Stars of the Corps

BRITTANY STONE
Boston Ballet

Everything about Brittany Stone says “ballerina”: Her fluid port de bras, her lithe frame, her long legs. But until seven years ago she was a bona fide comp kid, performing jazz and tap and having, she insists, “no real ballet technique at all.”

When Stone was 13, ABT’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School faculty member Raymond Lukens spotted her at a dance seminar. She was soon offered a place at JKO, where she got her first real taste of the ballet world, and, she says, “realized how hard ballet was.” She supplemented her training with private instruction from Fabrice Herrault, who helped her transform her raw talent into polished technique.

Stone spent her senior year of high school at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts before joining Boston Ballet School’s trainee program and quickly receiving a promotion to Boston Ballet II. 

Today Stone, who just wrapped up her first season as a full company member, is busy expanding her repertoire beyond classical works and developing who she is as an artist. Her early competition showmanship and versatility are serving her well. “In class every morning I remind myself that I have to come out of my shell, and be an actress,“ she says. “I feel like I’m growing, and that’s a good feeling. —Ashley Rivers

Fun Facts
Dream role: Giselle. “I love lyrical dancing.”
Hobbies: Drawing, singing and watching old movies. “Hitchcock is my favorite—I have a box set of all of his movies. Amazing.”

Alternate career: “I know it takes a lot of school, but I would be a vet. I love animals, especially dogs."


MAYARA MAGRI

 The Royal Ballet
Mayara Magri took the 2011 Prix de Lausanne by storm, and not just because of her buoyant, technically pristine Coppélia variation. The lively Brazilian captivated viewers as the star of one of the Prix’s daily video blogs. She went on to a clean sweep in the finals, clinching both the top award and the Audience Prize.

Magri got her start at a Vaganova-based academy in Rio de Janeiro. After a winning streak in South American competitions, she took the Grand Prix at Youth America Grand Prix in 2011. With her Prix de Lausanne scholarship, Magri chose to join The Royal Ballet School and aim for the main company, already home to Brazilian stars Thiago Soares and Roberta Marquez. The language and the different style of training proved a challenge, and Magri worked to acquire what she calls the English school’s sense of “detail.” Nevertheless, the Royal soon offered her a contract.

Small roles are already coming her way, including the chance to understudy a Raymonda variation. As a handmaiden in Apollo, Magri made her few seconds in the spotlight count, jumping for joy alongside Carlos Acosta. With her blend of South American ebullience and pure classical radiance, Magri could well be the Royal’s next ray of sunshine. —Laura Cappelle

Fun Facts

Most embarrassing onstage moment: “I was dancing a contemporary pas de deux in Brazil, and when my partner lifted me, the top of my leotard came off!”
Pre-performance ritual: Praying
Desert-island object: “My iPhone!”


SARA ADAMS
New York City Ballet
Justin Peck’s Year of the Rabbit features a roster of extraordinary New York City Ballet principals: Teresa Reichlen, Ashley Bouder, Joaquin De Luz. But Peck gives the last movement’s best moment to 23-year-old corps member Sara Adams. As the rest of the cast circles Adams at center stage, one of the men throws her into an ecstatic saut de chat that she manages to make scissor-sharp, showing off her eloquent legs and feet. Peck is known for ballets that celebrate the corps, but Adams—thanks to a technique at once lucid and luxuriant—has become a particular muse.   

Adams began studying ballet at 6, enrolled in Boston Ballet School’s training program at 11 and found her “home” when she attended the School of American Ballet’s summer program at 14. “The Balanchine style just felt right on my body,” Adams says. She joined the company as an apprentice in 2008.

While Adams has been dancing featured roles from the get-go, she’s blossomed  in the past two years, thanks in part to Peck’s mentorship. “Justin forces you to put everything you have out there,” she says. “He helps me squeeze every bit of good out of myself.” —Margaret Fuhrer

Fun Facts
Secret talent: “It’s not really a talent, but sometimes I sleepwalk.”
Most embarrassing onstage moment: “I once fell twice in a single performance of Glass Pieces. Every fall is bad, but two in one show? It doesn’t get worse than that.”



ANGELICA GENEROSA

Pacific Northwest Ballet
When Angelica Generosa was 9, she watched New York City Ballet dance Balanchine’s Stars and Stripes and thought: This is it. “It was my first time seeing Balanchine, and I immediately knew I wanted to be onstage doing that,” she says.

