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Photo: Patrick Frenette.

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

Annellyse Munroe.
Posted In
Get to know...Occupations
August 11, 2020
How did you get your start in ballet and how did it lead you here to ABT?

"I remember seeing Misty Copeland in the hallway, and she instilled in me a measure of hope and confidence that I could be a professional dancer because there was someone who looked like me. My early experience at ABT solidified my aspiration to move to New York one day and become a professional dancer."

By Annellyse Munroe

My connection and love affair with dance began at the age of five. When my father would play the piano, I could not help but dance. Or when Molly from the children’s TV show The Big Comfy Couch would come on, I couldn’t help but do her famous clock stretch, my leg naturally extending to the six o’clock position.

I begged my parents to enroll me in cheerleading, but they put me in gymnastics. Although I excelled in gymnastics, I was told that I was a bit too tall, which led me to ballet.

Annellyse Munroe as a child in one of her first ballet classes.
Annellyse Munroe as a child in one of her first ballet classes.

I remember arriving to my first ballet class in Payless ballet slippers, pink tights and a light pink leotard, with flowers around my messy bun. I was the only Black girl in my class, and I was tall, skinny and introverted. As time progressed, my teacher at South Florida Ballet encouraged my talent. I thank her for believing in me and not treating me differently based on my skin color. She made it clear that talent in ballet does not have a race appended to it.

In middle school, I began to audition for ballet summer intensives, one of them being at American Ballet Theatre. I attended my first summer intensive at ABT’s studios in New York. Again, I was the only Black girl at my level. I remember seeing Misty Copeland in the hallway, and she instilled in me a measure of hope and confidence that I could be a professional dancer because, after all, there was someone who looked like me. My experience at ABT solidified my aspiration to move to New York one day and become a professional dancer.

I continued to pursue my passion for dance at New World School of the Arts in Florida and discovered various dance styles, such as Limon, Graham and Cunningham. When I was in the eighth grade, my family took me to see Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre at New York City Center. I remember sitting in the orchestra, watching the curtain rise and seeing Black women who looked like me. It filled me with joy, happiness and admiration for being an African American woman.

It was then that I told my parents of my intention to attend that school. So, I auditioned for the Alvin Ailey Summer Intensive every summer through high school and attended programs at other New York schools including Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH) and the Martha Graham School.

Annellyse models skin tone tights and pointe shoes for Gaynor Minden.
Annellyse models skin tone tights and pointe shoes for Gaynor Minden.

While attending DTH, I was introduced to wearing skin color tights and pointe shoes for ballet class. After that experience, I never wore pink tights or dance shoes again. I thank DTH for instilling in me the beauty of my skin color and showing me how amazing my lines look with matching tights and pointe shoes.

I went on to earn a BFA degree in dance from the University of Florida through the conservatory program at New World School of the Arts, graduating Cum Laude in three years.

Soon after, I auditioned for Alvin Ailey and made it to the end of the final round. Although I was not selected, I was asked to return the following day to audition for their second company, Ailey II. I was chosen to join this fantastic organization that I had dreamt of being a part of, and as they say, the rest is history.

I had the honor of traveling the world with Ailey II, doing what I love. I was featured on the cover of Dance Spirit Magazine alongside two of my colleagues. This life-changing opportunity will forever be with me. I lost my mother to cancer before joining the company, and dance saved me during this time. It provided an outlet to for self-expression and helped me learn to find myself, love myself and grow.

Annellyse's <i>Dance Spirit</i> Magazine cover with fellow Ailey II dancers.
Annellyse's Dance Spirit Magazine cover with fellow Ailey II dancers.

At the end of my two years with Ailey II, I auditioned for many companies and Broadway shows. However, I made it to the end of my audition marathon without securing a job. I decided to apply for graduate school and studied for the GMAT test, accepting dance gigs on the side. I randomly received a phone call from my former director, who informed me that a choreographer needed dancers for a televised awards show.

