Victoria Morgan's normally bright smile is even brighter entering her 22nd season as Cincinnati Ballet's artistic director. That's because the 55-year-old company is in the best shape it has ever been: Attendance, ticket sales and the company's annual operating budget are at all-time highs. But the road to Cincinnati Ballet's current successes required an early revamp in Morgan's thinking about programming. When she took over leadership in 1997, the former San Francisco Ballet dancer had trouble accepting that the company simply didn't have the budget for her ideas about duplicating the repertoire she was used to.
Growing up, I was always the one who didn't have the right body or the right feet or even just the right look. I never had that encouragement in the studio that things were going to work out for me, but I was always determined.
I didn't train at a big ballet academy, but I do think I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time, with parents who always supported me. I started in dance with creative movement classes in my hometown of Doylestown, Pennsylvania. I had some really wonderful Russian and Ukrainian ballet teachers from a young age, but it was frustrating because I didn't have the things they were looking for. You grow up seeing those pictures and videos of classical ballerinas and you know what it's supposed to look like. To not have the right body or feet when you're younger is devastating.
American Ballet Theatre announced today that Brooklyn Mack, a former Washington Ballet star, will join the company as a guest for its spring season at the Metropolitan Opera House. Currently an in-demand international guest artist, Mack will dance in three performances of ABT's Le Corsaire this June.
George Balanchine famously said "Ballet is woman." He should have added that ballet is man, too, because it has long been defined by the traditional male-female binary. A formal challenge to the paradigm was launched in June, when Chase Johnsey was offered the opportunity to dance female corps roles in English National Ballet's The Sleeping Beauty in London.
"I am a classical ballerina," says Johnsey, a freelance dancer who identifies as gender fluid and uses he/him/his pronouns. His ENB performance (in the mazurka and as a marchioness in the hunt scene; he also understudied a nymph) made headlines around the world and turned him into an activist for the cause—not to change classical ballet, but to open its doors to artists across the full spectrum of human gender. By hiring Johnsey, ENB artistic director Tamara Rojo put ballet's gender-exclusiveness on notice. "Our work and our company should reflect the world we live in," she stated via email. "Ballet should have no barriers; it's for everyone, everywhere."
Johnsey isn't alone. Jayna Ledford and Scout Alexander, two young transgender dancers, are training hard to break into the professional ballet world. We spoke with them about the dreams, achievements and challenges of nonbinary artists in the intensely gendered world of ballet.
A dancer's dressing room is often her "home away from home." We went backstage with Boston Ballet principal Lia Cirio, San Francisco Ballet principal Frances Chung and Richmond Ballet dancer Cody Beaton to see how they personalize their space and get performance-ready.
If you've ever wondered what it's like to be a member of American Ballet Theatre's Studio Company, you're in luck. The latest episode of "No Days Off," a documentary web series profiling young and inspiring athletes, spotlights 17-year-old Joseph Markey, a first-year Studio Company member. The doc not only underscores the physical aspects of Markey's training, but also the artistic refinements he must make on his road to becoming a professional dancer.
17-Year-Old Is The FUTURE of Dance www.youtube.com
With nearly 43,000 followers on Instagram, Elisabeth Beyer is a social media sensation. The 16-year-old Ellison Ballet student came in first place in the senior women's category at the Youth America Grand Prix's New York City Finals this year and has been medaling all over the ballet competition circuit since she was 11 years old. But despite the thousands of likes she gets on each post, she also receives criticism. "It happens a lot," says Beyer. "I get accused of being too skinny or being anorexic, and it just isn't true."
The rise of social media has given dancers more visibility than ever before. The Pew Research Center reports that 71 percent of Americans 18 to 24 years old are on Instagram. And in ballet, which strives for the pinnacle of visual perfection in both execution and physicality, it can be deflating to see perfect penchés fill your feed on #whackedoutwednesday. But there are also great benefits for dancers connected on social media: Instagram can broaden your worldview and open up doors to opportunities you never imagined. The following five rules of Instagram will help you to focus on the positives and develop a healthy relationship with your favorite app.
We tend to think that by the time you've made it to principal at a major company, you've performed all of Nutcracker's leading roles. But for New York City Ballet star Daniel Ulbricht, this Nutcracker season proves extra special. On December 21, Ulbricht, who joined the company in 2000, will dance as the Cavalier on the NYCB stage for the first time with Erica Pereira as his Sugarplum Fairy.
