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Photo: Patrick Frenette.

SideBarre

It takes more than pliés to lift a ballet company to great heights. From dancers to conductors, teachers to makeup artists, this series features fascinating insight from ABT experts and an intimate look inside America’s National Ballet Company®. Take a spot at the SideBarre to get to know the incredible people behind each bourrée of American Ballet Theatre.

SunMi Park and Tristan Brosnan in Jessica Lang's Children's Songs Dance. Photo: Erin Baiano.
Posted In
Ballet Bubbles
June 28, 2021
ABT Studio Company Spring Festival on YouTube features a special work by Jessica Lang, created in collaboration with the legendary jazz musician Chick Corea.

"My creative process with Chick was magical."

When Chick Corea viewed a rehearsal video of Children’s Songs Dance for the first time, he said “It’s drop-dead gorgeous and so aesthetically pleasing…controlling the body with such beauty and grace is the highest form of anything in the physical universe.”

The ballet is the product of a powerful collaboration between the late composer Corea and choreographer Jessica Lang created for ABT Studio Company, in celebration of Lang’s 20 years choreographing for ABT. Lang and Corea shared a love for music and movement that made Children’s Songs Dance a very intimate and beloved project.

As Lang says, “My creative process with Chick was magical.” While set to premiere in spring of 2020, the debut of Children’s Songs Dance was delayed while life stuttered around it.

“It’s drop-dead gorgeous and so aesthetically pleasing…controlling the body with such beauty and grace is the highest form of anything in the physical universe.”

In February of 2021, Corea unexpectedly passed away from a rare cancer. This unfortunate turn of events, paired with a pandemic that delayed all performances, brought a newfound weight to Children’s Songs Dance. The magical collaboration would now celebrate and honor the musical talents of Corea, awaiting 16 months before its global premiere.

According to Lang, “The ballet draws its inspiration from the transition in life between being a child and becoming an adult, with the goal of never losing the spirit of play.”

Children’s Songs Dance finds a balance between playfulness and maturity through movement, costuming, and brilliant musicality set to selections from Corea’s work Children’s Songs. Corea himself was an artist determined to celebrate the playful spirit even as life’s challenges age us. This passion was fueled by Corea’s exploration of jazz and classical music, finding a balance between the traditional and the youthful. At a vulnerable time of losing Corea and living amidst a global crisis, Children’s Songs Dance would take its audiences to the forgotten place of optimism.

Chick Corea was surrounded by jazz music at an early age, quickly drawing inspiration from his father who played trumpet and led a jazz band in Boston. His love for music and piano brought him to New York City, and through his exploration and experimentation, he continued to follow in his father’s footsteps. From his band, Return to Forever, to his own independent endeavors, Corea’s musical creations touched millions and earned him 25 Grammys and 67 nominations.

“The ballet draws its inspiration from the transition in life between being a child and becoming an adult, with the goal of never losing the spirit of play.”

In one of his final collaborations, Corea was able to work with Lang, a seasoned ballet choreographer with over 100 original works for companies worldwide. The ballet was given its digital World Premiere on June 3, 2021 as part of ABT Studio Company Spring Festival.

Seven young dancers took to the stage, honoring Corea’s legacy and celebrating his passion for music. Their performance was filmed at Kaatsbaan Cultural Park in Tivoli, NY, following several weeks of intense “bubble” rehearsals at Kaatsbaan and Silver Bay YMCA on the shore of Lake George. The dancers of ABT Studio Company, all under 22, recognized and connected with the intent of the piece as they too transition into adulthood. Their movement seemed to echo the curiosity and energy that Corea’s music intended to produce.

In a 17-minute piece, Tristan Brosnan, Cy Doherty, Tillie Glatz, Elwince Magbitang, Andrew Robare, SunMi Park, and Yoon Jung Seo executed the vision set by Lang and Corea only a short time ago.

From the moments of unison recognizing each changing note in Corea’s composition, to a meaningful pas de deux sharing moments of struggle emphasized by piano, Children’s Songs Dance captures all that Corea and Lang hoped to achieve through their collaboration. Sadly, we lost this musical legend, but Corea’s brilliant music and powerful spirit remain alive and honored through the joy of dance.