Without hesitation, I showed up at the rehearsal, and a dream I could have never imagined happened: I performed with Beyoncé at MTV’s Video Music Awards.

Upon this opportunity, I signed to Bloc Talent Agency and went on to participate in various engagements, including the H&M x Kenzo New York Fashion Show SS17, Desigual’s SS18 collection at New York Fashion Week and a commercial for Carolina Herrera’s 212 VIP fragrance.

A new chapter in my life opened when I was accepted to grad school at Columbia University. There, a colleague who was a former dancer, informed me of an internship at ABT where he worked. I found myself back at 890 Broadway, interning in the Education and Training department. During my internship, I successfully applied for a position as Resident Manager at ABT.

Upon graduating from Columbia with my Master of Science in Nonprofit Management, I applied for the role of Student Life Coordinator at the ABT Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School. It means the world to me to utilize my background as a professional dancer and the knowledge gained from my Master’s degree as I help ABT JKO School students find their footing in New York.

Did I stop dancing professionally? The answer is a resounding “no.” In addition to my full-time job at ABT, I am a professional dancer part-time for the NBA. A day in my life begins with waking up at 7 am to arrive at ABT by 9 am, working until 5 pm. I make it to rehearsal 6–10 pm and repeat that schedule daily. On game days, I will come in to ABT in the morning with a suitcase filled with all of my dance necessities and leave early to make it to the arena for court rehearsal by mid-afternoon. I have been doing everything to make this opportunity happen, which sometimes means making up work hours on Saturdays.

I admire everyone ABT because they are willing to work with you as long as you plan out your schedule in advance. I also love how supportive my colleagues are, and some have even come to see me perform. I will say anything is possible if you communicate and plan accordingly. Yes, it is difficult sometimes, but I am thankful to fulfill both of my passions, and that is what drives me to make this unique opportunity work.

Annellyse Munroe is the Student Life Coordinator at the ABT Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, as well as a professional dancer herself.

"My teacher at South Florida Ballet made it clear that talent does not have a race appended to it."

"Fun fact: I served as a supernumerary in ABT's Swan Lake and watched their tech rehearsals when they performed at Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Center."

"I am so thankful to ABT for granting me this job as Student Life Coordinator."

"I hope this inspires other dancers that they can have a full-time job and still perform."

Poster from ABT's 1960 tour in the USSR.
Posted In
A Look Back at 80 Years
August 8, 2020

"In 1960, American Ballet Theatre was the first American dance company to tour the USSR."

It’s rarely easy to be the first at anything…stepping into the unknown and trying to retain some semblance of certainty is scary. There are the success stories, and of course, the failures. Those who use the latter to rise to greater heights are perhaps a little worse for the wear, but are wiser and more prepared than before.

There is a certain glory and honor in both types of stories, but it is never that simple. A journey is never forgiving enough to allow us to forgo the middle part between embarking on a path and the end result. It is there that we find the true and honorable tale of one’s foray into the great unknown.

In 1960, American Ballet Theatre was the first American dance company to tour the USSR. It was an incredible feat given the political and cultural challenges of the time. Cultural diplomacy was seen as a tool to cross barriers of international tension, and so the United States Information Agency (USIA), the State Department and the CIA worked with arts organizations to arrange international tours.

ABT Principal Dancers Maria Tallchief and Erik Bruhn shake hands with Soviet officials in 1960. Photo courtesy of New York Public Library, Jerome Robbins Dance Division.
ABT Principal Dancers Maria Tallchief and Erik Bruhn shake hands with Soviet officials in 1960. Photo courtesy of New York Public Library, Jerome Robbins Dance Division.

President Eisenhower established the President’s Emergency Fund for International Affairs in 1954 and gave $2,250,000 to the State Department to support dance, theater, music and sports tours. A Dance Panel was established to make the difficult decision about who should represent the United States. A lesser known part of ABT’s history is what it took to get there and how it almost didn’t happen.

