Daylight saving time had been in effect only a few hours last November when New York City Ballet principal Sterling Hyltin entered an NYCB rehearsal studio to recapture history. In Classroom 2 on the seventh floor, the clock had been turned back to 1968, when NYCB premiered Balanchine’s La Source, a demanding pas de deux with four solos set to a Léo Delibes score and made on Violette Verdy and John Prinz. The George Balanchine Foundation, which is dedicated to preserving the choreographer’s ballets in a state as close to the original as possible, had arranged to tape Hyltin and Gonzalo Garcia in practice clothes performing La Source.

 

Verdy herself was there as an expert observer and advisor, while Helgi Tomasson, who often performed La Source at New York City Ballet before becoming artistic director of San Francisco Ballet, served as co-critic. Lined up along one mirrored wall of the classroom were an accompanist at a grand piano, a movie cameraman, sound technicians and an assistant responsible for keeping a boom mike hovering out of camera range to catch every word Verdy and Tomasson said to Hyltin and Garcia.

 

Choosing Hyltin for taping this demanding role would have surprised no one who saw her debut in La Source the last week of the 2010 spring season. She had only one opportunity to achieve its many piquant subtleties, such as the brace of gargouillades that blossom amid a flourish of footwork, and she performed each with the assurance and precision of a veteran. “NYCB ballet master Sally Leland invited me to observe the company rehearse the three casts,” Verdy recalls. “Sterling was incredible, with endless arms and legs, and she was always open to criticism. Her dancing has a quality I call ‘true from the inside.’ ” 

 

Texas-born Hyltin (pronounced, Texas style, “hill-teen”) would have been conquering the repertoire of Kristi Yamaguchi instead of Violette Verdy if she’d had her way after the family moved from Amarillo to Dallas. “When I was 6, I wanted to be an ice skater more than anything,” she recalls. “I got up early to take lessons before I went to school. I entered competitions. It was my mother who saw me as a ballerina. No one in my family dances. Not my brother Bo or my sister Rebecca. They play golf.”

 

Erin Hyltin’s enrollment of her daughter in the Etgen-Atkinson School of Ballet transformed Sterling into the most miserable little 6-year-old in all of northeast Texas. Ann Etgen remembers Erin’s concern that her daughter was working at a discipline she might never use or even enjoy: “I told her Sterling had the natural proportions of a dancer,” she recalls. “Also she did enjoy our school performance.”

 

Reassured, Erin continued bringing Sterling to the lessons. While Sterling cried before every class for a year, to this day she has the fondest memories of Etgen and Bill Atkinson. She worked off the frustration of dance class by riding her Yamaha dirt bike on weekends with her father, John (“I was Daddy’s girl and something of a tomboy”). While she missed ice skating, the discipline it instilled in her was carried over into dance. Being rejected at her first School of American Ballet regional audition, as she was at 12, might have crushed most little girls’ spirits. Not Hyltin: “The loss made me realize how much dance now meant to me, and I really went to work.” 

 

The effort paid off. When SAB scouts returned to Dallas in 2000, the summer program accepted her; admission to the school in the fall followed. By then she had acquired the focus that fuels great dancers and the ability they have to communicate their joy onstage. She was accepted as an NYCB apprentice two years later, taken into the corps in June 2003, made soloist in 2006 and principal in 2007, after she had starred in the premiere of ballet master in chief Peter Martins’ Romeo + Juliet. Her entrance with an explosive grand jeté alerted the audience that a dancer with tensile strength and gracious ease had arrived.

 

At 25, standing all of 5’5”, she now has a repertoire of 50 roles. Choice parts have come her way so fast it’s as if she were on line in a cafeteria, being automatically served one after another. Yet her daring can still alarm those who haven’t looked beyond the adorable set of her head, the shyness of her smile and the affecting little furrow of her brow. For them, Martins’ Morgen came as a shock. The ballet, set to a plush orchestral arrangement of 10 love songs by Richard Strauss, is athrob with passion and crammed with nine pas de deux and a pas de six for three couples. The German text, sung by a dramatic soprano, pulsates with romantic ecstasy.

 

Hyltin met its emotional challenges head on. Moments after she entered during the second song, she crossed the stage in a run and hurled herself at partner Nilas Martins, turning over in midair to wind up safely draped head down over his shoulder like a gorgeous bath towel. “There was no easy way to dance Morgen after Jared Angle, one of my three partners in the piece, urged me to read the text of the songs,” she says. “They were so beautiful! I saw why Peter had asked so much of us. I’m something of a daredevil. I couldn’t hold back.”