The princely Cavalier role will be a departure from the bravura roles he typically dances (and excels at). We touched base with Ulbricht to hear about how he's making the role his own, and how creating opportunities to dance Balanchine's Cavalier outside of NYCB has prepared him for this debut.
For dancers, The Nutcracker isn't all winter wonderlands and charming sweets. To bring this ballet to life, we have to spar with swords (often while wearing a clunky head), pirouette in animal suits, and perform day after day with a host of other potentially hazardous costumes and props. Despite the dangers, Nutcracker's eccentric roles can be the most fun to perform. As five dancers describe, Nutcracker's whimsical, albeit taxing, accoutrements have their own kind of magic.
Haley Schwan's artistic journey toward becoming a Boston Ballet company artist has been anything but ordinary. From the Vaganova Ballet Academy and Staatsballett Berlin to immersive theater in New York City and choreographing for the MTV Video Music Awards, Schwan has had some unusual detours. But the 26-year-old with a warm demeanor and quick smile seems to be enjoying the ride.
As a child, Schwan studied gymnastics, jazz, tap and contemporary dance in her native Michigan, before turning her focus to ballet. After a summer intensive at the Kirov Academy of Ballet at age 12, Schwan began studying there full-time until age 16, when she was invited to the Vaganova Ballet Academy in St. Petersburg, Russia.
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"Keep the rhythm going," calls Robert Garland, Dance Theatre of Harlem's resident choreographer, from the front of the studio. Five company women pulse through a series of syncopated pony steps, upright arabesque sissonnes and funky, Motown-inspired dance moves. It's an open rehearsal in early September, and the company is giving curious audience members a sneak peek at Garland's upcoming world premiere—one of several new works this season as DTH celebrates its 50th anniversary.
Founded in 1969 by former New York City Ballet principal Arthur Mitchell and Karel Shook, DTH was groundbreaking in its makeup of mostly African-American dancers, and its insistence that they could excel in ballet. "We were a bunch of dancers who had been told no, we couldn't do this, and Mr. Mitchell was giving us a chance to show that we could," says artistic director Virginia Johnson, a founding company member and former principal. "He was a very demanding taskmaster—he knew there was something very important to prove and that it was on us to prove it."
It's Monday, June 25. Armed with neck pillows, compression socks and loads of coffee, we are ready for our flight to Paris! Les Étés de la Danse, a French festival held at the beautiful La Seine Musicale theater, invited Pacific Northwest Ballet for its 2018 season. Half of the company will arrive the first week to participate in its Hommage à Jerome Robbins celebration with a handful of other companies. The rest will join the second week for a PNB-only residency.
I was applying to audition for this ballet company, and the form asked if I had a history of mental issues (i.e., eating disorders, anxiety, depression) and to give a detailed description of them and steps taken for treatment. Is this something that companies normally take into account during auditions? Moreover, are they allowed to ask this? I felt so strongly about not wanting to give that information that I decided not to apply. —Melanie
Shoshana Ronsenfield's career has not followed a straight path. In a surprising move, the born-and-raised New Yorker left a burgeoning career at New York City Ballet in 2012 to study economics at Barnard College. Upon graduating, Rosenfield spent six months freelancing with companies including New Chamber Ballet and Tom Gold Dance before spending two years working in global management at Goldman Sachs (and dancing on the side).
Now Rosenfield is on to a new chapter: She's just completed a boot camp in computer coding, and is currently doing a coding teaching fellowship. But she's still dancing. This weekend, Rosenfield will appear in Tom Gold Dance's fall season at Florence Gould Hall. We caught up with Rosenfield to hear all about how she's balanced college and career and how she's learned that it is possible to do it all.
This year, Boston Ballet's annual choreographic workshop is all about empowering women. Taking place in Boston Ballet's black box theater November 1-2, BB@home: ChoreograpHER will feature six works by women of various ranks in the company.
"Given the reality that the majority of produced choreographers have been male, I am excited this BB@home program encourages our talented female dancers who have an interest in choreography by giving them a platform to gain experience as choreographers," said artistic director Mikko Nissinen in a statement.
