Before joining JKO in 2009, Cassandra Trenary only took two or three ballet classes a week at her home studio in Georgia. Her focus was split between ballet, tap, jazz, contemporary and hip hop. JKO faculty spotted her at their New York summer intensive and asked her to stay year-round, placing her, at 16, in a class with mostly 13-year-olds to strengthen her foundation.
It was clear that Trenary was something special. She had a remarkable sense of dynamics and an uncanny ability to express music through her body—not to mention legs and feet that seemed born for ballet. She was also a conscientious student, and she improved quickly. Halfway through her second year, Trenary was asked to tour with ABT II as an apprentice; then she was invited to apprentice with the main company. Trenary still had to finish her training as well as her performances with ABT II, so she did all three, running between studios throughout the day. “Yeah, it was stressful,” she admits, “but to be honest, I loved it.”
When asked how JKO shaped her dancing, Trenary comes as close as she gets to swearing: “Oh my gosh! Mr. De Vita refined every detail. Especially my port de bras. He gave me corrections like, ‘Pretend there’s a diamond ring at the end of your arm in arabesque.’ ”
ABT hasn’t wasted any time putting Trenary to use. Although she’s only 18, Trenary exudes confidence beyond her years in contemporary movement: She can unleash a feistiness you wouldn’t expect from a sweet southern belle. In her first season as full corps member last fall, she was cast in a soloist role in a premiere by Demis Volpi—alternating with Sarah Lane.
Her favorite role so far: “Swan Lake. As painful as it is for the corps, standing in the same positions for so long, being onstage with that music feels so beautiful.”
Outside classes: “I miss contemporary from time to time, so I try to take Joe Lanteri or Suzi Taylor’s jazz classes at Steps whenever I can.”
Dream role: “In the Upper Room. I would love to be a stomper or the main ballerina.”
Secret talent: “Eating. No, I’m kidding! I want to learn to cook—I love any kind of pasta—but right now I’m just really good at ordering delivery from GrubHub or Seamless online.”
I had grown up watching Kyra Nichols and Wendy Whelan dancing "Diamonds," and it was my absolute dream to dance it, too. I immediately connected to "Diamonds." It's big, dramatic movement, nothing small, and I don't think there's anything small about my dancing. I have to reach deep down in my soul to do this ballet, to rise to the level of the choreography, the costumes..."Diamonds" is just on another level from anything else I've done. It takes everything out of you, if you're willing to put that much into it.
Monday morning class after a three-day weekend? Stiff. After eight weeks off? Agonizing.
For most professional dancers on their summer layoff, a break from the daily grind is simultaneously exciting and unnerving. These months are often reserved for recovery and rest—a necessary opportunity to let the body repair and recharge. How dancers spend their summer break is mixed: some teach at summer intensives; some take the extended time to travel, visiting family or exploring internationally; some choose not to pause, performing at galas or festivals; and some just want to stay home, feet up, movies on. Depending on where you dance, the break might span a couple weeks or a couple months. Regardless of length, it involves a physical wind down, as well as a build back up. While it's never going to feel entirely easy, here are a few pro tips to help smooth the transition between 1 and 100 percent.
The soloist in "Rubies" has been one of my favorite roles since the first time I danced it. I was in the corps then and it was one of my first big parts. It's so powerful and freeing. My favorite moment is when I come straight down center towards the audience, doing these sort of strutting walks on pointe. You're not playing to anyone else onstage. You're playing straight to the house. And the section with the four boys is really unusual; it's not often that a woman is onstage with four men, but she's still the one in charge. When I'm doing the penchés going offstage at the end of the first movement, I try to be calm and hope that the audience can't tell I'm trembling inside, or that my supporting leg is wobbling.
Maura Bell was determined to have a ballet career. But as a high school senior, she didn't feel ready to audition for companies yet. “I knew I had more maturing to do, both technically and as a young woman," she remembers. Bell started researching collegiate options and discovered that Indiana University's ballet department hosted a two-week summer intensive for pre-college students. “The reputation of IU spoke for itself, so I decided to do the summer intensive to get a feel for what it would be like to go there."
The deciding moment came at the end of her second week, when department chair Michael Vernon led her and fellow students on a tour of IU's Musical Arts Center. “I remember standing on that stage—it's the size of the Met— and it just clicked: This was where I wanted to be, my dream school," she recalls. Bell auditioned for the ballet department that fall. Four years later, she credits the training and connections she made at IU with her ultimate post-graduation success: a contract with Saint Louis Ballet.
College summer programs offer students a chance to experience what life would be like as a dance major, and introduce them to a wide range of possibilities for their training and future career. Even those on the fence about going to school could benefit from spending a few weeks on campus—along with the strong focus on individual development, collegiate summer intensives allow students to meet year-round faculty and current dance majors, scope out the dorms and dance facilities, and do some major networking.
I think "Emeralds" is more of an acquired taste than "Rubies" or "Diamonds." There aren't really any difficult steps, but it's extremely hard to pull off because of its simplicity. You can't just "sell it." But the musicality and simplicity come together so perfectly to make it dramatic and sweeping, and just so much fun to dance.
Former New York City Ballet principal Suzanne Farrell is famous as George Balanchine's muse, yet Balanchine wasn't the only choreographer whom she inspired. In 1984 her then-husband, Paul Mejia, also a former NYCB dancer, created a piece for her called Eight by Adler, a jazzy ballet set to the music of Richard Adler. Beginning at 0:45 after a short intro, Farrell performs the first movement in this clip from the ballet's premiere with the Chicago City Ballet.The slender, long-limbed Farrell saunters across the stage, at moments giving the audience playful smiles and sideways glances. The choreography feels improvisational, befitting Farrell's proclivity for off-balance, suspended movement. With a full jazz band onstage, the music is equally the star in this solo. Even though the slow and sultry piece is a far cry from Balanchine's fast footwork, Farrell's mesmerizing performance in Eight by Adler is a stunning example of Mr. B's famous slogan: "See the music, hear the dance." Happy #ThrowbackThursday!