Taylor Stanley with members of NYCB in George Balanchine's Apollo

Erin Baiano, Courtesy NYCB

NYCB Launches Digital Spring Season Featuring Daily Online Programming

The opening night of a New York City Ballet season is always exciting: Audience members mill about Lincoln Center's plaza, buzzing with energy, anticipating seeing their favorite ballets and dancers back onstage. The company's spring season, scheduled to run April 21-May 29 was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. But today, NYCB announced an exciting replacement: a six-week long digital season designed to give balletomanes a taste of the company's magic, for free, from the confines of their homes.

NYCB's digital season includes new content released Monday through Saturday. Check out the weekly schedule below for a taste of the online programming to come.


Monday

Each Monday, fans can continue to tune into City Ballet The Podcast. A new nine-episode season, featuring NYCB dancers Silas Farley, Claire Kretzschmar and Aaron Sanz in conversation with their colleagues and former company dancers (including Patricia McBride on George Balanchine's "Rubies"), launches April 20. The first episode is all about music: NYCB resident conductor Daniel Capps explores Tchaikovsky's score for Allegro Brillante.

City Ballet The Podcast is available at podcast.nycballet.com and on all podcasting platforms, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Radio Public.

Wendy Whelan, in an orange t shirt, leans against the barre and mirror in a ballet studio.

Associate artistic director Wendy Whelan teaching class

Erin Baiano, Courtesy NYCB

Tuesday

Tuesdays and Fridays are the digital season's pièce de résistance. Twice a week through May 29, the company will release a ballet performance at 8 pm EDT. Curated by Jonathan Stafford, Wendy Whelan and Justin Peck, the programs showcase footage taken during recent seasons, and will be available for free online for 72 hours. The Tuesday showings are entirely devoted to NYCB's co-founding choreographers, George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins.

The first installment, available April 21, is a 2017 recording of Allegro Brillante, starring Tiler Peck and Andrew Veyette, with an introduction by Stafford. Next Tuesday, April 28, viewers can see Taylor Stanley, Tiler Peck, Brittany Pollack and Indiana Woodward in a 2019 performance of Apollo.

Virtual performances will be available on NYCB's website, YouTube channel and Facebook page.

Wednesday

Have you ever dreamt of taking a class taught by former NYCB prima Wendy Whelan, but felt intimidated? Then Wednesday With Wendy is for you. NYCB launches its new series of open level ballet-inspired movement classes, taught by the company's associate artistic director, on April 22. Tune in every Wednesday at 5 pm EDT.

Classes will be available on NYCB's Instagram TV channel.

Sara Mearns in a deep lunge on pointe, supported by Gilbert Bolden

Sara Mearns and Gilbert Bolden III in Justin Peck's Rotunda

Erin Baiano, Courtesy NYCB

Thursday

April 23 at 6 pm EDT marks NYCB's first Ballet Essentials movement workshop, created by the company's education department. Taught by company artists, these 45-minute workshops are designed for teenage and adult dancers, providing a chance to learn some of the company's most beloved repertoire. Each workshop will include a ballet warm-up and movement combination inspired by the choreography. First up, soloist Lauren King explores Balanchine's Serenade. Additional workshops may also be available on Mondays.

Workshops are free, but registration is required. Visit balletessentials.nycballet.com for details.

Friday

Settle into your weekend with the second virtual performance of the week, available each Friday at 8 pm EDT. While Tuesdays are devoted mostly to Balanchine and Robbins, Fridays are contemporary, exploring some of the company's most cutting-edge repertoire. The April 24 showing features Justin Peck's 2020 Rotunda, to a commissioned score by Nico Muhly. On May 1, audiences can see a 2016 performance of George Balanchine's Ballo Della Regina, danced by Megan Fairchild and Anthony Huxley, and Christopher Wheeldon's After the Rain Pas de Deux, filmed in 2012 and starring Wendy Whelan and Craig Hall.

Virtual performances will be available for 72 hours on NYCB's website, YouTube channel and Facebook page.

Silas Farley leads class to a group of children in a studio. He stands with his arms in front of him.

NYCB dancer Silas Farley leads a workshop for children.

Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy NYCB

Saturday

Each Saturday morning at 11 am EDT, the company will present Ballet Breaks, a six-week series of movement activities for kiddos ages 3 to 8. Each session, taught by an NYCB dancer, will be 20 minutes long, and include a warm-up and choreography inspired by company rep. On April 25, baby bunheads can dance along with principal Daniel Ulbricht as he explores Jerome Robbins' Fancy Free.

Workshops are free, but registration is required. Visit nycballet.com/balletbreaks for details.

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From left: Anthony Crickmay, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives; Courtesy Ballethnic

Lydia Abarca Mitchell, Arthur Mitchell's First Ballerina, Builds On Her Mentor's Legacy in Atlanta

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.


For more than 25 years, coaching at Ballethnic has been a lifeline back to Abarca Mitchell's days with DTH. She had a stellar career, both with the company and beyond, but left the stage at age 30 after an injury sustained performing in Dancin' on Broadway. Her husband's job transferred them to Atlanta, where she transitioned to a full-time job as a medical transcriptionist while raising a family. Now retired from her second career, Abarca Mitchell continues to forward Arthur Mitchell's legacy, not only through coaching but also by building community among DTH alumni and writing her memoirs—a fairy-tale story of a child who came from the Harlem public-housing projects and became a trailblazing Black ballerina.