Ready, set, it's time to jet!
Hi all! My name is Jordana Daumec. I'm a first soloist with The National Ballet of Canada. I'm currently taking a break from packing my bags for our tour to Moscow and St. Petersburg where we'll be performing at Diana Vishneva's Context Festival! We are bringing some amazing ballets to Russia: Being and Nothingness by NBoC choreographic associate Guillaume Côté, Paz de La Jolla by Justin Peck and Emergence by Crystal Pite. The company is super excited to perform in these two amazing cities that have such a deep history in ballet.
As I prepare to take my final, "official" bow as principal dancer with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre this weekend and look back on my 20-year career, my inner monologue is neither short on concepts nor on words elucidating them. Though I still plan to dance and am giddily excited for new adventures, I nevertheless feel the weighty finality of it all.
Surprisingly, I also feel effervescently light. Perhaps because, right now, it's about my love for the art form as opposed to maximizing my efforts toward success in it. It truly does feel like a metamorphosis—an exhilarating shift that makes me realize how much I love dance, how important change is and how much we can all learn from one another.
Anonymity has its benefits, says Fort Wayne Ballet executive and artistic director Karen Gibbons-Brown: "We are tucked in the Midwest and one of the beauties is you get to fly under the radar and experiment in a way that you don't get to in a larger place." While that may have been true in the past, Indiana's Fort Wayne Ballet is now making moves toward greater visibility.
As an organization, FWB is entering its 62nd year, but it has only existed as a professional dance company with full-time, contracted dancers since the 2010–11 season. Prior to that, the organization's on-again, off-again performance company hit its heights under Michael Tevlin's tenure as artistic director (1981–94).
When Gibbons-Brown arrived in 1998, the organization and its affiliated school, the Auer Academy of Fort Wayne Ballet, were in distress. But the former dancer with South Carolina Chamber Dance Ensemble, Bristol Ballet and Theatre Ballet of San Francisco says part of why she came to Fort Wayne was that "it is a community rich in the arts and there was a lot of opportunity."
You've watched First Position, the 2011 documentary about dancers at Youth America Grand Prix. You've studied videos of past ballet competition winners online. Now, you're interested in joining those elite ranks by entering a competition yourself. But what if your school doesn't have a program set up to guide you through the process? Pointe asked four experts to break down what ballet competition newbies need to know.
Between long rehearsal days, performances and hectic touring schedules, it can be hard for professional dancers to plan for their post-performance careers while they're still onstage. This fall, that changes for five American Ballet Theatre principals. Stella Abrera, Isabella Boylston, Cory Stearns, James Whiteside and Gillian Murphy have been chosen as the first dancers to participate in Crossover Into Business at Harvard Business School, a semester-long program designed for professional athletes.
Last year, Crossover Into Business program director and HBS professor Anita Elberse was developing a case study on ABT, and reached out to the company executive director Kara Medoff Barnett, an alumna of HBS. "Anita mentioned the Crossover Program as an experience that has been transformative for professional athletes," says Barnett. "We looked at each other and had the same idea: How about inviting the ABT dancers to sit next to the NBA players?"
Joy Womack is no stranger to the road less traveled. As the first American graduate of the Bolshoi Ballet Academy and first American woman to join the Bolshoi Ballet, the California native is accustomed to going out on a limb. Now at 24, after spending last season as a principal dancer with the Universal Ballet in Seoul, South Korea, she is taking a leave of absence and is back in Moscow with a revamped perspective and an impressive bucket list. We caught up with Womack over the phone to hear about her move from Russia to Korea and back again, and how life has changed since venturing on her own.
Here at Pointe, every day feels like World Ballet Day, though the official 2018 event took place on Tuesday. While WBD is a thrill for any bunhead, it can also be overwhelming. How are you supposed to sit in front of your computer all day when you have class and rehearsal and work and a life? We get it, and we're here to help.
To give you a chance to catch up, we've rounded up WBD videos from 26 companies. So grab some popcorn, a backlog of pointe shoes to sew, and settle in. If you start watching now, you might just be done in time for WBD 2019.
Last November, New York City Ballet resident choreographer Justin Peck and former Miami City Ballet principal Patricia Delgado masterfully took classical ballet to an entirely new medium in a haunting music video for The National's song "Dark Side of the Gym."
