Admirers of New York City Ballet’s Kathryn Morgan probably asked themselves the same question when the company promoted her to soloist last October: “What took them so long?”

 

Morgan had made an indelible impression two years earlier when she was one of the four dancers sharing the role of Juliet in the two-week premiere run of Ballet Master in Chief Peter Martins’ Romeo + Juliet. This streamlined adaptation of the Prokofiev classic tests its heroine’s technique the moment she enters. In the popular Kenneth MacMillan version, Juliet scampers on and teases The Nurse. Martins’ teenager immediately fires off a grand jeté, and Morgan’s is particularly stunning. It comes out of nowhere to hit 180 degrees with unerring musicality. When Romeo + Juliet returned last May, Juliet was cast with only two dancers: principal Sterling Hyltin and Morgan.

 

In the interim, Morgan’s acting had acquired more expressive authority. “I read the play,” she says. “I saw the Zeffirelli movie, I saw Alessandra Ferri at ABT, but I didn’t stop there. Peter gave us specific counts for picking up the dagger, but you have some leeway in timing. You can grab it, say, or wait till the very last minute to reach for it. I’m always looking for those moments when a new gesture can highlight my character, like a slight pause before I rush down the steps before the balcony scene. Peter hasn’t complained.”


Morgan has rarely received complaints. While a student at the School of American Ballet, she attracted the attention of a particularly astute judge of talent. Christopher Wheeldon, NYCB’s resident choreographer at the time, hesitates to say it was Morgan’s sweetness that caught his eye. “That sounds saccharine and her dancing is anything but,” he says. “Let’s say she had an aura of quiet authority. Equally important, it was coupled with a rare devotion to hard work. I sometimes had to rein in her energy.” 

 

First, Wheeldon cast her in the pas de deux of his Scènes de Ballet for SAB’s 2006 Spring Workshop. Later, after she moved from NYCB apprentice to corps member, he cast her in Carousel (A Dance). Originally, this charming abridgement of the central love story in the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical was a showcase for Alexandra Ansanelli, requiring her to go from Innocence to First Love to Tremulous Ambivalence in a marvel-
ously impassioned pas de deux. Whether Morgan had ever run such a gamut of emotions offstage, she convincingly did so in the course of 20 minutes.

 

For most of the next two years, Morgan remained in the corps, gaining strength and stamina as dewy freshness morphed into sophistication. Although only 5’ 4”, she never disappeared into the corps’ anonymity. Gradually, she danced solos she had watched others perform.

 

After seeing her first Nutcracker while still a toddler, Morgan let her parents know that dance lessons were in order when she emerged from her bedroom wearing one of her dolls’ tutus. She began studying an hour a week. And she found time for seven years of piano lessons. “My mother was always urging me not to spend so much time in my room playing classical records,” she says.“ I’d always say, ‘I want to listen to ballet, Mom.’ ”

 

Morgan never studied with any teacher for long. Her father was a dentist in the U.S. Navy, and the Morgans moved four times before he left the service to practice endodontics (root canal surgery) in Mobile, Alabama. Winthrop Corey, artistic director of Mobile Ballet, became Morgan’s first mentor after she enrolled in the company school. Like everyone who recalls her, he was as impressed by her dedication to work as he was by her natural ability. “You can’t teach what she already had,” Corey says. “You just fine-tune it. Her instincts were like a third eye within herself that sees what needs to be done. Happy as I was for her when she won her scholarship to SAB in 2004, I regretted I’d no longer be working with such a gifted student.”

 

Since she became a New Yorker, Morgan has adjusted rapidly to city life. Initially her mother moved into an apartment with her, but now both parents are only frequent visitors. Her cat Princess has stayed behind in Mobile, though.

 

Sean Lavery, Martins’ assistant and a teacher at SAB, lost no time in working with Morgan once she began her apprenticeship with the company. While a student, she had already earned his highest possible praise: “She reminded me of Suzanne”—Farrell, that is, Balanchine’s ultimate muse—“because she’s very musical, very focused on whatever she does. And fearless.” Ironically, what Lavery offered Morgan was the pas de deux he had made for the balcony scene from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, which would be performed at Saratoga, the company’s summer home.