Grace Robinson, Press Intern for Summer of 2021

June 21, 2021
Dancer Diary: Leah Baylin in Green Mountain Falls, CO: Sunday, June 20, 2021

"Dancing outside, especially in these Colorado mountains I know so well, is a special experience that I’ll never forget."

By Leah Baylin

The unanimous opinion as we entered week three in Colorado was, “How has this bubble flown by so quickly?” By the end of this week, we’d be on stage for the first time. It seemed as though we’d spent months together in Green Mountain Falls but it had also flown by so quickly. That’s what happens when you’re having fun, right? We were all working so hard but having such an amazing time.

Just like in previous weeks, we started our mornings sipping coffee and eating breakfast while we laughed and talked. Then one by one we’d trickle over to the studio down the road and begin warming up for the day ahead. During this pod I have had some of the best and most rewarding rehearsal experiences. Working with Silas Farley, as well as his wife Cassia, has been an incredibly fulfilling process. Not only is the choreography a blast to dance, but he also brings such a wonderful energy to the room and is continually reminding us of how much he appreciates us and our individual work – something a dancer doesn’t always hear.

Along with rehearsing for Collage & Creed, Silas Farley’s new 32-minute ballet, Patrick Frenette and I continued to rehearse and dive into White Swan Pas de Deux. This beautiful pas de deux is something that has always intrigued me. Working on it with Director of Repertoire Carlos Lopez and former ABT dancer Valerie Madonia has been incredible. They encourage Patrick and I to create our own interpretation of the movement while also imparting on us endless knowledge from their own past experiences of dancing, watching, and coaching White Swan Pas. I couldn’t be more thankful for the amazing team guiding us through this bubble.

On our day off, a few of us, guided by corps dancer and chef Luigi Crispino yet again, cooked up an Italian dinner for everyone. The menu included Luigi grandmother’s lasagna, butternut squash risotto, a salad, and tiramisu. Our stomachs were all quite happy as we sat outside around the firepit enjoying the feast as the sun went down.

Although most of our time was consumed in rehearsals (since opening day is approaching fast!) we did find some time to return to our favorite local spot – The Blue Moose Tavern. As we sat and ate on plush couches near a woodburning fire we were serenaded by live country music and the buzz of the busy Colorado tavern.

The last day of rehearsals for this third week was spent on stage – for the first time. This beautiful outdoor stage was surrounded by aspen and pine trees as well as beautiful flowers. We spaced and tried out each part of the ballet and as we all assumed our final pose for the ballet a massive gust of wind swept the last notes of the music off into the distance. Dancing outside, especially in these Colorado mountains I know so well, is a special experience that I’ll never forget.

-Leah Baylin, apprentice

June 21, 2021
Dancer Diary: Claire Davison in Green Mountain Falls, CO | Sunday, June 20, 2021

"I feel the most at home in these mountains or on a stage, so the combination is really sweet and something I know I will cherish forever. "

By Claire Davison

This week flew by. With shows around the corner, we were deep in rehearsal mode. On Friday we finished Silas’s half-hour ballet. It’s been wonderful learning and working through so much material again. Flexing that specific muscle is something I really missed during the pandemic.

Another highlight for me has been taking Company ballet class from some of my peers. Javier Rivet and Patrick Frenette each taught great morning classes. I love watching my colleagues take on new roles and look forward to taking more of their classes in the future.

On Saturday we had our first experience on the outdoor stage. Looking out to the mountains and aspen trees while dancing is breathtaking. I feel the most at home in these mountains or on a stage, so the combination is really sweet and something I know I will cherish forever. I can’t wait to perform on that stage next week.

The week ended at the Blue Moose Tavern for many of us. There was live music, making it a very popular spot, but we didn’t mind the wait.

Now we have Sunday off to recuperate before an exciting week of tech rehearsals and performances!

-Claire Davison, corps de ballet

June 15, 2021
Dancer Diary: Leah Baylin in Green Mountain Falls, CO | Sunday, June 13, 2021

"Our first day of rehearsals was like a breath of fresh air as we began putting together steps and phrases with Silas Farley."

By Leah Baylin

Last Tuesday was a day we had all been excitedly waiting for. Rehearsing and learning new choreography – essentially our daily life – is something I’ll never take for granted again. I have missed this process so much during the pandemic.

Our first day of rehearsals was like a breath of fresh air as we began putting together steps and phrases with Silas Farley – the choreographer of the piece we’ll be performing at Green Box. We started the first rehearsal by sitting and having a “family chat,” as Silas and his wife Cassia explained the motivation and intention for the ballet we were beginning. We were all happily exhausted after learning and attempting several new phrases of choreography.

On day two of rehearsals, Patrick Frenette and I began rehearsing White Swan Pas de Deux. This beautiful pas has always intrigued me. The purity and emotion of the choreography and music together create such a serene moment in time. Getting to dive into the pas and rehearse all the details has been such a special process.

Although most of our time last week was spent in our makeshift studio at the Sally Bush Community Center, we did a have a bit of time to explore some nearby trails and local restaurants. A few of us took a hike up to the top of the Castle Rock trail where we had stunning views looking down on Green Mountain Falls. Later in the week we decided to venture down the street to a little restaurant called the Blue Moose Tavern – it truly was a classic small-town Colorado tavern and an experience for us all.

After an exhausting but fulfilling first week, we took the weekend to rest up and then get back to rehearsing again. We’ve decided that Silas’s choreography is so fun to dance, you just don’t realize you’re tired until rehearsal is over. For now, though, we’re sitting around the campfire roasting marshmallows while talking and laughing.

-Leah Baylin, apprentice

June 15, 2021
Dancer Diary: Claire Davison in Green Mountain Falls, CO | Saturday, June 12, 2021

"It takes time for a choreographer’s style to settle into the dancer’s body, and by the end of the week, we were all sore and tired. Despite that, we had some good times outside the studio."

By Claire Davison

Hiking in Green Mountain Falls, CO. Photo courtesy Claire Davison.
Hiking in Green Mountain Falls, CO. Photo courtesy Claire Davison.

This week was the first week of creating with choreographer Silas Farley. I first met Silas at the Pacific Northwest Ballet summer course in 2009 (!) and it’s been wonderful sharing a studio again with him and his wife, Cassia, who is assisting with rehearsals.

On the first day, he gathered us to debrief before beginning. I appreciate when choreographers have the time to do that, especially when we’re in an intimate setting such as this. He told us about his process and intentions for the piece and grounded us before we started world-building.

It’s exciting as a dancer to hear the inner workings of a choreographer’s mind. It gives us meaning within the larger picture and hooks our attention immediately. The pieces themselves are wonderful to dance. Very musical and exciting, with nods to many great choreographers. I look forward to continuing with Silas next week.

With this being the first week of learning, we were exhausted in the evenings. It takes time for a choreographer’s style to settle into the dancer’s body, and by the end of the week, we were all sore and tired. Despite that, we still had some good times outside the studio.

The Colorado
The Colorado "ballet bubble" crew! Photo courtesy Claire Davison.

A highlight for me was hiking up behind the Lodge again and exploring more trails. I love these mountains and the weather has been especially beautiful.

Another highlight was exploring some of our local eateries and watering holes. The stretch of town down from the Lodge has a delicious breakfast place called The Pantry. The back garden is immense and apparently very popular on the weekends. We tried their famous cinnamon rolls while being serenaded by live music (a guy on his guitar, wearing a cowboy hat, naturally).

Right next to The Pantry is The Blue Moose Tavern. With pool tables and well-loved leather couches surrounded by funky lighting fixtures and posters, it is the epitome of a small-town Colorado bar. We will be back.

Now we have a few days to recuperate and put our feet up before continuing on with Silas. I’m excited to see what’s in store…

-Claire Davison, corps de ballet

June 7, 2021
Dancer Diary: Leah Baylin in Green Mountain Falls, CO | Sunday, June 6, 2021

"This time felt extra special as I’d get to be in my home state of Colorado."

By Leah Baylin

This being my third time taking part in a “ballet bubble” residency with ABT, I wasn’t a stranger to the feeling of anticipation and excitement of seeing my friends and colleagues again, many of whom I hadn’t seen in over a year. This time felt extra special as I’d get to be in my home state of Colorado.

Our first week in Green Mountain Falls was a blast. Most days started by eating breakfast together in the Lodge and ended by sitting around the fire pit, talking and laughing. Two major highlights from this past week were our adventure to the top of Mount Dewey and our homemade gnocchi night.

