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She's back! (Erin Baiano)

Congratulations are in order for Kathryn Morgan! After a long struggle with hypothyroidism, which led to the ballerina's resignation from New York City Ballet in 2012, Morgan is now set to dive back into full-time professional dance as a soloist at Miami City Ballet.

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Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB

As the investigation into claims of sexual harassment by New York City Ballet ballet master in chief Peter Martins remains under wraps, more dancers are speaking publicly on the matter. And while many allegations are decades old, dancers with recent and current ties to the company are becoming more vocal.

Yesterday, Kathryn Morgan—a former NYCB soloist with a hugely popular YouTube channel and an advice column in Dance Spirit—posted a candid video addressing questions she's received about the scandal. Although Morgan left the company in 2012, her post sheds light on the mixed emotions that current NYCB dancers may be feeling right now. "This is an issue that NEEDS to be discussed," she writes in the comments section. "And I appreciate that you all understand I am in no way defending him. I just wanted to give you my honest and true experience with dealing and working with Peter."



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Sarah Lane as Aurora in ABT's Sleeping Beauty. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy ABT.

Lately, it seems like mentorship is having something of a moment: Many pro dancers are coming up with creative ways to give back to the dance community and act as a resource for young students striving to reach the top. Take Kathryn Morgan, who started her own blog and YouTube channel to pull back the curtain on the ballet world, and writes an advice column for Dance Spirit. Or David Hallberg, who's opened up about the challenges of being a young male ballet dancer, and worked to mentor boys at American Ballet Theatre's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School. Or New York City Ballet principal Megan Fairchild, who shares advice in her "Ask Megan!" podcast.

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Ballet dancers are nothing if not enterprising, and Rebecca King is certainly one of the most ambitious. The Miami City Ballet corps member has long been something of a social media maven—she helped coordinate an Instagram campaign for MCB and even started her own social media management company. She's also contributed regularly to her popular blog, Tendus Under a Palm Tree, since 2010. This week, King and fellow MCB corps member Michael Sean Breeden have started a new media venture: podcasting. Their self-produced show, “Conversations on Dance" (available on King's blog and on iTunes), will include discussions on training, technique and choreography, as well as interviews with other professional dancers. This week's timely topic: summer intensives.

King and Breeden join an increasing number of dancers taking to the virtual airwaves, including MCB soloist Lauren Fadeley, whose show, “ReDiscovering the Dream," chronicles her recent career move and new life in Miami. American Ballet Theatre principal James Whiteside, New York City Ballet principal Megan Fairchild and advice guru Kathryn Morgan have also started hosting their own podcasts on Premier Dance Network. So get your headphones ready. Dancers on dancing? Yes, please!

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Kathryn Morgan. Photo by Erin Kestenbaum, Courtesy Morgan.

 

After an illness sidelined her career,Kathryn Morgan transitioned from rising New York City Ballet star to freelancer. Now, the fearless dancer has partnered with outreach organization Ballet in the City to headline her own evening at the Kennedy Center, Mar. 29-30. For Pointe's bi-weekly newsletter, we chatted with Morgan about this special performance.

 

How involved where you in choosing the program?

It was entirely my decision, which was really fun because you don't get to pick what you dance in a company. Obviously the Romeo and Juliet balcony pas de deux is on there--that's my favorite role. The Don Quixote pas de deux--I've never danced it before but always wanted to. And then some excerpts from Who Cares? to pay homage to my time at City Ballet. There's also a new piece by Jesse Carrey, plus excerpts from To Dance: The Musical and a brand-new The Red Shoes, which is a nine-minute solo choreographed by Donald Garverick.

Morgan in Swan Lake. Photo by Alexis Ziemski, Courtesy Ballet in the City.

 

Why is it important for you to be a part of Ballet in the City?

Their mission is to present dancers around the country to bring the message of ballet to anybody. And I love that. Especially with my YouTube channel, I try to open the curtain on the ballet world. I think this organization is doing that.

