If American Ballet Theatre represents status, classical purity and, for many budding ballerinas, the standard by which the great companies of the world are measured, then its little sister, American Ballet Theatre II, is a sneak peek at the future. Since the company’s inception in 1995, more than 40 dancers have graduated to careers with ABT—including principals Michele Wiles, David Hallberg and Herman Cornejo.
Today, ABT II is composed of 14 young men and women, all carefully selected (from premium competitions such as the Prix de Lausanne, judicious recommendation and a very few through audition) and assiduously groomed for bright futures for one to two years. “I have the best job in the world,” says Artistic Director Wes Chapman. “I work with some of the most extraordinary talent on the planet.”
Like many second companies, ABT II is a training ground designed to ease the transition into professional life. While dancing a range of classical and contemporary fare, ABT II company members acquire such practical skills as how to pick up repertoire efficiently, how to apply stage makeup and how to care for their bodies on the road. Last season, ABT II traveled extensively through the U.S., had a three-week residency at White Oak Plantation in Florida and toured to Costa Rica, Bermuda, Andorra and Spain. And while they rarely perform with the main company, they do get to take the ABT company class.
The quality of the repertoire and the proficiency of the dancers make them ticket-worthy in their own right. When it comes to nurturing his dancers’ artistic and technical development, Chapman looks for repertoire that is challenging but also suitable for their age. “They are ready to do some of those classic works that are youthful—Flower Festival, Raymonda, Interplay—we did Allegro Brillante last season. But Giselle is not necessarily a 17-year-old’s ballet,” he explains. “They should work on those ballets that are out of their range, but that’s not the focus. We are trying to do things that are appropriate for them so they are set up for success and have a positive, encouraging experience.”
While it may be years before these dancers are ready to offer up their own interpretations of ballet’s more dramatic heroines, it isn’t too soon for them to dream about it. In the following pages, take a peek at ballet’s coming generation.
Kristin Lewis, a former editor at Dance Spirit magazine, is a writer in New York.