The very first day of the bubble we were all eager to get out and hike in the gorgeous Colorado mountains. “Let’s go for a short walk today” was the consensus. After hiking one trail to the next and winding around several mountain slopes, we found ourselves – six miles later – on top of Mount Dewey. Needless to say, we all had a few sore muscles.

Our homemade gnocchi were another highlight of the week. Luigi Crispino, a corps dancer from Italy, taught the group how to make his grandmother’s delicious recipe. The mess we all made of the kitchen in the process was well worth it and the gnocchi got devoured while we sat chatting around the campfire.

-Leah Baylin, Apprentice

June 7, 2021
Dancer Diary: Claire Davison in Green Mountain Falls, CO | Saturday, June 5, 2021

"With some of my ABT people here with me in Colorado, it feels like a true homecoming."

By Claire Davison

I drove up from Boulder, my hometown, passing much of Colorado’s celebrated scenery. I’ve never seen Colorado so green. Even the burn areas are growing new life. It felt like a good omen as I headed to my first residency and shows with ABT since the pandemic began.

Pulling into Green Mountain Falls we passed a public swimming pool, the Sallie Bush Community Building, and some residences. There’s a small stretch of town down one of the only paved roads. A cafe, two restaurants, and a bar lead to a small lake with a gazebo in the middle. In the winter it freezes over, welcoming ice skaters. It makes me think of my mother who grew up in the small Colorado town of Fairplay. I will always have a soft spot for small Colorado communities.

The Outlook Lodge, where some of the dancers are staying, is an idyllic mountain inn. Built in the 1800s, each room is unique. We spend our mornings sipping coffee in the living room and our nights around the fire pit, customarily roasting marshmallows and catching up.

I feel like my lives are melding together here. Having left home at a young age, “home” is split in two for me: half in New York at 890 Broadway (or sometimes the basement of the Metropolitan Opera House) and half in the mountains of Colorado. With some of my ABT people here with me in Colorado, it feels like a true homecoming.

After our ballet classes on the first day (technique and pointe), a few of us wandered the trails behind the Lodge. The Thomas Trail brought us to a waterfall and some beautiful views. On our attempted descent, we ended up on a trail that brought us to the top of Mount Dewey (lovingly dubbed Mountain Dew). It was one of those happy little accidents that comes when you explore a new place.

I had the pleasure of teaching a ballet class to a wonderful group of people in Colorado Springs on Wednesday afternoon. I love teaching and felt especially connected to this group of Coloradans. They were so generous with their energy in class and their questions in the Q&A afterward. It was very inspiring.

Yesterday we had a photoshoot in various iconic CO Springs locations, including Garden of the Gods. While I’ve been to most of these places before, it was extra special experiencing them again with my colleagues. After lots of laughter, posing, and some sunburns, a few of us explored downtown CO Springs before ending up, as always, around the fire pit.

Next we have a few days to recuperate before starting rehearsals on Tuesday. I am looking forward to seeing Silas Farley, our choreographer, and working with him! Stay tuned…

-Claire Davison, corps de ballet

Posted In
AAPI Month
May 24, 2021
During Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we are recognizing and celebrating the identities and achievements of ABT’s AAPI artists.

Company Pianist Emily Wong shares her musical talent and reflections on her heritage here on SideBarre.

Emily Wong is an award-winning composer and pianist who has written a large catalogue of works for piano, chamber ensemble, and orchestra. Emily began her professional career as a pianist: she was a First Prize winner of the Hodges International Concerto Competition, the Schubert Competition, and has won numerous other awards as both a soloist and chamber musician. Emily became a pianist for American Ballet Theatre in May of 2009 and has traveled the world with the Company, sharing her artistry with audiences far and wide. In addition to Emily’s role at ABT, she also resides as the Principal Pianist for the Stamford Symphony and the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music.

What is something about your upbringing that you are really proud of?

Growing up in San Francisco, we always talked about being a prime example of “the melting pot” of America.  Everyone co-existed so harmoniously in those days in that city.  I, of course, was a prime human example, being from a mixed-racial family.  I did have a conscious moment in elementary school of realizing I didn’t fit into any of the typical social groups – I wasn’t really like all the other Chinese kids I knew, but I also didn’t look or feel that I was white. Fortunately, I never felt racially singled out, and yet I also felt I didn’t quite belong. And it took me many years to embrace being exactly who I am, and to get comfortable with standing tall in my uniqueness.

