"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.
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.
Mack in 'Swan Lake.' Photo by Theo Kossenas
"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.
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.
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 & Schuster and various other retailers.) 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 Bolshoi and 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.
When the choreographer Alexei Ratmansky joined American Ballet Theatre as artist in residence eight years ago, the company hadn't had a house choreographer since the days of Antony Tudor. The gamble seems to have paid off handsomely. In that time Ratmansky has either made or restaged 12 ballets for the company. In 2011, the company extended his contract to 2023. Such commitments are practically unheard of at a time when top dancers and choreographers hop from company to company, continent to continent. The scale and ambition of the works Ratmansky is making for ABT is a rarity too, in a world of tight budgets, scant rehearsal time and pared-down esthetics.
Set design for new "Harlequinade." Courtesy ABT.
"I remember looking out and feeling the light," says Alston Macgill of her debut in the third movement of Symphony in C during New York City Ballet's 2016 tour to Paris. "I felt this enormous joy going through me." She was just an apprentice at the time, and the production was being taped for PBS's "Great Performances." From the moment Macgill flew onstage—light, energetic, buoyant—she seemed to barely touch the ground. Despite her speed and elevation, there was nothing forced about her performance; her energy was calm and free, the coordination seemingly natural.
The Savannah, Georgia, native was already turning heads as a stu- dent at the School of American Ballet, where she enrolled after training at The STUDIO Savannah and The Rock School for Dance Education in Philadelphia. She became an NYCB apprentice in 2015, and was soon selected by the French choreographer Nicolas Blanc for his ballet Mothership. A few months later came her big break in Symphony in C, which she found out about a week before the performance.
Photographed by Rachel Papo.
Choreographer Alexei Ratmansky has said that had he not come across the work of Mark Ryden, he might never have made his new ballet, Whipped Cream. Ratmansky, artist in residence at American Ballet Theatre, had been mulling the project for decades. He loved the music and the whimsical storyline imagined by composer Richard Strauss, about a boy who overindulges on whipped cream and falls ill and, in his delirium, dreams about dancing cakes and candies. Without a convincingly decadent set, though, he couldn't imagine how it would work. "I think the music demands richness onstage," says Ratmansky. He found what he was looking for in the visual world of painter Mark Ryden.
Ryden is known for detailed, dreamlike, flawlessly rendered and yet slightly unsettling canvases. Giant eyes peek out of tree stumps, and doll-like children mingle with skeletons or ride carriages pulled by centipedes. Though Ryden had never before worked in theater, his art is inherently theatrical.