Ballet Careers
Elizabeth Abbick as the Snow Queen in Butler Ballet's "Nutcracker." Photo by Brent Smith, Courtesy Abbick.

Pointe caught up with three college dancers last spring to see what it's like juggling ballet, academics and a social life on campus. First up is Elizabeth Abbick, a student at Jordan College of the Arts, Butler University getting her BFA in dance performance and her BA in mathematics.

Abbick studying in the library. Photo by Jimmy Lafakis for Pointe.

Leawood, Kansas, native Elizabeth Abbick faced some tough choices her senior year of high school. Equally talented in math and ballet, she wanted a professional dance career but also desired to plan her post-performance life. "Butler University had always been on my radar because I knew the faculty was stellar and the students are the best of the best. I realized it could offer me both worlds," she says. Now a senior majoring in dance performance and mathematics, she hopes to work on the business side of the ballet world after her stage career.

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Kyle Froman.

Who doesn't love a good behind-the-scenes video? As part of their new web series, American Doers, People magazine followed New York City Ballet's Amar Ramasar around for a day. For fans of the charismatic and vibrant (not to mention stylish) principal dancer, the video does not disappoint.

We see Ramasar coaching the series host, James Marshall, through a simple combination in the company's Lincoln Center studios; troubleshooting a challenging partnering sequence with fellow principal Sara Mearns in rehearsal; and getting physical therapy to ease the pain that comes with a 13-hour dance day. In these moments, we get an unfiltered glimpse into the daily goings-on of company life.

But the video doesn't only take us through Ramasar's typical schedule—through his words, it also gives insight into the drive and determination that propelled him to where he is today. Ramasar recounts his childhood in the Bronx, where "all the kids on my block wanted to be baseball players, basketball players, rappers...and I wanted to do ballet." He got a late start at age 12, and sometimes lied to friends about his love of dance to avoid being teased. A telling moment comes when he describes a conversation he had with his uncle, at age 15. "I asked my uncle what was the best ballet company in the world, and he told me the New York City Ballet," Ramasar says. "I told him, at that time, 'I'm gonna dance for that company.' "

It's one thing to be captivated by the performers we see onstage, but there's something equally thrilling about getting a sense of who they are in the studio, and the experiences that led them there. Check out the full video below:

For more news on all things ballet, don't miss a single issue.

Photo by Kathryn Rummel for Pointe.

Photographed by Kathryn Rummel for Pointe.

Courtney Henry knew she wanted to dance for Alonzo King LINES Ballet while she was still a student in the Ailey/Fordham BFA Program. “I saw LINES perform at The Joyce Theater, and I was blown away, particularly by the women," she remembers. “They were commanding and strong, even scary in how powerful they were. I was like, 'I want to dance like that.' "

She did a 2009 summer program with LINES in San Francisco, then auditioned in 2011. In Henry, King saw an ideal artist for his contemporary ballet company. A lithe six feet tall, the 27-year-old dancer brings the intense physicality and sky-high extensions that King's abstract choreography requires, but also the musicality and technical mastery that make his ballets so mesmerizing.

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Admit it: You've considered the various ways you could sneak your favorite costume home with you. We don't blame you. Whether it's a jaw-dropping tutu or the world's most comfortable slip, costumes are made to make dancers look and feel beautiful. Here, we've rounded up some of our favorites, that just happen to be street-style ready.

Justin Peck's Entre Chien et Loup, at the Paris Opéra Ballet, featured stunning dresses by couture designer Mary Katrantzou which wouldn't look out of place on the streets of New York City. Peck and Katrantzou also worked together for his Belles Lettres at New York City Ballet—though those sheer, lace covered costumes are probably best left onstage.

Paris Opéra Ballet's Sae Eun Park (photo by Francette Levieux)

The costumes for Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Roméo et Juliette were designed by Jérôme Kaplan and the iridescent dresses are utterly 90s-chic. Throw a choker on with Juliette's party-scene dress and you're ready to step out tonight.