Six years later, Generosa was giving a nimble and ebullient performance as Liberty Bell in Stars and Stripes at the School of American Ballet workshop. (She subbed for an injured classmate at the last minute.) It was a fairy-tale moment.

Generosa was not offered an apprenticeship with NYCB, but she caught the eye of Pacific Northwest Ballet artistic director Peter Boal, who hired her in 2011. “I love that I still get to do a lot of Balanchine at PNB,” Generosa says. She’s also earned praise for her performance in Andrew Bartee’s contemporary piece arms that work last fall.

Onstage, Generosa has the same blithe confidence as NYCB virtuoso Tiler Peck. That’s not a coincidence: Like Peck, Generosa participated in New York City Dance Alliance competitions and danced Clara in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. “In those high-pressure situations, you figure out how to get over stage fright,” Generosa says. “You learn fearlessness.” —Margaret Fuhrer

Fun Facts
Secret talent: “I played the piano for six years. I still like to sit down and play in my spare time.”
What she does to relax: “I read books. I’m into mysteries and fantasy novels.”


BRENDAN SAYE
National Ballet of Canada
It’s said the ballet world favors tall men, but according to The National Ballet of Canada’s Brendan Saye, who’s 6' 3", height has its drawbacks: “I’ll tell you, it can be a challenge getting all these limbs under control.”

Neverthless, whether he’s performing angular contemporary work or classical choreography where his elegant bearing bespeaks nobility, Saye, 23, moves with compelling purposefulness. In his second season at NBC, Wayne McGregor cast him in the company premiere of Chroma. The next year, Alexei Ratmansky chose Saye as one of five men (the others all soloists or principals) to dance the lead in his new Romeo and Juliet. And this past fall, Saye was chosen by artistic director Karen Kain to compete for the Erik Bruhn Prize.

A Vancouver native, Saye saw Riverdance at 7 and was eager to take Irish dancing. “But when we went to a dancewear store my mom noticed ballet slippers were much cheaper. Soon I forgot all about the Irish.” He graduated from Canada’s National Ballet School in 2008 and joined NBC as an apprentice. He admits being quite overwhelmed at first. That all changed when McGregor picked him for Chroma. “It gave me just the shot of self-confidence I needed.” —Michael Crabb

Fun Facts

Alternate career: “Right now I can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing than dancing. But if I needed a second career, I might just open a bakery. I love baking.”
Private indulgence: “If I’ve had a really tough day, I might buy a junky cereal full of sugar and pretty much everything that’s bad for me.”


TRACY JONES
Colorado Ballet

Once you get over her stunning legs and feet (it might take a while), Tracy Jones will draw you in with her cashmere-soft movement quality. Her port de bras are so light, her arms appear to lift up on gusts of air. But despite her delicacy onstage, the Irish-born dancer has the resumé of a restless adventurer.

After graduating from the Royal Ballet School in 2007, she joined the English National Ballet. A year later, she moved to Ángel Corella’s Barcelona Ballet and spent her off-time launching her own dancewear company, Tulips by Tracy. This January, she leapt across the Atlantic to take a corps position at Colorado Ballet alongside fiancé Francisco Estevez.

Even as a corps member, Jones has been able to stretch herself: One of her first ballets in Colorado was Stephen Mills’ Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project, a bone-rattling homage to the survivors of great atrocity. “It forces you to go into an emotional situation that I’ve never done before for a role,” she says. Luckily for Jones, she has a way of tackling new demands with her signature grace, making it all look easy. —Kathleen McGuire

Fun Facts
Favorite food: “You might laugh, but I’ve only just discovered sushi since I’ve been here—and I’ve become a little bit obsessed.”
On the side: Her ballet skirt business, Tulips by Tracy.”It’s doing really well.” (Click here to enter to win a Tulips by Tracy skirt!)


SAMANTHA FIGGINS
Complexions Contemporary Ballet

When Samantha Figgins swoops into a Horton-style release swing and then loops back up into an arched renversé, you immediately see her inimitable movement quality. With her stretched limbs, steely core and creamy classicism, she moves effortlessly between jazz and ballet and hip hop.

Figgins studied ballet at Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, DC, then explored modern dance at SUNY Purchase College. “I really embraced the expansion of my movement. It’s about carving the atmosphere around you.”

