As a member of American Ballet Theatre, Gray Davis is used to being in the spotlight. But this past weekend, all eyes were on Davis for a totally different reason, after he jumped down onto the subway tracks in New York City to save a man who had allegedly been pushed.
We've been breathlessly waiting to find out when David Hallberg will step out with American Ballet Theatre, and it sounds like L.A. audiences get to see him first. He's scheduled to debut the role of Prince Coffee in Alexei Ratmansky's Whipped Cream, on March 15 at the Segerstrom Center for the Performing Arts. His first performance back, after returning from injury, was his debut as Franz in Coppélia, with the Australian Ballet.
Whipped Cream sounds like a (more?) surreal take on The Nutcracker, featuring a boy who eats too many sweets and imagines a fantastical land populated by characters like Prince Coffee and Princess Praline.
New Yorkers will have to wait until May 22 for a reprise of the role. And while we're excited to see Hallberg back onstage, and we're always up for a new Ratmansky ballet, we're especially curious about the trippy costumes and sets, designed by Pop Surrealist Mark Ryden. They look a little bit creepy.
We can't wait!
After a successful return to the stage with the Australian Ballet, not to mention his debut as Franz in Coppélia, international star David Hallberg is officially back with one of his two home companies. He will join American Ballet Theatre for its Spring 2017 season. No word yet regarding when he'll return to the Bolshoi Ballet.
In a statement, both Hallberg and ABT artistic director Kevin Mackenzie expressed excitement for the return, and New York ballet fans are surely eager to see Hallberg partnered up with the company's women once again (the editors at this magazine certainly are!). Hallberg's schedule hasn't been announced yet, but we're keeping our fingers crossed for a Gillian Murphy/David Hallberg matchup in Giselle (Murphy's partner is currently listed as TBA on May 27). And with Stella Abrera as Myrta, no less? There's also an enticing TBA listed on June 24, for Hee Seo's partner in Onegin. Hallberg told the New York Times that he was excited to work with Alexei Ratmansky again, which means he might be part of the cast originating the choreographer's latest creation for ABT: a surreal evening-length story ballet titled Whipped Cream. The casting for its March premiere is still to be announced.
Hallberg's return probably also means that company men who have recently received notable performance opportunities (Calvin Royal III, for example) may have to wait a bit longer for their turn in other major classical roles. That said, we can't wait to see him back on the opera house stage. Our friends at Dance Magazine made this GIF, which perfectly sums up our feelings:
At some point during her long career with American Ballet Theatre, Stella Abrera started to think it would never happen; paradoxically, this gave her a kind of peace. But on the evening of May 23, 2015, there she was, onstage at the Metropolitan Opera House, finally performing one of her dream roles: Giselle. It was a moment that had been long deferred. In 2008, as she was preparing for this same part, she was sidelined by an injury. And it turned out to be a serious one, a herniated disk and trouble with her sciatic nerve, which caused pain and debilitating calf weakness and kept her out of commission for almost two years. When she came back, she felt unsure of her body and her future, unable to do the things she had done before almost without thinking.
Yet seven years later, she got her second chance, filling in for another injured dancer. And a remarkable thing happened: The moment Abrera stepped onstage, responding happily to Albrecht's four taps on her cottage door, it was as if she had been dancing the role her whole life. Her Giselle was sweet without being sappy, trusting without having the word “victim" written across her forehead. The jumps were confident, the turns clean, the arabesques limpid. The transformation from woman to wraith was gradual, the love between her Wili and Albrecht still touchingly human. “Stella allows herself to go as far as she can in a particular direction, without ever going over the line," Kevin McKenzie, ABT's artistic director, explains. “She has the taste to make the judgment call and the ability to know where the line is."
Abrera was still a soloist, a position she had held for 14 years. But not for much longer. On June 30, 2015, the same day as Misty Copeland, she became a principal dancer. The promotion came as a complete surprise. She says: “At my age"—she was 37—“and with the amount of time I had been out I didn't think it was going to happen. I thought, My career is going to be over soon, I'd better just go for broke whenever I go out onstage." It's a funny thing about dancers—it's often when they stop trying to please others that they do their best dancing.
To become a principal at 37 is an anomaly—proof not only of Abrera's talent, but of her willingness to stay the course in the long, frustrating road from injury to full recovery. At the time, her promotion was somewhat overshadowed by Copeland's; outside of the company, there had been scant speculation about Abrera's chances, and little publicity afterwards. Nevertheless, “It was enough for me," Abrera says, quietly, of that time, “because the amount of emotion I felt was beyond."
Like Copeland's, Abrera's achievement was also a milestone: She became ABT's first Filipino-American principal. It is a distinction that is only now beginning to sink in. “People started to ask, 'How does it feel to be the first?' and to me it was like asking, 'How does it feel to have long hair or to be a woman?' " But then she started to hear from young Filipino-American dancers, who said they looked up to her. Almost without realizing it, she has become a symbol of achievement and success.
