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.”



























Elizabeth Abbick as the Snow Queen in Butler Ballet's "Nutcracker." Photo by Brent Smith, Courtesy Abbick.

Pointe caught up with three college dancers last spring to see what it's like juggling ballet, academics and a social life on campus. First up is Elizabeth Abbick, a student at Jordan College of the Arts, Butler University getting her BFA in dance performance and her BA in mathematics.

Abbick studying in the library. Photo by Jimmy Lafakis for Pointe.

Leawood, Kansas, native Elizabeth Abbick faced some tough choices her senior year of high school. Equally talented in math and ballet, she wanted a professional dance career but also desired to plan her post-performance life. "Butler University had always been on my radar because I knew the faculty was stellar and the students are the best of the best. I realized it could offer me both worlds," she says. Now a senior majoring in dance performance and mathematics, she hopes to work on the business side of the ballet world after her stage career.

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popular

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.

What Causes It?

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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!


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