Pacific Northwest Ballet's Seth Orza and Noelani Pantastico in Balanchine's "Stravinsky Violin Concerto." Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB.

The Secrets to a 20-Year Career: How 3 Dancers Maintain Their Technique, Stay Inspired and More

It's rare for a professional ballet career to extend two decades or more. But there are indeed dancers who've been gracing the studio and stage for that long—learning, adapting and growing along the way. Today, Pacific Northwest Ballet's Noelani Pantastico, National Ballet of Canada's Guillaume Côté and Ballet Memphis's Crystal Brothers reveal what physically, artistically and emotionally sustains their careers.


Ballet Memphis' Crystal Brothers in Mark Godden's "Firebird." Basil Childers, Courtesy Ballet Memphis.

What physically helps you sustain your career?

Guillaume Côté: Cross training—I like Gyrotonics, it helps balance and stretch everything out. I also like cardio. And, of course, just good old-fashioned ballet class, though you do have to work harder as you get older.

Crystal Brothers: I have an extensive regime; what worked for me at 19 doesn't work for me at 42. I take a hot bath as soon as I wake up. Then I ice my feet, work out on an exercise bike while I do my makeup, and do Pilates mat and reformer. After that, I take another hot bath. When I get to the studio, I do a full barre on my own before company class.

Noelani Pantastico: What really helped me was joining Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo in Monaco for 7 years. It gave me all of these tools for my toolbox. We would have teachers give class for 2-3 weeks solid. They proposed different options and approaches to technique. I've likewise learned to listen to my body; it tells me something different each day. When my repertoire changes, I change the way I approach company class, adapting it for my needs.

Guillaume Côté in Balanchine's "Apollo." Cylla von Tiedemann, Courtesy NBoC.

What mentally and emotionally helps you sustain your career?

GC: I'm always setting goals and expectations. For instance, I've been preparing the title role in Balanchine's Apollo. When I look at Apollo now, it's about making it new again, the way I'd dance it at 37, not 21. I'm also inspired by the new company members. You know they say: If want your old dog to feel young, you get a new dog.

CB: Teaching helps me. It's humbling, helps me focus on others and obsess less on myself. Another thing is wearing colorful outfits, wearing sparkly things in my hair and wearing lipstick—I like to dress the part of the character I'm working on. I'm also sustained by helping other dancers, laughing at myself, and puppy snuggles—I have two dogs named Miss Whittle and Miss Bella.

NP: I go into the studio every day as a new dancer. There's a parallel between the physical and emotional demands of dance, you feel things out. If I'm feeling overwhelmed, I'll take some time for myself. But I don't think so much think of sustaining a dance career, I think of dance as sustaining me. As a kid, I had a lot of anxiety, and dance saved me.

Noelani Pantastico in Jean-Cristophe Maillot's "Roméo et Juliette. Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB.

How has your technique evolved over time?

GC: The logistics—I've had a major knee surgery and a herniated disc, so I have to work with that. I also feel like I wasted so much energy when I was younger. There are rules you can give 140 percent to, but they won't necessarily resonate with an audience. I now have a better understanding of what reads onstage—things like musicality and being true to the geography and intent of the choreography. It's about finding the right things to emphasize.

CB: I think that it's been about learning to dance in cursive: making it look like music is coming from my body, timing, and connecting an ending to a beginning. I try to "tell the truth" at the barre, which means that even if I'm not in the most perfect line, I'm still working on stability and longevity. I also have an established trust with my company of 23 years and this allows me to take responsibility for my warm-up process. If I need to do two-footed jumps until I feel warm, I will.

NP: I'm blessed to have trained at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet and I continue to rely on that foundation. When I left PNB for Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, I started to make some subtle changes. There is a more pedestrian approach that is vital to Jean-Christophe Maillot's work. A guest teacher there helped me realize how to maximize and manage a fuller range within my work. A lot of things, such as my contemporary work, felt better, but there were things I lost in the mix too, like multiple pirouettes. When I returned to PNB, I worried that I wouldn't be the same technical dancer that I was known to be before. But I've continued to rely on my CPYB training and have it layered with all I'd attained in Monte-Carlo. I'm more confident now that I can access whatever I need for whatever kind of dancing I am asked to do.

Guillaume Côté. Karolina Kuras, Courtesy NBoC.

How has the artistic side of your dancing evolved?

GC: It's evolved a lot. I've choreographed for 15 years and studied music composition at the University of Toronto. I like to see the similarities between music composition and choreography. I now look at ballets from the outside—the architecture, how it all fits together. You can give your best show, but the ballet is a whole, not just one role.

CB: Early in my career people would say things like I'm a "feisty technician." But, there were roles that helped break me open: exploring the light and dark in Swan Lake as Odette/Odile, doing Giselle's mad scene, and portraying the contrasting Wicked Witch and Glinda in The Wizard of Oz. I've also done Juliet twice; the second time was just months after my husband passed away. In experiencing low lows, you also understand that you've experience high highs. You bring your life experiences to the stage, and the colors on your wheel well increase.

