Ballet Stars

From Home-State Stardom to ABT's Corps, Betsy McBride Finds Grace in Every Role

Photographed for Pointe by Jayme Thornton.

This is Pointe's February/March 2018 Cover Story. You can subscribe to the magazine here, or click here to purchase this issue.

In a polished cast of Sir Frederick Ashton's Symphonic Variations at an American Ballet Theatre performance last October, corps member Betsy McBride shone with a warmth that belied the piece's crystalline, cold precision. Dark-haired with large, light-catching eyes, McBride was more coiled spring than willowy sylph, evident in the way her pliant limbs shot rather than floated to Ashton's prescribed positions. While the choreography's measured steps and lowered legs may seem particularly limiting for someone with McBride's flexibility, she managed to find pockets of expansion in the restricted movement. She lunged a little deeper, sailed on pointe a little longer, her open face lingering in the spotlight until the very last moment.

Symphonic Variations marked McBride's debut in a principal role with ABT, yet it was not the 25-year-old's first taste of the spotlight. She began her career at Texas Ballet Theater at just 15, becoming a principal by 19. Under TBT artistic director Ben Stevenson, she performed roles that most dancers her age still covet—Juliet, Odette/Odile, Aurora—before leaving the company for an ABT corps contract in 2015.


McBride (far left) with Devon Teuscher and Cassandra Trenary in "Symphonic Variations." Photo by Erin Baiano, Courtesy ABT.


Some may see McBride's move as accepting a demotion, but she saw it as a new horizon. Despite her wunderkind start at TBT, McBride's humility and hunger for new challenges have made for a harmonious transition to ABT's corps. As more opportunities come her way, it seems her risky career move is paying off.

Growing up in Texas, McBride fell into dance behind her older sister. "My mom's friend was putting her daughter in ballet and she wanted someone to carpool with," McBride recounts with a chiming, bell-like laugh. Those beginnings led to year-round training in her hometown outside Dallas. Yet she didn't originally aspire to dance professionally in her state. Two summers spent at ABT intensives in New York City at 12 and 13 sparked an early desire to one day dance with the company.

However, her professional career started much earlier than anticipated. After attending TBT's summer program in nearby Fort Worth at 14 years old, McBride joined the school as a trainee. Just one year later, Stevenson offered her a corps contract. She began working with the company right away, commuting from her parents' house and finishing her education through The Keystone School's online high school program.

"Betsy has a wonderful facility and she was dedicated to her work," says Stevenson. He notes that her enthusiasm and drive helped her blossom more as an artist and technician over time. He challenged her with increasingly difficult and theatrical roles, not hesitating to name her principal in 2012, during a period when the company had ranks. Throughout her time with TBT, McBride excelled in everything from Stevenson's classical ballets to Jiří Kylián's Petite Mort and Val Caniparoli's Lambarena. While many dancers would have ridden out that early wave of success comfortably in the spotlight, McBride is not one for complacence. Though she found a nurturing mentor in Stevenson, her career at TBT was more serendipitous than intentional. After eight years, she decided it was time to act on her early aspirations to join ABT.

Photo by Jayme Thornton for Pointe.

Simon Wexler, McBride's boyfriend and fellow TBT company member at the time, also felt ready to leave Texas. The two decided to make use of their frequent visits to his family outside of New York City. McBride reached out to ABT through email in March 2015, to let the staff know that they were interested in auditioning for the company. They said that there were no contracts available, but invited her and Wexler to take class. "I thought I'd just go in, meet everybody and talk face-to-face," she says, but she didn't expect a job offer.

However, recent departures at ABT opened up spots for McBride and Wexler. Artistic director Kevin McKenzie offered them both contracts, making clear that his decision was based on each dancer's individual merit, not couple status. " 'We do not do package deals,' " she recalls him saying. " 'I see talent in both of you and I see that you both fit well here.' " The pair happily accepted.

McBride returned to Texas and met with an understanding and supportive Stevenson. "She's ambitious," he says. "It was a great opportunity for her. I've always loved her so much. My best thoughts are with her development, and she has to go on developing." She finished up her TBT season that May and joined ABT one week later, during its Metropolitan Opera House performances.

