If you are a dance lover in South Korea, EunWon Lee is a household name. The delicate ballerina and former principal at the Korean National Ballet danced every major classical role to critical acclaim, including Odette/Odile, Giselle, Kitri, Nikiya and Gamzatti. Then, at the peak of her career, Lee left it all behind.
In 2016, she moved to Washington, DC, to join The Washington Ballet. The company of 26 is unranked, making Lee simply a dancer—not a soloist, not a principal and not a star, like she was back home.
"I try to challenge myself, and always I had the urge to widen my experience and continue to improve," she says one blustery winter day after company class, still glowing from the exertion of honing, stretching and strengthening. "When I had a chance to work with Julie Kent, I didn't hesitate."
As told to Amy Brandt.
Myrtha is a role I've always loved to watch, but when Tamara Rojo asked me to dance it for English National Ballet's Giselle last year as a guest artist, I thought she was crazy. The role is usually for a tall, strong dancer. I'm strong, but I'm also very petite. I thought people might criticize me for that. I also wore brown tights onstage, since I'm a brown dancer, and I was nervous people wouldn't understand that—but I got great comments on it.
No matter how many years it's been, it's impossible to discuss dance movies and not mention Center Stage. Now 18 years since its premiere (May 12, 2000, FYI), the movie was the talk of the ballet studio for months after it hit theaters, and it even had our non-dancer friends excited. Plus, it starred some of ballet's biggest names—American Ballet Theatre's Ethan Stiefel, Julie Kent and Sascha Radetsky (and a few brief appearances from dancers like Gillian Murphy and Janie Taylor). It also, of course, starred San Francisco Ballet apprentice turned actress Amanda Schull as the movie's beloved Jody Sawyer.
It's safe to say that professional ballet dancers all have one thing in common: getting bit by the ballet bug at a very early age. Pacific Northwest Ballet corps member Elle Macy is no exception. Macy, who joined the company in 2012 as an apprentice, started dancing at age 5, and turned her childhood passion into a dream career, complete with perks ranging from traveling the world on tour with PNB, working with tons of amazing choreographers, and, most recently, introducing a group of wide-eyed kids to the amazing art form that is ballet.
You could say that a perk of dancing with Los Angeles Ballet is its proximity to Hollywood. It's no wonder, then, that when actor and comedian Kevin Hart was looking for someone to teach ballet lessons for his new "What the Fit" YouTube show, he reached out to the nearby company. The series follows Hart and his celebrity friends as they try different forms of exercise (such as sumo wrestling and goat yoga), with hilarious results. For his ballet episode, Hart brings along Hangover star Ken Jeong—and the dancers do their best to keep these madcap comedians under control.
Photographed by Lilly Echeverria.
Ask Miami City Ballet's Jennifer Lauren if she feels any different now that she's a principal, and she'll quickly say no. "I'm still the same dancer I was 10 years ago when I joined the company," says Lauren, who was promoted at the end of last season. "I'm still working harder than ever." She does feel that people are watching her more closely now, though. "Kids in the school peek in the window all day," she says. "I need to make sure I set an example."
In some ways, Miami City Ballet has been a second chapter in her career. Lauren, 36, had previously danced with the unranked Alabama Ballet, where over the course of eight seasons she was frequently cast in leading roles. Since joining MCB as a corps member in 2007, she's had to slowly work her way back up. "My career has taken me up and down and sideways," she says. "It's nice to have the recognition that comes with being a principal. Although if you asked me to dance in the corps tomorrow I would do it, gladly."
One of Pennsylvania Ballet's longest tenured dancers, soloist James Ihde is retiring from the company after 25 years. The Kent, Ohio–native began his dance journey at the Dance Institute of the University of Akron and The Rock School before joining Pennsylvania Ballet in 1993. His numerous stage credits include George Balanchine's Agon, William Forsythe's Artifact Suite, Jiří Kylián's Forgotten Land and Christopher Wheeldon's Liturgy. Before his final performance on May 13, Ihde offers his advice to young male dancers looking to follow in his footsteps.
On Coping with Stereotypes
Ihde and Ian Hussey in Matthew Neenan's Archīva. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy PAB.
Nearly four decades ago, choreographer Margo Sappington made a long-lasting impression on Gladisa Guadalupe. Back then, Guadalupe was just a 17-year-old member of Venezuela's Ballet Nuevo Mundo de Caracas, and Sappington was choreographing on the company. Guadalupe told a fellow dancer that, someday, when she had her own company, she'd have Sappington create a ballet on it.
Guadalupe has kept that promise. Now the artistic director of Cleveland Ballet, a 14-member company launched in 2015, Guadalupe has commissioned the 70-year-old Sappington to create a ballet based on Lewis Carroll's books Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass.