Although she can move with the lightness of a dragonfly skimming a pond, a year ago American Ballet Theatre corps member Meaghan Hinkis scored a great success with ABT II by doing no dancing at all. Last spring, she performed the role of a mourning widow visiting the statue of her assassinated husband in Roger VanFleteren’s pas de deux Pavlovsk. From her entrance through her slow collapse and subsequent gestures of grief, Hinkis’ powerfully restrained command of mime permeated the theater with nobility and loss. Of course the statue (Alberto Velazquez) soon came to life, and the dancing began. By that point, however, we knew we were not watching just another pas for two attractive young people.

 

“I feel most comfortable when I’m onstage,” admits Hinkis, 19. A dancer since age 4, she grew up in Simsbury, Connecticut, and focused on ballet by the time she was 11, when she started at The Hartt School. Two years later, she began going to New York’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, the traditional springboard to ABT II, which she joined in 2007.  She also studied with reknowned coach Fabrice Herrault on her own time.

 

Already an apprentice with the main company when she danced Pavlovsk, Hinkis’ expressive almond eyes and long limbs give her movement eloquence. Although she’s just 5’ 4”, she easily dominates the stage with space-defying speed.

 

Last October, when ABT accepted her into the corps, the company was gearing up to launch a new production of The Nutcracker, choreographed by artist in residence Alexei Ratmansky. By then, Hinkis was an old Nutcracker hand: “I seemed to be dancing it everywhere,” she says, noting that she performed Clara in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular for two seasons when she was younger and more recently danced the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Hague (thanks to ABT II contacts). Ratmansky not only recruited her for the Toy Soldier’s dance in the Act I party scene that he had turned into a pas de deux for the windup toys, he cast her in the December 23 premiere.

 

The honor came as no surprise to her teachers. “Meaghan is a joy to work with because she is hungry for a challenge,” recalls ABT II artistic director Wes Chapman. “She has no real limits. I used to make her mad by saying, ‘I don’t know if you can do this.’ She showed me she could.” 

 

Her maturity was what initially impressed ABT ballet mistress Nancy Raffa. “She immediately adapted to working in the company,” she says. “Her commitment to her career is so serious  that she has no time to be neurotic. Some young dancers always talk about what they are going to do. Meaghan always demonstrates she can do it.”

 

This commitment was amply illustrated at two Nutcracker rehearsals a few weeks before previews began, when Hinkis was alternating work in the corps for “Waltz of the Flowers” with the demanding pas de deux she had been awarded. Although the “Waltz” was still a work in progress at that stage, Hinkis stood out from the other 15 women who were being coached by ballet mistress Susan Jones. It was also obvious that she was already dancing the steps full out, with line and verve to spare and a special twist to the torso in leaps.

 

Then she was off down the hall to a rehearsal with Ratmansky for the rapid-fire pas de deux for her and Luis Ribagorda. “Alexei is a pleasure to work with,” she says. “He tells you what he wants, and you want to do it for him.” While other couples stood by to mark the choreography, Ratmansky patiently clarified the steps that went off like a string of firecrackers and tightened the jagged poses that abruptly ended each phrase.

 

Thanks to Hinkis, rehearsals with the other couples could now proceed smoothly through rough spots. When a woman’s footwork looked uncertain, Ratmansky would call upon Hinkis to demonstrate the correct steps, and she never failed to do so. 

 

Did I mention her middle name is Grace?

At A Glance
Name: Meaghan Hinkis
Age: 19
Company: American Ballet Theatre
Training: The Hartt School in Hartford, CT, JKO, Fabrice Herrault
Dream Roles: Kitri, Aurora, Juliet
Idols: Gillian Murphy, Alina Cojocaru







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Angela Sterling, Courtesy of Pacific Northwest Ballet

Clear your schedule now for Monday, January 29th, 2:45PM (EST)/ 11:45AM (PST). Pacific Northwest Ballet will be live-streaming rehearsal from Kent Stowell's Swan Lake, straight from their Seattle, WA-based studios. To psych us up for their on stage performances February 2nd - 11th, PNB is letting us in on their Act II rehearsal.

