Dancers from American Ballet Theatre, ABT Studio Company and the JKO School tune in for a Zoom class with Desmond Richardson.

Hannah Foster

ABT and Complexions Swap Classes and Stretch Their Comfort Zones

While American Ballet Theatre and Complexions Contemporary Ballet fall into very different size and repertoire categories, both institutions' dancers start their day with pliés and tendus—even in quarantine. A ballet class seemed like a natural connection point for a recent teacher swap initiative between the two organizations. Sascha Radetsky, artistic director of ABT Studio Company, and Desmond Richardson, Complexions co-artistic director, led the effort. "Sascha and I were colleagues at ABT and knowing his teaching ability, Dwight [Rhoden, Complexions co-artistic director] and I wanted him to share his expertise with our Summer Intensive students. In turn, I would teach the ABT Studio Company," Richardson explains.

Richardson kicked off the swap on Zoom in late July, teaching a joint class for the Studio Company, ABT company members and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School upper-level students. Barre began with shoulder rolls set to a light percussive track. Flexed feet and contractions that featured throughout barre would deepen into a center combination with gooey rond de jambs, piqués with sweeping V-arms, chugs, inversions and a hip thrust or two.

It was a dynamic deviation from the classical maintenance-focused classes many ABT dancers have been taking during the COVID-19 shutdown.


ABT's spring season was cancelled at the height of the pandemic in New York City, and its fall season at Lincoln Center's David H. Koch Theater, slated for October 21—November 1, has also been cancelled over future COVID-19 concerns. As for Complexions, the company's annual Joyce Theater season had its run last January and February, but its summer tours to Germany and Latvia have been postponed.

Still, spirits and relevés are high as both institutions hold summer intensives and company classes over Zoom. Radetsky saw the swap as a perfect opportunity for adapting to virtual restraints: "I had long hoped Des might teach for ABT Studio Company, but our budget rarely allows for guest teachers," he says. Former ABT principal Stella Abrera, now artistic director of Kaatsbaan and its affiliated summer intensive (and Radetsky's wife), also jumped on board. "The three of us worked out a little quid pro quo: Stella and I would each teach a class for Complexions and in exchange, Desmond would teach a class for our respective programs."

Radetsky, who taught for Complexions' summer program last week, notes that the teacher swap appealed to more than the Studio Company. "The prospect of a Desmond Richardson master class stirred so much excitement within ABT that we ultimately decided to open it up to the main company and a few of the JKO School's top students, as well," he says.

A computer screen shows a ballet class happening on Zoom, with 25 squares showing various dancers taking class in their homes.

Complexions Contemporary Ballet summer intensive students and company members in Sascha Radetsky's class.

Hannah Foster

Thus, the likes of principal dancer Devon Teuscher, corps member and Co-Lab Dance choreographer Lauren Post and rising star Catherine Hurlin appeared in little squares on the Zoom screen.

Richardson built the final combination over a few phrases like in any contemporary or modern class. He had everyone run through it together a few times before alternately spotlighting the men and women. The screen full of dancers, not exactly in sync, pushed the limits of their respective living rooms or took advantage of empty studios in their socially distanced locations.

Teuscher, who took class outside on a sunny deck, her little black-haired dog popping in and out of frame, loved getting out of her comfort zone. "Generally, the company classes are very square with a lot of focus of technique. It was a challenge to try and learn something new, let alone learn it through Zoom! Learning choreography is such a big part of a dancer's life so it reminded me that it's important to keep those brain muscles working," she says. Teuscher even found an extra benefit through the virtual format: "It was actually quite freeing to be on Zoom and not see myself or other dancers in the mirror."

Before everyone clapped their thanks and said goodbye, Richardson offered advice he hopes the dancers will carry with them in all future contemporary work. "Make sure you keep using your classicism to liberate you," he says, "I was so glad when my teachers taught me, when I was training in Vaganova style, not to lose all that I can do."

As to whether they'll ever do it again? Richardson would likely say so: "It was a brilliant happening, and we look to future collaborations."

Latest Posts


Peter Mueller, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet

2020 Stars of the Corps: 10 Dancers Making Strides In and Out of the Spotlight

The corps de ballet make up the backbone of every company. In our Fall 2020 issue, we highlighted 10 ensemble standouts to keep your eye on. Click on their names to learn more!

Dara Holmes, Joffrey Ballet

A male dancer catches a female dancer in his right arm as she wraps her left arm around his shoulder and executes a high arabesque on pointe. Both wear white costumes and dance in front of a blue backdrop onstage.