 

How will you keep your stamina up during such a long program?

For me, it's about breathing. In the dance world, we call it "puffy." Once you get to that point of absolute exhaustion early on, the rest becomes easy. My goal is to be completely worn out by the end of Don Q, which will happen because it's hard. After that, I'll be great for the rest of the evening.

 

What's next for you?

After the Kennedy Center, I have a couple things in the works, but I'm actually going to start looking back into companies. I'm gonna shop around a bit and see what's out there. We'll see what happens!

Wanna meet Kathryn Morgan? Enter our VIP ticket giveaway here!

 

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

Ballet Stars
Morgan in Mobile Ballet's production of Swan Lake. Photo by Jan Johnson, Courtesy Morgan.

Kathryn Morgan was one of New York City Ballet's most promising soloists, until her career was sidelined by hypothyroidism. In 2012, after two years of unexplained energy loss and headaches, and rapidly gaining 40 pounds, she left the company and returned home to Alabama to focus on her health. But she found her way back to ballet on her own terms, starting a popular blog and YouTube channel that over 32,000 subscribers use as a resource. Now, she's dancing again—most recently starring in To Dance, a musical about ballet dancers in Cold War Russia that premiered at FringeNYC; and touring with Ballet in the City, an organization that presents professional ballet performances across the U.S. With more opportunities on the horizon, she spoke with Pointe editor Amy Brandt about calling the shots in her career. —Suzannah Friscia

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Ballet Stars

Admirers of New York City Ballet’s Kathryn Morgan probably asked themselves the same question when the company promoted her to soloist last October: “What took them so long?”

 

Morgan had made an indelible impression two years earlier when she was one of the four dancers sharing the role of Juliet in the two-week premiere run of Ballet Master in Chief Peter Martins’ Romeo + Juliet. This streamlined adaptation of the Prokofiev classic tests its heroine’s technique the moment she enters. In the popular Kenneth MacMillan version, Juliet scampers on and teases The Nurse. Martins’ teenager immediately fires off a grand jeté, and Morgan’s is particularly stunning. It comes out of nowhere to hit 180 degrees with unerring musicality. When Romeo + Juliet returned last May, Juliet was cast with only two dancers: principal Sterling Hyltin and Morgan.

 

In the interim, Morgan’s acting had acquired more expressive authority. “I read the play,” she says. “I saw the Zeffirelli movie, I saw Alessandra Ferri at ABT, but I didn’t stop there. Peter gave us specific counts for picking up the dagger, but you have some leeway in timing. You can grab it, say, or wait till the very last minute to reach for it. I’m always looking for those moments when a new gesture can highlight my character, like a slight pause before I rush down the steps before the balcony scene. Peter hasn’t complained.”


Morgan has rarely received complaints. While a student at the School of American Ballet, she attracted the attention of a particularly astute judge of talent. Christopher Wheeldon, NYCB’s resident choreographer at the time, hesitates to say it was Morgan’s sweetness that caught his eye. “That sounds saccharine and her dancing is anything but,” he says. “Let’s say she had an aura of quiet authority. Equally important, it was coupled with a rare devotion to hard work. I sometimes had to rein in her energy.” 

 

First, Wheeldon cast her in the pas de deux of his Scènes de Ballet for SAB’s 2006 Spring Workshop. Later, after she moved from NYCB apprentice to corps member, he cast her in Carousel (A Dance). Originally, this charming abridgement of the central love story in the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical was a showcase for Alexandra Ansanelli, requiring her to go from Innocence to First Love to Tremulous Ambivalence in a marvel-
ously impassioned pas de deux. Whether Morgan had ever run such a gamut of emotions offstage, she convincingly did so in the course of 20 minutes.

 

For most of the next two years, Morgan remained in the corps, gaining strength and stamina as dewy freshness morphed into sophistication. Although only 5’ 4”, she never disappeared into the corps’ anonymity. Gradually, she danced solos she had watched others perform.

