The Best Of Both Worlds

Behind the scenes as The Royal Ballet School and ABT II prepare for a joint performance.
Published in the August/September 2011 issue.

Kevin McKenzie gives a correction to RBS and ABT II dancers during barre.

Photo by Rachel Papo

Every country seems to have its own flavor of ballet technique. The English are beloved for their pure, delicate classicism, the Americans for their powerful attack. This March, dainty met dynamic for a dance-off when The Royal Ballet School’s third-year graduate class traveled to New York to perform on a shared bill with ABT II.

For both sides, it proved an eye-opening experience. “The RBS students incorporate their whole body when they dance,” says ABT II’s Alys Shee. “It’s not just ‘here are my arms, here’s my head.’ In every step, they move in one piece.” RBS students, on the other hand, spoke of wanting to gain some of the ABT II dancers’ willingness to take risks. “By the time I’m done thinking, ‘Oh, I don’t know if I can do this,’ the Americans will have already finished it!” says RBS student Brandon Lawrence. “They really jump on the steps.”

While preparing for their joint performance, the dancers took daily classes together from ABT artistic director Kevin McKenzie, RBS director Gailene Stock and other artistic staff. The New Yorkers also showed their British counterparts around town, taking them sightseeing and leading shopping trips to the Gaynor Minden and Yumiko stores. “It was fantastic because we were all in it together, two separate groups putting on a performance as one,” says Shee. Act Two of the exchange takes place during the 2011–12 season, when ABT II flies across the pond to visit the Royal students in London.


ABT II director Wes Chapman gives class onstage at The Ailey Citigroup Theater.

Photo by Rachel Papo

Fresh, full-bodied movement: Kathryn Boren and Colby Parsons of ABT II in Antony Tudor’s Continuo.

Photo by Rachel Papo

RBS dancers Gina Scott and Brandon Lawrence tackle Parrish Maynard’s contemporary ballet Fractals.

Photo by Rachel Papo