Ever since ABT began as Ballet Theatre in 1940, the Company faced great struggles. Though they were a world-renowned touring company and had already completed 10 international tours, it had taken its toll on the Company. On August 18, 1958, a tour truck transporting costumes, props, sets and items belonging to the dancers and staff went up in flames while on its way from Cannes to Geneva. ABT’s tour around Europe was saved only through the unforgettable efforts to gain back what was lost through loans from other ballet companies and rush orders from suppliers. With this generous support, ABT was able to open in Brussels in the U.S. Pavilion as planned. However, that remarkable turnaround was short-lived when ABT was forced to take a year-long hiatus in 1959 to deal with some long-standing financial troubles.

“While there were a great deal of political and cultural relationships at stake, American Ballet Theatre at last returned to the United States as triumphant and proud cultural ambassadors.”

ABT couldn’t be held down for long. In 1960, the Company rekindled a three-week engagement from April 18–May 7 at the Metropolitan Opera House, in celebration of its 20th anniversary. The performances were not well-received by everyone, however, and John Martin, Dean of American Dance Critics, tore the engagement apart with a personal attack on ABT’s Co-Director Lucia Chase. Martin stated that it would be a profound national humiliation for American Ballet Theatre to represent the United States.

The Company on the steps of the U.S. Capitol building, 1962. Courtesy of American Ballet Theatre Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress.
The Company on the steps of the U.S. Capitol building, 1962. Courtesy of American Ballet Theatre Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress.

This review was a huge blow to the Company. At a meeting of The Dance Panel on April 21, 1960, it was determined that ABT was in no condition to represent the United States. So, on May 12 that year, ABT set off on their four-month tour that began in Lisbon, with the last leg of the tour in the USSR still hanging in the balance.

It was only at the very last minute, after a representative from the Bolshoi Ballet saw ABT perform in Amsterdam and approved, that The Dance Panel decided to allow ABT to fulfill their engagement in Moscow. The tour ended up as a huge success. During the 10 days of performances in Moscow, Tbilisi and Leningrad, ABT performed to full houses and tickets were hard to come by.

When Nikita Khrushchev, leader of the Soviet Union, saw ABT perform on their closing night in Moscow, he invited ABT to return to the USSR as well as raised a toast to the American dancers and to “art and friendship.” It was front page news! While there were a great deal of political and cultural relationships at stake during this tour, American Ballet Theatre at last returned to the United States as triumphant and proud cultural ambassadors.

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

August 4, 2020
If I weren't a Conductor, I would be...

"I think my true calling might be in geology and paleontology."

By Charles Barker

Way back in November of 1986, I got a call from the General Manager of ABT asking if I would be interested in conducting some shows of The Nutcracker for the Company at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. I’ve been here ever since, and how could I not? ABT is a fabulous company with amazing theatrical experiences every year.

If I weren’t a conductor, there would be several other occupations I’d like. I adore Homer and all things ancient Greek and Latin. I plan to pursue that in retirement. But I think my true calling might be in geology and paleontology. Last summer, my family and I took a road trip from the Black Hills to Yellowstone, and we detoured off the highway onto an obscure mining road to a place called Devil’s Kitchen near the town of Greybull, Wyoming. After passing a sign that warned, “Enter at your own risk,” we pulled off that road to the brink of a half-moon shaped, half-mile deep canyon of sandstone, mudstone and calcedony, with white gypsum covering the base. Because of its shape and location, it’s a giant natural oven.

It took us a while to find our way down into the canyon as there were no trails or paths, but once we got to the gypsum and poked around for a bit in the sweltering 110-degree sunshine, we found what I had come for – a gastrolith. It is a walnut-sized piece of well-worn porphyry that had once been in the gizzard of a 1,000-pound Cretaceous-era sauropod to aid with its digestion. My family was not as impressed as I was to find a stone that had been in a dinosaur’s stomach, but I still carry the gastrolith with me all the time and am all too willing to talk about it to any interested party.