Former Pacific Northwest Ballet principal Carla Körbes (photo by Angela Sterling)

The costumes for Twyla Tharp's In the Upper Room are iconic: Bright red, with black and white stripes (not to mention crisp white sneakers and red pointe shoes). The costumes were designed by another famous name in couture: Norma Kamali. Her costumes for Tharp wouldn't be out of place at an art opening or summertime concert.

(Photo via Miami City Ballet)

The new costumes for NYCB ballet master Peter Martins' Thou Swell were designed by Oscar de la Renta's Peter Copping. The results are spectacularly glamorous, and we can't really think of an occasion that would merit wearing something so fabulous. Maybe the Met Gala?

 

NYCB principals Sara Mearns and Rebecca Krohn (photos by Erin Baiano)

 

NYCB principals Sterling Hyltin and Teresa Reichlen (photos by Erin Baiano)

The costumes for Mark Morris' After You were designed by none other than Isaac Mizrahi. The jumpsuits would be so much fun to wear to an early-summer picnic...or maybe jet-setting around the Mediterranean.

American Ballet Theatre dancers (photo by Rosalie O'Connor)

 

The simple color palate of the costumes for Jiří Kylián's Forgotten Land brings to mind twilight and the approaching end of the year. These flattering dresses, designed by Kylián himself, would fit right in at a winter holiday party.

Pennsylvania Ballet dancers (photo by Alexander Iziliaev)

What are your favorite "street-style" costumes?

For more news on all things ballet, don’t miss a single issue.

 

Jim Lafferty

Two years after joining New York City Ballet in 2010, corps de ballet member Emilie Gerrity's career turned a corner. Choreographer Justin Peck selected her to be among eight dancers in his first ballet for the company, In Creases. “It had a huge impact on me," says Gerrity. “It helped me express myself in a way I was never able to before—to say, This is me, and this is my dancing."

Gerrity, a limpid dancer with enormous eyes, credits her exposure in the ballet with opening other doors. After In Creases, the Upstate New York native made her debut in featured roles in Jerome Robbins' Glass Pieces, Christopher Wheeldon's Soirée Musicale and others—all while continuing to dance her previous parts in the corps. “She's feminine, but at the same time deceivingly strong," says company ballet master Jean-Pierre Frohlich, who rehearsed her in Glass Pieces. “You would never think she could be an allégro technician, but she can. I describe her as a creature—beautiful to watch but not easy to put your finger on."

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When Carlos Acosta sees me backstage, he walks toward me smiling, his arms open wide. We met briefly the night before at a reception, but he embraces me and kisses me on both cheeks like we’re old friends. It’s 11:15 am one morning in mid-March, and he’s warming up onstage, preparing for the 11:30 class. He rose early. After walking the grounds of his host, he had fruit for breakfast and read, enjoying the Texas sun. “It was such a beautiful morning,” he says.

Acosta is in Fort Worth to dance Le Corsaire Pas de Deux with the National Ballet of China’s Zhang Jian at Bass Hall. He’s danced with her before. This time, it’s part of a Texas Ballet Theater mixed-rep program called Stars and Premieres, with a three-performance run. Tomorrow is opening night, and he’s only been in town a few days.

Acosta began dancing at age 9 at the National Ballet School of Cuba. Even before graduating in 1991, he began touring and guesting worldwide. In 1993, he met Ben Stevenson, then–artistic director of Houston Ballet, who currently heads TBT. Stevenson invited Acosta to join Houston Ballet as a principal, and Acosta remained there for five years.

Acosta credits Stevenson for paving the way for his success, including being a principal at The Royal Ballet and American Ballet Theatre, as well as performing all over the world, appearing on British television and in two films, and receiving numerous awards.

With Acosta spending most of his time dancing in London, New York and Paris, it may seem odd that he’d come to Fort Worth to dance one short piece for three nights. Put that question to Acosta and his answer is simple and immediate: “There is something called appreciation,” he says. “I feel very grateful to Ben. He means a lot to me. This is a way to pay him back for what he’s done for me.”