McBride in Alexei Ratmansky's "Whipped Cream." Photo Courtesy ABT.

McBride found herself quickly readjusting to life as a corps dancer in a company of 90 compared to TBT's 40. One of her biggest challenges has been having less preparation for a role. "If you're second or third cast, sometimes you just don't get runs of things," she says, recalling that her first run of Symphonic Variations onstage was her debut. "The steps and the counts aren't in your muscle memory yet."

Yet ABT ballet mistress Susan Jones says that McBride never looks unprepared, even when negotiating a schedule packed with corps de ballet duties and soloist opportunities. McBride has performed Sleeping Beauty variations, Swan Lake's cygnets and the lead gypsy in Don Quixote, among other featured parts. Jones calls it one of the most difficult positions to have in the company: "When you're in demand for every corps de ballet and also soloist roles, you have to constantly switch hats and go back and forth." In a way, Jones says, it can be a testing ground, one that McBride is maneuvering with apparent ease. "Betsy is reliable and quick," she says. "She's one of those people you can count on."

Does she ever feel frustrated in the corps after so many years in the spotlight? "It's definitely hard," McBride admits. "It's a really good humbling experience." But she then quickly speaks of corps work's collective rewards and her respect for her co-workers—any of whom, she says, could be principals or soloists in small companies, as she was.

Photo by Jayme Thornton for Pointe.

Both staff and colleagues agree that McBride is hardly in need of an ego check. "She's so sweet, humble and willing to work," says Cameron McCune, McBride's fellow corps member and frequent partner. Jones echoes: "She wasn't one of those people who came to Kevin McKenzie and said, 'I'm a principal at my current company, so I'll accept a corps contract but want to be considered for soloist roles.' She applies herself to everything she does."

McBride seems to be as content as her polite gratitude suggests, both onstage and off. She and Wexler live together in their New York City apartment. Though he left the company last season to pursue studies at Columbia University, the pair find plenty of time for Central Park explorations, recreational tennis matches and New York's food scene. When cooking at home, they take turns depending on who's busier: McBride with Romeo and Juliet runs or Wexler with finals and papers. She also makes plenty of visits home. After the fall season last year, McBride spent part of her four-week break visiting her sister and newborn niece in Texas.

Looking forward to ABT's spring season, McBride speaks about her swan corps duties with the same congeniality as she does of her hopes to one day reprise Odette/Odile—on the Met stage. Though more soloist roles may tip the balance towards promotion, she isn't one for precipitate hopes. Radiant whether she's dancing alone or in file, she toes the line between fitting in and standing out gracefully—and graciously. No matter the role, says Jones, "her love of dance is unconditional."

The Conversation
Ballet Stars
Joffrey Ballet's Victoria Jaiani and Temur Suluashvili in "Orphée et Eurydice" with the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Photo courtesy "Great Performances."

You might say, "You just had to be there," about the Joffrey Ballet's 2017 world premiere of John Neumeier's reimagined Orphée et Eurydice with the Lyric Opera of Chicago. But on January 18, audiences from around the country will have a chance to witness this extraordinary collaboration up close, from the comfort of their living rooms, as PBS stations broadcast Orphée et Eurydice on "Great Performances".


Keep reading... Show less
popular

Are you looking for inspiration to develop and grow as an artist, preparing you for a career as a dancer? The Raydean Acevedo Colorado Ballet Academy's (CBA) Summer Intensive and Pre-Professional Division receive rave reviews from students, teachers and directors. These programs offer aspiring dancers instruction and career guidance from internationally renowned master teachers and CBA's accomplished faculty. Training takes place in Colorado Ballet's eight state-of-the-art studios at The Armstrong Center for Dance.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars
Stella Abrera in Romeo and Juliet. John Grigaitis, Courtesy ABT.

This American Ballet Theatre principal has jump training down to a science.

Keep reading... Show less
Photo by Tzu Chia Huang

Register to audition for the chance to experience the ultimate setting for professional dance training. Experience professionalism, be the priority, and see the progression in just 6 weeks! Ballet Arizona's Summer Intensive begins June 10 and classes are held through July 19, 2019. The program culminates with a final full-length performance in the Dorrance Theatre. The School of Ballet Arizona is known for its outstanding, internationally-renowned faculty, a state-of-the-art facility which includes a 299-seat black box performance theatre, and small classes with personal attention, all accompanied with a challenging and complex curriculum.