She joined Complexions Contemporary Ballet after graduation in 2011. “I like that we do everything: jazz, ballet, pointe work, contemporary,” she says. “We can be individuals. It’s a company full of soloists.” She also likes testing just how far her talents could take her. Now 23, Figgins recently filmed a background video for Beyoncé’s tour. Next up? Choreographing. —Joseph Carman

Fun Facts
Alternate career: “I would love to work in animal rescue—go to Thailand to raise elephants.”
Pets she’d like to have: “Either a hermit crab or an ocelot. (Seriously!)”
In her spare time: “I love baking, staying up all night looking at recipes.”


ALYS SHEE
Birmingham Royal Ballet

Alys Shee burst onto the competition circuit seemingly out of nowhere. While her peers were working their way through elite ballet schools, the Canadian powerhouse was tallying up medals at international ballet competitions. Coached by former Canadian star Evelyn Hart, Shee showed off her technical facility and outsized stage presence in Moscow, Cape Town and Helsinki.

Shee began studying ballet seriously as a child at Toronto’s Academy of Ballet and Jazz. She proved to be a prodigy, and ended up with a YouTube following for her triple fouettés. A year at ABT II provided a transition to company life, and at 17, she decided to pursue her dream of working in Europe. She knew of Birmingham Royal Ballet from friends, and after taking class, the company offered her a contract. “It can be easy to get stuck in the corps in a huge company, and I didn’t want that,” she explains. “I was hoping to really dance.”

She wasn’t disappointed, earning soloist roles in Swan Lake, Cinderella and Aladdin in her first season. And Shee has kept up so well with her academics that she is now enrolled in Harvard University’s online degree program, and working toward her bachelor’s in psychology. —Laura Cappelle

Fun Facts
Most embarrassing onstage moment: “I had a quick change into my Diamond solo in Aladdin, and I slipped and fell on my very first step, a double piqué!”
Alternate career: Psychiatry
Favorite dish: Usually pizza, “but it depends on the day.”


CAITLIN PEABODY
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

When Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s Caitlin Peabody stands beside you, her small stature can come as a shock. Onstage, the 5'4" dancer projects an immense presence.  In her first season in 2009, Peabody was cast as one of the two “bomb squad” girls in Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room. The Boston Ballet School–trained newbie held her own alongside the company’s principals, dancing with confident promise. Now in her fourth year, Peabody has become an indispensable member of the company, regularly taking on soloist roles. In March, tickets to PBT’s run of Jorden Morris’ Moulin Rouge—The Ballet were flying out the box office and the company added a show; for the leading lady, Morris selected Peabody, who shone thanks to her bright spirit and easy movement quality. She’s danced principal parts before, including Sugar Plum Fairy and Snow Queen in The Nutcracker. But she’s not above being another flake in the storm. “It never bothers me to continue doing corps roles,” she says. “I’d rather be onstage. I mean, during Nutcracker, if I just had to do the same four parts, I’d die.” —Kathleen McGuire

Fun Facts
Favorite ballet: “Can I have three? In the Upper Room, Romeo and Juliet and Giselle.”
Alternate career: “One day, I would love to move back to New England and become a personal chef.”
If she weren’t dancing she would: “Try to grow dreadlocks. I know it sounds crazy, but I love them!”


KEENAN KAMPA
Mariinsky Ballet
When Keenan Kampa became the first American to join the Mariinsky Ballet last summer, ballet lovers around the world took notice. Within months, the tall, regal corps member was cast as Kitri in Don Quixote, and brought a genuine sweetness to the fiery role. But she found that she’d become something of a controversial figure. 

Kampa’s opportunities have stirred up criticism from classical Russian ballet purists, who have taken to posting videos of her dancing online just to criticize them. Some feel that as an American she has been given preference over Russian corps members. Others insist that, even though she’d trained at the Vaganova Ballet Academy in St. Petersburg, the two years she spent dancing contemporary work at Boston Ballet before joining the Mariinsky corrupted her classical technique. “Sometimes I want to say, ‘I’m just a person! I’m just trying to work hard,’ ” Kampa says. “But I’m learning to block those comments out.”

Despite the challenges, Kampa loves her new life at the Mariinsky, where her coach, Elvira Tarasova, has become her biggest advocate. “It’s definitely been a challenge,” she says. “But I feel like I’m in the right place.” —Ashley Rivers

Fun Facts
Dream role: Juliet
Hobbies: Drawing. “I love to get out with a pad and pencil and sketch buildings or portraits.”
Alternate career: “Driving monster trucks. Just kidding! When my ballet career is over I want to get a degree in sports medicine and nutrition.”

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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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