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.
In April 2020, the ABT National Training Curriculum Teacher Training Intensives made the leap from in person to online courses. Creators of the National Training Curriculum Franco De Vita and Raymond Lukens share their experience with this new virtual world.
"We are honored to work with teachers from around the world via Zoom."
We are two mature men who still write with pens and pencils, type with two fingers, and go into a panic when dealing with computers and the internet. So, for us, it was a scary thought to teach the ABT National Training Curriculum (NTC) Teacher Training Intensives via Zoom.
But the NTC Team, Molly Schnyder, Sonia Jones and Sayako Harada made it happen. It has been an adventure and we are all gaining confidence with every learning curve that comes our way. The NTC Team, from the ABT Education and Training Department, has proven that the “ABT Miracle” does not only apply to performances on stage but also to the work done behind the scenes by the entire organization.
Our first experiment teaching the NTC via Zoom were courses reserved for ABT Company cancers. It went surprisingly well. And what a joy to work with the dancers and with ABT’s Regisseur, Susan Jones. Every time there was a cyber challenge, it was fixed with a great spirit of collaboration from the NTC team and the dancers, just like the ABT family always does.
Speaking of the ABT family, it touched us deeply that so many of our ABT Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School graduates now dancing with the main Company took the course.
It is impossible to describe the happiness we felt seeing their faces and how hard they worked.
We must say that all the ABT dancers’ commitment to learn the NTC was uplifting, especially now with COVID-19. An added plus has been that we were able to visit them all at their homes – virtually of course!
After seeing that the courses were successful for the dancers, the ABT NTC Teacher Training Intensives are being offered to all teachers wishing to participate.
It is mind boggling that we have teachers attending the courses from the entire world, with those in Australia and Asia getting up in the middle of the night to follow the lectures.
We are truly blessed, and we are humbled and honored to be given the opportunity to work with teachers from around the world in this new way online. Still, we look forward to the day we can all meet again at ABT’s historic New York City studios at 890 Broadway.
Franco De Vita and Raymond Lukens designed and codified the ABT National Training Curriculum, which was introduced in 2007. They are now ABT National Training Curriculum Associates Emeriti.
This week on SideBarre, lighting designer Jennifer Tipton steps into the spotlight.
"Behind every shining light on stage is a great lighting designer, but Jennifer Tipton doesn’t exist in the shadows. She is a giant in her industry."
Light. For the most part, we just accept it. We don’t question it nor may we even think about it. We take for granted that we are able to see, and that light will continue to allow us to see. There is a reason why darkness can evoke so much fear—light illuminates our world into abundance. Without its presence, so many things just disappear.
There is a certain place that one takes note of the light. In the theater, when the lights dim to signal the start of a show, it brings a collective hush over an eager audience and the late comers scrambling to find their seats.
With the darkness comes a flood of anticipation. We gladly accept ourselves disappearing into the blackness, for the light that appears before us creates another world to immerse ourselves within. It is so seamless that we do not even notice the light that took us there.
Behind every shining light on stage is a great lighting designer, but Jennifer Tipton doesn’t exist in the shadows. She is a giant in her industry, a revered and respected artist who has won too many awards to count: a MacArthur Grant, a Laurence Olivier Award, two Bessies, two Tonys®, two American Theatre Wing Awards to name a few. Jennifer’s work, both in theater and in dance, is known and beloved around the world.
Now a Professor of Design at the Yale School of Drama, Jennifer’s roots began in modern dance. The summer between her junior and senior year of high school in Columbus, Ohio, Jennifer went to the American Dance Festival, where she fell in love with the Graham technique, created by American dancer and choreographer Martha Graham.
She loved it so much that during her senior year, she spent two weeks in New York by herself, studying at the Martha Graham Dance Company studios. Although she transitioned into lighting design after graduating from Cornell University, her dancer’s eye has always remained sharp, intuitive and essential to her lighting.
So how does lighting design work? When working on a new ballet, Jennifer would go see the work in the studio and was often one of the first people to see the whole ballet with virgin eyes. Arriving simply as a viewer, she would ask the choreographer not to talk to her about the piece until she had seen it. “If the choreographer tells me certain things, like [the dancers are] reacting to a ghost at this point, then I will see the ghost” she said. Her independent notions that she then formed about the ballet allowed her to aid the choreographer in their storytelling and give recommendations as to how an intention can be made more present by the light.
The next step, moving a work to the stage from the studio, creates a significant difference in how the ballet looks, and it is here that Jennifer works her magic. With the addition of costumes or sets, from the most detailed to the barest, light is the medium through which these elements come together to form a performance.
On stage, light could be its own character, especially in dance, where choreography and light infuse to sculpt and define the movement. The three-dimensional elements of this relationship are the key to perception of breadth and volume, but it must not be obtrusive. As Jennifer explains:
“The lighting designer has to be very careful not to be bigger than the dance.”
It was always her hope that the audience didn’t take too much notice of the light on stage. If one did take note, it could have been for all the wrong reasons (a stage shrouded in an excess of shadow can certainly be a performance-killer). It is the lighting designer’s job to use the light to not just make the dance visible, but to tell a story—one that is fitting and freeing, allowing an understanding and interpretation of the narrative.
Jennifer’s time as a lighting designer was sometimes difficult. It wasn’t a very glamorous job, and she often missed out on the recognition that the dancers, choreographers, costume designers and composers received. She frequently found herself traveling alone, having to fend for herself, needing to be strong. One must weather the bumps and bruises, she told me, to develop a shell, but also needs to stay sensitive to the surrounding world.
Jennifer made it through with her guiding force, “I’ve been just so in love with light, that those other things don’t matter.”
We should all hope to find something in our lives to talk about with as much reverence and passion as Jennifer does about light.
During the Fall 2019 season at the David H. Koch Theater, ABT presented Tharp Trio, a program of three Twyla Tharp ballets: The Brahms-Haydn Variations, Deuce Coupe and In the Upper Room. It was not just an evening of Twyla, but an evening of Jennifer Tipton too.
She had worked with the famed choreographer on all three ballets that spanned three decades. Having them shown together in one evening was a proud and significant moment for Jennifer, a celebration of many years of work.
The lighting featured in In the Upper Room is particularly striking. The beautiful interference of beaming white lights against semi-transparent fog on stage functions as a curtain through which the dancers can appear and disappear. They do not simply exit the stage, they are engulfed and released, their lingering energy fueling the progression of the dance.
Much has changed in lighting design over the years with new and evolving technology. Computer controls make some things possible that could not have been achieved before, such as the rhythm and dynamics in light transitions. There is an increased fluidity of the light that can be altered and manipulated more so than ever before.
Lights and color filters themselves have changed, and the use of LED lights is getting better, but Jennifer does have one gripe about this: “LEDs are not full spectrum lights, so I really don’t like LED light on skin very much. There are all colors in skin, so it needs a full spectrum—skin of all colors needs full spectrum light to not be flattened out.”
Technology has not threatened the organic creativity of before, for these are just new tools. The most important instruments come from within: “One still needs an eye. One still needs the mind to organize the light. The brain will find a way to organize what it’s seeing, whether you organize it or not.”
In this way, light can be the scenery, the highlighter, the focus, the innocuous presence on stage, but Jennifer hopes that, above all else, lighting designers will always continue to make it about the performer. For what is an empty stage with a set and lighting if there is no one to dance within it?
The writer, Bethany Beacham, joined ABT as Marketing Coordinator in 2020.
In July and August, Lauren Bonfiglio held a book drive to serve children in the New York City area and bring the ABT community together.
"This “free time” experience has kept me connected with my ABT family, along with introducing me to new friends and collaborators. I look forward to volunteering with Brooklyn Book Bodega again in the near future."
There’s been a shared sentiment amongst many of us that having extra time on our hands has led us to explore our other interests and passions. Having more time in the day to think, reflect and fill those hours has proven to be a unique challenge.
Before the pandemic, every department of ABT was gearing up to celebrate our 80th Anniversary, and we were on a high after the successful world premiere for Of Love & Rage.
For me, this momentum fueled my desire to create and stay engaged with the ABT community, along with NYC in the months following the shutdown. Thus far, I’ve enjoyed wearing a few different hats: dancer, college student, teacher, videographer, editor. Volunteering was something that I always wanted to take part in, but with ABT’s bustling rehearsal and performance seasons, it was hard to find time to do so. This unexpected break in our schedule has given me the opportunity to explore volunteering possibilites.
I came across Brooklyn Book Bodega through a community email. They are a 501(c) (3) organization, based in Brooklyn, whose mission is to increase the number of households that have 100+ books for babies, kids and teens. I was enthralled by this idea, as reading was something that I loved while growing up, and I wanted to help families build a library of their own, especially during this time of the pandemic.
With this, I decided to host a book drive and wanted to include my colleagues and friends at ABT. I organized a few different ways as to how people could participate in donating that included books coming through the mail to my apartment and scheduling socially distanced or contactless pick-ups around the boroughs of NYC.
I was so thankful and thrilled for the enthusiastic response, as we’ve already delivered about 600 books to Brooklyn Book Bodega. And, as more packages keep arriving at my apartment, the count is now closer to 800 books!
The process of putting word out, receiving and collecting books, sorting them into age categories and delivering to Brooklyn Book Bodega was a fantastic experience for me, learning how to take a project from beginning to end. I love to keep busy and having Brooklyn Book Bodega to work with made my summer very fulfilling.
While sorting the books, it was fun to come across some of my favorites like The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Giving Tree, Goodnight Moon, along with The Giver, Fahrenheit 451, The House on Mango Street, The Outsidersand of course Romeo and Juliet. It was also so wonderful to have an author in our ABT community sign and donate copies of her new book Gravity.
This “free time” experience has kept me connected with my ABT family, along with introducing me to new friends and collaborators. I look forward to volunteering with Brooklyn Book Bodega again in the near future. I’m feeling super grateful to all that supported this book drive, making it a success. Happy Reading!
Lauren Bonfiglio has been a member of the corps de ballet since 2015.
Last month, the first two books in ABT’s partnership with Random House Children’s Books launched. Have you checked out B is for Ballet and Boys Dance! yet? Find them wherever books are sold!
In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we are recognizing Carmelita Maracci, a ballet dancer, choreographer and teacher influential to ABT's history.
"Carmelita Maracci was the name that everyone should have known, but few did. She was a standout of her generation."
It is rare to encounter a person who has been described with such a wide range of impassioned, fervent adjectives—ones that are only fit for those who have a touch of the extraordinary inside of them. “Phenomenon,” “jaw-dropping,” “a legend”—these are just a few ways dance critics and contemporaries have described Carmelita Maracci.
Hers was the name that everyone should have known, but few did. She was a standout of her generation. John Martin, dance critic for The New York Times in 1937, said she was “manifestly destined for a great career.” Robert Joffrey, a student of Maracci’s, recalled, “There was, and still is, no one like her. She had incredible strength and supreme delicacy. Her technique was astonishing, perfection itself.” It was even said that she “danced with thunder,” but she could have been thunder itself—her talents almost magical.
From her birth in 1908, Carmelita Maracci’s origins were shrouded in mystery, at least for her. Told by her mother that she was born in Montevideo, Uruguay, it was only much later that Maracci’s husband found out and shared with her that she was actually born in Goldfield, Nevada. Her father, both Italian and Spanish, raised his daughter as Spanish, and despite her puzzling background, this had the biggest impact on who she came to be. After Maracci’s family moved to Los Angeles, where she finished her schooling, her parents encouraged her to pursue a future as a dancer, and off she went to New York.
There she studied with Mikhail Mordkin, who formed the Mordkin Ballet, the predecessor to Ballet Theatre. Eventually, she made her way back to Los Angeles and it was there, in the 1930s, that she met Agnes de Mille. Although they were just a few years apart in age, de Mille studied ballet under Maracci’s tutelage.
From the moment they met, de Mille’s fervent admiration and awe of her teacher solidified a strong bond between the two of them. She could see that Maracci was not just a good ballet dancer.
She created something special when she experimented with blending ballet and Spanish dance, a style she called Hybrid dancing, which she began to bring to audiences on both the East and West coasts.
In the early 1950s, Agnes de Mille urged Maracci to choreograph a new work for Ballet Theatre. She created Circo de Espana, which premiered on April 19, 1951. It was a suite of five serious and comic Spanish dances, and on opening night, Carmelita danced the leading roles in three of the pieces: La Maja y el Euisenor, Fire Dance and Portrait in Raw Espana. It was then planned that Alicia Alonso would take over the roles following that performance opening night.
Despite the talents and stage presence Maracci brought, despite rehearsals of a promising and exciting show, the ballet fell flat. The premiere was not a smashing success, and although critics praised her unfailing, staggering technique, the New York audience was not quite sure what to make of the ballet and had a markedly tepid response.
As the story goes, co-director of Ballet Theatre, Oliver Smith, told de Mille that the piece needed to be adjusted and sent her to give Maracci some words of encouragement to pull the piece back together. Antony Tudor told de Mille that the ballet was “No good,” a message she passed along. When she delivered the news to Maracci, she said it “produced in no time a collapse…because Carmy was always on the emotional brink, Donald Saddler [a Soloist at Ballet Theatre] had to carry her from the theater in his arms. And that wasn’t the first time she committed career suicide.”
Maracci retreated away from the limelight and away from Ballet Theatre. Sadly, there are very few records left of her ballet, Circo de Espana. It was only many years later that a 72-year-old Carmelita admitted the devastation she felt at the time to Los Angeles journalist Donna Perlmutter: “She came to deliver the verdict and then she told me that Tudor always says what he doesn’t mean, that he meant I’m no good.”
Carmelita Maracci was a woman whose dancing was powerful enough to be compared with the elements of the earth—her passion burned, her presence on stage was so grounding that she owned spaces and commanded time. Yet, her gifts came with a deep-feeling heart. She was an artist that prioritized feelings and meanings over commercial success.
It didn’t need to matter that the audience liked her work. That wasn’t the point of it. She wanted to dance real stories because she felt real pain. She had led a relatively privileged life herself, a normal childhood, supportive parents, and the pains and horrors in the world that she spoke of sometimes seemed to belong to another world. In fact, they belonged to other people and she just felt them deeply.
She refused to dance in fairy tale ballets with otherworldly and mystical creatures: “I could not be a dancer of fine dreams and graveyard decor. So, I danced hard about what I saw and lived.”
Most of the world never got to see the greatness that was Carmelita Maracci. Her legacy continues on through her beloved students. Jerome Robbins, Carmen de Lavallade and even Charles Chaplin – as well as ABT’s own Erik Bruhn, Christine Sarry and Cynthia Gregory – owe their early dance education to her. Gregory has given accounts of Maracci teaching in class “on pointe and wearing pink tights, puffing on a cigarette, flicking it out the window and dashing off a fast, furious set of pirouettes.”
The world was perhaps robbed of the opportunity to witness the great Maracci, but her students received an education that few others had access to. She infused her ballet classes with lessons about literature, politics and philosophy. She talked to her students not just as dancers but as people. She left a large impact on many dancers, and although that can be a profound legacy, there are others that still call her career trajectory a “tragedy.”
Carmelita said it best when she denounced the notion that her “unplanned oblivion” was a tragedy. “Save that word for human suffering,” she said, “for wars that kill innocent people, for the devastation of the poor and unwanted, for the corruption and cruelty that cause these things in the world. Mine is no tragedy. If art could relieve misery, I’d gladly sacrifice it.”
She refused to conform to or make way for a lot of things in her lifetime—the commercial side of the dance industry, the conventional structure of a ballet class, the confines of a corps de ballet.
But most of all, she refused to compromise who she was for anyone else. She was unique and she owned that.
Greatness can often come with sadness—but mostly from the people who impose their ideas of greatness upon us, and that comes with a considerable and often unfair burden. Sometimes it can be enough to stand quietly in your convictions, knowing that you do so for yourself, knowing that that in itself is great.
The writer, Bethany Beacham, joined ABT as Marketing Coordinator in 2020.
How did you become a wig and makeup artist for ABT?
"I have always been drawn to the intensity and excitement of the show being live. Even though shows are very well rehearsed, mishaps can happen at any moment, so being alert and a quick thinker is essential."
By Rena Most
At the very young age of two, as my parents recall, I was interested in and loved lipstick, the only makeup my mother used. I regularly wanted to wear it and quickly learned how to apply it. My parents supported this strange fascination and my practice grew.
From painting my sisters’ faces and studying different looks in magazines to getting friends ready for events and eventually getting involved with community theater, I knew I wanted to pursue the makeup industry in my early teens.
My sister’s high school art teacher recommended I take an art class when I got to high school. Reluctantly, I did. At the age of 16, I discovered a new passion and talent. I continued to take various art classes and went on to study Fine Arts in undergrad. After exploring different avenues of the makeup industry, I had decided I wanted to pursue the theatrical realm.
Working with wigs and hair came later, once I was already pursuing professional theater. I had to learn and practice a lot to catch up to my peers who had been doing hair and wigs for years. I am still learning new tricks and techniques!
Working in theater was appealing to me for several reasons. I have always been drawn to the intensity and excitement of the show being live. Even though shows are very well rehearsed, mishaps can happen at any moment, so being alert and a quick thinker is essential.
Theater often happens at a very quick pace, which adds excitement and sometimes chaos! We often have to get talent ready in 10 – 30 minutes, while someone doing the same thing for print or TV may easily have an hour to prep their subject. This forces us to know our craft inside and out, to be able to move quickly without stopping to think and still produce high-quality results.
Working live also pushes you to work with many different teams in a unique way that is not always required in other types of productions. Theater is known for its magic-like quick changes, the “How did they do that?” moments – the answer is, with a lot of practiced hard work and a whole team of people! It is the quickness and talent of the backstage crew that makes it happen.
Working for ABT has included all of those exciting characteristics plus so much more. Working with ABT is unique because of its repertoire and touring itinerary. We are constantly performing different ballets in different cities. Immaculate organization has been crucial for me to be able to efficiently set up our room and get my team ready, no matter where we are and what ballet we are performing.
We often have a day or two to unpack our giant road boxes and set everything up (including translating our notes for our local team of hair and makeup artists, depending on where we are) before our first performance, so efficiency is key. We perform so many ballets with an endless amount of characters to create – some ballets are harder than others.
Whether it is creating a villain, aging 20-year old dancers to look 80, managing 200 wigs or 50 mustaches, the hair and makeup room is never boring! Bringing these characters to life each night is always fun, but working and forming bonds with the talented, hilarious, kind, intelligent dancers of ABT each day is what truly makes this job so special.
This is the story of how ABT conductor David LaMarche solved the mystery of the missing music of Les Sylphides.
"ABT was incredibly excited to be able to bring back this historic score that fall when they performed the ballet at the David H. Koch Theater. "
There are many ways to describe Michel Fokine’s 1909 ballet Les Sylphides, which was thought to be the first non-narrative ballet, one that was crafted with no boundaries to mood and imagination. It is a ballet blanc—a ballet in which the corps de ballet is dressed all in white to represent ethereal ghosts, fairies or transcendent spirits.
Though that could be crafted into a story unto itself, this ballet has no narrative to follow, only the enchanting beauty of the sylphs dancing with a man under the midnight moon’s luminescence.
Though it was a short romantic classic, it was revolutionary and left an indelible influence on 20th-century ballet.
The score, originally composed by Frédéric Chopin, has been orchestrated many times, despite the challenges some see in translating Chopin’s piano pieces into something fitting for a whole orchestra. Maurice Ravel, Alexander Gretchaninov, Gordon Jacob, Roy Douglas and Benjamin Britten all had their go, but it is Britten’s score in particular that is the protagonist of our story.
An Englishman from Lowestoft, Suffolk, Benjamin Britten, born in 1913, showed his musical talent from an early age and attended the Royal College of Music. In 1939, along with his partner, Peter Pears, his pacificism forced him to leave an ever-growing antagonistic Britain facing World War II. With a quick stop in Canada, they ended up in America and settled down in Brooklyn, New York. They resided at 7 Middagh Street, an artistic commune of sorts for intellectuals and creatives, including Oliver Smith.
A scenic and interior designer by trade, Smith began his official collaboration with Ballet Theatre working with Jerome Robbins and Leonard Bernstein on Fancy Free. The year after his scenery graced Ballet Theatre’s stages, Smith became co-director of the Company, along with founder Lucia Chase. But before all of that took place, Smith had a hand in creating one of the first ballets to be performed by ABT, Les Sylphides. He commissioned his friend Benjamin Britten to reorchestrate Chopin’s music for the ballet for only $300, and though that was worth a lot more than it is today, it was still considered tuppence for the task.
Now our story must fast forward 73 years to 2013. Britten’s orchestration of Les Sylphides had fallen out of use at ABT, which had had to use an orchestration by Roy Douglas the few times the ballet had been performed in its later years. It was a perfectly fine score, but never “quite right.”
Not like Benjamin Britten’s score, which was lost, and no one had sought to find it, until 2013.
“I love mysteries,” David LaMarche says as he recalls his venture to find the lost score. With the Company since 1999, David is a conductor, rehearsal pianist and administrator of the Music Department at ABT. A man of many skills, he is the gatekeeper of the music that the Orchestra plays. Indeed, he is the gatekeeper of this mystery. Who better to talk to than the man who solved it?