 

After seeing her first Nutcracker while still a toddler, Morgan let her parents know that dance lessons were in order when she emerged from her bedroom wearing one of her dolls’ tutus. She began studying an hour a week. And she found time for seven years of piano lessons. “My mother was always urging me not to spend so much time in my room playing classical records,” she says.“ I’d always say, ‘I want to listen to ballet, Mom.’ ”

 

Morgan never studied with any teacher for long. Her father was a dentist in the U.S. Navy, and the Morgans moved four times before he left the service to practice endodontics (root canal surgery) in Mobile, Alabama. Winthrop Corey, artistic director of Mobile Ballet, became Morgan’s first mentor after she enrolled in the company school. Like everyone who recalls her, he was as impressed by her dedication to work as he was by her natural ability. “You can’t teach what she already had,” Corey says. “You just fine-tune it. Her instincts were like a third eye within herself that sees what needs to be done. Happy as I was for her when she won her scholarship to SAB in 2004, I regretted I’d no longer be working with such a gifted student.”

 

Since she became a New Yorker, Morgan has adjusted rapidly to city life. Initially her mother moved into an apartment with her, but now both parents are only frequent visitors. Her cat Princess has stayed behind in Mobile, though.

 

Sean Lavery, Martins’ assistant and a teacher at SAB, lost no time in working with Morgan once she began her apprenticeship with the company. While a student, she had already earned his highest possible praise: “She reminded me of Suzanne”—Farrell, that is, Balanchine’s ultimate muse—“because she’s very musical, very focused on whatever she does. And fearless.” Ironically, what Lavery offered Morgan was the pas de deux he had made for the balcony scene from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, which would be performed at Saratoga, the company’s summer home.

 

For all his admiration, Lavery wondered if the responsibility of dancing and acting would be too much for an apprentice: “Peter said I should see how rehearsals went. I couldn’t find time to work with Katie in New York, so Igave her a tape and asked her to study it. A week later, she knew the role perfectly.”

 

 

Principals Darci Kistler, Wendy Whelan and Jenifer Ringer have been Morgan’s role models at NYCB. Actresses who influenced her characterizations include Audrey Hepburn and Vivien Leigh. Of course, movie stars look so unshakably cool because they have the luxury of retakes and are never plagued by stage fright onscreen.

 

Morgan, now 21, says she was nervous only once, at a debut in Nutcracker, and just for a moment. What role could she have been dreading? Sugar Plum, with its incessant pointework that can drain a ballerina of all charm? Dewdrop, with its panoply of technical demands? “Marzipan,” she says. The leader of those panpipe-playing shepherdesses in stiff, ungainly skirts who tosses off a couple of gargouillades! (Go ahead and laugh; everybody else does.)

 

Morgan’s eagerly eyeing Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty, which return to NYCB this winter. Although each contains a major pas de deux, she knows a partnership is a collaboration, not a ballerina ego trip. She and fellow corps member David Prottas earned an ovation for their performance of Bournonville’s Flower Festival at Genzano at the farewell performance of principal Nikolaj Hübbe in 2008. Although he had little time to coach them, their sunny openness, buoyant elevation and modest mastery of every deceptively simple detail was the Danish style at its purest.

 

At last June’s Dancer’s Choice program, she and principal Tyler Angle triumphed in the Grand Pas de Deux from Sleeping Beauty. “The first time we rehearsed the fish dive, we nailed it,” Angle says. “Katie’s an ideal partner: She meets you halfway; she’s attuned to the ebb and flow of partnering and she is totally calm.” Whether Morgan is cast as Aurora at NYCB this winter, she is definitely dancing a complete Sleeping Beauty in 2010. With Angle as her Prince Désiré, Winthrop Corey’s prize pupil is triumphantly returning to perform it at Mobile Ballet.

Harris Green writes frequently for Pointe.