NP: At this point, it's the most important part. Jean-Christophe Maillot's Roméo et Juliette, in particular, helped me grow as an artist. Working closely with him helped me see not what I was doing, but what the audience was seeing. The older you get, the more you experience. I like to feel things, so I like to make people feel things too. I love getting to be someone else. I've likewise learned to allow myself to be vulnerable onstage. Being vulnerable is strength.

Crystal Brothers in Mark Godden's "Midsummer Night's Dream." Andrea Zucker, Courtesy Ballet Memphis.

What keeps you inspired?

GC: The constant challenge and being part of something greater than myself. I don't know if we're changing the world, but I like to think we're making it a better place.

CB: One of my favorite things is being able to take pictures with audience members after shows. I love seeing people of all ages mesmerized and inspired by dance. There's a feeling the magic in the air. I've worked hard in ballet, but I've also been presented with amazing opportunities. I believe in magic, I believe in fairies—I have to perform. It's truly a dream come true.

NP: Revisiting roles and rediscovering myself in them, like last year when I got to dance Odette/Odile again after 10 years. I'm also motivated by the young members of the company. Their generation can get a bad rap, but I don't see that at all. They are hardworking and inspiring.

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After 25 Years, Victoria Morgan to Step Down as Cincinnati Ballet's Artistic Director

Last month, Victoria Morgan announced that she will step down as Cincinnati Ballet's artistic director at the conclusion of the 2021-22 season. The organization's board of trustees has formed a committee to conduct a national search for her replacement.

Prior to coming to Cincinnati Ballet in 1997, the Salt Lake City native was a principal dancer with San Francisco Ballet and Ballet West, as well as resident choreographer for the San Francisco Opera. She graduated magna cum laude from University of Utah, where she also earned her MFA, and has judged several international ballet competitions.

Entering her 25th and final season as director, Morgan has accomplished a lot at Cincinnati Ballet, not the least erasing the $800,000 in company debt she inherited at the outset of her tenure. To right the organization's financial ship she had to make tough choices early on—the first task the company's executive committee gave her was to release a third of the company's dancers. In her continuing effort to overhaul how the organization did business, in 2008 she became both the artistic director and CEO and set about building the company's now $14.5 million endowment. For the 2016–17 season, with the arrival of new company president and CEO Scott Altman, Morgan returned to being full-time artistic director and helped lead the realization of the organization's new $31 million home, the Margaret and Michael Valentine Center for Dance.

A champion of female choreographers, Morgan has also choreographed numerous ballets for the company, including world premieres of King Arthur's Camelot and The Nutcracker. She has also helped orchestrate several company collaborations, including 2013's Frampton and Cincinnati Ballet Live and joint productions with BalletMet.

Pointe caught up with Morgan to talk about her recent announcement.

Victoria Morgan is shown from the side standing on stage right, turning to smile at a line of costumed dancers to her left during bows. She wears a patterned green dress with chunky green high heels and holds a red rose in her hand.

Peter Mueller, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet

Why leave Cincinnati Ballet now?

It's been an amazing run and I have seen it all. I am not sure where I would go from here. I also feel there is a required stimulus and infusion of new ideas and energy that always needs to be a part of a growing, evolving and exciting arts organization.

What made you happiest at Cincinnati Ballet?

The people, from the devotion of patrons and donors to learning from and feeling the pride in work from the staff. It has also been so satisfying for me to choreograph on and watch so many dancers evolve in their dance careers and lives.

Were there things you wanted to do for the company that you weren't able to?

There were other collaborations I wanted us to explore and choreographers I wanted us to work with. It takes quite an investment to make those happen.

Your legacy includes actively creating opportunities for female choreographers. What motivated that?

I started realizing, in a profound way, the gender inequities in our art form. Because I was in a leadership position, I thought I could do something about this and try to get to a 50-50 balance of male and female choreographers. It took a little time to find women to step forward, but it happened. Now there are many more prominent female choreographers, including our resident choreographer Jennifer Archibald, and I am proud of that.

If you could handpick your successor, what qualities would you look for?

Somebody creative, charged up, and who can be visionary. Someone who has had a high-level experience in our art form. A leader who is demanding but also kind and supportive, and who opens doors to find new ideas while still embracing Cincinnati Ballet's philosophies.

What do you feel will be one of the biggest challenges for the new artistic director?

The important cause of DEIA (diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility). Whoever steps into that position has to have awareness of the culture of today's conversation.

Do you plan to keep choreographing?

I am not being proactive about it, but if the opportunity presents itself, it would be fun.

What's next?

I feel my next calling is bringing movement to the biggest segment of our population, baby boomers. I want to be part of an initiative that makes moving and wellness enjoyable and enlivens people.

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