road as The Royal Ballet's Steven McRae, getting access to a proper gym can be a hassle. To stay fit, the Australian-born principal turns to calisthenics—the old-school art of developing aerobic ability and strength with little to no equipment.

"It's basically just using your own body weight," McRae explains. "In terms of partnering, I'm not going to dance with a ballerina who is bigger than me, so if I can sustain my own body weight, then in my head I should be fine."

Today, McRae shares videos of his workouts on social media (where he has approximately 150,000 Instagram followers). They are often shot in his dressing room, with a chair as the only prop while he does développés from an arched handstand, for instance—a feat of upper-body strength and flexibility.

"I think people are genuinely intrigued and interested in what we do: I get lovely comments offering suggestions to alter the exercise."

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Ballet Stars
Photo via @abtofficial on Instagram.

Though according to our calendars today is the first day of spring, it feels like anything but. That's why we've been extra jealous watching American Ballet Theatre dancers' Instagram posts from their tour to Singapore. From swimming in rooftop pools to hiking with monkeys to jet-lag influenced shenanigans (oh, and dancing Swan Lake), their photos are making us believe that warm weather really is on its way. We rounded up some of our favorite shots from the first half of ABT's Asian tour; they'll spend this week in Hong Kong dancing Alexei Ratmansky's Whipped Cream. Keep the photos coming, ABT!

Rather than cling onto the railing in fear (like we would have), Isabella Boylston stepped gracefully into the highest pool in the world with a low arabesque.

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Richmond Ballet dancers in "An Open Later..." by Matthew Frain. Photo by Sarah Ferguson, Courtesy Richmond Ballet.

What's going on in ballet this week? We've pulled together some highlights.

The Bolshoi Premiere of John Neumeier's Anna Karenina

Last July Hamburg Ballet presented the world premiere of John Neumeier's Anna Karenina, a modern adaptation on Leo Tolstoy's famous novel. Hamburg Ballet coproduced the full-length ballet with the National Ballet of Canada and the Bolshoi, the latter of which will premiere the work March 23 (NBoC will have its premiere in November). The production will feature Bolshoi star Svetlana Zakharova in the title role. This is especially fitting as Neumeier's initial inspiration for the ballet came from Zakharova while they were working together on his Lady of the Camellias. The following video delves into what makes this production stand out.

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Ballet Careers
Beijing Dance Academy students Pei Yu Meng and Wang Yuzhiwan in rehearsal. Photo Courtesy BDA.

In one of 60 spacious dance studios at the Beijing Dance Academy, Pei Yu Meng practices a tricky step from Jorma Elo's Over Glow. She's standing among other students, but they all work alone, with the help of teachers calling out corrections from the front of the room. On top of her strong classical foundation and clean balletic lines, Pei Yu's slithery coordination and laser-sharp focus give her dancing a polished gleam. Once she's mastered the pirouette she's been struggling with, she repeats the step over and over until the clock reaches 12 pm for lunch. Here, every moment is a chance to approach perfection.

Pei Yu came to the school at age 10 from Hebei, a province near Beijing. Now 20, and in her third year of BDA's professional program, she is an example of a new kind of Chinese ballet student. Founded in 1954 by the country's communist government, BDA is a fully state-funded professional training school with close to 3,000 students and 275 full-time teachers over four departments (ballet, classical Chinese dance, social dance and musical theater). It offers degrees in performance, choreography and more. BDA's ballet program has long been known for fostering pristine Russian-style talent. But since 2011, the school has made major efforts to broaden ballet students' knowledge of Chinese dance traditions and the works of Western contemporary ballet choreographers. Pointe went inside this prestigious academy to see how BDA trains its dancers.

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