In a recent editorial in The New York Times, dance critic Alastair Macaulay wrote that “the lesson of history is that ballerinadom has been continually redefined.” I believe it is time for a new definition, one that does not hold up Old World glamour or a dancer’s nationality as criteria. The greatest female dancers today are bringing their own vitality and originality from all over the world to the universal language of ballet.

To be clear, every balletomane and professional dancer has his or her own concept of the ideal ballerina. For some, it’s about clarity of form and the seamless execution of choreography. For others, it’s about dramatic range or stylistic versatility. To some degree, these attributes are prerequisites. Yet the most fundamental characteristic of my ideal ballerina is someone whose depth of character and generosity of spirit makes her a leader not only in her performances but in class and in the rehearsal process.

Shakespeare scholar Harold Bloom once wrote that one of the most remarkable things about the character of Juliet is that she exudes both exceptional virtue and an exceptionally sparkling personality. To me, this rare balance is also the aim of a ballerina.

In real life these are difficult ideals to live up to, but I have many colleagues who are a daily inspiration. At American Ballet Theatre, I am continually struck by Stella Abrera’s unwavering discipline, integrity and intelligence in both art and life. Her versatility as a dancer and actress is complemented by her graciousness onstage and to her colleagues. Similarly, New York City Ballet’s Wendy Whelan is a goddess onstage, but down-to-earth in real life. Neither fit the outdated stereotype of the self-centered diva ballerina. They are compassionate, focused and sensitive people and artists who maintain both their sense of humor and their consummate professionalism day in and day out.

At the Royal New Zealand Ballet, where I am a principal guest artist, I am excited to watch a young dancer with extraordinary promise grow into a star. This emerging ballerina, Lucy Green, has the physical attributes to do great things with her art: a brilliant jump, coordination and musicality to spare. However, for me, it is her work ethic, her imagination and her sensitivity to others that really classify her as a ballerina in the making.

Ultimately, I most admire these dancers, as well as others, for how they encourage greatness in everyone around them. It may be a somewhat naïve and romantic notion, but I believe that a ballerina must nurture positive qualities and an openness of mind within herself so that she can share her inner life in a genuine way on the stage. In order to communicate the truth and the universality of human experience, the ballerina must gain perspective and dimension from both her own life experience and her intense respect and dedication to the craft of ballet. She must go beyond the steps and strive to bring humanity and humility purely and truly to every moment of expression. That, to me, is artistry that is meaningful both on and off the stage.

Gillian Murphy is a principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre.

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The Joffrey Ballet's Amanda Assucena and Greig Matthews in Cathy Marston's Jane Eyre. Cheryl Mann, Courtesy Joffrey Ballet.

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

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Sponsored by BLOCH
Courtesy BLOCH

Today's ballet dancer needs a lot from a pointe shoe. "What I did 20 years ago is not what these dancers are doing now," says New York City Ballet shoe manager Linnette Roe. "They are expected to go harder, longer days. They are expected to go from sneakers, to pointe shoes, to character shoes, to barefoot and back to pointe shoes all in a day."

The team at BLOCH developed their line of Stretch Pointe shoes to address dancer's most common complaints about the fit and performance of their pointe shoes. "It's a scientific take on the pointe shoe," says Roe. Dancers are taking notice and Stretch Pointe shoes are now worn by stars like American Ballet Theatre principal Isabella Boylston, who stars in BLOCH's latest campaign for the shoes.

We dug into the details of Stretch Pointe's most game-changing features:

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Herman Cornejo in Don Quixote. Gene Schiavone, Courtesy ABT.

American Ballet Theatre's fall season at Lincoln Center's Koch Theater offers a chance to see the company in shorter works and mixed-repertoire programs. This year's October 16–27 run honors principal Herman Cornejo, who's celebrating his 20th anniversary with the company. Cornejo will be featured in a special celebratory program as well as a new work by Twyla Tharp (her 17th for the company), set to Johannes Brahms' String Quartet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 111. The October 26 program will include Cornejo in a pas de deux with his sister, former ABT dancer Erica Cornejo.

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Ballet Careers
Gray Davis with wife, ABT soloist Cassandra Trenary, after his graduation from the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy. Courtesy Trenary.

When Gray Davis retired from American Ballet Theatre in July of 2018, he moved home to South Carolina, unsure of what would come next. Last month, just over a year later, Davis graduated from the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy. Today, he's working as a deputy for the Abbeville County Sheriff's Office.

Though Davis danced in ABT's corps for 11 years and is married to soloist Cassandra Trenary, to many he's best known for saving the life of a man who was pushed onto the subway tracks in New York City in 2017. The heroic effort earned him the New York State Liberty Medal, the highest civilian honor bestowed by a member of the New York State Senate. We caught up with Davis to hear about how the split second decision he made in the subway affected the course of his life, what it's been like starting a second career and what he sees as the similarities between ballet and law enforcement.

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