 

For all his admiration, Lavery wondered if the responsibility of dancing and acting would be too much for an apprentice: “Peter said I should see how rehearsals went. I couldn’t find time to work with Katie in New York, so Igave her a tape and asked her to study it. A week later, she knew the role perfectly.”

 

 

Principals Darci Kistler, Wendy Whelan and Jenifer Ringer have been Morgan’s role models at NYCB. Actresses who influenced her characterizations include Audrey Hepburn and Vivien Leigh. Of course, movie stars look so unshakably cool because they have the luxury of retakes and are never plagued by stage fright onscreen.

 

Morgan, now 21, says she was nervous only once, at a debut in Nutcracker, and just for a moment. What role could she have been dreading? Sugar Plum, with its incessant pointework that can drain a ballerina of all charm? Dewdrop, with its panoply of technical demands? “Marzipan,” she says. The leader of those panpipe-playing shepherdesses in stiff, ungainly skirts who tosses off a couple of gargouillades! (Go ahead and laugh; everybody else does.)

 

Morgan’s eagerly eyeing Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty, which return to NYCB this winter. Although each contains a major pas de deux, she knows a partnership is a collaboration, not a ballerina ego trip. She and fellow corps member David Prottas earned an ovation for their performance of Bournonville’s Flower Festival at Genzano at the farewell performance of principal Nikolaj Hübbe in 2008. Although he had little time to coach them, their sunny openness, buoyant elevation and modest mastery of every deceptively simple detail was the Danish style at its purest.

 

At last June’s Dancer’s Choice program, she and principal Tyler Angle triumphed in the Grand Pas de Deux from Sleeping Beauty. “The first time we rehearsed the fish dive, we nailed it,” Angle says. “Katie’s an ideal partner: She meets you halfway; she’s attuned to the ebb and flow of partnering and she is totally calm.” Whether Morgan is cast as Aurora at NYCB this winter, she is definitely dancing a complete Sleeping Beauty in 2010. With Angle as her Prince Désiré, Winthrop Corey’s prize pupil is triumphantly returning to perform it at Mobile Ballet.

Harris Green writes frequently for Pointe.

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If you're in the NYC area and are in need of weekend plans, you might want to consider heading to the Film Society of Lincoln Center to see Jean-Stéphane Bron's documentary, The Paris Opéra. While the film was originally released in France this past spring, it just made its way to the US on October 18th, and it chronicles the 2015-2016 season at the Paris Opera.

Encompassing the entire institution (which was founded in 1669 by King Louis XIV!), dancers will particularly enjoy an inside look at the Paris Opéra Ballet—both in rehearsals and onstage. Most notably, Bron captures the then POB director Benjamin Millepied as he decides to leave his position with the company barely a year after his appointment.

Check out the full trailer below, and the Film Society of Lincoln Center's full listing of showtimes here.

Your Training
Thinkstock.

Bianca Bulle was always prone to ankle sprains. When she was 18, her recoveries became more complicated: She started experiencing Achilles tendonitis due to muscle weakness and fluid buildup in the ankle. "The last thing to get back to normal would be my Achilles, which was so incredibly tight and painful," says Bulle, now a principal at Los Angeles Ballet.

The Achilles is the body's largest tendon, attaching the bottom of the calf muscles to the back of the heel. It contracts and releases as you relevé and plié, as well as when you jump and even walk. Tendonitis, or inflammation, of the Achilles is one of the most frequently reported overuse injuries among active people, according to the American Physical Therapy Association. You'll know it by the pain or tightness at the back of the heel. If the condition gets bad enough, the tendon can rupture, which requires surgery to fix.

Achilles tendonitis is especially common among dancers on pointe, but it's not inevitable. With rest and proper conditioning, you can work to avoid it with careful technique and a commitment to cross-training.


Boston Ballet School pre-professional students. Photo by Igor Burlak Photography, Courtesy Boston Ballet.

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New York City Ballet in Marc Chagall's costume designs for Balanchine's "Firebird."

I am a self-confessed costume nerd who really needs little persuasion to travel nearly 3,000 miles to see a costume exhibition—which is what I did when I set off for California for the new exhibition at Los Angeles County Museum of Art: Chagall: Fantasies for the Stage. I knew Marc Chagall primarily for his sumptuous blue swirling paintings featuring violin-playing goats, his incredible ceiling at the Paris Opéra's Palais Garnier, and murals at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City, so I was intrigued to see his work with ballet.