The second David in our story—David Vaughan, a dance historian and close friend to David LaMarche—asked his friend if he had ever heard the Benjamin Britten orchestration of the ballet when he found out that ABT was planning to perform Les Sylphides that fall. They went to the New York Public Library Jerome Robbins Dance Division in Lincoln Center, Manhattan and thanks to the library’s vast resources, they were able to watch an old performance of the ballet that included Britten’s score.
They both decided that they wanted to find it, bring it back to its home, and back to the stage.
The search began with David LaMarche sifting through ABT’s music office, which was no easy task as there were stacks upon stacks of paper and boxes of music from the Company’s current repertoire. Eventually, David come across a peculiar miniature score that had no name attached to it.
“I started leafing through [the score] and I thought, “‘I remember hearing this in that video tape that I saw at Lincoln Center,”’ David recalls. “This must be the score that goes along with the Benjamin Britten version.”
But he couldn’t be sure. Invigorated by this find, he set off on the next step of his journey to search ABT’s warehouse in Secaucus, New Jersey. He enlisted the help of this story’s third David, David Carp, the ABT Orchestra librarian, who was just as eager to find the music.
Now reader, if at this point of the mystery you expected a dramatic warehouse quest that spanned many days and sleepless nights, then I must regretfully disappoint you.
Astoundingly, LaMarche remembers, “We just kept pulling boxes out and going through each one to see if we could find it and after about half an hour, we found a folder that had some parts from Les Sylphides and in that folder, there was one card that said ‘Second trumpet, arranged by Benjamin Britten’.”
It was a gift that the search was simple, since ABT’s warehouse is filled with an eclectic array of costumes, sets, props, minutes of old board meetings, and of course, a prolific collection of music.
However, the mystery had not been solved yet. Once this folder was found, the next step was to confirm that it was actually Britten’s score. LaMarche brought it back to ABT and compared it to the unlabeled one he had found in his office. His suspicions were confirmed when, after sending a copy to the The Britten–Pears Arts Foundation in the United Kingdom, they excitedly told David, “I think we can surmise that this is the lost score of Britten’s Les Sylphides.”
ABT was incredibly excited to be able to bring back this historic score that fall when they performed the ballet at the David H. Koch Theater.
So how did it get lost? I asked David.
ABT has a vast library of music for an ever-expanding repertoire. Every year, new works are introduced, and ABT has undergone a lot of change since 1940. At a certain point, the music office could not accommodate the sheer amount of papers they stored, and some of the music was moved to the warehouse, making space for the more modernized classics that were being performed. Though the score could also have been lost because ABT lends out music to other companies.
Once Britten’s score was found, many ballet companies wanted to perform Les Slyphides to the newly discovered music. It was exciting not just for ABT, but for the ballet community at large.
Things get lost, especially when they are at the mercy of the inevitability of passing time; we all know this. Each week on this blog, we look back to reflect and amplify the voices and stories that haven’t been widely shared before.
The hope is to think about the lessons we learned back then, and the lessens that we learn retroactively. There is always something new to gain from the past, and sometimes, we are lucky to get something back that once was lost. As was the case for Benjamin Britten’s score to Les Sylphide, it returned to its home at American Ballet Theatre and we are all the more better for it.
The writer, Bethany Beacham, joined ABT as Marketing Coordinator in 2020.
"Rebecca Wright had a tremendous impact on my career at ABT."
By Dennis J. Walters
In 2000, I joined ABT at age 22, a kid right out of college with a resume that I would now be horrified to share with my interns during resume week!
Somehow, I was hired as the Education Coordinator, and on my first day on the job, my boss Mary Jo Ziesel asked if I wanted to teach the next day’s Make a Ballet class at a High School in Newark, NJ.
I had never taught a class. I had no idea what the curriculum was. The students were only a few years younger than me!
In that moment, I instantly realized that I was going to be presented with opportunities at ABT. Every day I found myself in situations that I had neither the experience nor expertise to handle, but I knew that every uncomfortable situation was an opportunity. Every failure was a kernel of information and a lesson to help me grow and succeed in the future.
Each summer, I volunteered to coordinate one of ABT’s Summer Intensive programs in either Alabama, Texas or California. In the early 2000s, the program was run by former ABT Soloist Rebecca Wright, who had a tremendous impact on my career at ABT. Rebecca was a ball of energy that could light up a dance studio or office. She had the uncanny ability to see talent where others didn’t and then find a way to instill confidence in those that needed it.
She saw something in me from the very beginning, and she was always there to encourage me when I was unsure of myself. It sounds strange, but I feel like I can trace my entire career back to a conversation we had over dinner in California in either 2001 or 2002.
“The advice was so simple. She said, ‘If you can instill change in just two things every year, then that is success and you have been successful.'”
This sentence had a profound impact on me. It made me shift my attention away from my insecurities and lack of knowledge or skills and redirect it to the areas where I was succeeding. I couldn’t fix everything at once, but I could lay the foundation now, and then year after year, build upon that foundation until I have created something much bigger than I could ever have imagined.
These words told me to trust myself. They told me not to wildly swing for the fences but to focus on keeping the ball in play and be confident that good things will follow.
Sadly, Rebecca passed from cancer in 2006, far too early and certainly before I was able to fully comprehend the impact she had on my life and career.
