Ballet Careers
Nadia Mara (second from left) with Atlanta Ballet patrons. J. Clemmons, Courtesy Atlanta Ballet.

Ballet companies cannot survive without the financial support of their patrons and donors. In addition to underwriting new buildings and world premieres, and contributing to endowments, individual patrons and corporate donors often sit on the company's board. Many even sponsor the salaries of dancers, or support their side projects.

Yet your ballet training does not prepare you for the formal, sometimes awkward socializing you are asked to do with these VIPs at galas, backstage champagne toasts and other events. Atlanta Ballet dancer Nadia Mara remembers feeling uncomfortable at patron events her first year as a professional. "My English wasn't great," says Mara, who grew up in Uruguay, "and I was unsure of what to do, how to act." Yet she found that as she gained more experience speaking with patrons about where she had come from and her interests, the awkwardness melted away. "We have so much in common. We are passionate about the same things: ballet, art, fitness, culture."

Cultivating strong relationships with donors and patrons often means stepping outside your comfort zone. "Our livelihood depends on them," says Sona Kharatian, a dancer with The Washington Ballet. "It is important that we make them feel included and let them know we know they are doing this for the greater good of culture in their city." Read on for some tips on how to initiate conversation and make some new, supportive friends.

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Sona Kharatian. Photo by Theo Kossenas, Courtesy The Washington Ballet

 

Two beloved icons, David Bowie and Queen, are the inspiration behind The Washington Ballet's latest program. As expected, the double bill features a rocking soundtrack, and it will be a spirited send-off to outgoing artistic director Septime Webre. Pointespoke with TWB dancer Sona Kharatian about the company premieres of Trey McIntyre's Mercury Half-Life and Edwaard Liang's Dancing In the Street.

What's Edwaard Liang like in the studio?

Amazing. He's a very sensitive and spiritual person, so he creates this nurturing atmosphere where you feel like you can be vulnerable and explore things without feeling stupid or insecure. And his partnering choreography is incredible.

 

These works are a departure from classical ballet. Do you feed off that or is it a challenge?

We do a little bit of everything at The Washington Ballet. I'm just happy that this is the last big program of the season, so we can really dive in and be grounded because we do use different muscles. Trey's ballet, for example, is very, very athletic. We're basically busting it out for 50 minutes.

 

Tell me about the tap sections in Mercury Half-Life.

We're lucky we have a tapper in the company, Daniel Roberge. It was a nice surprise to see one of my colleagues in a new light. Some of the girls, myself included, do backup dances with him--I'd never tapped in my life! We had a lady come in and teach some of the basic steps. I'm still working on them, but it's fun.

 

Since David Bowie passed away earlier this year, does the piece take on any extra meaning?

What timing. It's unfortunate about his passing, but I'm happy we're doing it. I feel like I will be giving a tribute, and I'm sure other dancers feel the same way. I grew up listening to Bowie and Queen, so it's pretty special.

 

Want to see the show on May 13? Click here to enter our ticket giveaway!

 

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

Ballet Careers

Whenever San Francisco Ballet soloist Elana Altman sees her name on the cast list for Giselle’s Myrta, she knows it’s time to start preparing for the role’s high-flying grand allégro and stamina-testing
jeté sequence. Does that mean she does extra petit allégro in pointe class? No. Altman, like many women ballet dancers who want to build strength and endurance, drops into a men’s class instead. In addition to reaping technical benefits, Altman says she relishes the chance to cover lots of space in the men’s combinations.

 

More and more ballerinas are dancing with the men. Some take men’s class because it provides opportunities to tackle the large-scale movements that normal technique classes generally don’t include. Others find that the unique technical challenges of men’s class—the turns, jumps and beats—make them stronger dancers and performers. And men’s classes can also help prepare them for the ballet world’s increasingly blurred gender lines: Women today are often expected not only to be able to soar in Myrta’s grands jetés, but also to master bravura jumps and turns—in pointe shoes, no less.

 

What dancers like Altman can expect from a men’s class depends on the teacher. Some instructors start to build strength for virtuoso moves early in the class, with more pliés, tendus and beats at the barre. Other men’s classes may differ from a regular ballet class only when they reach the center, by putting a greater emphasis on large leaps that cover space, double turns in the air, multiple pirouettes and batterie.

 

School of American Ballet faculty member (and former New York City Ballet principal) Jock Soto, who is “very glad” to see NYCB ballerinas Ashley Bouder, Abi Stafford, Sara Mearns, Teresa Reichlen and Sterling Hyltin in his men’s classes, says that he particularly emphasizes jumps. “We work a lot on very clean technique in the jumps,” he says. “The girls jump in their class too, but they’re mainly focused on pointework. For the men’s class, we stress how to make each jump look precise.” Bouder in particular has seen this work pay off: Soto says she can now do clean double sauts de basque while wearing pointe shoes.

 

Though many women, like Bouder, keep their pointe shoes on throughout men’s class, others find that trying out the big jumps and turns in flat shoes can ultimately benefit their pointework more. For Altman, the pointe-versus-flat decision “depends on my feet and what I have to do the rest of the day,” she says. “Today, I put on my flat shoes for the last two men’s combinations. I felt more grounded and had more of a connection to jump from. Tomorrow, when I put my pointe shoes back on, I’ll try to remember that feeling and incorporate it into my pointework.”

 

How do the men feel about ballerinas “invading”? “At first, they joked that I had to wear a dance belt to come in!” says Washington Ballet dancer Sona Kharatian, who takes men’s class about once a month. “But now they don’t notice me.” Kharatian appreciates the “different energy” she feels when dancing with the men. “It’s very much about strength and about muscle,” she says, rather than the delicate intricacies of pointework.

 

For some ballerinas, men’s class is actually where they feel most at home. The bravura female dancer, for whom double tours and quadruple pirouettes have a special allure, is a relatively rare but highly visible figure. When Fernando Bujones staged La Bayadère for Mexico’s Ballet de Monterrey in 1997, he glimpsed a then-19- or 20-year-old Katia Garza following along in the back as some of the company’s men rehearsed the alpha-male Solor variation. A few days later, when Bujones came into rehearsal, some of the men egged Garza on: “Katia, show Fernando your variation.” She did, flawlessly: the double assemblé, the pirouettes à la seconde, even the barrel turns ending in a flourish on one knee. Bujones paused for a second. “Oh my God,” he said. “I’m glad I retired.”

 

Today, Garza continues to challenge herself in men’s classes and rehearsals at Orlando Ballet. When a guest choreographer asks for dancers with specialties or tricks, all eyes turn to her. Artistic Director Robert Hill says she can out-dance some of his company’s men. But there can be a downside to dancing with and like the boys, Garza cautions: She has to be very careful not to overdevelop her legs. “I have to work on a lot of stretching so my thighs don’t get too big, because I’m very muscular,” she says.

 

Still, Garza “loves the big jumps and tricks, because they’re so much fun.” This year, her tenth at Orlando Ballet, she’s determined to add a new men’s trick to her repertoire: the 540, a rivoltade resembling a martial arts jump that spins one and a half times in the air. “I’ve seen Carlos Acosta and other big stars make it look so easy,” she says. “This season, I want to learn it.”

Lisa Traiger writes on dance and performance for The Washington Post, among other publications.

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