Ballet Stars
Houston Ballet principal Connor Walsh getting early practice as a leading man. Photo courtesy Connor Walsh

It's that time of year again—recital season! And not so long ago, some of your favorite ballet dancers were having their own recital experiences: dancing, discovering, bowing, laughing, receiving after-show flowers, making memories, and, of course, having their pictures taken! For this week's #TBT, we gathered recital photos—and the stories behind them—from five of our favorite dancers.

Gillian Murphy, American Ballet Theatre

Murphy gets ready for her role as "Mary Had a Little Lamb." Photo courtesy Gillian Murphy.

"This photo was taken by my mom when I was 11, waiting in the dressing room (the band room of West Florence High School in South Carolina) before I went onstage as 'Mary' for a recital piece featuring 3-year-olds as little lambs.I had so much fun being the teacher's assistant in the baby ballet class each week, particularly because my little sister Tessa [pictured below] was one of the 3-year-olds. I remember feeling quite grown up at the time because I was dancing in the older kids' recital piece later in the program, but in this moment I was just looking forward to leading my little lambs onstage in their number."

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Ashley Murphy and Oscar Sanchez in The Washington Ballet's Director's Cut. Photo by Theo Kossenas, Courtesy TWB.

Why did you make the move from Dance Theatre of Harlem to The Washington Ballet?

I had been at DTH for 13 years, and I wanted to see what else was out there. I felt like it was time for me to experience other choreography and a bigger company setting.

Has the change helped you grow as a dancer?

Definitely. At DTH, they knew me and trusted me with a lot of principal roles. Here, I had to work my way back up. I'm more of a performer onstage than in the studio, so it was hard for me to show them what I could do. But the people around me were so encouraging, which helped my confidence. As my first year went on, things got better.

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Natalia Magnicaballi in Swan Lake. Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Ballet Arizona.

At the beginning of your professional career, everything feels like a mystery. If only our older, wiser selves could divulge what mistakes and mentalities to avoid. Here, five seasoned, leading dancers share what they wish they had known at the start of their careers, and offer sage advice for those on the threshold of their professional lives.

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Photographed by Nathan Sayers for Pointe.

This is Pointe's June/July 2014 Cover Story. You can subscribe to the magazine here, or click here to purchase this issue.

Alicia Graf Mack tells the remarkable stories of three stars who have beaten ballet's odds, finding successful careers in the field they love.


Photo by Nathan Sayers for Pointe.

Ashley Murphy

As a young girl in Shreveport, Louisiana, Dance Theatre of Harlem's Ashley Murphy never dreamed of a career in ballet. “I didn't grow up hearing that being a professional dancer was a real job," she says. Ballet was just an extracurricular activity that she enjoyed, along with gymnastics and piano lessons.

Not until she attended summer programs at New York's Joffrey Ballet School, The Ailey School and DTH did Murphy begin to realize her own potential. Though she earned admission to Dillard University in Louisiana, she ultimately followed her heart and accepted a spot with DTH's junior company. Within a year, director Arthur Mitchell, noticing her air of quiet mystery, promoted her to the professional company.

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Since Pointe previewed its June/July cover at a special event last week at Brooklyn’s MoCADA Museum, the internet has been abuzz. The Huffington Post, The Washington Post and Jezebel have all picked it up. Not to boast, but the image says it all: The three cover ballerinas—Dance Theatre of Harlem’s Ashley Murphy, Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet’s Ebony Williams and American Ballet Theatre’s Misty Copeland—face the camera, making it clear by sheer beauty, strength and presence that the time to address ballet’s diversity problem is now. Inside, the dancers speak frankly about how race has intersected with their careers. “To a certain extent, race affects us all,” Murphy told writer Alicia Graf Mack, “whether we are willing to admit it or not.” The issue also takes a close look at what companies are doing to develop and recruit dancers of color, and salutes some of the greatest achievements in diversity—so far—in an exclusive vintage photo essay with rare images from our archives.

 

If you are not a subscriber, click here to pre-order your copy. If you are, the issue mails on May 13, and is well worth the wait.

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