In 2010, I had the opportunity to design ABT’s Internship program, and today I can clearly see Rebecca’s influence throughout this program. Her mentorship meant the world to me, and it warms my heart to know that her legacy is still touching so many lives and careers.
As Director of Education Operations and Director of ABT’s Internship Program, Dennis Walters inspires the next generation of dancers and arts administrators. He celebrated 20 years with ABT in 2020.
Check out our new online learning platform, ABTKids Daily, dreamed up by Dennis and the Education team.
We asked members of the ABT community to remember where they were on September 11, 2001 when terrorist attacks struck New York City and other parts of the United States. Here are their stories.
“The rest of the season that year felt like it had more of a sense of mission to it. We had to rally around—we were American Ballet Theatre."
Where were you on the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001? You might remember exactly where you were, what you were doing and who you were with when you learned that a pair of planes careened directly for the World Trade Center. You might have watched helplessly as the Twin Towers fell, one after the other—only 17 minutes apart. We all share the life-defining moments of that tragic, fateful day. Everyone has a story.
These are the stories of seven individuals at ABT, where they were on 9/11 and what happened next. Susan Jones; a Ballet Master in 2001, now Regisseur at ABT. Clinton Luckett, the senior member of the men’s corps de ballet in 2001, now Associate Artistic Director. James Whitehill, who has risen from a member of production staff back in 2001 to Director of Production. Dennis Walters, Education Associate in 2001, now Director, Education Operations. Olinda Cedeno, the longstanding, beloved Company masseuse. Sascha Radetsky, corps de ballet member in 2001 who now Artistic Director of ABT Studio Company. And Carlos Lopez, who joined ABT as a senior corps de ballet member the week before September 11, 2001 and is now Director of Repertoire.
Dennis Walters, the youngest member of the full-time administrative staff back then, was one of the few people who stayed in New York while the Company went on tour. He remembers exiting the Union Square Subway Station, just a few streets down from ABT’s offices and studios at 890 Broadway, confronted with an unusual amount of people facing downtown, looking up at the sky.
“I turned and started scanning the building rooftops trying to figure out what everyone was looking at and then I finally saw the gaping hole in the side of the World Trade Center.”
Dennis remembers looking at the horrific scene before rushing to join his colleagues at the office, who were trying to process any piece of information they could gather. They were together when the first tower fell. They were together when the second tower fell. They were all in utter shock.
The rest of the Company had set out for a three-week tour on September 10, one day before the attacks. They were meant to perform on the evening of September 11 in Kansas City and then fly to the West Coast for the remaining portion of the tour in San Diego, Berkeley, and Seattle on September 12.
Having arrived in New York from Spain just a week before, Carlos Lopez barely had any time in New York City before leaving with the Company on tour. Still jet lagged, Carlos woke very early on the morning of the attacks. He decided to spend some time down in the lobby of the hotel watching TV. He saw the first plane hit.
Sascha Radetsky was doing calisthenics in his hotel room when he heard his now-wife Stella Abrera scream and rushed to the TV to see what was going on.
Susan Jones was up early that morning, and turned on The Today Show, not knowing she would see both planes fly into the towers and watch the events unfold in real time.
Clinton Luckett turned the TV on and thought he was watching a movie. He turned to the next channel, which was oddly playing the same movie, until it struck him—this was real.
James Whitehill received a call from a friend to turn the TV on. He tuned in just in time to see the disturbing images of the North tower on fire, and just moments later the second plane hit the South tower. Now the whole world was watching.
After arriving at the theater, James and the production crew tried to continue working, not knowing what was going to happen and what other events would unfold:
“I was overcome by the eerie feeling of helplessness, anger, horror and disbelief at what we were all witnessing. Then the realization that in the midst of all this I had to get back to work and gently redirect everyone else’s attention to the stage.”
The dancers began the ritual of morning class in the theater, but everyone was ducking in and out, taking turns to watch the news in a crew room close to the stage. By that point in his career, Jamie had seen thousands of classes, rehearsals and performances.
“One underlying constant,” he said, “is how completely focused and driven the dancers are. During class and rehearsals that day, it was obvious that much of that focus was interrupted by the events at home. There was genuine concern that someone onstage might get hurt in a moment of distraction during fast-paced, tight-knit choreography coupled with moving scenery and changing lights.”
There was a difficult decision to make—should they perform that night? It can be easy to forget, if you live in or near a big city with easy access to the arts, that some people, like the intended audience that night in Kansas City, wait for a long time to see the ballet. As a touring company, ABT held a responsibility that many other companies didn’t—to share ballet with the largest possible audience.
“Apparently ticket holders made it clear that they wanted to come—perhaps to get away from the reality of what had occurred,” Susan Jones said. It was decided that the show must go on. There was just one complication.
In the program that night was Paul Taylor’s Depression-era ballet, set to songs from The Great Depression, Black Tuesday, a cruel coincidence on that fateful day.
There was no chance to replace it with something else. ABT was performing to tape that night, meaning there was no orchestra to play the score to a different ballet. In a bold move led by Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie and the Company Managers, the show stayed intact.
It was clear that there was an appreciation from the audience, an intimate gratitude they had for the presence of performers facing a tragedy at home. But there was also gratitude from the Company for the presence of the audience when they needed something to dance for. Sometime later, Kevin told the Los Angeles Times in reflection of that day,
“There can’t be a question in your mind as to whether or not it’s appropriate to perform. You are part of the healing process. Last night, it was going to be a fun tour. This morning, it’s a mission.”