Photo by Tzu Chia Huang

Keep reading... Show less
News
Patricia Delgado will dance in new choreography by Jamar Roberts at Guggenheim Works & Process' program The Choreography of Light. Erin Baiano, Courtesy Works & Process.

Wonder what's going on in ballet this week? We've pulled together some highlights.

Keep reading... Show less
News
Courtesy Birmingham Royal Ballet

Birmingham Royal Ballet announced today that international star Carlos Acosta will be taking over as director in January of 2020. Current BRB director David Bintley will be stepping down this summer, at the end of the company's 2019 season, after a 24-year tenure. "It is a tremendous honor and privilege to have been appointed to lead Birmingham Royal Ballet," Acosta said in a statement.

Since retiring from The Royal Ballet in 2015, Acosta has focused much of his attention on his native Cuba, where he's proven his directorial abilities at the helm of Acosta Danza, the contemporary company that he founded in 2016. In 2017 Acosta also opened his first Dance Academy through his foundation, which provides free training to students. We don't yet know how Acosta will balance his time between his projects in Cuba and his new role at BRB.

Keep reading... Show less
Jaime Lynn Witts as Belle in Stephen Mills' Belle REDUX/A Tale of Beauty & The Beast. Anne Marie Bloodgood, Courtesy Ballet Austin.

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.

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Aurelie Dupont explained she did not share Polunin's values. Photo via Instagram

Sergei Polunin, whose recent homophobic and sexist Instagram posts have sparked international outrage, will not be appearing with the Paris Opéra Ballet as previously announced.

POB artistic director Aurélie Dupont sent an internal email to company staff and dancers on Sunday, explaining that she did not share Polunin's values and that the Russian-based dancer would not be guesting with the company during the upcoming run of Rudolf Nureyev's Swan Lake in February.

Keep reading... Show less
Summer Intensive Survival
Francois Perron teaching class at the French Academie of Ballet. Rachel Neville, Courtesy French Academie of Ballet.

When Katie Spagnoletti was 16, she auditioned for several well-known, company-affiliated summer programs. Although she received some acceptances, the price tags and level of competition felt daunting. She decided to try the relatively smaller Saratoga Summer Dance Intensive instead, and when she walked into orientation her first day, she sensed she'd made the right choice. "Co-director Melinda Roy greeted me—and every other student—by name. It made me feel like the faculty was truly invested in me as a person and a dancer," says Spagnoletti, now a dancer at City Ballet of San Diego. "I had friends who'd gone to some of the big-name schools, so I'd heard about those experiences—and I knew mine was going to be unique."

When planning your summer, it's exciting to think about an intensive at a prestigious pre-professional school—maybe the one attached to your dream company or that all your friends are talking about. But is bigger always better? With a wealth of options for summer study, it's worth looking at the benefits of smaller schools. For many dancers, training in a close-knit atmosphere can outweigh the cachet of a big name.

Keep reading... Show less
Viral Videos
Screenshot via YouTube

Every once in a while, the stars align, things fall precisely into place, and the perfect marketing campaign is born. Such is the case with New York City Ballet's new trailer for their upcoming run of The Sleeping Beauty.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars
Photo captured via YouTube.

The ballet Don Quixote offers its principal ballerina the unique chance to play two different characters in one role: there's Kitri herself, a vivacious village girl, and then Dulcinea, Don Quixote's idealized love, who takes on the form of Kitri in his dream. The Paris Opéra Ballet's Aurélie Dupont, a former étoile and now the company's artistic director, creates distinct personas for each incarnation of her character. In this clip from a 2002 performance, Dupont dances Dulcinea's variation with serene precision, embodying the mystical beauty of Don Quixote's imagination.

Aurelie Dupont - Dulcinea www.youtube.com

Keep reading... Show less
Viral Videos
YoungArts 2019 finalist Kali Kleiman in rehearsal Katherine Bollens, Courtesy YoungArts.

