Ballet Stars
Boston Ballet principal Derek Dunn at age 12 in a variation from Flames of Paris at the 2008 YAGP finals. Courtesy YAGP.

The Youth America Grand Prix New York Finals are starting up again this week, running April 12-19. This year, YAGP is celebrating its 20th anniversary. April 18-19 marks the competition's annual Stars of Today Meet the Stars of Tomorrow gala, featuring 13 pros who are also YAGP alumni. We've rounded up photos and videos from those stars' YAGP years and shared them with you here.

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New York City Ballet soloist Claire Kretzschmar as the Sugarplum Fairy in Balanchine's "The Nutcracker." Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.

What bunhead hasn't dreamed of dancing Clara in Nutcracker? But with so many young dancers aspiring to the role, casting disappointments are inevitable each year. Today, three professionals share their childhood Clara casting disappointments and what helped them move on and learn from the experience. We hope their stories will encourage you this Nutcracker season!

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Katherine Williams as Myrtha. Photo by Quinn Wharton for Pointe.

With a large exhale, Katherine Williams steps into a series of arabesque chugs, as if the force of her breath is propelling her forward. "Big step out, big," coaxes ballet mistress Irina Kolpakova, watching from the front of a small studio at American Ballet Theatre in May. It's a big step indeed for Williams—after 10 years in the corps de ballet, the 29-year-old is preparing for her debut as Myrtha in ABT's production of Giselle, her very first principal role. One month after the premiere, Williams was promoted to soloist.

"Myrtha is the hardest thing I've ever done," Williams admits. "By the end you feel like you're going to throw up. I was using my breath as much as I could to help me get through it."

While Williams is tall and a natural jumper, she was surprised when artistic director Kevin McKenzie cast her in such a fierce and powerful role. "Generally they give me the happy peasant girl, something softer," she says. "I think it was a leap of faith for Kevin to allow me to embrace a totally different side of myself."

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Patricia Delgado in Pam Tanowitz's "Solo for Patricia 2017." Photo by Erin Baiano, Courtesy Vail Dance Festival.

Wonder what's going on in ballet this week? We've pulled together some highlights.


Vail Dance Fest Enters Its Second Week

With half a month devoted to creating new art in the midst of stunning nature, Vail Dance Festival seems a dancer's paradise. Last week marked American Ballet Theatre's festival debut. The second week of performances, starting July 30, brings even more amazing ballet, with dancers and choreographers presenting a slew of new collaborations and premieres. Get the scoop on each program below.

Alonzo King LINES Ballet Takes the Vail Stage

July 30-31, Alonzo King LINES Ballet presents two different programs. The first performance, is a free, family-friendly event held in the Avon Performance Pavilion. The second, held at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, presents two works by King: Sand, a piece from 2016 set to jazz music, and Biophony, an exploration of the Earth's diverse ecosystems.

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Katherine Williams has been promoted to soloist. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy ABT.

It's that time of year: American Ballet Theatre has just announced promotions, and they're as exciting as ever.

This season, it's all about the ladies: corps de ballet members Zhong-Jing Fang, Catherine Hurlin and Katherine Williams have been promoted to soloist, effective September 1.

Though none of these choices are surprises per se, it's nice to see artistic director Kevin McKenzie acknowledge the hard work of two longtime dancers. Fang has been a striking member of the corps since 2004, known for tackling steps with daredevil abandon and for her humorous side. Williams' bright, reliable presence has lit up the ABT stage since 2008, and her recent debut as Myrtha proved she has the emotional range for roles far beyond the ingénue.

From left: Zang (photo by Jade Young), Williams (photo by Alex DiMattia), Hurlin (photo by Jade Young)

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Ballet Stars

When American Ballet Theatre offered Katherine Williams a place in its corps, she had no idea how big a transition lay ahead.


Williams’ long line, liquid-smooth control and elegant port de bras had helped her advance quickly from student at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School to ABT II member and, finally, into the company itself. But as many young professionals discover, the transition to company life can be jarring. “Being onstage is nothing like dancing in the studio,” says Williams, who quickly realized that 180-degree turnout isn’t enough to tug heartstrings in the audience. She had worked so hard to become technically polished that she found herself struggling to really move onstage.


Then came Paul Taylor’s Company B last fall. Williams discovered her sense of freedom as she jitterbugged out of the wings of New York City Center—and shocked everyone watching. “This little waif of a thing really slammed it right down to the ground!” says Patrick Corbin, a former Paul Taylor Dance Company member who staged the piece for ABT. “Younger dancers are usually afraid to take risks, but Katie took to it like a duck to water. She just dove into the jazzy idiom.”


Barely a year into her career with the company, 19-year-old Williams is quickly learning to use her rock-solid technical foundation to deliver daring, dynamic performances. Corbin says, “Your eyes go straight to her onstage.”


Williams followed her two sisters to ballet class at age 6. When the family moved from Hawaii to Maryland, her sisters quit, but Williams enrolled at the Ballet Royale Academy and began competing at Youth America Grand Prix. “It was an opportunity like no other to get my name out there and learn what other dancers my age were doing,” says Williams. In 2003, she won the Youth Grand Prix. Two years later, she placed in the top 12 of the senior division and was offered a spot at JKO.


Although she’s blessed with a body perfectly proportioned for ballet (long legs, a willowy silhouette), it’s Williams’ temperament that has been the not-so-secret ingredient of her success. “Katie is one of the most professional workers I’ve ever met by far,” says ABT ballet mistress Susan Jones. Along with being a quick learner, Jones says Williams also applies every personal and general correction, always working at her fullest. “What more could a ballet mistress ask!”


However, Williams has begun letting go of some of that perfectionism when she steps onstage. “In the corps, you have to always stay in line, but I catch myself holding back too much in order to be ‘correct’,” she says. “I want to show my true self in my dancing. I love those moments when you finally let go and feel like you’re flying with the wind blowing through your hair.” She looks up to dancers like ABT principal Gillian Murphy, who’ve found a way to develop their artistry without compromising technique.


Given her magnetic presence and hunger to improve, it’s easy to predict that Williams has a promising future. “She has definitely lost some of the schoolgirl look she had from the start,” says Jones. “I see her improving with each season. Anything is possible when you have all the extraordinary talents that Katie has.”

Jennifer Stahl is
Pointe’s senior editor.

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