Ballet Careers
American Contemporary Ballet in rehearsal. Anastasia Petukhova, Courtesy ACB.

Lincoln Jones felt there was a pertinence missing from ballet when he decided to form American Contemporary Ballet. "People looking at a film today can pick apart screenwriting versus art direction and editing," says Jones. "They are really conversant with it. I thought ballet is never going to feel super-relevant until people can do that."

So how to do that? Connect the audience to the show.

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Ballet Careers
Roderick Phifer in Trey McIntyre's The Boogeyman . Bill Hebert, Courtesy BalletX.

This is one of a series of stories on recent graduates' on-campus experiences—and the connections they made that jump-started their dance careers. Roderick Phifer graduated from University of the Arts with a BFA in dance in 2017.

While walking out of a technique class during the first semester of his senior year at Philadelphia's University of the Arts, Roderick Phifer was approached with an unexpected offer. BalletX needed a guest artist for an upcoming performance, and after seeing Phifer perform in one of his senior shows, a UArts alumnus dancing with the company had offered up his name. Phifer ran straight from his technique class to a company class with BalletX, and the troupe's artistic leadership quickly gave him the green light to perform. "It was so last-minute, that, I kid you not, I had three rehearsals," he says. He performed with BalletX as a guest artist that fall, auditioned for an open company position in the spring and had a contract by the end of his senior year.

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Ballet Careers
Miko Fogarty left her corps position at Birmingham Royal Ballet to pursue a college degree. Sonata Dancewear, Courtesy Fogarty.

"I was living my dream, but I wasn't happy," recalls Alexandra Pullen. Since starting ballet at age 5, the Chicago native aspired to join American Ballet Theatre and dance the roles her mother, Ellen Krafft, had performed there a generation before. And she achieved it: Fast-tracked from the ABT Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School to the Studio Company, and then to the main company, by 20 she'd performed her mother's parts in Giselle and Don Quixote, toured the world, and attended galas and New York Fashion Week. And she was miserable.

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News
Melanie Hamrick in Balanchine's Valse Fantaisie. Marty Sohl, Courtesy ABT.

Melanie Hamrick has been an undeniable force in American Ballet Theatre's corps de ballet for the past 15 years (16 if you count her time in the Studio Company, she points out). Her technical precision, combined with her luxurious quality of drawing each step out so that it melts into the next, has made her a standout whether she's dancing a featured role or in a corps of swans. On Saturday, she'll take her final bow with the company in Balanchine's Theme and Variations, with just a tiny bit of nerves. "I've always been a calm performer, but this fall season I've been quite nervous," she explained after rehearsal on Thursday. "I want to take in every moment and really enjoy it. I got quite emotional earlier this week because I'm going to miss my friends," she says, adding, "But I'm excited for the next chapter."

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Ballet Careers
Milwaukee Ballet dancers (and twins) Marie Harrison-Collins and Elizabeth Harrison. Tom Davenport, Courtesy Milwaukee Ballet.

This is the third in a series of articles this month about ballet siblings.


Ballet is already a competitive world, but how do you dance alongside someone who looks exactly like you? How do you deal when you're constantly getting mixed up in the studio, or when one gets an opportunity and the other doesn't? For twins, no two approaches are quite the same. Though twin sisters Elizabeth Harrison and Marie Harrison-Collins initially chose to part ways after their training years, they're now in their third season dancing together at Milwaukee Ballet. Meanwhile, twin brothers Shaakir and Naazir Muhammad always intended to stick together, but ultimately found that more opportunities were available to them if they split up and joined different companies. Both pairs told Pointe about their experiences training together, the challenges they've faced and how they support each other.

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Ballet Careers
Eri Nishihara in Rex Wheeler's Symphonic Dances. Sarah Ferguson, Courtesy Richmond Ballet.

This is one of a series of stories on recent graduates' on-campus experiences—and the connections they made that jump-started their dance careers. Eri Nishihara graduated from University of Utah with a BFA in ballet performance in 2016.

