There are moments when a dancer and a role match up in a way that sends a shiver through the audience. During Chase Finlay’s first performances of George Balanchine’s Apollo last year, the similarities between the New York City Ballet dancer and the young god were arresting: Both were beautiful but rough-hewn, testing the limits of their considerable powers. Finlay was green—just 20 at the time—but the purity of his line, the plasticity of his jump and the gracious nobility of his carriage softened any unpolished moment. And beyond his raw excitement about standing alone at center stage, he exuded real, magnetic authority. As Apollo, Finlay gave us a glimpse of the artist he might become.

 Now 21, Finlay has turned many heads—and not just because he is (as it has become customary to note) six feet, blond and classically handsome. Singled out for his charisma and technique, he’s had, like many young NYCB dancers before him, extraordinary opportunities early in his career. But whether a dancer continues to grow after sink-or-swim tests like Apollo can be a toss-up. Still something of an attractive cipher onstage, Finlay is just beginning to invent himself. Apollo’s path to Mount Olympus was predestined; the ultimate extent of Finlay’s ascent is up to him.

Finlay, who grew up near New York City in the affluent suburb of Fairfield, Connecticut, discovered ballet the way many boys do: He followed his older sister to the studio. “I was really into lacrosse at the time, and I thought taking a couple of ballet lessons might help,” he says. But at age 7, after seeing a performance of Balanchine’s Nutcracker in Stamford, Connecticut—featuring several School of American Ballet students—he decided to train in earnest. “When the Chinese guy came out in the second act and started doing split jumps, I was like, ‘Whoa!’ ” he remembers. “I turned to my mom and said, ‘I have to do this for real.’ The athletic aspect of it was so appealing.”

Darla Hoover, associate artistic director of Ballet Academy East, remembers watching Finlay two years later in that same Nutcracker production. “You couldn’t miss him,” she says. “Of course he was adorable, this little blond boy, but he was also totally at ease up there.” By that time, Finlay and his sister (Page, who went on to dance with San Francisco Ballet and Oregon Ballet Theatre) were commuting to New York to train with Hoover at BAE. “Darla became a second mom to me,” Finlay says. “I was good friends with her son Trevor”—now a Boston Ballet II dancer—“so I was always over at her apartment hanging out. She took me under her wing, in ballet class and outside of it.” Finlay was obviously gifted, but Hoover wasn’t about to let him coast through his training. “She kicked my butt, which I needed,” Finlay says, laughing.

After several years studying Balanchine technique with Hoover, the teenage Finlay faced an important decision: take a contract with American Ballet Theatre’s second company or enter the School of American Ballet in the hopes of eventually joining NYCB. He chose SAB; it was a gutsy move. “At ABT, there’s a tendency to let young dancers sit in the corps for a while, wearing a bunch of funny costumes,” he says. “With the repertoire that NYCB does, I thought I’d get more exciting experience right off the bat, assuming I made it into the company.” At age 17, he became an NYCB apprentice.

Soon—remarkably soon—the roles started coming. Once Finlay was promoted to the corps in 2009, he danced featured parts in Robbins’ Interplay and 2 and 3 Part Inventions, Balanchine’s Divertimento No. 15 and the pas de quatre from Peter Martins’ Swan Lake. A special highlight was Christopher Wheeldon’s Polyphonia, which Finlay performed with an otherwise all-principal cast. It was his first time partnering the majestic Sara Mearns, whom he’d idolized as a student.

Mearns was impressed by Finlay’s partnering. “He had great instincts,” she remembers, “and he really listened. That’s what you need—someone who’s there mentally and physically.” Though Finlay was initially in awe of Mearns, he soon found that the “intimidation factor” worked to his advantage. “Dancing with Sara is almost like a competition: She’s brilliant, and she pushes me,” he says. “But I push right back. I do well under pressure.” Onstage together, Mearns and Finlay crackle, feeding off that competitive energy.

Finlay stepped into the brightest of spotlights last spring, when, thanks in part to another dancer’s injury, he made his debut as Apollo. Though he was shocked to be given a chance at the role, Hoover wasn’t surprised. “Apollo was something I saw coming Chase’s way a long time ago,” she says. “He is Apollo—he just is. Before he even moves.” NYCB artistic director Peter Martins had no qualms about entrusting the part to Finlay. “He was obviously the right type,” Martins says. “The look, and the facility. I had every confidence in him. He was ready.”

With Mearns’ encouragement, Finlay studied tapes of Peter Boal, Nikolaj Hübbe, Jacques d’Amboise, Ib Andersen and Martins in the role, and worked intensely with Martins and coach Richard Tanner. He also learned to deal with some inevitable unpleasantness. “There were a lot of established guys who expected to get Apollo,” he says. “For a while, I was getting those sideways looks in the hall. It was uncomfortable.” He turned to principals Andrew Veyette and Amar Ramasar for support. “They’ve had my back since I joined the company,” he says. “They tell me when I look bad out there, but I like that they’re real with me. And they’ve been through similar things. They know what it’s like.”

Finlay’s Apollo debut was a smash. (“He shows the artist’s journey as an adventure story in which everything is new,” Alastair Macaulay wrote in The New York Times.) A few months later, Martins promoted Finlay to soloist. “I was thrilled for him,” Mearns says, “but I was actually happy for me, too. I was like, yes—now we really get to dance together.”

With rave reviews and promotions comes a lot of pressure. It’s a feeling Mearns, who had her breakout performance in Swan Lake at age 19, is all too familiar with. “At this point, when you’re rising fast, there are so many distractions that can pull you away from ballet,” she says. “I learned, and Chase has to remember, never to lose focus. With a talent like Chase has, he can’t afford to veer away.”

But for the moment, Finlay is just enjoying the ride, and trying to “stay normal,” he says. Modeling stints for Abercrombie & Fitch and French Vogue aside, he insists he’s a regular guy. He’s a New York Giants fan who spends his days off watching football at sports bars. He plays the drums, and jams with fellow NYCB musicians Joaquin de Luz, Ask la Cour and Zachary Catazaro. And he still has dinner with Hoover frequently. “She knocks me down a peg when I need it,” he says.

NYCB dancers are notoriously loyal to Balanchine’s company, and Finlay is no exception. But he does dream of guesting opportunities at ABT, the Kirov or The Royal Ballet that would allow him to tackle big classical leads. “I love the rep I’m dancing at NYCB, but I’ve always seen myself as a classical dancer,” he says. “I don’t exactly want to be David Hallberg, but the path he went on? That would be pretty awesome.”

“Chase has more growing to do, but people will always notice him,” Mearns says. “How can you not? He’s the perfect prince. There are moments now when he’s intimidating to me.”

























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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