While on tour with ABT in Oman a few years ago, I had the opportunity to explore something most geologists never see: the most dramatic ophiolite sequence on earth. Undersea vulcanism created massive amounts of pillow lava, automobile-sized balls of lava hardened under millions of pounds of pressure, which are now exposed in the hills of northwestern Oman due to a geological anomaly 90 million years ago in the Gulf of Oman. Nearby, walking the dry creek bed, I found a large outcrop of Hawasinah formation, a rumpled rug of allochthonous, deep-water sediments that were thrust onto the Arabian continental margin beneath the ophiolite.

And it’s not all just rocks – part of the ophiolite sequence, peridotite, actually absorbs atmospheric CO2. There is a tremendous amount of peridotite in Oman, and several geologists are exploring the possibility of CO2 sequestration. It would be fun to join their team one day.

Letter from Dwight D. Eisenhower to American National Ballet Theatre, March 26, 1953.
Posted In
A Look Back at 80 Years
July 29, 2020
What does it mean to be America's National Ballet Company®?

"As a touring company, Ballet Theatre was on the frontlines of cultural tensions and international unity."

Agnes de Mille in <i>Rodeo</i>. Photo: Maurice Seymour.
Agnes de Mille in Rodeo. Photo: Maurice Seymour.

Perhaps it is fateful that American Ballet Theatre’s 80th Anniversary has coincided with the trials of a dominating pandemic, civil unrest, and political uncertainty. The challenges we have faced so far this year have forced us to ask important and difficult questions:

How do we co-exist in our collective grief, and how do we honor the grief of others? How do we celebrate the small triumphs that will lead us to the other side of this, whilst remembering how far we have to go? What connects us through the frustration of isolation? What does it mean to be an American in times of hardship?

The latter is a question that has been pondered many times before, and one that has always remained relevant to ABT. In the words of Agnes de Mille, American dancer, choreographer, and a charter member of Ballet Theatre at its inception in 1940:

What do we mean by American? I’ve been looking for the intrinsic American. He has a multitude of faces, many names, and many nationalities. Humorous, salty, bold, original, and independent. At times persnickety, at times downright ornery. But we know him.

Ballet Theatre 1953-54 Domestic Touring Schedule, December 27th-February 6th.
Ballet Theatre 1953-54 Domestic Touring Schedule, December 27th-February 6th.

We know him, her, them, xin, and all the variations in between. We are the collection of beautiful, different, and diverse faces. There is no one way to answer, “What does it mean to be an American?” nor could we ever all agree on a single definition. But one thing is for sure, in times of division, we can all find meaning and comfort in works of art.

In the 1950s, Ballet Theatre was no stranger to the turmoil and conflict that had spread throughout the world for decades. Following World War II and into the Cold War, the restoration and healing of many nations relied on the resilience of beloved cultural institutions and artistic inspiration to raise spirits and look towards a peaceful future. As a touring company, Ballet Theatre was on the frontlines of cultural tensions and international unity.

From its inception, Ballet Theatre toured not only the United States but around the world showcasing American culture, a mission that was particularly important during times of conflict.

The intention was to showcase Ballet Theatre’s innovation and traditions with the widest possible audience as well as to build relationships with international cultural institutions that were welcome and celebrated in the United States. Financed by both the State Department and independent funders, Ballet Theatre toured throughout Europe, the Middle East, Latin America and Africa during the 1950s.

Letter from Dwight D. Eisenhower to American National Ballet Theatre, March 26, 1953, in a program for American Ballet Theatre.
Letter from Dwight D. Eisenhower to American National Ballet Theatre, March 26, 1953, in a program for American Ballet Theatre.

In 1956, Ballet Theatre was christened “American Ballet Theatre” by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The president acknowledged American Ballet Theatre’s prominence in cultural diplomacy and his hope that ballet could represent American ideals, inspirations and ethnology to audiences at home and abroad.

ABT has continued to fulfill this hope. In its 80 years, the Company has performed in all 50 states and in 45 countries. ABT’s current roster of dancers hails from around the world, including 15 countries and 25 states.

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

"It is through the universal language of the arts that the free peoples of the world can most readily communicate with each other and attain a truer understanding of the spiritual ideals and aspirations of other nations."

- Dwight D. Eisenhower , Memo from The White House, March 26, 1953

"We in the United States have been the fortunate hosts to most of the world’s great artists and artistic organizations, whose visits have abundantly enriched our cultural life."

- Dwight D. Eisenhower , Memo from The White House, March 26, 1953

"The American National Ballet Theatre sets forth on its tour abroad with our hope that it may convey through the medium of ballet some measure of understanding of America’s cultural environment and inspiration."

- Dwight D. Eisenhower , Memo from The White House, March 26, 1953

Learn more on ABT’s
Google Arts & Culture exhibit,
On “American”: American Ballet Theatre

July 21, 2020
If I weren't a ballet dancer, I would be...

"All I've ever wanted to do is ballet."

By Chloe Misseldine

What would I do if I weren’t a ballet dancer? This is a tough question, but if I had to pick something other than ballet, I would go into international relations or global development. I really like to travel and experience other cultures.

Both of my parents are immigrants from different countries, so I grew up with exposure to a wide range of cultures and perspectives. I’m fortunate to have traveled to numerous countries, which has helped me to develop an appreciation for other ways of life. However, all I’ve ever wanted to do is ballet.

When I was young, most of my days were spent exploring the halls of Orlando Ballet, where my mother worked as a teacher. I still remember peeking into the studio and watching her teach class, imagining what it would be like to one day be a part of that. I started taking dance classes and eventually enrolled full-time in the Orlando Ballet School.

By the time I was 14, I had been given opportunities to perform solos and attend competitions such as Youth America Grand Prix and American Dance Competition. It was a great experience to get this type of exposure, especially at such a young age. A few years later, I competed at the prestigious Prix de Lausanne ballet competition in Switzerland. The Prix was the most high-pressure competition for which I had ever prepared. It is impossible to describe that initial feeling I experienced when the music began and all eyes were on me.

Chloe Misseldine in the <i>Pas d'Esclave</i> from <i>Le Corsaire</i> with ABT Studio Company. Photo: Jojo Mamangun.
Chloe Misseldine in the Pas d'Esclave from Le Corsaire with ABT Studio Company. Photo: Jojo Mamangun.

At the Prix, I was offered a contract with American Ballet Theatre Studio Company, and I was absolutely thrilled. My mother danced with ABT when she was younger, so as you can imagine, it had always been a dream of mine to be a part of the Company. At the age of 16, I left my family and moved to New York City. My time with ABT Studio Company was an amazing experience and was vital to both my professional and personal development.

My mother has been my biggest inspiration in life. She has taught me the importance of strength, determination and hard work. Her stories about her time as a student training in China and as a professional dancer with ABT are very motivating. She continues to push me towards becoming my best, not only as better dancer, but also as a better person every day.

Chloe Misseldine joined ABT Studio Company in 2018 and became an apprentice with the main Company in 2019.
Chloe’s mother, Yan Chen, joined ABT in 1993 and was appointed a Soloist in 1994. She retired from the stage and is now on faculty for ABT’s Summer Intensive.

Read Chloe's 2019 cover story in Dance Spirit Magazine
July 16, 2020
How did you become ABT's Company Manager?

"There's no one path to finding your ideal job in the arts."