Preparing for class, Acosta stretches alongside the other dancers. He pounds his thighs with his fists and then sits, crossing his legs to rub his feet. Then he stands to stretch his legs on the barre.

His stature is striking; his dark skin and wild, curly hair add to his allure. He’s wholly aware of his surroundings and completely rapt in what he’s doing, sometimes stopping to smile at me between exercises as I sit on the apron of the stage; other times he’s lost in the combinations.

By 12:10 pm, the class moves on to center work. Acosta loosens his spine, collapsing backward over a barre in the wings, chatting with the dancers. He returns to the stage with his group—turning, leaping, soaring through the space. In each combination, his speed, accuracy and technical skills are as grand as during any performance.

Class lasts only an hour, and because he’s not due back for the tech rehearsal until after 3, he suggests we grab lunch. “Something light, of course. Maybe a salad,” he says. We walk to a restaurant and get a table outside.

Latin music plays, and Acosta dances in his chair. “We could dance Corsaire to this,” he jokes. We talk about his career, about how people recognize him in New York, about his buying a home in London. “The realtor knew more about me than me,” he says. “There were lots of bids on the house, but I got it because the owner’s wife is a ballet fan.” He shakes his head, laughing.

The conversation turns to his age, and he grins. “I’m 34. I’m a dinosaur.”

“How could you possibly say that?” I ask.

“You should have seen me this morning, limping and shuffling to the bathroom,” he teases. “I’m becoming a fossil. I don’t know how much longer I can do all these shows and tours.”

Acosta muses about wanting a family of his own one day, of how much he is enjoying this time in his career, of how he values all that he has. “I have freedom. And freedom is the most precious thing.”

As for his future plans, he says he’s already writing his autobiography. After that? “It all depends, because I want to enjoy my children,” he says, speaking of the ones he hopes to have one day. “I know I can do many things. I don’t see myself in a ballet classroom teaching.”

He talks about Cuba. His voice full of love and respect—for the country and its people. “In Cuba, it’s all about human contact. Here, it’s all computers, no connection. In [London], I don’t even know my neighbors, and I’ve been there five years. If we don’t pay attention, we’re all going to be robots,” he says. “In the end, that’s what life should be all about—sharing experiences.”

Growing up in the barrio and leaving school at an early age provided Acosta with little formal education. His father enrolled him in ballet school to keep him out of trouble. “I started reading because I wanted to tell my story,” he says. “I wasn’t very good at school. I got kicked out, and I regret it. I didn’t know anything about anything. Someone once said, ‘You can’t be a doctor if you only know medicine.’ Same applies. I feel more free knowing about more than just ballet.”

At 3:20, after spending only a few moments warming up in the wings, Acosta’s onstage for the tech rehearsal. It’s primarily for lights, cues and staging, so Acosta and Zhang mark much of the choreography—a relief, as an ongoing injury in his foot and ankle are hurting him badly.

He’s not due onstage again until after 8 pm for the evening’s dress rehearsal. He heads to his dressing room to ice his injury. He then heads for his host’s home to read and nap. His focus onstage demands time for meditation off of it.

It’s an odd day for Acosta, filled more with waiting than dancing. The one piece he’s performing is only nine minutes long, but Acosta doesn’t appear to mind. He seems happy for the ease with which the day is unfolding.

At 7:25, Acosta is in costume backstage, warming up at the barre. Thirty minutes later, he returns to his dressing room for one final look in the mirror. He details Corsaire for me, explaining the plot and his role as slave. He acts out the scene, gesturing with graceful bows and sweeping arms. His eyes are pleading, and his movements are as dramatic as any stage performance.

He returns to the wings at 8:12. Minutes later he’s onstage, dancing full out at this dress rehearsal for the next three nights’ performances. His colleagues in the wings stop to watch. Their faces register awe. The audience for the rehearsal is small, just company members and press photographers, but Acosta’s performance draws cheers and applause that belie the tiny number of occupied seats.