In just five minutes, Peck (acting as both the video's choreographer and director) and Delgado—who are a couple in real life—told the story of a love that's not meant to last. (Ezra Hurwitz, a former MCB dancer, served as the film's producer and editor.) Using tight shots, the audience got to experience ballet through the smallest shift in facial expression, and it was magical—so magical that Peck has been nominated for a 2018 World Choreography Award. He and Delgado performed the piece on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" last Monday, and tonight they're expanding on the video for a world premiere at New York City Center's Fall for Dance Festival.
When you graduate from student to professional dancer, you still need to take daily class. But while the structure of class is the same, I've found the mindset to be drastically different. My first job post-graduation was with the Sarasota Ballet, and the last thing I wanted to do was look like a student. I knew wearing a black leotard and pink tights without warm-ups could be a dead giveaway, but all another new company member had to say was "Why are you wearing your tights under your leotard? You look like a kid," and I hurried to the dressing room to change! Beyond the way I dress as a professional, my class philosophy also changed. Here are four things I've noticed:
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Whether it's a wardrobe malfunction or a spectacular, opera-house–sized fail, onstage mistakes happen to everybody. See how these four professionals survived their worst mishaps—and what they took away from them.
Baca in Ben Stevenson's Cinderella. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet.
"There I was on my very first day at the Metropolitan Opera House: on my hands and knees, center stage," recounts Pennsylvania Ballet principal Sterling Baca. He had joined American Ballet Theatre from the ABT Studio Company two weeks prior and didn't see a crucial casting sheet for the Don Quixote dress-tech rehearsal until minutes before it started.
In a domino-like sequence of unfortunate events, Baca had managed to get only half-dressed, and he missed his entrance and his character's dance with Kitri. Then he remembered too late that he was also supposed to catch Basilio's guitar. He turned around from setting down a tambourine to see the guitar already soaring through the air. He dove for it, but it grazed his fingertips, hit the floor and broke.
Baca had some literal and metaphorical pieces to pick up and apologies to make to the wardrobe and props departments, artistic staff and his fellow dancers. Luckily, everyone understood that he was new and "showed mercy," he says.
The Lesson: Although Baca can laugh about the incident now, he warns that "it only turns into a joke when you don't do it again." His advice? Double- and triple-check every single piece of paper on the call board.
Earlier this summer, we followed master pointe shoe fitter Josephine Lee of the California-based The Pointe Shop as she made her on a pointe shoe fitting tour around the West Coast and California. Now she's back, this time on a 45-day tour from California to Chicago, educating students on all things pointe shoes and helping them to find their perfect fit. Lee's making stops at top ballet companies and academies across the country, interviewing school directors and chatting with professional ballerinas to find out how they customize and break in their pointe shoes. Below, check out Lee's first stop: Nevada Ballet Theatre. She touches base with company dancer Caroline MacDonald, and academy director Anna Lantz. Stay tuned for more!
Tricia Albertson, as told to Gavin Larsen.
I like to make people laugh, so I was excited to be cast as the Mad Ballerina in Jerome Robbins' The Concert. But the character herself didn't feel like me. She's so bubbly and excited, and I'm a bit more pensive (when it comes to ballet, at least). I didn't want her to come across as stupid—she's still thoughtful. I guess you could say she's flighty, but it's just that she's so excited about the music at the concert that everything else is a blur to her.
With a large exhale, Katherine Williams steps into a series of arabesque chugs, as if the force of her breath is propelling her forward. "Big step out, big," coaxes ballet mistress Irina Kolpakova, watching from the front of a small studio at American Ballet Theatre in May. It's a big step indeed for Williams—after 10 years in the corps de ballet, the 29-year-old is preparing for her debut as Myrtha in ABT's production of Giselle, her very first principal role. One month after the premiere, Williams was promoted to soloist.
"Myrtha is the hardest thing I've ever done," Williams admits. "By the end you feel like you're going to throw up. I was using my breath as much as I could to help me get through it."
While Williams is tall and a natural jumper, she was surprised when artistic director Kevin McKenzie cast her in such a fierce and powerful role. "Generally they give me the happy peasant girl, something softer," she says. "I think it was a leap of faith for Kevin to allow me to embrace a totally different side of myself."