Sometimes, a body roll is more than just a body roll. In the Armitage Gone! Dance piece Itutu, Kristina Bethel-Blunt’s entire spine seems to flex and weave like rubber. Long and lean even by a dancer’s standards, Bethel-Blunt’s body seems to absorb choreographer Karole Armitage’s shapes by osmosis. “I use the language of the body with the hugest possible range of movement,” says Armitage. “But Kristina just plunges in and it looks glorious.”
With Bethel-Blunt, now 31, steps seem easy, whether she’s unfurling a battement or describing an accomplished (but nonlinear) dance career. A native of St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, Bethel-Blunt moved to Houston as a toddler and soon began taking dance classes. By the time she turned 9, her focus was jazz dance. Only when she entered Johnston Middle School, a public arts school in Houston, did she take any ballet.
By the time she got to the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, she was dancing throughout the day and taking after-school classes at Houston Ballet’s Ben Stevenson Academy. But it was Alvin Ailey summer intensives in New York that opened up a new world. “I always loved to move,” Bethel-Blunt says, “and I liked ballet and modern equally. When you dance ballet, you feel very pretty, very long. But I loved the range of motion in modern. In Houston, I’d heard about ABT, but I didn’t know about Armitage or Complexions or Alonzo King. I didn’t know that you could express all those different emotions and roll around on the floor.”
Though her New York summers gave her many exciting options, once she graduated, she headed to the University of Oklahoma. College helped Bethel-Blunt refine her technique. She studied modern with Denise Vale, a former Martha Graham dancer, and ballet with Mary Margaret Holt, the dance department’s director and a former Houston Ballet soloist.
After graduation, she joined Ailey II. At the end of two years, she auditioned for the main company, but they did not take her. Friends told her about an audition for The Lion King, and, on a whim, she went along. By that afternoon Bethel-Blunt had a spot in the touring company. She spent most of the next five years—with a year off to dance with Complexions—working with the touring company and then on Broadway in The Lion King.
She kept her ballet technique honed with classes three times a week at The Ailey School with Kat Wildish. She also spent her off-hours working with different choreographers in workshops and small venues in opportunities she heard about from friends and colleagues. “I always knew The Lion King wasn’t it,” she says. “I wanted to go back to concert dance.” But it wasn’t until 2008 that she auditioned for Armitage. “I went to see the company at The Joyce, and I thought, she moves in a way that is good for my body.”
For her part, Armitage says she is happy to have Bethel-Blunt’s diverse mix of technique to draw upon. “That’s the hallmark of my company,” she explains. “Everyone is equally schooled in ballet and modern plus something else. Kristina feels the movement in a very personal way. It just comes out and it’s beautiful.”
At A Glance
Name: Kristina Bethel-Blunt
Company: Armitage Gone! Dance
Training: Ben Stevenson Academy, University of Oklahoma
Favorite Role Performed: “Fix Me” duet in Revelations
Dream Role: Armitage’s Watteau Duets, fifth section