By Kyle Pickles

My career started on the stage.  Oh no…not like the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House as a professional ballet dancer…but rather as an energetic five-year-old at the annual recital for the run-of-the-mill Miss [insert anyone’s name] Academy of Dance.  I dipped my toe in the ballet world, when I was a supernumerary for a local production of The Nutcracker – first as a party boy and soldier, then a year or two as Fritz, before landing the role of the Nutcracker Prince.  My ballet career was relatively short-lived, but I found another outlet, musical theater, and was fortunate enough to perform summer stock at the “nation’s oldest and largest outdoor musical theatre,” the Muny, in St. Louis for seven hot-and-humid summers.  My joy from dancing and performing far exceeded my technical prowess, and I easily accepted that a professional career in the arts would be offstage. But I was left wondering, “What exactly would I do?”

After college, and after a few odd jobs in my attempt to figure out what I wanted to be when I grow up, I was ready to take the leap into arts administration. I decided to go to graduate school to get my Master’s Degree in Performing Arts Administration – which just between you and me, is not necessary for a career in arts management – but was a path that I chose to get me closer to my dream of living in New York and working in the arts.  After graduating with an advanced degree, and some student debt, I still didn’t know what avenue to pursue.  Theater?  If so, not-for-profit or commercial?  Dance?  Ballet or contemporary?  This is where the buzzword “networking” comes into play.

After graduation, I landed my first job through a recommendation from an event producer I met during an internship in grad school.  She was hired by a small not-for-profit theater to produce their fundraiser, and we hit it off.  We kept in touch, and when I mentioned to her that I had graduated and was eager to get in the field, she reached out to her contacts in the commercial theater world – and a week later, I was hired.  As an office assistant, I saw first-hand what it was like to work ‘on Broadway.’ It was crazy…it was exciting…it was intense.  But during this tumultuous year of the company’s Broadway hits and misses, I got to know some of the company managers of the various productions coming out of our office and began to envision a career in company management.  As luck would have it, one of the company managers was leaving to become the Company Manager of American Ballet Theatre, and a few months later, he wrote to ask if I was interested in joining the company management team…and I jumped at the opportunity!

I joined ABT in October 2007 as the Assistant Company Manager, and eventually was promoted to Associate Company Manager, before becoming the Company Manager in 2012.  I have had the pleasure of traveling the world with this amazing company of dancers and staff. Over the past few years, we have performed in cities across the United States, as well in countries such as Australia, China, France, Japan, Oman, Russia, South Korea, Spain, the UAE and the United Kingdom.

Despite having ‘stumbled upon’ company management, I know it’s the right fit for me.  I am surrounded and inspired by the performing arts, especially ballet, but my skill set – critical thinking, attention to detail, strong organizational skills, good interpersonal communication – lends itself to my individual role in the organization.  People often ask, “How did you get into company management?” and although I’ve charted my course for you, I often tell people – follow your instincts.  There’s no one path to finding your ideal job in the arts.  Get your foot in the door.  Just because you start in one department doesn’t mean you can’t explore other departments.  Work hard.  Be a team player.  Hone your skills.  Seize opportunities.  Through the journey, you may just find *the* job for you that you didn’t know existed.

Posted In
Get to know...
July 14, 2020
What gets you up in the morning?

"During a time when reality is confined within the same four walls every day, we need hope to keep the dreams alive."

By Claire Davison

What gets me up in the morning? Especially during a global pandemic? Off the top of my head, I can think of two things. This first is coffee. When everything is uncertain, there is one thing that I can guarantee will be there each morning (as long as I make it): cofffeeee. The other thing is less tangible. It’s what makes the actor go onstage each night, knowing the play will end in tragedy but imagining that this time might be different. It’s what turns every figure in the distance into a certain someone. It’s what gets Charlie Chaplin off the crate after the circus has left him behind and makes him click his heels as he walks away. It’s hope. During a time when reality is confined within the same four walls every day, we need hope to keep the dreams alive. This is a time when fantasy is more important than reality. As humans, we’re storytellers. Whether we do it through our art or something else, we are constantly telling stories: “I like this. I don’t want that. If I do this, I’ll feel that.” Why not embellish our stories with hope?

