New York City Ballet principal dancer Rebecca Krohn will take her final bow with the company this Saturday night. Krohn joined NYCB as an apprentice in the fall of 1998 and slowly rose through the ranks, becoming a principal in 2012. Though Krohn is best known for her flawless execution of classic Balanchine leotard ballets, her repertoire is vast, spanning Jerome Robbins to Justin Peck. After dancing Stravinsky Violin Concerto with Amar Ramasar on Saturday, Krohn will return to the NYCB studios on Monday in a new role: ballet master. We had the chance to talk to the thoughtful and eloquent dancer about her time with the company and goals for the future.
Was New York City Ballet always your dream company?
As soon as I knew I wanted to be a professional dancer, I knew that I wanted to be in New York City Ballet. I moved to New York when I was 14 to train at the School of American Ballet, and I got my apprenticeship with the company when I was 17, so it was really a dream come true.
Krohn and Adrian Danchig-Waring in Balanchine's Stravinsky Violin Concerto. Video Courtesy NYCB.
New York City Ballet announced today that principal dancer Robert Fairchild will give his final performances with the company this October. Since his 2015 leave of absence to make his Broadway debut as Jerry Mulligan in Christopher Wheeldon's An American in Paris, Fairchild's presence on the Koch Theater stage has been rare. A true song-and-dance man, as a child he dreamt of following in the footsteps (or tap shoes) of Gene Kelly. Fairchild leaves the world of ballet to take on the surplus of opportunities in musical theater that have recently come his way.
Fairchild in "Apollo." Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.
Reuniting with Chelsea Adomaitis in Paris was like a little taste of home. Old friends and former corps members of the Pacific Northwest Ballet, we had both moved to Europe last summer. Over brunch she' d share the story that brought her abroad.
As a little girl, Chelsea Adomaitis dreamed of dancing for the Paris Opéra Ballet, but as most do, she dismissed it as just that: a dream. Beginning her training in Boston with her mom, a former dancer, she later enrolled at the Harid Conservatory. It wasn't until she attended Pacific Northwest Ballet School's summer program, at age 16, that she discovered Balanchine, and it was love at first step. After two years in the school she was hired as an apprentice.
Her first few years in the company were full of growing pains. Her technique and confidence flourished as she gained opportunities to perform leading roles. Yet juggling these with a very heavy corps load began to wear on her. Confusion, frustration and injuries mounted as one season of this juggling act turned into four. Yet she persevered, hoping her work would soon be recognized and rewarded.
The author and Adomaitis outside Versailles. Photo by Jessika Anspach McEliece, Courtesy McEliece.
Unless you've been living under a rock, chances are that you experienced the eclipse-mania that took over the country yesterday. Thousands flocked to the 70-mile-wide path of totality (the path of the moon's shadow), which stretched from Oregon to South Carolina. And dancers were no exception. Ballet stars across the country flooded Instagram with their sense of awe over this once-in-a-decade event.
Ballet Sun Valley, the two-day festival starting today curated by Isabella Boylston, were lucky enough to be on the path of totality (in fact, Gemma Bond's new ballet for the festival was inspired by the eclipse). We love seeing dancers from different companies hanging out, and Tiler Peck posted this New York City Ballet/American Ballet Theatre crossover moment.
When Gen Horiuchi became the executive and artistic director of Saint Louis Ballet, his mentor Peter Martins offered the same wisdom that George Balanchine had given him: Running a company isn't just about ballet—you have to do and oversee everything. That leadership philosophy is what Horiuchi, now 53, has adopted at Saint Louis Ballet.
The Tokyo native and former New York City Ballet principal took over the financially troubled company from longtime artistic directors Ludmila Dokoudovsky and Antoni Zalewski in 2000. Within two years Horiuchi stabilized the organization's finances and restructured and revitalized the Saint Louis Ballet School. In 2010, he moved the organization into a new 7,500-square-foot facility with four studios.
Now in his 18th season with SLB, Horiuchi has increased the company's annual operating budget from $200,000 in 2000 to $2 million currently, grown the number of dancers from 13 to 25, and added more productions (when he arrived they were only perform- ing Nutcracker). He's also increased ticket sales and bolstered the school's enrollment from 50 to 350 students.
Nothing's more impressive than a fluttery entrechat six. Here, School of American Ballet's Suki Schorer gives her tips for perfecting this tricky jump.
1. Your power is in the plié: One of the most common problems Suki Schorer sees is dancers taking too short of a plié. "They bounce off the floor and then don't have the power to go high in the air," she says. You'll need that height to create the beats. A juicy plié will also allow you to control the landing and hold on to the tempo.
2. Timing can help. As you plié, think "and-down-entrechat six" rather than "and-up-entrechat six."
3. Keep legs and chest forward: "As students start to jump, they often throw their upper bodies back and then their feet get behind their bodies," says Schorer. As a result, the legs swing front and back instead of scissoring through first and fifth. "You need your legs underneath you or a teensy bit in front, with your chest also forward."