Marc Chagall (1887–1985), was born Moishe Zakharovich Shagal in Belarus. He later moved to St. Petersburg, Russia, to study art, apprenticing under famed Ballets Russes designer Leon Bakst. Chagall's work in ballet and opera, however, did not begin until he and his wife Bella arrived in the U.S. as World War II refugees in 1941.

Chagall: Fantasies for the Stage, adapted from an earlier exhibition at the Montreal Music of Art and curated by Yuval Sharon and Jason H. Thompson, is an exciting opportunity to see 41 costumes and nearly 100 designs. But it is the costumes that really steal the show. You won't see any tutus here, but instead amazing, almost cartoon-like realizations of Chagall's artwork. LACMA's exhibition runs through January 7, 2018. For those of you who can't make the trip like I did, here's a rundown of highlights.

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Tiler Peck in "Who Cares?". Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.

New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck and Emmy-winning actress Elisabeth Moss (of Mad Men and Handmaid's Tale fame) may seem like unlikely friends, until you dig a little deeper into their backgrounds. Both attended Westside School of Ballet in Santa Monica and spent summers at the School of American Ballet in their youths. Moss and Peck's career paths diverged when the former fell in love with acting and Peck went on to study at SAB full time, eventually becoming the star we know today. Now, the pairs' artistic pursuits are uniting in an exciting new project.

According to Deadline.com, Moss will produce a documentary featuring Peck and her work curating BalletNOW, last summer's star-studded, critically acclaimed program at Los Angeles's Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Peck was the first woman to lead BalletNOW's programming, and she brought together dancers from companies including The Royal Ballet, Miami City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and the Paris Opéra Ballet, putting them on stage with tappers, clowns and break dancers (sometimes simultaneously).


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Your Best Body

Looking for creative and healthy ways to get your pumpkin fix this fall? First, back away from the pumpkin-spiced latte—the season's unofficial drink is often laced with sugary syrup and comes with a complimentary mid-rehearsal crash. Instead, try these simple snacks with puréed pumpkin. It's high in beta-carotene, which converts to immunity-boosting vitamin A, and is a good source of vitamin K, iron and fiber. You can buy it canned or make the purée from a "sugar" or "pie" pumpkin (they're commonly available at grocery stores or farm markets).

Fruit-and-Spice Toast

- Spread purée onto whole-grain toast.

- Top with sliced pear.

- Add a dash of cinnamon.

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Pointe Stars

When Maya Plisetskaya first toured abroad with the Bolshoi Ballet, she stunned the world. Her dramatic and technical abilities were far beyond what anyone outside the Soviet Union had seen before. She quickly became an icon, symbolizing Russian ballet.

Plisetskaya was the perfect ballerina to play the Tsar Maiden in The Little Humpbacked Horse when choreographer Alexander Radunsky and composer Rodion Shchedrin recreated the classic Russian folktale in the 1960s. This vintage clip of the ballet offers a glimpse into an era gone by. Although ballet technique has advanced since then, Plisetskaya's performance is still electrifying. She is daring and agile in her manèges and fouettés, while she shows gentle purity and authentic emotion in the pas de deux with the wide-eyed Ivan. Even half a century later, this magnificent artist continues to transfix us with her radiant presence onstage. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!


Pointe Stars
P.O. Alienz in Lavender Leotard; Paulina Waski modelling a Kreature Kulture t-shirt. Photos Courtesy Paulina Waski.

Walk into any ballet class and you're bound to see a row of dancers clad in leotards patterned with dainty flowers and lace. But nearly three years ago, American Ballet Theatre corps dancer Paulina Waski wore a very different kind of leotard to class—and her colleagues loved it. Now an average day at ABT includes any number of dancers in leotards featuring angry aliens, detached eyeballs and grinning monsters.

"My dad, John, is an artist, and he draws all these crazy creatures," Waski explains. "One year he did what he called his paper plate project; he drew a new creature onto a paper plate every single day for 365 days. I thought, 'he should put one on a leotard!' He screen printed one onto one of my old leotards himself, and when I wore it to class everyone was wowed." And so, Kreature Kulture was born.


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