An acting/clown teacher of mine, Gabe Levey, has an exercise where you imagine a dream and a nightmare scenario. First, he asks us to imagine what the best possible thing to happen in this moment would be. Maybe it’s a unicorn coming through the wall and taking you away to a huge pile of money. Maybe it’s simply being surrounded by loved ones. Then he asks us to imagine the worst thing that could happen in this moment. Sometimes this is easier to imagine, especially when pleasure and happiness can feel out of reach. After we’ve fully experienced both, we pick ourselves off the floor and make our way to somewhere in between the nightmare and the dream. This, he tells us, is where we mostly live our lives.

I sometimes think of it like walking a tightrope. You could fall or you could continue to walk ahead and eventually reach the landing. It’s the story we decide to believe that pushes us over or keeps us steady. Why not proceed with hope? So it’s a little windy. You focus, find your balance and hope that you’ll make it across to safety. Or you hope that today might be the day you do see the person you’ve been trying to make out of the crowd. Maybe you hope that you’ll be back portraying the star-crossed lovers soon, even if you know the ballet ends in despair. At the very least you can hope that someone else made the coffee today, and that there’s still half and half in the fridge.

Mmmmm coffee…

July 9, 2020
What is your favorite ballet to conduct?

"There is one ballet that seems to fit me like a glove."

By David LaMarche

I find pleasure, wholly, or intermittently, in all of ABT’s ballets.  Some are more challenging for the conductor, and some more so for the dancers, but they all have their moments!  However, there is one ballet that seems to fit me like a glove, and that is Frederick Ashton’s Sylvia.  It’s not for everyone, but it suits me and my temperament.  The score is so beautifully orchestrated.  There are wonderful tunes – lyrical, grand, comedic – and Ashton understood it because his choreography finds the balance between pathos and humor, intimacy and distance.  I look forward to it every time it returns to the repertoire, and I have enjoyed every single performance.  There are orchestra members who chide me about my affection for the composer, Léo Delibes, but what can I say? It’s in my French heritage!

If I hadn’t stumbled into this profession (and believe me, I had no plan), I can only speculate about what would have happened to me. Something with language, maybe. A writer, a translator (I love languages), or (and this is a stretch), a dancer! I studied ballet for a year in college at a private studio, and my teacher, who had a small company, asked me to join. I think it’s because she was desperate for men to join the troupe, but who knows? I could have ended up on the other side of the proscenium!

Florence Pettan in 1977.
Posted In
Mentors
July 7, 2020
Who is your mentor?

"Florence Pettan was a mentor to me - unwittingly perhaps, as I don't think she realized how her influence on me would take hold."

By Cristina Escoda

Natalie Wood, Robert Wagner and Florence Pettan.
Natalie Wood, Robert Wagner and Florence Pettan.

Of the many people who have inspired and guided me through my years in the ballet world, as dancer and then dance administrator, one person in particular was more than just a role model or an inspiration.  Florence Pettan was a mentor to me—unwittingly perhaps, as I don’t think she realized how her influence on me would take hold.  But when I look today at how I try to conduct myself at work and in life, and I look back to my early years as a fledgling artistic staff member in the office next to hers, it is evident how much I learned from Flo.

It was not so much in the practical skills department (certainly not—I was witness to her valiant efforts to move from typewriter to clunky desktop computer, floppy disks and all!).  It was in the area of professional comportment and dedicated service to the Company that I learned a thing or two from Flo.

She was of a different generation, with a Rolodex full of legendary names (movie stars, socialites, politicians) and illustrious close friends from work (the choreographer Glen Tetley, the designer Santo Loquasto, the ballerina Lupe Serrano).  And she had such a style about her— a wonderful wardrobe, Bakelite jewelry, platform heels (she was a tiny thing).  But she was neither showy nor aggressive.  As she gently told me with a smile one day early on when I was fretting over what to wear to an ABT Gala: “It’s not about us.”