As you might have noticed, a new cover girl has taken over our website: New York City Ballet's Kathryn Morgan. Read her story from our February/March 2010 issue here.

Even though she was still a corps member when we started talking about who we wanted to put on the cover of this issue, it was pretty much a unanimous decision by Pointe's editorial team to feature Kathryn. This girl has that intangible "it" factor that is simply magnetic onstage—you can't ignore her, even when she's one of dozens in the corps. Her lyrical, adagio movement is one of a kind in NYCB. And it reveals her sweet, no-nonsense personality. She consistently digs beyond the pure steps to find a deeper character or emotion to convey to the audience.

When I interviewed Kathryn last year for "In These Hands," Pointe's roundup of seven artists who we believed were moving ballet forward, she told me that she hopes to one day become a dancer who has her own unique style and puts her own stamp on the ballet world, like Wendy Whelan or Jenifer Ringer. "It’s more than what they do, but how they do it and how they put their individual take on everything," she said. Now that she's been promoted to soloist, hopefully Kathryn will be given more and more chances to do just that.

Go behind the scenes at our cover shoot here.

The following is guest blog by New York City Ballet soloist (and February/March 2010 cover girl) Kathryn Morgan. Stay tuned for more posts from Kathryn!

 

What a whirlwind week I've had! For the past month and a half, I've been busy rehearsing Peter Martins' new ballet for the New York City Ballet's Architecture of Dance Season, as well as our regular Balanchine/Robbins repertoire. I thought I wasn't going to be performing until May 7--but little did I know that a week before our spring gala, I'd end up replacing an injured Janie Taylor in Benjamin Millepied's new ballet. By the way, I hadn't ever seen a step of the piece! I'm not going to lie--I was slightly panicked! They had been working on this piece for weeks and were just starting to really fine-tune details.

So, a rehearsal was scheduled right away for me, and somehow I managed to learn the entire ballet in two hours. I definitely got a great brain workout that day! Thankfully I still had six days (which is actually an eternity at New York City Ballet) to feel comfortable with the ballet and get it in my body. For the next few days I had private rehearsals with Sean Suozzi, my partner for the piece, followed by complete rehearsals with everyone.

Finally, after many impromptu costume fittings, separate orchestra rehearsals, and lots of notes, the performance went exceedingly well. I am so happy that Benjamin was pleased, and even though I wasn't his original vision, I hope I did the ballet justice.

However, the greatest thing for me was how supportive everyone was through this crazy week. The entire cast was so wonderful helping me remember where to go and what came next. At City Ballet, injuries happen all the time, and there are people constantly getting thrown into ballets at the last minute. One of the great treasures of our company is that we are a little family. The encouragement, support, and respect we all have for each other are what make times like this manageable. I don't know how I would have done this without all of my fellow dancers' help. I received many compliments about how quickly I learned the ballet and how incredible it was that I could perform it so well under the pressure of the time crunch, but honestly, without every single person in that ballet, it never would have happened. So I thank each and every one of them from the bottom of my heart! It's times like this that make me realize how special the New York City Ballet truly is.

The following is guest blog by New York City Ballet soloist (and February/March 2010 cover girl) Kathryn Morgan. Stay tuned for more posts from Kathryn!

 

Tonight I will be debuting in Jerome Robbins' 2 & 3 Part Inventions. He first choreographed it on School of American Ballet students for the annual workshop performance in 1994. (Benjamin Millepied was one of the original boys!) It is a ballet for four couples, and I believe it is about pure classical dance. The women wear white leotards and skirts, and the men are in classic white shirts and blue tights, very much like school uniforms.

While it appears to be basic, effortless ballet, it far from easy! Everything is deceivingly difficult--there is tricky partnering, jumps, turns, and the piece is just downright tiring. In spite of all this, it is such a joy to dance. While there is no story line, we all interact as if we are friends having fun being together. And that's actually true! I am in a great cast of all really close friends--Erica Pereira, Ashley Laracey, Stephanie Zungre, Chase Finlay, Allen Peiffer, Daniel Applebaum, and Joshua Thew--so that part is easy.