 

Playing Swanilda last spring offered her an opportunity to use movement for characterization. “I was showing impatience with Franz by rolling my eyes and pouting, when I was reminded that no one in the Fourth Ring could see my expression,” she says. “I started showing emotion through how I moved, turning away in disgust, flouncing off.” Playing a spunky young woman exasperated by an annoying boyfriend was no stretch for her, though she’s not currently dating and only shares her Manhattan apartment with Henry, her silky terrier. (Walking Henry at 8:30 am and breakfasting on Lavender Earl Grey tea and oatmeal are a daily ritual.)

 

Robert Fairchild, Romeo to her Juliet and her most frequent partner, describes their rehearsals as “like you’re going to war!” He immediately adds, “She works so hard she pulls you along. She really helps you when you’re doing a tough pas de deux.” The Hyltin-Fairchild partnership at its most silken is epitomized in their pas de deux in Balanchine’s Who Cares? when the orchestra eases into Hershey Kay’s swooning arrangement for lower strings of the lovely Gershwin title song. Fairchild extends his left hand. Hyltin takes it and goes up on one pointe, raising the left leg at a killing angle as she tilts her head to bestow upon him the most melting of glances.

 

The La Source taping involved performing, over and over, two demanding solos, two pas de deux, a coda and finale. Hyltin had to bolt from the room to treat blisters the size of quarters that had abruptly materialized on each foot. (“Limping through the coda is not how I want to represent myself to the generations to come.”) Everything done and said was caught on tape. “I got this enlightening contrast to how I had originally interpreted the role,” says Hyltin. “I left the studio that day with the idea that less is more. I can’t wait to explore that.”

Verdy, after many subtleties regarding style, expressed the wry hope that some day a choreographer might do the left leg a favor by making a ballet for the right one (“the way Ravel had written a piano concerto for the left hand”). And the result? A finished performance, soon available on DVD for home consumption? No, a jigsaw puzzle for professionals to use, section by section, to create future performances. 

 

After the taping was finished, the dancers, personnel from the Balanchine Foundation, technicians and the pianist beamed with delight for a group portrait. Hyltin said she returned to her apartment and collapsed “paralyzed, in and out of naps on the sofa all afternoon.” Henry must have looked on, puzzled by
his mistress’s uncharacteristic inactivity. She had remade a precious part of dance history. That takes a lot out of you.

Harris Green writes frequently for Pointe.
 






Training
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As summer intensive audition season starts up, I've been reminiscing about my own experience as a young dancer—way back in 1993—and how challenging it was to navigate. In fact, I think it's safe to say that my first summer program audition was a complete disaster.

I was almost 16—a little late by some standards—and was still pretty clueless as to how I compared to others outside my hometown. That weighed heavily on my mind as my parents and I made the hour-long drive to Milwaukee. The audition was for a school in Pennsylvania, and as I scanned the big-city studio, my mind slipped into exaggerated teenage self-consciousness. Dancers lined the barres stretching, showing off their flexibility as if doing some sort of war ritual. Many were chatting in groups, wearing trendy warm-up jumpers and donning perfectly shellacked buns. I tried to act like I knew what I was doing, but inside I was a wreck.

The teacher clapped his hands together to begin class. He was fast-paced, no-nonsense and not one for smiles. During pliés, he stopped in front of me with his clipboard as I emerged from a cambré back. He looked me up and down, frowned and kept going. I, of course, freaked out—what did that mean? I still had an entire hour and a half left of class to prove I was still capable, but instead I completely lost my concentration. I just couldn't shake that frown. I forgot combinations and even started with the wrong foot in front a few times in center. By jumps, the adjudicators had stopped watching me altogether. Needless to say, I spent the majority of the ride home trying not to cry.

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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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popular
via YouTube

It's finally the weekend, and we're celebrating the best way we know how—a new ballet video. Juliet Doherty (who trained with San Francisco Ballet and Master Ballet Academy, and is set to star in the dance film, On Pointe), teamed up with Cartoon Network for her latest project.

"Cartoon Network contacted me about their show, Steven Universe, which was coming out with a new vinyl album of the soundtrack of the show," Doherty shared with Pointe. "They told me about one of the show's main characters named, Pearl, who is a strong-willed character but has the grace inspired by a ballerina."

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Videos
Mr. Jeremy FIsher, from Sir Frederick Ashton's "The Tales of Beatrix Potter."

Animal roles might not typically be what dancers dream of performing…but they're oh-so-fun to watch. You can't help falling under their spell (and perhaps aspiring to dance one someday). Here's a round-up of some of our favorite furry and feathered roles.

Bunny Hop

Run. Dance in a circle. Pretend to be a rabbit. It might sound like a creative movement combo, but don't let that fool you. The role of Peter Rabbit in Sir Frederick Ashton's The Tales of Beatrix Potter requires fierce technique—not to mention the ability to project personality while wearing an animal head and fur suit.