Is there something about your culture or heritage that you love or a family tradition that you enjoy celebrating?

To make it even more interesting, my mom was of a Scottish/English blend, but she was an American born in India! She lived there for her first eight years until her father passed and her mom decided to bring her four girls home to the Midwest to be near family. So she had a British/Indian sensibility, with an American identity. She never felt like she totally fit in wherever she was either!  Our Christmas dinners were always amazing Indian feasts – that was our normal!

Please enjoy Emily’s performance of “Summer Moon,” “To A Red Rose,” and “To A Yellow Rose” by Florence Price below!

Shelley Washington.
Posted In
Black History MonthWomen's History Month
March 26, 2021
For Women's History Month, SideBarre is highlighting the extraordinary women who have helped to shape ABT through the years.

"It's how we speak to one another and how we respect one another. It’s about how we can all sit down at the table and at least be able to be heard. I think that's the most important thing for all of us.”

Even contained in a little rectangle on Zoom, Shelley Washington’s vivaciousness and elegance demand attention. Her huge, soulful eyes are mesmerizing, her presence generous. For almost two hours, I had the privilege of interviewing Shelley about her life and her time at American Ballet Theatre.

Shelley was the second Black female Soloist that ABT had ever had, a position she held from 1988-1990. The path to such a coveted position in a ballet company is typically straightforward. Young dancers, with years of training under their belts, fight for coveted apprenticeships. From there, they pay their dues in the corps de ballet and after many more years of hard work, a select few are chosen to become soloists or principal dancers. This was not the case for Shelley. Instead, she took her own uniquely beautiful path.

Shelley Washington at a tech rehearsal for Twyla Tharp's <i>Brief Fling</i>. Photo courtesy Washington.
Shelley Washington at a tech rehearsal for Twyla Tharp's Brief Fling. Photo courtesy Washington.

From a young age, it was obvious that Shelley had a natural gift for dance and performance, and after years of training, with the help of her mother and her teacher, Shelley found herself at Interlochen Arts Academy. At age 14, for the first time, Shelley was with people who were like her, and indeed there is a unique kind of magic that happens when you find your people. You begin to understand yourself in a different way, in the context of a group, not just as an individual.

“Interestingly,” Shelley said of finding this community she so easily fit into, “it wasn’t that they were Black. It was that they all were dancers, artists, musicians, actors. They were me. They were the people that were seeking something different from the curriculum of their high school. They were me because they had parents or mentors who sent them to the school. All of those students looked like me.”

Coming from a small town in Michigan, where Shelley’s family was the first and only Black family, this newfound space allowed her to blossom.

Following her high school years, Shelley moved to New York to attend Juilliard. From there, it took no time for Shelley’s professional career to come to fruition. At the end of her two years at Juilliard, Shelley was asked to audition for the Martha Graham Company. What followed was a whirlwind year of international touring with Martha, who collaborated with great artists such as Halston and Andy Warhol and hosted internationally renowned ballet stars Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev. It ended in true fashion, with a gondola ride to Martha’s hotel room in Venice. Shelley had been offered a position in Twyla Tharp Dance, so she traveled the canals to tell Martha. Somebody who had seen Shelley take class in 1973 at American University with Twyla remembered her and asked her to audition. Twyla swiftly asked Shelley to join her ranks.

We now fast forward to 1988. Twyla Tharp was invited by Mikhail Baryshnikov, then Artistic Director of ABT, to begin working with the Company, and in that transition, Twyla brought four of her dancers with her – Shelley among them. Because of her position with Twyla and the amount of money she made, which was more than a corps de ballet member, Shelley became a Soloist. For the ABT dancers who were on the traditional path, this was not received well.

“Now you can imagine, I’m 34 years old, I’m a Soloist at Ballet Theatre, I’m not a classical ballet dancer, and I’m Black. Think about how incredible Misha was to do that and Twyla to have me in there,” Shelley recalls.

Shelley Washington and Kathleen Moore in Twyla Tharp's <i>Everlast</i>. Photo courtesy Washington.
Shelley Washington and Kathleen Moore in Twyla Tharp's Everlast. Photo courtesy Washington.