Abarca Mitchell grew up during the 1950s and '60s, the oldest of seven in a tight-knit family. She always danced, taking cues from Hollywood figures until a fourth-grade teacher saw her talent and encouraged her to seek formal training. The family couldn't afford ballet lessons, but Abarca Mitchell earned a scholarship to attend The Juilliard School's Saturday youth program, and later the Harkness Ballet's professional training program. But for all of those ballet classes, Abarca Mitchell never had the opportunity to see or perform in a ballet production. She didn't understand the purpose behind ballet's tedious class exercises.

When the fast-growing Harkness Ballet moved its scholarship students to the June Taylor Studio on Broadway, Abarca Mitchell remembers hearing live drumming, clapping and laughter coming from the studio across the hall. It was a jazz class taught by Jaime Rogers, who'd played Loco in the West Side Story movie. Abarca Mitchell started sneaking into Rogers' classes.

When Harkness informed her that her scholarship was exclusively for ballet, Abarca Mitchell left the program. She saw no future for herself in the white-dominated ballet world, and focused on academics during her last two years of high school.

At 17, Abarca Mitchell met Arthur Mitchell. He had made history as the first Black principal dancer with New York City Ballet, which he had joined in 1955, and had just begun to shape what would become Dance Theatre of Harlem when he hired Abarca Mitchell in 1968. Within a month, she was back on pointe. Within two months, she was performing in Arthur Mitchell's Tones. "I didn't even know what ballet was until I was onstage," Abarca Mitchell says. "All of a sudden, it was my heart and soul."

Arthur Mitchell made sure his dancers saw NYCB perform, and subsequently brought Balanchine's Agon, Concerto Barocco and other NYCB works into the DTH repertoire. "Physically and emotionally, I felt the connection of jazz in Balanchine's choreography," Abarca Mitchell says. "His neoclassical style was just funky to me. I could totally relate."

For the first time, Abarca Mitchell danced with people who looked like her and shared the same aspirations, she says, with a leader who "saw us through his eyes of love and achievement."

In Abarca Mitchell's 30s, after a performing career that took her from DTH to the film version of The Wiz to Bob Fosse's Dancin' and beyond, her husband's job took their family to Atlanta. She soon connected with Gilreath and Waverly Lucas. The couple, also DTH alumni, were influenced by Arthur Mitchell's model when they founded Ballethnic, seeking to create access for dancers of all backgrounds to develop as classical dancers and perform a repertoire that represents the company's culturally diverse home city. Over time, Abarca Mitchell became a trusted advisor.

Abarca Mitchell goes in at least twice a year to coach Ballethnic's productions—such as Urban Nutcracker, set in Atlanta's historically Black Sweet Auburn neighborhood, and The Leopard Tale, which features the company's signature blend of classical pointe work with polyrhythmic dance forms of the African diaspora. These final rehearsals give Abarca Mitchell a way to fast-track the transfer of her mentor's values.

Two dancers in blue and black practice clothes and face masks, the woman in pointe shoes, pose together in a first arabesque tendu. Abarca Mitchell steps out of a mirrored pose as she adjusts the fingertips of the male dancer.

Lydia Abarca Mitchell works with Ballethnic's Calvin Gentry and Karla Tyson.

Courtesy Ballethnic Dance Company

She recalls that Arthur Mitchell taught his dancers to present themselves at their finest—to enter a room with their heads held high and shoulders back—and to dress, speak and walk with dignity and self-respect. He reminded them that they were pioneers and ambassadors for Blacks in ballet. As the company gained international stature—Abarca Mitchell was the first Black female ballerina to appear on the cover of Dance Magazine, in 1975—he insisted the dancers remain humble and in service to the greater mission. But he was also a taskmaster. "No nonsense, no excuses," Abarca Mitchell says. "There was no slack. If he was rehearsing something that you're not in, you'd better be on the side learning it."

"He didn't throw compliments around at all. You had to really kill yourself to get a smile from him." After a run-through, she says, "you didn't want to be singled out."

Abarca Mitchell takes a slightly different approach, though she doesn't compromise on the values her mentor instilled. When coaching large casts of all ages and different levels for Ballethnic, she has found ways to inspire people without tearing them down. She calls it a "tough love" approach.

"I've got to make them want to do it. I don't want to beat them into doing it," Abarca Mitchell says. "I tell them, 'You're here because you want to be, and because you auditioned and were accepted. Now, show me why I should keep you here.'"

"I tell them, 'I'm here to make sure you'll look good—you know: 'That looks fake. Let's make it look real. Think about what you're doing, so that it's not just a gesture.'"

Arthur Mitchell instilled this level of emotional honesty in his dancers, and it was key to the company's quick success. "We were bringing a thought forward," says Abarca Mitchell. "We were bringing a feeling forward, so that the audience could connect with us."

In addition to her position as rehearsal director for Ballethnic, Abarca Mitchell is today part of 152nd Street Black Ballet Legacy, a group of DTH alumni who seek to give voice to people responsible for the company's success in its early years. "It's incredible," she says, "how many people took something from DTH and applied it to their lives."

As Ballethnic prepares to co-host the International Association of Blacks in Dance Conference and Festival in January 2022, Abarca Mitchell hopes to help strengthen the network of dance companies associated with Ballethnic, such as Memphis' Collage Dance Collective. "The dream is for all of us to collaborate with each other," she says, "so that it becomes more normal to see a Black ballerina, so it's not just a token appearance."

Today's young dancers face different challenges from what Abarca Mitchell faced. She finds that they're more easily distracted, and sometimes act entitled, because they don't know or appreciate how hard earlier Black ballerinas like herself worked to clear a path for them. But what she's passing on will benefit them, whether they choose to pursue dance careers or become doctors, lawyers, professors or something else entirely. "The principles are the same," she says. "Work for what you want, and you will achieve it."

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