As her time in high school drew to a close, Eri Nishihara knew she wasn't ready to dance professionally. She had seen dancers her age from other cities at summer intensives and didn't think that she was up to company caliber yet. "I didn't want to feel like I was having to keep up for a lack of training or experience, while adjusting to a new professional life," she says. Nishihara had trained with University of Utah professors in the past, through summer intensives at Ballet West, and felt that their teaching style would best prepare her for a future career.

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News
Stella Abrera in Le Corsaire. Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy ABT.

American Ballet Theatre announced today that, after 24 years, beloved principal dancer Stella Abrera will retire from the stage this coming summer. Her farewell performance will be June 13, 2020, at the Metropolitan Opera House, dancing the title role in Giselle.

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Ballet Careers
Sisters Isabella Shaker and Alexandra Pullen. Photo Courtesy Alexandra Pullen.

This is the second in a series of articles this month about ballet siblings.

My mom was in the corps de ballet at American Ballet Theatre. A generation later, so was I. As if that's not enough for one family, my younger sister Isabella Shaker dreams of following in our dancing footsteps. Her endeavor, and her status as somewhat of a child prodigy, stirs feelings of pride and apprehension within me, since I have lived through the ups and downs of this intense yet rewarding career.

Ballet will always be my first love and the thing that brings me the most joy, and my dance career has opened endless opportunities for me. However, it's a difficult career path that requires a lifelong dedication. It's super competitive and can lead to body image issues, physical injury and stress. Most dancers will face some of these problems; I definitely dealt with all three.

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Ballet Stars
Photo by Gabriel Davalos, Courtesy Valdés

For decades the name Alicia Alonso has been virtually synonymous with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the company she co-founded in Havana in 1948. Alonso died on October 17, just shy of what would have been her 99th birthday. In recent years, she had stepped back from day-to-day decision-making in the company. As if preparing for the future, in January, the company's leading ballerina, 42-year-old Viengsay Valdés, was named deputy director, a job that seems to encompass most of the responsibilities of a traditional director. Now, presumably, she will step into her new role as director of the company. Her debut as curator of the repertory comes in November, when the troupe will perform three mixed bills selected by her at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso. The following has been translated from a conversation conducted in Spanish, Valdés' native tongue.

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Ballet Careers
Gray Davis with wife, ABT soloist Cassandra Trenary, after his graduation from the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy. Courtesy Trenary.

When Gray Davis retired from American Ballet Theatre in July of 2018, he moved home to South Carolina, unsure of what would come next. Last month, just over a year later, Davis graduated from the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy. Today, he's working as a deputy for the Abbeville County Sheriff's Office.

Though Davis danced in ABT's corps for 11 years and is married to soloist Cassandra Trenary, to many he's best known for saving the life of a man who was pushed onto the subway tracks in New York City in 2017. The heroic effort earned him the New York State Liberty Medal, the highest civilian honor bestowed by a member of the New York State Senate. We caught up with Davis to hear about how the split second decision he made in the subway affected the course of his life, what it's been like starting a second career and what he sees as the similarities between ballet and law enforcement.

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Ballet Stars
Megan Amanda Ehrlich, Courtesy LEAP Program

Claire Sheridan wanted to change the status quo. Leading up to the 1990s, she recalls, "there was a 'shut up and dance' mind-set," and as the founder of the dance program at St. Mary's College of California and a longtime teacher in professional companies, she had seen too many dancers retire with no plan for a successful career transition. "At that time, if you thought about education and the future," she says, "you were not a committed dancer. I wanted to fight that."

With the support of St. Mary's, Sheridan developed the Liberal Education for Arts Professionals program, or LEAP, an innovative liberal-arts bachelor's degree program designed especially for professional dancers. She first presented her idea to executives at San Francisco Ballet. "Kudos to that company, because they said, 'This is great,'" she says. "Eleven of the first 18 dancers who started in August 1999 were from SFB."

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Ballet Careers
Sanjay Saverimuttu with Tiffany Bovard in rehearsal for Alun Jones' The Sleeping Beauty. Courtesy Louisville Ballet.

When Sanjay Saverimuttu graduated from college, he had no idea that a professional ballet career lay in store. After training on a pre-professional ballet track throughout high school, Saverimuttu earned a degree in biology from Stanford University. But college only reignited the 29-year-old Louisville Ballet dancer's love of the art form.

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