Four-Legged Interlude

Who do you turn to for halftime entertainment during a quartet of fairy variations? Dancing lizards, mice and a frog of course! This charming quintet of creatures light up the stage in David Bintley's Cinderella.

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Your Career
Photo Courtesy Barry Kerollis.

I was probably about 15 years old when the director of my local dance school, seeing my drive and ambition, asked me to work as a teaching assistant for one of the main ballet instructors. She asked to meet with me to discuss the details of my new job. She explained what my role was in the studio, expectations of me in the position and more. But as we approached the end of my meeting, I wasn't expecting the conversation to take the serious turn that it did.

"Now, Barry, I need you to be very, very careful about how you work with these young girls. Kids are sensitive and, especially considering that you are a man, if you correct them in a way that can be viewed as sexual by either a student or a parent, even if you didn't do anything, you could be jeopardizing your future as a teacher and in this field." The look on my face must have been utter shock; the prospect of losing my job or getting sued over sharing my artform had never crossed my mind. This forever changed my perspective on being a dance educator, and I still find myself overly cautious about the way that I work with my students today.

Unless you've been hiding underneath a holiday blanket, it has become abundantly clear that we are undergoing a massive cultural shift here in the States. It started in the entertainment industry, then shifted to major corporations. Sexual misconduct in the form of harassment and assault that had been swept under the rug for years is bubbling to the surface. Things began to boil quite quickly, and those interested in our performing-arts world were speculating that something was going to be brought up in our tight-knit community, especially considering the hands-on approach that teachers have with students, dancers have with other dancers and artistic staff has while coaching employees. I had to sit on my own hands for over a month, after I was given a heads-up that a major news publication was working on an exposé about Peter Martins and his many alleged abuses (which had been quietly circulating around our dance community for years).

Keep reading at dance-teacher.com.

Summer Study Advice
Erica Lall and Shaakir Muhammad in class at American Ballet Theatre's 2013 New York Summer Intensive. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy ABT.

This story originally appeared in the December 2013/January 2014 issue of Pointe.

When Pacific Northwest Ballet School student Madison Abeo was accepted into San Francisco Ballet School's summer session on a partial scholarship, she was thrilled. But then she added up the remaining cost for the program and realized she didn't have the funds. “I really wanted to go," she says, “but we just couldn't make the other half of it work."

Ballet training is expensive. For many families, a trip to a dream summer intensive simply isn't in the budget. SFB was $2,500 out of Abeo's reach. But she was determined. At the suggestion of her aunt, Abeo created a Facebook fan page where she asked for opportunities to babysit or perform odd jobs, and included a link to a PayPal account where friends and family could make donations. Two local dancewear businesses, Vala Dancewear and Class Act Tutu, offered to outfit her for fundraising photos, which a photographer took for her Facebook page for free. By June, Abeo had raised enough for tuition—plus plenty of pointe shoes.

Affording your dream intensive isn't as difficult as you might think. There are a surprising number of eager dance supporters out there. Case in point: On Kickstarter, dance projects have the highest success rate of any type of campaign, with dancers receiving over $4 million in donations through the site since it began. You can also apply for need- or merit-based grants and scholarships, either through your summer program or an outside foundation. Most dancers who want it badly enough can make it happen.


Madison Abeo with other Pacific Northwest Ballet School students in the 2013 School Performance of an excerpt from "Serenade," choreography by George Balanchine. Photo by Rex Tranter, Courtesy Abeo.

Take Your Cause to the (Online) Streets

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Summer Study Advice
In class at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy summer intensive. Photo by Gene Schiavone, Courtesy Russian American Foundation.

When Complexions Contemporary Ballet's summer intensive program director Meg Paul auditions students for its Detroit intensive, there's one thing that catches her eye for all the wrong reasons. "It's a real pet peeve of mine when a dancer keeps shifting her eyes to me during a phrase," she says. "It tells me that she's not fully invested in the movement, that she's more interested in being watched than in embodying the choreography."

Every summer intensive director has their own list of audition deal-breakers, but there are a handful of universal turnoffs to avoid. "Yes, we want the most talented students, but when talent is paired with a bad attitude or improper etiquette, it gives us pause," Paul says. While certain behaviors may seem minor, they can make all the difference when it comes time for scholarship offers or even acceptance decisions.

DEAL BREAKER #1: Not Presenting Yourself Professionally

An audition is a first impression, and you want to look your best. This begins with researching the specific intensive's audition requirements. "Our audition has a dress code, and we expect dancers to respect that," says Rina Kirshner, director of the Russian American Foundation's Bolshoi Ballet Academy programs. "We want dancers to stand out through hard work and talent, not brightly colored leotards or flowers in their hair."

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