Let the ballet live streams continue! Last week we let you know that Youth American Grand Prix is streaming its regional semi-finals each weekend. Tonight, National YoungArts is sharing its finalists' dance performance.

The National YoungArts Foundation seeks out high school aged artists from around the country and gives them monetary awards, mentorship opportunities and the chance to participate in regional workshops. Artists span across 10 disciplines ranging from music to writing to visual art to dance. The finalists from each region are invited to the annual National YoungArts Week, an all-expenses-paid experience including master classes, workshops and performances with top artists (this year the dance faculty includes former New York City Ballet star Wendy Whelan). Nominations for the U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts will also be made from this group.

Keep reading... Show less
News
A photo from Miko Fogarty's 2015 cover shoot (Nathan Sayers)

Back in 2015, gorgeous ballerina Miko Fogarty was on top of the ballet world (and on the cover of Dance Spirit). After starring in the 2011 dance doc First Position, she'd racked up numerous competition titles, achieved social media stardom, and earned a contract with the Birmingham Royal Ballet.

Then, suddenly, she disappeared.

Well—not exactly. As she revealed last summer, Fogarty decided to switch gears, trading the ballet world for the world of academia. She's currently majoring in integrative biology at UC Berkeley. And now she's been tapped to give a TEDx talk about why, and how, she made the transition.

Keep reading... Show less
popular

We sat down with James K. Payne, School Director of The School of Pennsylvania Ballet, to hear his thoughts about students auditioning for summer intensives this winter. We think you'll be very interested in what he has to say.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars
Christopher Duggan for Pointe

While dancing excerpts of August Bournonville's Napoli this summer at the Massachusetts-based Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, the artists of the Royal Danish Ballet were in perfect sync. The dancers exuded pure cheer, from their buoyant, clear footwork to the precise angle of their épaulement. This seemed fitting for a national company where most members train in the Danish style from age 7 and feed in from the school. Yet three of the principals onstage—Amy Watson, J'aime Crandall and Holly Jean Dorger—are in fact American.

Keep reading... Show less
News
Photo by Carlos Quezada, Courtesy ABT

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.

Keep reading... Show less
Forsythe's in the middle, somewhat elevated uses the battement like an attack. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet

Just before retiring in 2015, Sylvie Guillem appeared on "HARDtalk with Zeinab Badawi," the BBC's hard-hitting interview program. Badawi told Guillem,

"Clement Crisp of the Financial Times, 14 years ago, described your dancing as vulgar."

Guillem responded,

"Yeah, well, he said that. But at the same time, when they asked Margot Fonteyn what she thought about lifting the leg like this she said, 'Well, if I could have done it, I would have done it.' "

They were discussing Guillem's signature stroke—her 180-degree leg extension à la seconde. Ballet legs had often flashed about in the higher zones between 135 and 160 degrees before. But it wasn't until the virtuoso French ballerina regularly
extended her leg beside her ear with immaculate poise in the 1980s that leg extensions for ballet dancers in classical roles reached their zenith. Traditionalists like Clement Crisp were not taken with it.

Keep reading... Show less
News
Courtesy VAM Productions

Raise your hand if you're excited for competition season! Youth America Grand Prix Regional Semi-Finals are well underway, leading up to the much-awaited New York Finals April 12-19. Even better, they're live-streamed, meaning you now have the perfect excuse to spend your weekend at home, watching ballet (while sewing your pointe shoes and stretching, of course).

This weekend features semi-finals in Seattle, Washington and Tampa, Florida. To see the full schedules and set up streaming, click here. Streaming starts at $13.99. Packages of 2, 4, 6 or 12 total viewing hours are available, and viewers can log in and out as often as they like.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Careers
Chase Johnsey (second from right) in English National Ballet's production of The Sleeping Beauty. Elliot Franks, Courtesy In The Lights PR.

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.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars
All photos by Jayme Thornton for Pointe

From marriage to career transitions to injuries, our 2018 cover stars have had a busy year.

Find out what they've been up to since they graced the cover of Pointe and what they're aiming for in 2019.