The other interesting thing about the ballet is that the music, by J.S. Bach, is for solo piano. So the whole piece feels very intimate. There isn't a huge bellowing orchestra, and there isn't a stage full of people. It is one of those ballets where you seem to forget about the audience and just concentrate on the people with you onstage and the beautiful steps you are dancing.

That is something the ballet masters are always stressing to us in Robbins' ballets: Interact with the people around you and be a real person. One example they are always using is to pretend that it is a beautiful day outside, and you are just out enjoying the sunshine with friends. "Be natural!" and "Easy!" are phrases heard often in rehearsal for a Robbins piece. But I think this is one of the things that make Jerry's ballets so pleasurable. You are urged to just be yourself. It has been a few years since the company has performed 2 & 3 Part Inventions, so I am very happy to be a part of its revival.

The following is guest blog by New York City Ballet soloist (and February/March 2010 cover girl) Kathryn Morgan. Stay tuned for more posts from Kathryn!

 

One of the most important things a dancer has to learn when joining a company is how to self-motivate. You are no longer in a school environment where teachers are constantly pushing, correcting, and guiding you. A dancer must find her own way in learning how to improve her dancing and grow as an artist. This is something every former SAB student deals with once they join the New York City Ballet. Even as apprentice you are still in a school environment, but once you become an official company member, things change. Class is no longer mandatory, you have a very different schedule, and while the ballet masters correct you, they are not there to tweak and sculpt you as a dancer.

It can be frustrating when you make the transition from being the top of the class in school to the bottom of the heap in a company. So, how do you find that inner teacher and become your own personal motivator? Everything starts in class. Every morning, I try to be as clean in class as I can. By that I mean I try to have perfect placement and not cheat on anything. Class is no longer your "performance" as it is when you are in ballet school. It is the place to work on things and build your technique. I find that the neater and cleaner I dance in class, the easier it is for me to rehearse all day long and perform so many different ballets.

Another thing I think is important is to watch yourself dance. The only way to improve is to actually see what you are doing so then you can make it better. At NYCB we have a tape room where we can go and watch the previous night's performances. Our wonderful company photographer Paul Kolnik also shoots almost every night, and so I often go to the press office to look at pictures to correct myself. A lot of people don't like to watch tapes or look at photos because then they will be too critical with themselves and get very upset. This used to be me! However,  once I got past the notion that I had to be perfect every time I was onstage, I was able to go to the tape room and look at pictures and really use them as tools to improve my dancing. I can't tell you how much this has helped me. Actually seeing what I look like when I dance makes me want to work even harder to improve and strive for that unattainable perfection. I know that not everyone has access to videos or photos, but if there is any way you can see yourself dance, please do so!

Finally, when you're dancing in a company it can be hard to find ways to make each performance fresh. Fortunately at NYCB, we have such a vast repertory that we hardly ever get bored. But I must say, when you are in the corps and have to dance every single Nutcracker performance, things can start to get a bit tedious. There is nothing like doing Flowers 46 times to make you appreciate the people on Broadway! But we've found ways to keep things interesting. For instance, the girls that dance Snow come up with a different story every night. They might be bubbles, flakes in a snow globe, different jewels, kids playing in the snow, different Disney Princesses--the list goes on and on. While the steps and the look of the ballet don't change, they are able to have a completely different mindset that keeps it fun and exciting. It might sound silly, but trust me, after about 10 performances of Snow, you are looking for something new and different!

However, there is one thing that we all keep in mind, no matter what ballet we are dancing. There is always someone in the audience who is there for the first time. That someone might be a little girl who would give anything just to be on the stage. So even if it is the millionth time we have danced the ballet, it is our job to give them the performance of a lifetime. If that isn't motivating, I don't know what is!

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