Florence Pettan at work.
Florence Pettan at work.

Lucia Chase’s son Alex Ewing spoke about Flo glowingly at a memorial event for her in 2008 (she passed away in December of 2007).  In his words, she was “always on call, never complaining, ready for whatever came up next.”  She didn’t “ever raise her voice, or give way to anger, or put herself first—she was there to do Lucia’s bidding, whatever that entailed.”  All that might make her sound like a bit of a doormat, but she wasn’t.  She was simply “true blue… for Lucia, and in much the same way for American Ballet Theatre.  You didn’t dare talk against either one of them…not with Florence Pettan.”

Flo worked at ABT for at least 50 years (perhaps longer— it is unclear what year she actually began with the Company).  In the beginning, she was one of only five people in the ABT office who were support staff for the entire Company of 100+ people—dancers, ballet staff, crew, musicians, etc.  She was Lucia’s executive secretary, but as there were no separate press, marketing, development, special events or general management departments, she had a hand in every aspect of the Company’s daily business.

My work with ABT is vastly different from Flo’s back then. I also do not have an ounce of her style or fashion sense.  But with her calm, smiling, ready-to-help demeanor etched forever my brain, I try to be as tirelessly dedicated as she was and will be happy if I am able to contribute, without unnecessary fanfare, to the fabric and history of ABT even half as much as she did.

Tina Escoda was a member of ABT’s corps de ballet from 1985-1991.
She joined ABT’s Artistic Staff as Rehearsal Coordinator in 1994 and has served as Artistic Administrator since 2000.

July 2, 2020

"It is impossible to ignore the welfare of our fellow humans."

By Remy Young

The misfortune this pandemic has created is unparalleled. These circumstances are ubiquitous; they have affected every single human being in some way. However, in my opinion what is most mind-blowing is the dichotomous nature of our present state: the physical isolation and loneliness this virus has generated have also resulted in a widespread feeling of unification among people around the world. We can now empathize with one another more candidly than ever before. The only antidote to the stress and anxiety of flattening the curve is considering the greater good— it is impossible to ignore the welfare of our fellow humans.

Once we reach the other side of COVID-19, permeating our world with art will be vital to healing our collective brokenness. Art unites, inspires, empowers— we cannot do these things alone. The purpose of a dancer is to share stories with an audience; we dance FOR the audience. I think everyone is experiencing some hardship in not feeling the presence of a community. This is what I am most looking forward to once we conquer this virus: bringing people together and sharing with them something beautiful. In the meantime, there are plenty of ways to remind ourselves that there is indeed a community out there eagerly anticipating the return to normalcy.

Remy Young phone banking for New York Cares. Photo courtesy Remy Young.
Remy Young phone banking for New York Cares. Photo courtesy Remy Young.

For me, volunteering with New York Cares was an exceptionally heartwarming experience that did just that. It consisted of a relatively simple task: make calls to senior members of The Actors Fund to see how they are holding up. I came across many different personalities— some lively and spirited, others just frustrated and fed up with this pandemic. No matter their degree of responsiveness, every person I spoke with was appreciative of the opportunity to chat. The call was beneficial on both sides of the phone line. For them, it was a reminder that they are thought about, cared for, and have access to resources if needed. For me, it provided a sense of purpose that eased the helplessness quarantining has instilled. I was refreshed by brusque New York dialects and inspired by the voices of such well-seasoned artists. I was given hope by seeing that there is still good that can be done from my couch.

Most of all, I was reminded that my community, my New York, is still there, and none of us are alone. I am very much looking forward to volunteering for New York Cares again and would recommend it to anyone who is homesick for the city, in need of a pick-me-up, or just looking for a fun and fulfilling way to spend their time.

Remy Young joined ABT as a member of the corps de ballet in 2016.