Marina Harss is a critic, journalist, and moderator based in New York City, writing on all aspects of dance, and occasionally on opera. Since fall of 2017, she has been dance critic for the WNYC radio station. She is a regular contributor to the New York Times, The New Yorker, Dance Magazine, Pointe Magazine, and Dancetabs.com. She is currently working on a critical biography of Alexei Ratmansky for Farrar Straus and Giroux.
Christine Shevchenko and Devon Teuscher, photographed for Pointe by Jayme Thornton
This is Pointe's December/January 2018 Cover Story. You can subscribe to the magazinehere, or click here to purchase this issue.
Christine Shevchenko and Devon Teuscher have spent practically half their lives with each other. Both dancers joined American Ballet Theatre's Studio Company in 2006. The following year, they graduated into the main troupe as apprentices, again together. They've sat next to each other in every dressing room they've ever occupied, and shared hotel rooms on the road. And in September 2017, at the age of 28, they became the company's two youngest female principal dancers—on the same day. If they weren't such good friends, they would probably be sick of each other.
"Very rarely do I come offstage without a smile on my face," says Wellington, here in Jerome Robbins' Goldberg Variations. Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy New York City Ballet.
Lydia Wellington practically grew up at New York City Ballet. Her mom, a children's book author and illustrator and ballet enthusiast, used to take her to shows up in the fifth ring when she was a toddler—"it was cheaper than babysitting," says Wellington. So at age 7 it was almost natural for her to enter the School of American Ballet, where she spent the next 11 years, eventually graduating into the company.
Alanah Gelabert's ballet school, damaged by the hurricane, still floods each time it rains. Photo by Tahimy Santana, Courtesy Santana,
On September 20 of last year, a violent hurricane, almost a Category 5, hit Puerto Rico head-on. The mega-storm laid waste to the American territory, knocking out power, flooding roads and houses, flattening buildings, and killing 2,975 people as it barreled northward. Large swathes of the island remained without electricity or running water for weeks—in fact thousands of homes were still without power nine months later. It was the worst storm to hit the island in at least eight decades.
The hurricane and its aftereffects touched everyone in Puerto Rico—including its ballet community. Flooded schools were unable to give classes, performances were canceled, and ballet companies were forced to go on hiatus. Students were already dealing with storm-related difficulties at home, so, for a while, training was on the back burner. But dancers are famously determined, and soon they were doing what they could to stay in shape—a fact underscored by a video that appeared on Twitter, of students rehearsing in the dark, illuminated only by car headlamps.
Rachel Hutsell Photographed for Pointe by Jayme Thornton.
This is Pointe's June/July 2018 Cover Story. You can subscribe to the magazine here, or click here to purchase this issue.
"I'm very cautious by nature," Rachel Hutsell says over herbal tea at Lincoln Center between rehearsals. You wouldn't think so from the way she moves onstage or in the studio. In fact, one of the most noticeable characteristics of Hutsell's dancing is boldness, a result of the intelligence and intention with which she executes each step. (What she calls caution is closer to what most people see as preparedness.) She doesn't approximate—she moves simply and fully, with total confidence. That quality hasn't gone unnoticed.
Photo by Theo Kossenas, Courtesy The Washington Ballet
You made a deal with your mom to take ballet classes in exchange for a ride to tryouts for the football team. How did that work? I thought that I would take ballet for a couple months, become a master and then leave that alone and concentrate on football. Ballet had other ideas, which perplexed me, and ultimately, I think, made me fall in love with it.
How is The Washington Ballet evolving under Julie Kent's leadership? It's still early, but I think that the company is growing stronger classically. And we have Julie, Victor Barbee, Xiomara Reyes and Rinat Imaev—a great team of people who are giving their input and expertise, which is quite helpful.
Hallberg speaking at a Bolshoi press conference before the premiere of "The Sleeping Beauty." ITAR-TASS Photo Agency/Alamy Stock Photo, Courtesy Simon & Schuster, Inc.