What seems like an instant later, Acosta is rehearsing his bows. He stops to mark a few steps onstage and speaks to the pianist about the tempo of the piece. Then he dashes into his dressing room to gather his things. Second later he slips out, kisses me on both checks, and says, “I’ll see you tomorrow.” 

Twenty-four hours later, after watching his opening-night performance, I can see the sheer joy on his face. As I hear the audience clap and cheer and watch everyone rise to their feet, I can’t help but remember something Acosta said about the passing of Ibrahim Ferrer, a musician he greatly loved and admired: “When you live in someone else’s heart, that’s the best way to live.”

Jenny Block writes for a variety of regional and national publications. Her latest work appears in the new anthology It’s a Girl: Women Writers on Raising Daughters.

My name is Amanda Schull. I am a fifth-year corps member with the San Francisco Ballet. During my time with the company I have been lucky enough to travel on tour to several different countries. This past September, SFB stopped in Athens, Greece, before heading to the Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London, England.

This tour was one of the most intense I had experienced with the company. By the time we got to London we had already been on tour for 10 days, and the schedule planned was daunting. We opened three different programs in three days, a total of 11 ballets. I knew our seven shows would be memorable so I documented the experience in a diary. 

Wednesday, September 15
The company arrived in London today. Arriving and checking in is always hectic on tour. We got to our hotel tonight at about 11:30 pm and all 51 of us scrambled to get our luggage from beneath the bus and then made a mad dash to the hotel lobby for our room keys. Adding the element of hunger to the mix, we were a lobby full of cranky dancers. 

Room service was closed, so we wandered the streets in search of sustenance. A group of us found a small Middle Eastern take-out place and wolfed down our falafels before going to bed, because tomorrow morning we start work. 

Saturday, September 18
We can’t get into the Sadler’s Wells Theatre until the day of the first show, so Saturday and Sunday we rehearse in the Royal Opera House. This morning, The Royal Ballet took class in the studio next to us. Their class started after ours, but once we realized they were next door, a bunch of us crammed in front of the viewing window and ogled their class. Sylvie Guillem stood in the corner. I think she is the only female dancer I know that men marvel at just as open-mouthed as women do. It’s crazy to see our principals so starstruck over another dancer. I wonder if any of The Royal Ballet dancers feel that way about us. 

I think one of the most interesting parts of touring is using other companies’ workspaces. Getting to see other professional dancers in class and rehearsal is both educational and relieving. No one looks perfect in class (except maybe Sylvie), and knowing that this is true for other professionals puts many minds at ease. 

Today and tomorrow are long workdays. Because our rep is so ambitious for this tour, SFB flew in our company chiropractor. We also have our physical therapist and massage therapist with us, so what little downtime we have is often spent on body management. I know it sounds like we’re spoiled, but the physical demands are great and it’s hard to take care of injuries while on tour. We don’t have the regular comforts of home, and we spend a lot of time lugging our bags everywhere, so we’re all thankful for the extra therapy.

Monday, September 20
Program 1: Square Dance, Continuum and Le Carnaval des Animaux

Tonight was opening night at Sadler’s Wells. We had class at 11:15, then dress rehearsal from 1:30 to 4:30. I was in Square Dance. After the dress, we got our notes onstage. The artistic staff seemed a little anxious. Opening night in a city as culturally aware as London means we need to be at our best. 

Then Helgi [Tomasson, SFB artistic director] gave us an inspirational “just go out there and dance!” talk. It’s relieving to hear that he is aware of our stress level. By the time you get to opening night, if you don’t already have the technique, it isn’t going to happen in the next couple of hours. 

Dress finished at 4:30 and there was just enough time to grab a snack, collect our thoughts and do it all over again for the 7:30 curtain.

Backstage, our crew sets up small tables with everything we could possibly need for the performance, including emergency sewing items (needles and thread of all colors), safety pins, Band-Aids, Neosporin, Advil, colored markers for costume camouflage, tissues, hairpins, hairspray, toe tape and a box of rosin.