Abrera's path to ABT was somewhat circuitous. Because of her father's job as a civil engineer, the family moved frequently. She started ballet in Pasadena, then moved to a school in San Diego, West Coast Ballet Theatre. Some of her formative years were spent in Sydney, Australia, studying at the Halliday Dance Centre, a program that uses the Royal Academy of Dance curriculum. It was during her final RAD exams, held in New York, that she met Ross Stretton, then ABT's assistant director, who suggested she audition for the company. At 17, she left home to become a professional dancer. It was not easy: “I could sense the dread in my mom's face. It was hard for me. But there was no way I wasn't going to do it."
Things were proceeding smoothly. She was offered a soloist position in 2001, and was soon dancing plum roles like Lilac Fairy in The Sleeping Beauty, Emilia in José Limón's Moor's Pavane and Gamzatti in La Bayadère. Then, injury struck. In 2008, when she was preparing to dance Giselle, she hurt herself during a rehearsal for a new work; by the end of that rehearsal, she had a persistent calf ache. After 14 months of cortisone treatments, physical therapy, swimming and rest, she came back and tried to approach dancing the way she had before. (“I'd always gone for things, that's how I liked to roll.") But a little over a year later, she reinjured herself.
When Abrera returned after five months, she found herself hampered by fear: fear of pain, of hurting herself again, of having to give up altogether. As she puts it, “I had a lot to lose." Watching her face this ordeal, soloist Craig Salstein, who regularly teaches company class, could see she was afraid she might have to stop dancing. He approached her about devising a gradual, steady program of customized ballet classes to get her dancing again. “I told her I was going to jump into the dark hole with her and together we were going to look for the light switch." Abrera trusted him. (By all accounts, Salstein is a kind of dancer-whisperer and has gone on to work with other dancers suffering from injuries.)
They worked together for four months, during his breaks and lunch hours, doing barre in a room without a mirror so that she could feel things internally, working on the bare essentials: posture, turnout, balance, elongating the spine, straightening the legs. “We started with pliés," he says, “and I would ask her, 'Can you go on? Can we move on to third position? How about fifth?' " Little by little she got her technique back, and, more importantly, her confidence. Abrera's attitude toward Salstein's assistance is simple: “He got me back onstage."
Steadily but slowly, over the course of years, Abrera regained her strength and became accustomed to a new, safe range of motion. Recently, she's gained even more confidence. Things just seemed to work better: “I kept discovering that I could trust my body—it continues to surprise me."
A Principal At Last
Since her Giselle debut, she has taken on one role after another: Sir Frederick Ashton's Cinderella and Lise in his La Fille mal gardée; Lead Maiden in Alexei Ratmansky's Firebird, the Queen of Shemakhan in his Golden Cockerel and Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty; and a lead role in Benjamin Millepied's Daphnis and Chloe.
She's particularly strong in roles leavened with humor, like Lise in Fille. Onstage she can be uninhibited and fun, with a real comedic verve, which can come as a surprise given her almost regal beauty. “She's such a goofball in real life," says ABT principal Gillian Murphy, a close friend since both competed at the Prix de Lausanne as teenagers. (Their husbands, Ethan Stiefel and Sascha Radetsky, are also close, and the four often travel together.) Her ability to be goofy onstage seems to be connected to an innate modesty combined, paradoxically, with confidence: “She's not defined by her beauty," Murphy says.
It's a special mix: modesty, mixed with self-knowledge, refinement and bravery. “She's a deeply honest person," remarks Radetsky, who retired from ABT in 2014, “and I think that shines through in her dancing." Perhaps it explains why she had the air of a principal dancer long before the day she became one. “In most of our heads she was a principal," says soloist Alexandre Hammoudi, who has been paired with her regularly in ballets like Don Quixote, The Nutcracker and The Sleeping Beauty.
Despite the heightened pressure, Abrera has found herself loving dance as much as ever. “Nothing has changed for me on the inside," she explains. “I'm savoring the present; I think it comes with time and experience. It's the joy of art. I feel privileged to be part of that."
Marina Harss is a freelance dance and culture writer in New York City.
When it comes to style, James Whiteside likes to push the limits. “Conforming isn’t really my thing,” says the American Ballet Theatre principal. He chooses pieces that express his personality, while always leaving room to experiment with new ideas. “I haven’t really married myself to one aesthetic, and that gives me a lot of options,” he says. “One day I’ll be preppy, next day I’ll be super-urban, then I can be all tattered and ‘50s. I like to keep an open mind.” In the studio, he sports knits and crop tops, and dyes his hair funky colors when the repertoire allows. It works well for ballets like The Sleeping Beauty (in which he wears a wig) or contemporary work. “But if I’m playing Romeo, this wouldn’t make sense,” he says. Whiteside is influenced by everything from Japanese anime to ‘90s boy bands to New York City itself, a place he’s always wanted to live. “It’s so inspiring walking around the city,” he says. “Some people are just killing it. Anybody can buy fashion, but having style is a completely different thing.”