Taylor’s Black Tuesday ends with a powerful solo danced to “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”, which portrays a WW1 soldier struggling to rebuild his life after coming home. All of the dancers felt sickened throughout the ballet, for standing in the background in every scene, was the New York City skyline. A skyline with two very intact Twin Towers.
The final number was performed that night by Ethan Stiefel. The curtain closed on his powerful performance to a stunned second of silence before the audience erupted into thunderous applause. Ethan joined the cast last for his bow, running out in a heart-wrenching moment, holding an American flag up high.
“I’m getting chills just thinking about it,” Sascha said as he recounted the story to me.
Given that all flights were grounded, ABT’s plans of flying from Kansas City to San Diego on September 12 were out of the question. That morning the entire Company boarded two buses for a two-day, 30-hour bus ride across the country to make it to San Diego by Thursday.
September 11 was an especially grueling day for the production team and the crew. After the crew worked from 9am to 1am and endured a restless and brutal journey, they barely had time to check in to the hotel and shower before heading to the next theater to begin the set up. For others, the trip was unforgiving in other ways. For Olinda Cedeno, it would be the worst bus ride of her life.
Olinda and I spoke about 9/11 for a long time. Her story is particularly heartbreaking, as is true for many, many families who lost loved ones that day, and it was an honor to hear it. For her, it was one of her closes friends, Captain Patrick Brown, FDNY, of Ladder 3 on East 13th Street. He was a decorated Marine—a Sergeant—in the Vietnam War. He was one of the most highly decorated active members of the FDNY and a role model for every firefighter.
On 9/11, Paddy and 11 other firefighters from Ladder 3 were the first to arrive at the scene. He and his men safely evacuated over 25,000 people from the World Trade Center in one of the most successful rescue efforts in U.S. history. Paddy and his men were on the 40th floor of the North tower when it fell. 5,000 people attended his funeral in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. His was the last funeral of Ladder 3, and nothing could be more fitting for a man who was always, as Olinda put it, “The first one in and the last one out.”
I take this brief detour because there is no way I can do Olinda and Captain Paddy Brown true justice. No matter what, even 19 years later, we must share these stories and remember the great sacrifice that 412 emergency responders took on 9/11. We remember them, along with the 2,977 brave individuals who perished on that day.
Olinda chose to sit on the noisy bus with the dancers that day. She knew her friend Paddy would be down there at Ground Zero. She knew he would be the first one to run into the burning tower.
“He’s professional,” she remembers thinking, “He knows what he’s doing. He was tough stuff.” As she continued to hear about the 360 some odd firefighters missing, she never thought he could be one of them.
But then the phone rang. Paddy’s dear friend, Robert, was sobbing as he told Olinda that his brother was missing. “Well, where did he go?” she kept asking. “He’s gone,” Robert managed to say before he hung up. She began to sob, burying herself into a pillow she took from the hotel (“I was not going to be on that bus for two days without a pillow!”).
Dancers all around her began asking what was wrong, what happened? She lifted her head for just a moment, long enough to tell them the news.
“It was amazing what happened. I had a dancer jump over the seat to sit next to me. Wherever a dancer could put their hands on my body they did. I felt all these hands all over me. I didn’t even know who it was, but it was so healing, people just touching me.”
She sat through two agonizing bus rides across the country, but not once was she alone.
Reflecting on the return home, Clinton told me, “The rest of the season that year felt like it had more of a sense of mission to it. We had to rally around—we were American Ballet Theatre. Right before the Fall Season began, the entire organization, staff from every single department, gathered in Studio 5 and took a group picture together.”
It was the first time they had ever taken a picture like that. Though the smiles were genuine, they all intimately felt the lasting loss of 9/11. Sascha Radetsky adds:
“There was this remarkable feeling of this bond—of community, of kinship, of kindness with one another, of patience, and under all of that was a sense of mourning and a sense of grief.”
The presence of friends, family and colleagues took on a new importance. The work ABT did had a purpose it didn’t necessarily have before. Dancers have the unique ability to express unspeakable grief through a wordless artform, and sometimes that’s all we need to heal.
In the face of tragedy, horrors no one ever could have dreamed of, New York stood defiantly in a place that no one, no terrorist, could take away. Today, we still stand together. We remember together. None of us will ever forget.
We dedicate this to the courageous heroes and heroines who lost their lives in New York City, to the unimaginably fearless passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 who lost their lives in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, and to the inspiring, hard-working victims at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. We are thankful for your bravery and sacrifice. You will always be remembered.
Special thanks to Olinda Cedeno, Susan Jones, Carlos Lopez, Clinton Luckett, Sascha Radetsky, Dennis Walters and James Whitehill.
The writer, Bethany Beacham, joined ABT in 2020 as Marketing Coordinator.
Hello, my name is Kanon Kimura! I am an apprentice with American Ballet Theatre. I am a native of Tokyo, Japan. I came to New York City two years ago to audition for American Ballet Theatre Studio Company over the summer. To my delight, I got in! I was promoted to apprentice after one year with ABT Studio Company and will be continuing my apprenticeship through the 2020/21 season!
I’ve lived in the USA for six years now; two of them in New York City. I’ve noticed many differences between Japan and America. My first observation is that everything is so much bigger in NYC than in Tokyo! It wasn’t just the buildings. The food is served in larger portions and the people are taller. Way taller than I am! Another difference is how organized and clean Japan is compared to New York. Sometimes New York can be really rough; however, I’ve grown to like the wild and sleepless culture of NYC.
