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.
Deep in the basement of Lincoln Center's David H. Koch Theater is a small, windowless space that's home to nearly 6,000 pairs of pointe shoes, neatly stacked on shelves that reach to the ceiling. It's New York City Ballet's shoe room, and for company members, it's one of the most important places in the world. Dancers frequently stop by to search for the ideal pair for a special performance, or to tweak their custom pointe shoe orders, trying to get that elusive perfect fit. "If the shoe isn't right, the dancer can't do her job," says shoe room supervisor and former Pacific Northwest Ballet principal Linnette Roe. We talked to Roe and NYCB soloist Emilie Gerrity about some of the most interesting—and surprising—secrets of the shoe room.
The NYCB dancers go through 9,000 to 11,000 pairs of shoes each year, including flat shoes, sneakers, jazz shoes, and character shoes. The company has an annual shoe budget of about $780,000.
Summer is the perfect time for busy dancers to get some much-needed rest after a long season. But it's also a good opportunity to hone your technique. Summer training opportunities for professionals are scarce, although the ones that do exist are pretty great. Now, there is a welcome addition on the horizon that we're excited about.
Choreographer and former Houston Ballet principal Dominic Walsh recently announced that he has teamed up with the Colorado Conservatory of Dance to create the Compass Coaching Project, a two-week intensive for dancers over the age of 17. Held June 4–16 in the Denver suburb of Broomfield, the workshop is specially tailored for those in trainee, second company and apprentice positions. "In today's model of a dancer's profession, there is sometimes a long transition between student and professional," Walsh says in a statement. "I believe this is a crucial time for mentorship." Indeed, a dancer's early career is often marked by anxiety and uncertainty as they spend one or more years in low-paid or unpaid junior ranks.
In October, Nevada Ballet Theatre announced that Roy Kaiser, the former longtime artistic director of Pennsylvania Ballet, was heading west to take the helm of the 35-member, Las Vegas–based company previously led by James Canfield. Kaiser took over in the midst of the 2017–18 season; the 2018–19 season has not been announced yet. Below, Kaiser shares his hopes for the company's future.
What have you been working on since you left Pennsylvania Ballet in 2014?
I have always kept my hand in the business; I've been doing a lot of guest teaching, and from time to time a little bit of consulting work.
What drew you to Nevada Ballet Theatre?
I was approached for the job, and while going through the process of being a candidate I was struck by the history of this company and the fact that it's now in its 46th season. And the community that I found in Las Vegas not only has a great spirit about it, but is very interested in developing the total arts scene, not just ballet. It seemed like a wonderful challenge and opportunity to do something really important here in the city.
Taking a lower rank at a new company can feel risky. But whether you're breaking out of your comfort zone, yearning for bigger challenges or finding a better company fit, you can make a successful transition. Here are three ballerinas whose recent moves have advanced their growth and artistry.
Fentroy at DTH. Photo by Rachel Neville, Courtesy Fentroy.
Chyrstyn Mariah Fentroy: Dance Theatre of Harlem to Boston Ballet
Although Dance Theatre of Harlem isn't a ranked company, Chyrstyn Mariah Fentroy spent much of her five years there dancing principal roles. She loved the touring, the repertoire and dancing beside her boyfriend, but she longed to try her luck at a larger company with more variety. And with DTH's mainly neoclassical focus, Fentroy felt her chances of dancing in a classical story ballet getting slim: "I wanted to do a full-length before it was too late."
Julia Erickson grew up training at the Pacific Northwest Ballet School. Once she'd spent some time in the professional division, she started feeling like a member of the company. She performed with PNB extensively, even touring with them to London, Scotland, Alaska and Hong Kong. So when contracts were offered her final year, she was disheartened not to receive one, especially because she had given up other opportunities to stay there. "It was hard not to take it personally," says Erickson, now a longtime principal dancer at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre.
Rejection does tend to feel deeply personal, especially as you start auditioning for companies. But don't let disappointments take the wind out of your sails. In truth, the audition process is the first of many challenges, such as casting and contract renewals, that you will face as a professional dancer. But by looking at the big picture, making a strategic plan and trusting the process, you can learn to take rejections less personally and keep moving forward.
Artistic directors sift through hundreds of audition packets a season, and your resumé is often your first chance to catch their attention. Naturally, you want a document that makes a positive impression. But some surprising (and seemingly minor) details can inadvertently turn a director off. So, how do you make your resumé stand out—for the right reasons?
Focus on Essentials
At an audition, directors need to see your essential information at a glance: where you trained and what companies and choreographers you've worked with. Cincinnati Ballet artistic director Victoria Morgan scans for names she recognizes. "It's good to know if a dancer has worked with a respected leader in the industry, and if there's a colleague I can call as a reference. I'm also more inclined to take a second look at a student if I recognize a particular school or teacher," she says.
Your resumé should be no longer than one side of one page. "When I've got 600 resumés sitting here, a three-page resumé is a disincentive to me," says Kansas City Ballet artistic director Devon Carney. "It comes down to time—how quickly can you present your information to an unknown pair of eyes?"
As a former principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre and the founder and artistic director of contemporary ballet company BalletNext, Michele Wiles is no stranger to putting in the work—in fact, she quite enjoys it. "I'm very much a process person," Wiles tells us ahead of BalletNext's return after a year-long hiatus in which she and her husband welcomed their first child, a daughter. "I've worked very hard to get back here through the pregnancy and birth. It's been a lot of work, but I love work."
Assembling her crew of dancers and four new works (one co-choreographed by and performed with deaf dancer Bailey Anne Vincent), Wiles has been busy preparing for her 2018 season at New York Live Arts, which begins March 6. From staying on her toes (literally) throughout her pregnancy to her post-baby routine, here's how Wiles balances it all.