Before each show, the girls usually congregate around the rosin box and discuss the upcoming ballet while we put on our shoes. Tonight we discussed our collective nervousness. Balanchine’s Square Dance is one of the most demanding ballets—both physically and technically—any of us has ever performed. The guys seemed calmer. I don’t know if they really were or if they just wanted to appear macho. 

Throughout the ballet, my partner, Garrett Anderson, talked to me onstage. He knows I like the verbal encouragement. It seems silly, but it really helps to have someone cheering you on when you feel you are reaching your physical limit. 

Whenever possible, I try to connect with the other dancers onstage. We are each other’s support system, especially when we are away from home. Tonight when I looked at my fellow dancers, I was humbled. Everyone looked great, especially Tina LeBlanc; she danced like she had lightning bolts shooting through her feet. 

We hit our final pose and the audience roared on the blackout. Square Dance is so technical that it sometimes doesn’t come across to an audience unless they understand ballet. This audience did. Whenever I question why I do what I do, I am reminded when I bow. Perhaps it is the validation or the confirmation that all we put ourselves through is appreciated. Today we put ourselves through a lot.

Back in the dressing room, the corps girls spent at least 15 minutes dissecting the ballet from top to bottom. We broke down each little section and imitated ourselves doing every step, each one of us exaggerating our flaws more than the last. After exerting so much energy I think we all needed a little comic relief. 

After the performance, one of our principals and resident choreographer, Yuri Possokhov, asked me if Square Dance was “hard.” What? Hard? That doesn’t even encompass it. He said we all looked so calm and controlled. That is a huge compliment, considering we all felt as though we were going to die of exhaustion. 
There was a reception in the theater lobby after the performance. Everyone there was very complimentary about the show, but the party didn’t last very long. We have to do it all again tomorrow. 

Tuesday, September 21
Program 2: Ballo Della Regina, Concerto Grosso, Study in Motion and The Four Temperaments

Like yesterday, class was followed by dress rehearsal onstage. I misjudged the amount of time I had to get ready for Balanchine’s Ballo Della Regina and ended up doing rehearsal pretty cold—not good for a jumping variation.

Because of that, I was disappointed with how my rehearsal went. After Ballo, a couple of the corps girls who had been watching from out front complimented me. It’s funny how much a peer’s praise can lift your spirits when you need it. 

I returned the favor by watching The Four Temperaments (also choreographed by Balanchine) from the house. When I went onstage afterward, everyone was hungry for corrections and advice, especially the girls. Sometimes on tour, the little things get overlooked because of time constraints, and we often rely on each other for feedback.

Wednesday, September 22
Program 3; Allegro Brillante, Paquita Pas de Trois, 7 for Eight, and Rush 

I feel like I’m living in the movie Groundhog Day. Again we had class, dress rehearsal and then the performance. I danced in Christopher Wheeldon’s Rush . During class, Tina LeBlanc slipped and twisted her ankle. She dances so much on this tour, she is the last person we need going down. She performed through the pain, but after the show she was pretty uncomfortable. 

Tomorrow we repeat Program 1 again. No more dress rehearsals!

Saturday, September 25
We’re done! The final stretch was pretty rough, but surprisingly, for a tour this intense, there were very few incidents. 

Tina ended up having to take off a show because of her ankle, so Vanessa Zahorian stepped in for her in Square Dance. She and her partner, Guennadi Nedviguine, hadn’t even touched each other since last season, six months ago. She had one rehearsal the day of her performance, but she remembered all of the choreography and nailed the show.

I think everyone is ready to go home. Before the performance tonight I saw three of the moms in the company, Katita Waldo, Kristin Long and Tina LeBlanc, do a huddle and cheer, “We’re almost there! Tomorrow we get to see our babies!”

It made me realize how much these women sacrifice for their work.

After we finished, Helgi bowed onstage with us. When the curtain came down, he gave us a little “congratulations” speech.  He was really pleased with our tour, which of course made all of us happy.
After the show a group of us went out for a “tour-well-done” dinner and toasted ourselves—how egotistical—but we deserved it. It was finally time for vacation!


Amanda Schull is a member of the San Francisco Ballet corps de ballet.

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