The transition was not easy for Shelley, and even Twyla felt that she had let her down, as she later wrote in her book, Push Comes to Shove. Shelley, whom Twyla referred to in her book as one of her “power women,” was at the pinnacle of her career and had been with Twyla for 13 years. As one of the senior dancers in Tharp’s company, Shelley had to rapidly change the course of her career. Even Twyla herself said that Shelley was the only one without pointe shoes in the locker room.

Shelley remembers her first class with ABT as particularly challenging, “I had to walk into a class with all those dancers, and you can imagine what they were all thinking. I can imagine what they were mostly thinking, you know, How is this happening? and How can she be a Soloist? and I’ve been here for all these years. We were in California. I can’t remember who was teaching, maybe Jurgen Schneider, and I went to one barre and as I was standing there, Misha came over and stood next to me. He left his barre and came and stood next to me, as if to say, Okay, we’re in this together. Let’s do this. I’ve got your back.”

The first thing Shelley did at ABT was stage In the Upper Room, a ballet that had been choreographed on her and held a special place in her heart. As one of Twyla’s most experienced company members, Shelley not only came to ABT as a dancer and performed in many of the Company’s works, but also as a regisseur.

Though she was taking on new responsibility and entering into a whole other phase of her career, it was, nevertheless, a huge loss of what she left behind. She didn’t dance as she did before. “I decided that I really couldn’t dance Upper Room because I was so used to dancing every piece every night, seven shows a week, and I couldn’t bear the thought of doing it once every week or so. It was just too much.”

At this point in our interview, Shelley paused and thought for a moment, before taking me back to 1969, “I never told my mother. I never told anyone at the school. I never told my sister. I remember my teacher taking me aside and saying, You know, you have beautiful feet and legs and arms and you’re a beautiful dancer. I really think you should be a modern dancer or go into movies or Broadway, because you’ll never be a ballet dancer because of the color of your skin. And if you got into a company, you would be the gypsy. But I never stopped taking ballet class. I just thought, Okay, well, I don’t want to be a gypsy in a ballet company. I’ll show you.”

And show him, she did. She came full circle, ending her career after a few years at ABT with one of the biggest roles she had ever performed: Madge in La Sylphide. Fondly remembering her final curtain call at the Met, she said wistfully, “It was pretty wonderful.”

Shelley Washington overseeing rehearsal at ABT. Photo: Rosalie O'Connor.
Shelley Washington overseeing rehearsal at ABT. Photo: Rosalie O'Connor.

Shelley didn’t stay a Soloist for very long. It wasn’t something she had strived for her whole life. She had already had a prolific career with Twyla. She understood that there could be only so many Soloists at ABT and that there was a corps de ballet full of beautiful dancers who had been working to move up the ranks their whole lives. She decided to retire and became a full-time regisseur.

“You know, I love dance. I love ballet. I loved my time there, but it was not easy. It was not easy in the beginning, but then for me, nothing really ever has been.”

Shelley was so used to changing schools in the middle of the school year from such a young age because her father’s job was constantly moving. She was so used to being the only one who looked a certain way, whether in junior high in Michigan or in Germany.

Coming to ABT, Shelley said, was the same thing. And throughout these experiences, she kept returning to the wisdom of her grandmother—do your work, keep your focus, be a good girl, be honest, and it will work. Above all, Shelley’s grandmother told her she believed in her, and it is evident that she carries those words and the faith, strength, love, and support from her family with her today.

Shelley respected the dancers at ABT greatly, but they also respected her—her work ethic, her insight, and her determination. A true pioneer, she respects her own bravery in coming to ABT, and the bravery of others to welcome the Tharp dancers when it could have been so easy to reject them.

I want to end this interview with Shelley’s own words. In our few hours together, I had already learned so much from Shelley. I was awestruck of the strength and grace in her words and in her heart. With so much change in the world, so much that has come to the surface, I was curious to hear what she thought the future might hold for the ballet world:

Shelley Washington taking a bow with the cast of <i>In the Upper Room</i> during ABT's Fall 2018 season. Photo courtesy Washington.
Shelley Washington taking a bow with the cast of In the Upper Room during ABT's Fall 2018 season. Photo courtesy Washington.