American Ballet Theatre's Betsy McBride

Photo by Jayme Thornton for Pointe

New Year's Resolutions: School and Self-Care

My New Year's resolutions are to complete my Associate of Science degree, sleep more, and slow down from time to time to appreciate the little things in life.

Life Updates: Star Studded Performances

Since appearing on Pointe's cover, I performed in the New York Ballet Stars Gala in Cape Town, South Africa in honor of Mignon Furman. I also performed in a very exciting Balanchine Tribute Festival at City Center with American Ballet Theatre alongside Joffrey Ballet, The Mariinsky Ballet, Miami City Ballet, New York City Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet, The Royal Ballet and San Francisco Ballet.

McBride also recently got engaged to longtime boyfriend and former ABT dancer Simon Wexler.

You can read our February/March 2018 cover story on Betsy McBride here.

News
Melanie Hamrick for Flexistretcher, via @flexistretcher

ABT corps dancer Melanie Hamrick will be taking a leave of absence from the company's spring season, but for the best reason possible: She's working on her own ballet. Her piece is set to premiere in March, and will feature music curated by Hamrick's longtime boyfriend, Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger (cue the moves like Jagger puns).

Keep reading... Show less
Sono Osato, Screenshot via YouTube

Sono Osato, a trailblazing ballet and musical theater dancer, passed away last Wednesday at her home in New York City.

Best known for originating the role of Miss Turnstiles in Jerome Robbins' hit On the Town—one of Broadway's first non-segregated musicals—Osato got her start at 14 as the youngest member of the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo, and as the troupe's first Japanese-American performer. She went on to dance for Ballet Theatre (now American Ballet Theatre), where she found success in New York City but was banned from touring in Mexico and California because of her Japanese background. For a brief time, Osato went by her mother's maiden name, Fitzpatrick, in an effort to escape the World War II-era anti-Japanese sentiment. During the war, her father was confined under military guard in Chicago as an enemy alien.

Keep reading... Show less
Trending
International performer Joy Womack balances flexibility and strength to maintain her turnout. Photo by Quinn Wharton for Pointe.

Turnout is one of the defining characteristics of classical ballet and the foundation of your technique, but the deceptively simple concept of external rotation can be hard to execute. For those born with hip joints that don't naturally make a tight fifth position, it's tempting to take shortcuts in the quest for more rotation, but you'll end up with weaker technique and a higher risk of injury. We asked top teachers and physical therapists to break down the meaning of turnout and offer safe ways to maximize your range.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars
Boylston and Whiteside brought charm and technical brilliance to Harlequinade. Photo by Alan Alejandro Sánchez, Courtesy ABT.

Alexei Ratmansky's reconstruction of Marius Petipa's Harlequinade, which debuted this spring at American Ballet Theatre, felt as fizzy and decadent as a glass of champagne. Though resplendently designed and lovingly assembled, the ballet relied on the personal charms of its Harlequin and Columbine to buoy its all-too-poppable bubble of a plot. And nobody brought more charm, or technical brilliance, to the leading roles than the opening-night cast, James Whiteside and Isabella Boylston. The charismatic duo perfectly understood the lightweight fun of the ballet, relishing the beauties of its coloratura choreography while keeping the extended mime passages just to the right side of camp. Their offstage best-friendship—they're known to their Instagram fans (including Jennifer Garner) as "the Cindies"—lent a special warmth to their onstage partnership, especially in the ballet's surprisingly tender climactic pas de deux. Audiences floated out of the theater afterward, pleasantly intoxicated.

Harlequinade www.youtube.com

Viral Videos
Vienna State Ballet first soloists Olga Esina and Roman Lazik, via YouTube.

Vienna really knows how to ring in the New Year with its annual concert by the Vienna Philharmonic, filled with the waltzes of the Strauss family and other composers. The best part? Broadcasts of the event (shown in the U.S. on PBS) also include interludes of ballet. On January 1, catch dancing from the Vienna State Ballet on PBS' Great Performances' "From Vienna: The New Year's Celebration 2019" (check local TV listings). (Editors Note: You can now watch the full 2019 concert here!) In the meantime, here is a collection of gorgeous videos from New Years' past.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Sponsored

mailbox

Get Pointe Magazine in your inbox

Sponsored