Marc Jacobs jacket and bag: “Marc Jacobs is the brand I have the most items of. I’m a huge fan. It’s classy and sort of irreverent, and it just looks good.”
Sandro turtleneck: “This is from a Parisian fashion house and I really like their stuff. It’s feminine and butch all at once.”
Club Monaco pants: “I call these my Bing Crosby pants. They’re a really retro fit—wide hips and high waist, pleats, slightly cropped. It’s a shape I really appreciate.”
Crop top: “I adore crop tops for ballet, I think it’s hysterical. And I get so sweaty that it’s nice to have a little bit of extra air.”
Yumiko shorts: “I like to wear light-colored clothes for ballet.”
Bubenicek booties: Far right. “These booties are amazing. The name of the color is Avatar, like the movie.”
As one of the foremost classical ballerinas of her generation, Diana Vishneva has captivated audiences with her magnetic stage presence and pristine technique. In a move that's sure to disappoint fans on this side of the Atlantic, she recently announced that she'll give her final performances with American Ballet Theatre on June 19 and 23, 2017, as Tatiana in Onegin. She'll dance with long-time partner, ABT principal Marcelo Gomes. Luckily for Russia, Vishneva will continue as a principal at the Mariinsky.
The first time I was able to see Vishneva dance live was in the summer of 2009, when I secured a student rush ticket to see Frederick Ashton's Sylvia at ABT. Even though I was sitting so high up I could literally touch the opera house ceiling, I felt lucky to see her in that ballet with its wildly differing acts.
Vishneva told The New York Times that because she has too many projects, she's unable to focus 100 percent of her energy on ABT, and that would be a disservice to the company—though she didn't rule out the possibility of future guest appearances. Along with her regular repertoire at the Mariinsky, she'll continue the contemporary dance festival she founded, called Context—this year's festival will be held in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Vishneva will perform with Paris Opéra Ballet director Aurélie Dupont, in a new work choreographed by Batsheva Dance Company director Ohad Naharin. Now that's something I would rush to Russia to see.
Well, that was fast. After less than a year, Jeffrey Cirio — the former Boston Ballet principal who joined American Ballet Theatre as a soloist at the start of this season—is walking into summer with a promotion to ABT’s highest rank. The company now has two Filipino-American principals, the other being Stella Abrera.
We’re not surprised. Twenty-five years old and already a consummate artist, Cirio impressed in roles all season, like Colas in La fille mal gardée, one of the King’s unlucky sons in The Golden Cockerel and the virtuosic slave Ali in Le Corsaire. Cirio’s ambitions extend beyond the Met stage, too. He’s the leader of his own touring troupe, Cirio Collective, which has performances scheduled at the Cape Dance Festival and Vineyard Arts Project this summer.
Artistic director Kevin McKenzie also announced corps member Blaine Hoven’s promotion to soloist. These two well deserving male dancers are sure to have a spring in their step this holiday weekend!
At Pointe, we're always ready to watch a good ballet video, especially one that takes us behind the scenes with some of today's most talented performers. An episode of the series NYC-ARTS, which aired on PBS yesterday, pretty much hits the video jackpot. It profiles not one, but three American Ballet Theatre dancers: corps de ballet member Calvin Royal III, soloist Skylar Brandt and principal Stella Abrera.
The video catches up with the dancers in the midst of ABT's spring season, which opened with a festival celebrating artist-in-residence Alexei Ratmansky, and continues with the much-anticipated U.S. premiere of The Golden Cockerel next week.
There's gorgeous footage of the dancers in class, and rehearsing ballets like Ratmansky's Firebird and Serenade after Plato’s Symposium (which had its world premiere this season). But the best part is hearing the dancers reflect on their personal journeys to ABT, and what being in the company means to them now.
Each is at a different stage in their career, and has a unique perspective. Royal talks about getting a late start in ballet (he didn't take his first class until he was accepted to performing arts high school as a teenager), and what he's learned from being in the corps. Brandt shares what it's like to work with Ratmansky in the studio, and talks about performing her first principal role in his Piano Concerto #1. And Abrera reflects on her long career with the company, from struggles with injury to her triumphant promotion to principal last year.
In one of the video's most moving moments (at 9:15), Abrera describes how, as a corps dancer in Swan Lake, she would glance at the "ABT" stamp on the scenery to remind herself how hard she'd worked to get there. "That euphoric feeling of being in the company I dreamed of being in for my whole childhood—that's still in me now," she says.