“I don’t know what the future is. I know that it can only get better because we are talking, we are dealing, we are listening. We are listening. So perhaps that’s the biggest thing—maybe we’ve always talked, but no one has listened. We can’t go back and fix things from the past, but we can acknowledge them and know that they’re true and that hurt and pain and suffering are there. It’s there and now maybe we can move past that.”

“That teacher could have said, You’ll never be a ballet dancer because of the structure of your hips, as opposed to, because of the color of your skin, but if I’m going to stay positive, I was a Soloist at ABT. I can say I proved you wrong, as opposed to, I’m going to get that person in trouble. Even at 14, I knew it was heavy. I think the first time I ever talked about it was last year.

“Then you start hearing other dancers’ stories, and you’re just like, whoa. I think it was easy to live in our own little bubbles and now they’ve been broken. So, perhaps it’s not only listening. It’s how we speak to one another and how we respect one another. It’s about how we can all sit down at the table and at least be able to be heard. I think that’s the most important thing for all of us.”

Shelley Washington, I hear you. Thank you for allowing me to listen.

The writer, Bethany Beacham, joined ABT as Marketing Coordinator in January 2020.

Jennifer Alexander as Bathilde in Giselle. Photo: Marty Sohl.
Posted In
Women's History Month
March 22, 2021
For Women's History Month, SideBarre is highlighting the extraordinary women who have helped to shape ABT through the years.

"American Ballet Theatre honors one senior female corps dancer each year for her professionalism, dedication, and perseverance with the title of Jennifer Alexander Dancer."

As any ballet dancer will tell you, the corps de ballet is the “backbone” of the performance. The corps anchors classical performances as flocks of swans, sylphs, and shades. They frame the stage and often move – even breathe! – in unison. And from within the corps are shining examples of leadership, exuding not only beauty and grace, but also exhibiting strength and resilience on stage and in the studio.

Since 2008, American Ballet Theatre honors one senior female corps dancer each year for her professionalism, dedication, and perseverance with the title of Jennifer Alexander Dancer.

The designation is named after Jennifer Alexander, a deeply respected and beloved former member of ABT’s corps de ballet. In December of 2007, Jennifer tragically passed away in an automobile accident, leaving a hole in the tight-knit corps and in the larger ballet community. ABT honors Jennifer for her 13 years of dedication to the Company and her lasting impact on the corps de ballet as a friend and mentor to those around her.

Betsy McBride, 2020 honoree, echoes this sentiment:

“Jennifer is known for not only being a beautiful dancer and artist but a perfect example of professionalism and focus. I was so honored to have received the Jennifer Alexander award and will strive to uphold her exemplary qualities.”

2019 recipient Brittany DeGrofft agrees, “Though I never personally knew or worked with Jennifer, her legacy of professionalism, perseverance, and generosity is something we all hope to embody as dancers.” She adds:

“It was an honor to be recognized as someone who represents some of the same qualities that were greatly admired in her. I was incredibly grateful and proud to carry her title for the year of 2019.”

Most recently, Lauren Bonfiglio was named as the 2021 Jennifer Alexander Dancer. Lauren embodies Jennifer’s positive influences on ABT and works to further her legacy as a leader within the corps de ballet and her local community.

Lauren began her ABT journey as a student in both the Young Dancer Summer Workshop and New York Summer Intensive, and was accepted to the ABT Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School in 2009. She first performed with the Company while she was still a student, landing the role of Clara in The Nutcracker in 2010. She joined ABT Studio Company in 2013 and became a member of ABT’s corps de ballet in January 2015.

Lauren continues to serve as an inspiration for her fellow corps dancers and students in the ABT JKO School. She also works to lift up her community through volunteer work with Brooklyn Book Bodega and as a Guest Teacher, leading master classes for local students on off-days during ABT’s annual national tour.

On receiving the Jennifer Alexander Dancer designation, Lauren says, “to be joining the group of women who have been previously recognized with this honor is deeply meaningful to me.” She continues:

“I have tremendous respect for the past recipients of this award and I’m proud to carry on Jennifer’s legacy at ABT by emulating her exemplary qualities. Working in an environment where professionalism, generosity, and dedication are highly valued raises the level of performance for everyone in the rehearsal studio. I’m very grateful.”

The writer, Samantha Aaronson, is the Press Intern for Spring 2021.