In regard to the ballet world, the biggest difference is how big the ballet companies are. There are almost double the number of dancers in ABT than in companies in Japan. In NYC, the dancers come from all around the world – the best of the best! It’s incredible to work among many legends of the ballet world, past and present. ABT also performs a lot more than many Japanese companies.
At the end of the day, I love being able to call both NYC and Tokyo my home. I get the best of both worlds and have learned so much from these two amazing cities!
ABT made history in 2010 with its triumphant tour to Cuba, breaking a 50-year cultural embargo between the two nations.
"The tour was a reminder that there is much to communicate through the universal language of art."
A national treasure not only in her own country, but around the world, Cuban ballerina Alicia Alonso began her career as one of the inaugural members of Ballet Theatre in 1940. No one could have known back then, but the budding star would go on to be a household name for more than just her dancing.
After returning to Cuba for a few years to recover from extensive eye surgery, Alonso headed back to New York, rejoined Ballet Theatre in 1943, and shot to stardom when she stepped into the role of Giselle, replacing the injured Alicia Markova.
The stunning dancer was promoted to Principal Dancer in 1946, and in 1948, when Ballet Theatre hit a financial crisis, she left New York and returned to Cuba to develop her own company, the Alicia Alonso Ballet Company.
When Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba in 1959, he turned Alonso’s company into the National Ballet of Cuba (Ballet Nacional de Cuba), which he considered the cultural chef-d’oeuvre of his new socialist state, and with his $200,000 funding to the company, he sought to make the arts, particularly ballet, available to everyone.
When Alonso’s company hosted the first ever International Ballet Festival of Havana (Festival de Ballet de La Habana)from March 28, 1960 to April 2, 1960 at the Pro Arte Auditorium, American Ballet Theatre visited Cuba, reuniting with the beloved Alonso. This would be the first and last time ABT would dance in Alonso’s home country for half a century.
Fifty years later, ABT’s return to Cuba in 2010 received wide-spread national attention. When Fidel Castro rose to power and established his alliance with the Soviet Union and its socialist regime, the U.S. established policies that were intended to isolate the country economically and diplomatically, longer than it has with any other country. The historic return to Cuba was one of a series of cultural exchanges allowed under the Obama administration, who eventually restored diplomatic ties with leader Raul Castro.
The tour almost didn’t happen when the White House drew the line at accepting outside American sponsorship to help pay for it. It was the Cuban government who stepped forward in the end and pledged to accommodate the Company’s members while in Havana at no charge, ensuring that ABT would get to perform in Cuba after all.
Even though the significance of this was rooted in fraught political relations, the artists at ABT saw past this and focused on the unity and goodwill that come from cultural exchanges.
This visit was particularly special, as ABT was personally invited by Alicia herself to take part in the 22nd Havana International Ballet Festival, at which she was being honored.
ABT’s performances were held in the Karl Marx Theatre in the Cuban capital. Within two days, tickets to see the Company perform were sold out, however, ABT’s performances of Billy the Kid, Theme and Variations, Fall River Legend, Jardin aux Lilas, Fancy Free, Les Sylphides and Graduation Ball were broadcast to the entire country.
Everyone was watching as ABT paid special tribute to Alicia with Theme and Variations, a ballet created for ABT with Alonso and Igor Youskevitch in the leading roles, by the legendary choreographer George Balanchine in 1947.
For two ABT dancers, José Manuel Carreño and Xiomara Reyes, the visit meant even more, as it was their homecoming, both having left Cuba as young adults and not returned since.
Reyes left home in 1992 at just 18 years old. In an interview with The Associated Press in 2010, Reyes shared that her anticipation and excitement in the weeks before her return were keeping her up at night, adding, “I am filled with so many emotions: sadness, joy, everything. To be here and see people you haven’t seen in 18 years. It is very beautiful to see that the people remember you.” She was reunited with her half-sister, two nieces, and many people who had worked with her as a young dancer. Carreño told Dance Magazine that Fall that the homecoming “was a dream come true.”
ABT’s presence in Havana was one filled with openness and curiosity. The historic visit allowed American and Cuban dancers to meet, learn from each other’s worlds and come together in the name of ballet. ABT’s dancers took class with Cuban teachers, gaining valuable insight into the Cuban technique.
Students at The Cuban National Ballet School, the largest ballet school in the world, had the rare opportunity to take a two-hour master class with ABT’s Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie, where he demonstrated each step full-out. The students were also gifted with 500 new pairs of ballet slippers. ABT’s performances immediately won over the Cuban audiences, who shared their boundless love and appreciation for the American dancers with fervor.
The visit proved that sometimes individual people can step out from the shadows of their politically mired nations. That we as individuals can show up for each other despite historic and deep-seated tensions.
None of it could have happened if not for Alicia Alonso, who shared her thoughts at the festival:
“It’s so beautiful to see that we all speak the same language when we are on stage.”
The tour was a reminder that there is much to communicate through the universal language of art. It was reassurance that bonds can form, and ties can be strengthened when we acknowledge and come together through the sameness of our differences.
One day, hopefully one day soon, we will begin to travel the world again and share our artistic language with those overseas. What a great wide world we live in, one that has been forced to put up strict boundaries to keep its people safe. There is so much out there to explore, so many places to go, and it is so much better when you go there dancing for the sake of humanity, speaking to the soul of mankind.
The writer, Bethany Beacham, joined ABT as Marketing Coordinator in 2020.