Company dancers share a special bond with their artistic directors. For years, even decades, they spend every moment trying to impress that one person at the front of the room—and benefiting from that person’s mentorship. When a director leaves, it can seem like the world has been turned upside down.

With a change of the guard imminent at Miami City Ballet (founding director Edward Villella will leave at the end of the 2013 season), another group of dancers is about to face the upheaval that follows a leader’s departure. The new director will have his or her own taste in dancers and repertoire, and a particular vision for the company—one that might have little to do with his or her predecessor’s.
But while a change of leadership can make you feel suddenly vulnerable, it’s also an opportunity. The reevaluation process isn’t a one-way street: It’s a chance for you to reassess your place in the company, too. It can be the push you need, either to rededicate yourself to the path you’ve been following or to be proactive about finding a new one. And whether you end up staying with the company or leaving, you’ll get to work with a new person who will stretch and challenge you in different ways.

What Does the New Director Want?
So what can you expect when a new director takes over? “It can be tricky,” says Ashley Wheater, who took the helm of The Joffrey Ballet in 2007. “I started by meeting with each of the dancers, telling them about myself and my vision.” Listen closely to the new director; it can help you decide for yourself whether the company will still be a good fit for you.

Director-dancer chemistry can be difficult to decode. But nearly every director is looking for dancers who are hard workers. If you think you’d like to stay with the company, make a point of showing the new director your dedication. Wheater spent his first year at The Joffrey assessing the company, and disciplined dancers quickly rose to the top of his list. “I started to look at their work ethic, and eventually it all became transparent,” he says.

Even the smoothest transitions have their bumps, so you should expect some upheaval. Under Wheater, The Joffrey’s company roster changed significantly. “I got flack, especially from the press,” Wheater remembers. But the decisions, he emphasizes, were professional, not personal—an important, albeit difficult, thing for dancers to keep in mind. Today, half of the company is made up of new hires. “I did not come to drill an army,” Wheater says, “but to further an artform.”

If You Leave
If you thrived under your old director but have trouble seeing eye to eye with the new one, it might be time to move on. Amy Fote, who danced with Milwaukee Ballet for 14 years, chose to leave her longtime home after Michael Pink came on as artistic director in 2002. He had a new vision for the company and she felt the tone changed quite a bit. (“He has a strong personality,” she says.) She wasn’t enjoying the work anymore, and realized MB was no longer the right fit.

If you decide to leave—or are let go, as several of the MB dancers were—take advantage of a chance to plan your next step. Are you looking for a company that resembles your former home in size and repertoire, or do you want to make a bigger change? Are you willing to accept a demotion or a lower salary at a company that will give you the artistic opportunities you want?

Craving a change, Fote knew that she needed a place where she could rediscover her love of dance. “I was wavering between trying for Houston Ballet or the Royal New Zealand Ballet—or retiring,” she says. After much deliberation, Fote joined Houston Ballet in 2005. She took a demotion to first soloist in the process, but felt the diverse repertoire at HB was worth it. In Houston, Fote found herself busy learning a number of ballets, with less rehearsal time and higher expectations. She flourished in the fast-paced environment. And she worked well with artistic director Stanton Welch, who eventually promoted her to principal.

Even if the circumstances of your departure are less than ideal, try not to burn bridges. “Michael and I ultimately parted on a good note, which was important to me,” Fote says. “I was even invited to MB to dance in a gala a few years ago.”

If You Stay
If you decide that you’d like to stay on under the new director, you can do more than just hope he’ll choose to keep you. Make your feelings known. Set up a meeting to discuss your interest and the reasons you would do well under his leadership.

For Sarasota Ballet principal Kate Honea, the transition from Robert de Warren to Iain Webb in 2007 brought much trepidation. “I didn’t want to leave—I knew this was my home,” she remembers. “But I was nervous. I was used to Warren; I was so comfortable. And I worried that Iain wouldn’t like my style.” Honea’s fears were assuaged after she arranged a meeting with Webb. “He was very positive about me,” she says. “He was also full of great ideas. Because he wasn’t a choreographer, he had plans to bring a lot of work to the company, including ballets by Ashton and Balanchine. I was excited by that.”

Even if you and your new director do reach an agreement, there will be an adjustment period, which is often as challenging as starting over at a new company. Honea remembers being surprised by the sea of new faces that appeared at SB after Webb took over. “They were all younger than I was,” Honea recalls. “I had to step up my game.” With Webb’s rank-blind casting style, Honea often found herself in the first cast for one role and the third for another. “The whole environment was different. I had to get used to sharing a role, which was new for me.” And Webb demanded a different style of dancing, as well. “I had to learn to use more of my body, especially for the new Ashton repertoire,” she says. “I needed to bend more and use my épaulement.”

Give yourself time to adjust to the new situation, and embrace it as a chance to grow. Honea doesn’t regret her decision. “Iain pushes me in a different way.”



























Trending
Andrew Peasgood and Constance Devernay in "The Fairy's Kiss." Photo by Andy Ross, courtesy Scottish Ballet.

From now through January 15, Pointe is streaming Scottish Ballet in Sir Kenneth MacMillan's Le Baiser de la Fée (The Fairy's Kiss). This one-act ballet, based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale "The Ice Maiden," was choreographed for The Royal Ballet in 1960. For more on the ballet's history and for behind-the-scenes footage, click here.

Synopsis

The Lullaby in the Storm
A mother with her child struggles through the storm. The Fairy with her attendants appears and pursues her. The Fairy separates the mother from her child. Passing villagers find the body of the mother, now dead, and guided by the Fairy, they find the child. The Fairy kisses him on the forehead. The villagers become frightened and taking the child with them, they run away.

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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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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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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).

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Your Career
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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Your Career
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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