"Do you still love ballet?" I ask David Hallberg as we sit in a drab conference room at American Ballet Theatre discussing his new memoir, A Body of Work: Dancing to the Edge and Back. The book details Hallberg's grueling return from a series of injuries that left him questioning whether he would ever dance again. "Yes, I love it even more," he says almost hungrily, as he stares me down with his searching, slightly hollow gaze.
A Body of Work is not an easy read. Its final section, devoted to the long road back from injury and despair, is the most distressing, but what comes before is not much lighter. The self-portrait Hallberg has outlined is stark: a boy, and later a man, propelled by a single-minded drive, subjected to savage bullying at school in Arizona; ostracism during a year of studies at the Paris Opéra Ballet School; arduous private training that has his parents half-joking about appealing to child services; un-empathetic partners; a punishing work schedule that leaves his body broken. All this, in order to satisfy the "gravitational force" of ballet, which he feels "pulling [him] in deeper and deeper," he writes.
Hupoy (right, as Alla Snizova) and Laszlo Major in "Le Corsaire." Photo by Zoren Jelenic, Courtesy Ballets de Trockadero de Monte Carlo.
One of the highlights of New York City's Fall for Dance Festival this year was an appearance by the Ballets Trockadéro de Monte Carlo, a company of men who dance on pointe with as much panache and style as any prima ballerina. Their performance of Paquita was funny, of course—they specialize in comic renditions of classical ballets— but also bracingly well executed. The star of the evening, Carlos Hopuy, aka Alla Snizova, was simply astonishing. His pointework sparkled, his hops on pointe were clean and strong, and he looked like he could have balanced in attitude forever. There was something deeply exciting about the way he combined delicacy and control with the explosive power and steel of a man's physique.
Hopuy, who was born in Havana, Cuba, and trained at the country's famed National Ballet School, has been with the company since 2012. Like all the Trocks, he has both a female and a male alter-ego: when he's not portraying Alla Snizova, he's Innokenti Smoktumuchsky, a dopey cavalier. He is also one of the dancers featured in the upcoming documentary Rebels on Pointe, which will have its theatrical release November 15 (click here for theaters and dates near you). I recently caught up with Hopuy, who, when he's not on tour, lives in Orlando with his husband Paolo Cervellera, a former Trock. We spoke by phone, in Spanish.
Did you always want to dance?
I always liked ballet. My mother, Norma Hopuy, was a principal with the Ballet de Camagüey. I used to hang around the rehearsals. She started giving me lessons at home. Then, when I was nine, I auditioned for the National Ballet School. I had the choice between that and gymnastics and I chose ballet.
When did you start going on pointe?
When I was 11. I would ask my classmates for their old pointe shoes and would try them on at home. When my mother realized that I liked to go on pointe, she started training me and bought me my own pair.
An emotional Hallberg during bows after a performance of "Giselle" last May at the Metropolitan Opera House. Photo by Kent. G. Becker, Courtesy Simon & Schuster.
On November 7, David Hallberg's highly anticipated memoir, A Body of Work: Dancing to the Edge and Back, will be available in bookstores. (It's currently available for pre-order from Simon & Schusterandvariousotherretailers.) Published by Touchstone Books, the autobiography details Hallberg's arduous recovery from a series of career-threatening injuries, and his triumphant return to the stage. Marina Harss spoke with the American Ballet Theatre principal about how his experience has changed him, his future with the Bolshoiand his desire to someday direct a company.
Courtesy Simon & Schuster
Why did you decide to write a memoir?
The initial seed was planted by New York Times dance critic Roslyn Sulcas. This was way before the Bolshoi. She just said you're traveling a lot now. You know, maybe just start to jot some things down about your experiences. So I took her advice, and then Simon & Schuster called and expressed interest in a book, and I dove in headfirst.
The focus of the book must have changed a lot after the injury.
Absolutely, and to be honest, the book had no backbone before the injury. It was "dance memoir 101." Not to say I didn't have a story to tell. But the meat of the book and for me, the heart, and soul, and the gut, is the nightmare that I went through with the injury.
As I was reading the book it felt almost as if you were a survivor of some kind of trauma.
It was emotionally traumatic. It was physically traumatic. It was mentally traumatic. Everything unraveled, and everything went wrong.