From the corps of swans to Odette and Prince Siegfried's pas de deux, and the infamous four swans, this rehearsal is not to be missed. You can sign up now for a live-stream reminder on their site. In the meantime, we'll be brushing up on our Cygnets with this PNB sneak peek.

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Rigorous program, check. Well-rounded technical training, check. Purposeful liberal arts curriculum, check. Study your craft abroad, check! If you are looking for all the above, the Joan Phelps Palladino School of Dance at Dean College truly has it all.

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Summer Study Advice
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Videos are a great alternative when auditioning in person isn't possible. Here are some general guidelines for making a good impression.

1. Follow directions. Before filming, research what each school you're interested in requires. "It demonstrates your ability to follow instructions, and schools pay attention to that," says Kate Lydon, artistic director of American Ballet Theatre's summer intensives and the ABT Studio Company. "If the guidelines haven't been followed, your video might not be watched the whole way through." You may need to make multiple versions to accommodate different schools.

2. Videos should be no longer than 10 minutes. "Keep it short, simple and direct," advises Philip Neal, dance department chair at The Patel Conservatory and artistic director of Next Generation Ballet. "You have to be sensitive to how much time the director has to sit down and look at it." Barre can be abbreviated, showing only one side per exercise, alternating. Directors will be looking at fundamentals—placement, turnout, leg lines, stability—but don't ignore musicality or movement quality. Make sure music choices match combinations and are correctly synced in the footage.

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Career
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I want to be a professional dancer, but my parents won't listen. They either don't think I can do it (contrary to what my teachers have said) or they won't let me take the necessary steps to become a professional. Please help. —Audrey

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Videos

They say that pigeons mate for life—perhaps that's why these birds naturally symbolize the young lovers in Sir Frederick Ashton's The Two Pigeons. In these two clips from a 1987 performance in Pisa, Alessandra Ferri and Robert LaFosse—then stars with American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet, respectively—dance a rapturous pas de deux at the end of Act II. With tiny pricks of her feet and bird-like flaps of her elbows in Part 1, Ferri marks her anguish, thinking she's been abandoned for another woman. Later, both she and LaFosse grow more and more entangled as they reconcile, Ferri dancing with the passionate abandon she's famous for. I love how in Part 2 (0:20), they can't seem to get enough of each other as their necks arch and intertwine. At the end of the ballet, two pigeons fly in to perch symbolically on the chair—er, there's supposed to be two. It looks like one missed its cue at this performance! No matter—Ferri and LaFosse's dancing make it clear that these young lovers are meant to be together for life. Happy #TBT!

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Summer Study Advice
The author at 13, rehearsing at her home studio, Ballet Arts Theater, in Endicott, NY. Courtesy McGuire.

This story originally appeared in the December 2010/January 2011 issue of Pointe.

As a young student at a small ballet school in upstate New York, I was obsessed with getting into the School of American Ballet. From the age of 10, I entered class each day with the ultimate goal of studying at SAB dangling before me like a carrot on a stick. Every effort I made, every extra class I took was for the sole purpose of getting into what I thought was the only ballet school that really mattered.

I auditioned for SAB's summer program for the first time when I was 12. In the weeks that followed, I became a vulture hovering over my family's mail, squawking at my mother if the day's letters were not presented for my inspection when I walked through the door. The day the letter finally arrived, it was thin and limp. I cried for a week as I dealt with the crushing feeling of rejection for one of the first times in my life.

My mind filled with questions and self-doubt. What was wrong with me? Why wasn't I good enough? I figured I must be too fat, too slow, my feet too flat. I had worked so hard. I had wished on every fallen eyelash and dead dandelion in pursuit of my single goal, just to have a three-paragraph form letter conclude that I was a failure. For a while, I let myself wallow in the comfort of my resentment, content to believe that success should have come easily, and that to fall was the same as to fail.

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