Dara Holmes and Edson Barbosa in Myles Thatcher's Body of Your Dreams

Cheryl Mann, Courtesy Joffrey Ballet

Wanyue Qiao, American Ballet Theatre

Wearing a powder blue tutu, cropped light yellow top and feather tiara, Wanyue Qiao does a piqu\u00e9 retir\u00e9 on pointe on her left leg and pulls her right arm in towards her.

Wanyue Qiao as an Odalisque in Konstantin Sergeyev's Le Corsaire

Gene Schiavone, Courtesy ABT

Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson, Houston Ballet

Three male dancers in tight-fitting, multicolored costumes stand in positions of ascending height from left to right. All extend their right arms out in front of them.

Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson (far right) with Saul Newport and Austen Acevedo in Oliver Halkowich's Following

Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet

Leah McFadden, Colorado Ballet

Wearing a white pixie wig and a short light-pink tunic costume, a female ballet dancer poses in attitude front on pointe with her left arm bent across her ribs and her right hand held below her chin.

Leah McFadden as Amour in Colorado Ballet's production of Don Quixote

Mike Watson, Courtesy Colorado Ballet

Maria Coelho, Tulsa Ballet

Maria Coelho and Sasha Chernjavsky in Andy Blankenbuehler's Remember Our Song

Kate Lubar, Courtesy Tulsa Ballet

Alexander Reneff-Olson, San Francisco Ballet

A ballerina in a black feathered tutu stands triumphantly in sous-sus, holding the hand of a male dancer in a dark cloak with feathers underneath who raises his left hand in the air.

Alexander Reneff-Olson (right) as Von Rothbart with San Francisco Ballet principal Yuan Yuan Tan in Swan Lake

Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB

India Bradley, New York City Ballet

Wearing a blue dance dress with rhinestone embellishments and a sparkly tiara, India Bradley finishes a move with her arms out to the side and hands slightly flexed.

India Bradley practices backstage before a performance of Balanchine's Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2.

Erin Baiano, Courtesy NYCB

Bella Ureta, Cincinnati Ballet

Wearing a white dress with pink corset, Bella Ureta does a first arabesque on pointe in front of an onstage stone wall.

Bella Ureta performs the Act I Pas de Trois in Kirk Peterson's Swan Lake

Hiromi Platt, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet

Alejándro Gonzales, Oklahoma City Ballet

Dressed in a green bell-boy costume and hat, Alejandro Gonz\u00e1lez does a saut\u00e9 with his left leg in retir\u00e9 and his arms in a long diagonal from right to left. Other dancers in late 19-century period costumes watch him around the stage.

Alejandro González in Michael Pink's Dracula at Oklahoma City Ballet.

Kate Luber, Courtesy Oklahoma City Ballet

Nina Fernandes, Miami City Ballet

Wearing a long white tutu and crown, Nina Fernandes does a saut de chat in front of a wintery backdrop as snow falls from the top of the stage.

Nina Fernandes in George Balanchine's The Nutcracker

Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Miami City Ballet

Getty Images

Thinking About College Ballet Programs? Here's a Comprehensive Guide to the Application Process

Gone are the days when you had to skip college in order to have a successful ballet career. College ballet programs are better than ever before, providing students with the training, professional connections and performance experience they need to thrive in companies postgraduation. But given the number of elements involved in the application process, choosing the right program can feel daunting. We've broken the college application timeline down step by step to help you best approach each stage along the way.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Evelyn Cisneros-Legate. Photo by Beau Pearson, Courtesy Ballet West

Ballet West Academy's New Director on Dream Building During COVID-19

Evelyn Cisneros-Legate is bringing her hard-earned expertise to Ballet West. The former San Francisco Ballet star is taking over all four campuses of The Frederick Quinney Lawson Ballet West Academy as the school's new director.

Cisneros-Legate, whose mother put her in ballet classes in an attempt to help her overcome her shyness, trained at the San Francisco Ballet School and School of American Ballet before joining San Francisco Ballet as a full company member in 1977. She danced with the company for 23 years, breaking barriers as the first Mexican American to become a principal dancer in the U.S., and has graced the cover of Dance Magazine no fewer than three times.

As an educator, Cisneros-Legate has served as ballet coordinator at San Francisco Ballet, principal of Boston Ballet School's North Shore Studio and artistic director of after-school programming at the National Dance Institute (NDI). Dance Teacher spoke with her about her new position, her plans for the academy and leading in the time of COVID-19.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks