For many dancers, this December will be the first they can remember without Nutcracker performances, giving us all the more reason to revisit Nutcrackers past. In this clip from 1964, former New York City Ballet principals Patricia McBride and Edward Villella perform a pas de deux as Marie and the Nutcracker Prince, choreographed by Kurt Jacob.
As a 17-year-old student at The School of American Ballet, I had little awareness of ballet competitions—and to be fair, at that time (the early 1990s), there weren't very many. Youth America Grand Prix and its many spawns did not yet exist, and the famous international events like the Prix de Lausanne seemed highly elite and out of reach. But I did participate in one competition (similar to today's YoungArts), open to high school seniors, in which a fairly nonjudgmental system gave competitors level rankings instead of numerical scores. In other words, there was no single winner; the emphasis was on having an educational experience and interacting with peers from around the country.
Even so, it was still a competition, and although I rehearsed my variations diligently, when it came time to perform at the event, I felt drastically underprepared. Unsure of how to properly warm up, fuel and pace myself, I was blinded by insecurity among the other dancers, who seemed so confident and mature. I hadn't even considered my goal—why was I doing this? Needless to say, I did not dance my best and came home demoralized, mad at myself, regretful and slightly embarrassed.
Author Gavin Larsen with her students Jasmine Parente (left) and Ida Cacacinen backstage at YAGP.
Joffrey Ballet dancer Derek Drilon, shown here as a student competing at YAGP.
Erica Feliz Marquez-Jacinto, Courtesy Drilon
Grace Koznarek performs a contemporary variation at the 2019 ADC | IBC.
Smack Arts, Courtesy ADC | IBC
Most young dancers dream about how Jessica Flynn's ballet career began. After performing several lead roles at School of American Ballet's Workshop and winning the prestigious Mae L. Wien Award in 2002, she got an apprenticeship with New York City Ballet at age 16 and her corps contract less than a year later. Some soloist roles followed, and she appeared to have a bright future at the company. But just before her three-year mark, she left NYCB and never performed professionally again.
Flynn is now a ballet teacher, a holistic health coach for performing artists, a candidate for a master's in social work, a wife and a new mom. She's also an author. In 2016, she published Dancing in Time, the fictional tale of Charlie, a 37-year-old marketing executive who can't shake the failure of her ballet career. She wakes up one morning in her 17-year-old body, and has the chance to redo her career with the benefit of hindsight. The book deals with themes of extreme competition, body image and weight, disempowering relationships, and how all of these factors can suck the joy out of dancing—yet it's surprisingly humorous and entertaining.
The cover for Jessica Flynn's YA novel, Dancing in Time
Courtesy Jessica Flynn
The first time I was called to learn Mozartiana, I didn't think I would actually get to do it. It's a coveted ballerina role in the company, and I was still early in my career. But I got to dance it once or twice, and then not again for many years. The ballet isn't in our repertoire that often, so each time we've performed it I've been at a different level as a person and as an artist.
Mozartiana's music, an orchestral suite of the same name, was written by Tchaikovsky as a tribute to Mozart and is based on four of the great composer's piano works.
Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB
Rachel Neville, courtesy Wimpye
Almost two years ago, Destiny Wimpye shared her goals and dreams with Dance Spirit, and left readers with this quote: "Following your dreams is definitely difficult, especially if you're a ballet dancer of color. You have to work twice as hard, but hard work always pays off!"
Who could have guessed that right now—yes, even in the midst of a pandemic—we'd be seeing that hard work pay off for her? Wimpye, now 17, was invited to train in the Professional Division at Pacific Northwest Ballet, and we're fouettéing with excitement! We caught up with her to chat about this exciting new chapter in her life, how she's training through pandemic restrictions, and her overall experience transitioning from student to professional dancer.
Be sure to keep up with her journey at PNB and beyond @destinywimpye.
What have you done to stay in dancing shape during quarantine?<p>I took multiple virtual ballet classes while also really focusing on strengthening my body and technique. A lot of us are not in studios all day every day anymore, but there are small details that we can work on from home that can really make a difference in our dancing.</p>
What sort of mindset do you think a dancer needs to develop to get selected for the PD program?<p>I feel that you have to be ready to grow not just technically but artistically. It's not all about what tricks you can do or how great your technique is. I think at this point it's about what makes you stand out as a dancer and as an artist.</p>
What was going through your mind when you were finally on the plane to Seattle?<p data-children-count="0">I was definitely nervous, but I was more excited for this new opportunity and chapter in my life. I just couldn't wait to start classes and learn from the amazing teachers here.</p>
Rachel Neville, Courtesy Wimpye