When Holly Dorger arrived in Copenhagen to join the Royal Danish Ballet after graduating from the School of American Ballet, she was shocked by the unfamiliar. “We brought home cat food thinking it was canned tuna," she laughs, recollecting her first weeks among new surroundings. Nine years later, the principal dancer calls Copenhagen home, crediting Denmark and artistic director Nikolaj Hübbe for her success.
European dance companies typically offer secure contracts, better salaries and a varied repertoire. Yet for American dancers, understanding a new culture, adjusting to different company dynamics and getting used to European contemporary work can be challenging. Below, dancers from four European companies weigh in on what they've learned from moving abroad.
Shelby Williams. Photo Courtesy Royal Ballet of Flanders.
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.
Let Curiosity Be Your Guide
Whether it’s Bournonville, French or Balanchine, every methodology has its own aesthetic, movement quality and areas of emphasis. Most dancers find that there’s one in particular that appeals to or suits them best. McAdoo’s admiration of New York City Ballet’s dancers made her want to study at the school that trained them, but another dancer might love the expressive port de bras of The Royal Ballet’s dancers, or the Vaganova method’s power and purity.
One thing is certain—don’t let an unfamiliar style deter you from auditioning for a school’s intensive. While some academies prioritize accepting students trained in their method, most don’t. “We don’t look for students who’ve had Balanchine training previously at all,” says Kay Mazzo, SAB’s co-chairman of faculty. She notes that most of its summer students are brand-new to Balanchine technique. Similarly, at Sarasota Ballet’s Margaret Barbieri Conservatory, two out of three intensive students are unfamiliar with what principal Christopher Hird calls the “English style” (a hybrid of Russian, Italian and French influences that result in seamlessly clean footwork and eloquent port de bras).
“One of the benefits of a summer program is being exposed to a different way of dancing,” says conservatory director Margaret Barbieri. “The dancers are learning to adapt to whatever is required of them that day, which is an important skill to instill in a student—they will need it as a professional.”
Mazzo says students should start investigating all their options early. “It’s important that when they’re still 12 to 14 years old they look around at different styles, schools and companies, to see what’s out there. Because by the time they’re 15 or 16, they should know what’s right for their body, what they like and what fits well for them.”
What to Expect
Venturing into a new way of dancing can be confusing at first. An overload of information, from the way combinations are presented to different terminology, can make you feel like a beginner again. Last summer, 16-year-old Sofia Yarbrough struggled to make sense of the specific ways the teachers wanted her to hold her head and arms at the Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington, DC. Everything, from the language the Russian teachers spoke to the way frappés were done, was different from her home studio, the Ballet Center of Fort Worth. “At first, I felt like a fish out of water,” she says. But soon the new technique took hold in her body. “By the fourth week, the coordination started to make sense and feel normal.”
Mazzo knows how hard it is for students to grasp SAB’s trademark speed, attack, musicality and, for the advanced girls, taking every class on pointe. She counsels being patient. “We tell them on the first day, ‘Don’t be too hard on yourself,’ because this might be 100 percent different from what you’ve been taught. Take it one day at a time, and work on one new thing at a time.”
It’s also important to remember that what you already know is not invalid, and the basic concepts of technique carry across all styles. Alexandros Pappajohn, now a member of The Washington Ballet Studio Company, spent a summer at the Paris Opéra Ballet School when he was 15. “It was definitely a big change,” says Pappajohn, then a student at Ballet Academy East. Keeping an open mind helped him adopt the school’s emphasis on clean, fast footwork and épaulement. He admits it was hard to break ingrained habits (like how to prepare before combinations), but otherwise found adjusting to the French classes surprisingly easy. “Ballet is ballet. You always have to straighten your knees and point your feet. If you have good, solid technique, you can go other places and it’s not a shock to your system.”
Being able to do steps differently from class to class, according to what each teacher wants, helps develop versatility—a skill professional dancers need when adapting to choreographers’ eclectic movement styles.
“We instill in students that even if they don’t agree with one thing or another, they should soak up everything like a sponge,” says Barbieri. Last summer, students were able to watch Sarasota Ballet dancers rehearse Sir Frederick Ashton’s repertoire to see the intricacies of his style at work. “If they want to be professional, they have to incorporate different styles, and know that Balanchine requires steps to be done differently than Ashton. It also helps them learn what sort of repertoire they want to dance.”
After her summer experience, Yarbrough loved the Vaganova method so much that she decided to remain at the Kirov Academy year-round. But whether studying a different style leads you on a new path or not, exposure to the many unique disciplines of ballet is an invaluable part of becoming a strong, versatile dancer. While it’s challenging to learn something new, Kirov Academy co-artistic director Adrienne Dellas Thornton notes that students are capable of more than they may think. “Young dancers pick up the nuances of other techniques so quickly. They don’t have to fear losing something by learning a new method—it is part of the adventure of dance.”
Gavin Larsen, a former principal dancer with Oregon Ballet Theatre, teaches and writes about dance from Portland, Oregon.