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Joffrey Academy Dancers Push Their Limits in This Work About Teenage Life

For an aspiring choreographer, what could be better than the chance for a fully-realized performance of one of your works, complete with a group of talented dancers? That's what former Ballet San Jose principal Karen Gabay will experience this weekend, as one of the four winners of the Joffrey Academy's seventh annual Winning Works competition. Every year, the program recognizes emerging African, Latino(a), Asian, Arab and Native American choreographers, and the winning artists create original works on Joffrey Academy trainees and Studio Company members.

As she prepared for the final performance series, Gabay told Pointe about her Winning Works experience.

What is your new work about?

My piece is called Hopeful Undertones and is inspired by the issues that teenagers face today. This generation of teens has hit puberty where technology and social media has transformed society, creating more stress and anxiety. I wanted to show that the smallest gesture of kindness is powerful and can change the hopelessness in someone else's world.

What was it like working with the Joffrey Academy Dancers?

It was challenging because I wanted to create a piece that had a narrative, yet I didn't want it to be too dark for these young dancers. My cast is fairly close to the age that my piece is about, yet I needed dancers who weren't afraid to show a different side to themselves. The six soloists out of my cast of fifteen had to express themselves more emotionally while maintaining the technique of classical ballet. Each of the six get featured in either a solo or pas de deux, and they handled it beautifully.

What is the movement like?

My movement is based on classical ballet. My first inspiration always comes from the music, and from there I imagine the tone of the piece and textures of the movement I'd like to create.

How did you get started as a choreographer?

I was encouraged by a friend of mine, Lev Polyakin, who at the time was the assistant concert master for the Cleveland Orchestra. He'd book "gigs" and I'd choreograph (and dance) to the music of his repertoire. These performances were very popular and eventually, I started my own company, Pointe of Departure, to expand on that idea.

What would you say to young dancers who want to try their hand at choreographing?

I would encourage them, especially young women. I think it is a great creative outlet.

 

Shannon Alvis, Sean Aaron Carmon and Jimmy Orrante join Gabay as this year’s winners. Their work will be presented at the Chicago Public Library's Harold Washington Library Center on March 11 and 12. Find out more about all the winning choreographers here.

 

For more news on all things ballet, don’t miss a single issue.

Career
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I want to be a professional dancer, but my parents won't listen. They either don't think I can do it (contrary to what my teachers have said) or they won't let me take the necessary steps to become a professional. Please help. —Audrey

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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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Videos

They say that pigeons mate for life—perhaps that's why these birds naturally symbolize the young lovers in Sir Frederick Ashton's The Two Pigeons. In these two clips from a 1987 performance in Pisa, Alessandra Ferri and Robert LaFosse—then stars with American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet, respectively—dance a rapturous pas de deux at the end of Act II. With tiny pricks of her feet and bird-like flaps of her elbows in Part 1, Ferri marks her anguish, thinking she's been abandoned for another woman. Later, both she and LaFosse grow more and more entangled as they reconcile, Ferri dancing with the passionate abandon she's famous for. I love how in Part 2 (0:20), they can't seem to get enough of each other as their necks arch and intertwine. At the end of the ballet, two pigeons fly in to perch symbolically on the chair—er, there's supposed to be two. It looks like one missed its cue at this performance! No matter—Ferri and LaFosse's dancing make it clear that these young lovers are meant to be together for life. Happy #TBT!

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Summer Study Advice
The author at 13, rehearsing at her home studio, Ballet Arts Theater, in Endicott, NY. Courtesy McGuire.

This story originally appeared in the December 2010/January 2011 issue of Pointe.

As a young student at a small ballet school in upstate New York, I was obsessed with getting into the School of American Ballet. From the age of 10, I entered class each day with the ultimate goal of studying at SAB dangling before me like a carrot on a stick. Every effort I made, every extra class I took was for the sole purpose of getting into what I thought was the only ballet school that really mattered.

I auditioned for SAB's summer program for the first time when I was 12. In the weeks that followed, I became a vulture hovering over my family's mail, squawking at my mother if the day's letters were not presented for my inspection when I walked through the door. The day the letter finally arrived, it was thin and limp. I cried for a week as I dealt with the crushing feeling of rejection for one of the first times in my life.

My mind filled with questions and self-doubt. What was wrong with me? Why wasn't I good enough? I figured I must be too fat, too slow, my feet too flat. I had worked so hard. I had wished on every fallen eyelash and dead dandelion in pursuit of my single goal, just to have a three-paragraph form letter conclude that I was a failure. For a while, I let myself wallow in the comfort of my resentment, content to believe that success should have come easily, and that to fall was the same as to fail.

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Pointe Stars
Photo by Theo Kossenas, Courtesy The Washington Ballet

You made a deal with your mom to take ballet classes in exchange for a ride to tryouts for the football team. How did that work?
I thought that I would take ballet for a couple months, become a master and then leave that alone and concentrate on football. Ballet had other ideas, which perplexed me, and ultimately, I think, made me fall in love with it.

How is The Washington Ballet evolving under Julie Kent's leadership?
It's still early, but I think that the company is growing stronger classically. And we have Julie, Victor Barbee, Xiomara Reyes and Rinat Imaev—a great team of people who are giving their input and expertise, which is quite helpful.

Mack in 'Swan Lake.' Photo by Theo Kossenas

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Summer Study Advice
Summer intensive students at the School of American Ballet. Photo by Rosalie O'Conner, Courtesy SAB.

As a young student, Shea McAdoo's classes at the Master Ballet Academy in Scottsdale, Arizona, were “strict, straightforward, very classical and purely Vaganova." She appreciated the Russian rigor and precision, but when she was accepted to the School of American Ballet's summer course at 13, she leapt at the chance to learn something new. The vastly different emphasis on Balanchine technique at SAB was illuminating: “It changed my whole way of thinking about musicality and accents. I'd never known there were so many ways to do a tendu! And the épaulement—I loved how they talked about light hitting your face, tilting your chin to show off your diamond earring."

McAdoo's experience was transformative, even when she returned home. “Of course, I lowered my arms back down in second and didn't cross my wrists," she says, “but there were stylistic choices I brought back with me." Today, as an apprentice with Oregon Ballet Theatre rehearsing Balanchine's Serenade, she credits her ease with the ballet's fluid port de bras to her summer at SAB.

Learning about ballet's various styles and techniques is an important part of a dancer's development. With summer intensive auditions approaching, it's a perfect time to consider broadening your training. While it can be initially confusing, immersing yourself in a style outside your comfort zone can be eye-opening and influential for your future training and career. And the benefits of diversifying your training can last beyond a single summer.


Shea McAdoo in OBT's production of "Paquita." Photo by James McGrew.

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