The members of ABT Studio Company straddle two worlds: student and professional. On a March afternoon, as the dancers rehearse for a work choreographed by ABT dancer Gemma Bond, they appear more the former: Clean academic leotards and tights reveal coltish legs. But as soon as they launch into the piece (which later had its New York City debut at The Joyce Theater), it's evident how close these dancers are to a professional rank. Their movements and expressiveness grow bolder with each entrance. Soon they're sliding to the ground in floorwork and swirling confidently in daring lifts. "This group is particularly brilliant to work with," says Bond. "Each dancer seems to have something interesting in the way that they move, which made the creation process a little more of a collaboration than some of my other works."
The Joyce show is just one of 34 performing opportunities for these 12 young dancers—six women and six men between ages 16 and 19—during the 2018–19 season. In addition to newly choreographed works, they perform classical pas deux and excerpts from ABT's repertoire. "We feature our dancers in solo roles because we want them to tap into their fullest potentials as artists and athletes," says Studio Company artistic director Sascha Radetsky. They're also tested through corps roles with the main company during Nutcracker and in supernumerary parts during ABT's spring season. For 18-year-old Leah Baylin, the experience has been eye-opening. "Studio Company has been a huge shift in learning what it's like to be a professional in every aspect: how I warm up, coaching sessions and rehearsal, going on tour," she says.
When not performing, the dancers train six days per week, with an average of six hours of dancing per weekday. They take classes in technique, pointe, variations, pas de deux, character, strength and conditioning, Pilates, acting and music. Additionally, they're offered physical therapy, supplementary workshops on everything from etiquette to stage makeup and hair, and cultural excursions around New York City. "It's nice to be all together and part of a family," says 19-year-old Studio Company member Duncan McIlwaine. "That helps us prepare for the company, because there it's like a family, too."
Currently three quarters of ABT's dancers, including 9 principals and 11 soloists, have come through the Studio Company. "And we seek to place any dancers who don't achieve a position with ABT with other prestigious classical companies worldwide," says Radetsky. Pointe recently spent a day with these talented young dancers as they prepare for professional life.
Faculty member Ethan Stiefel and Grace Anne Pierce.
Kanon Kimura in morning technique class.
Artistic director Sascha Radetsky leads men's variations class.
Dancers, shown here in rehearsal, are paid a stipend to offset living expenses. It varies depending on factors such as where they live: with their parents, in a dedicated Studio Company apartment or in the school dorm.
Teresa D'Ortone (left) and Leah Baylin.
"Our goals are very different now than they were in school," says Studio Company member Duncan McIlwaine (in shorts). "In school you're just trying to get to the next level. Here we're trying to become artists."
"I would like them to emerge from their time in Studio Company not just as improved dancers with professional contracts, but as artists of character who are graceful and authentic onstage and off." —Sascha Radetsky
Ballet mistress Petrusjka Broholm demonstrates during pointe class.
Gemma Bond rehearses Baylin and Andrew Robare. "I try to approach young professionals of this caliber in the same way I would a seasoned company member," says Bond.
"Studio Company is very adventurous, but also extremely demanding and tiring and ruthless. It's definitely worth it."—Duncan McIlwaine
Photography by Rachel Papo