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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 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.

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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!

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June 23, 2020
What is your favorite ballet to conduct?

"Undoubtedly one of the greatest ballet scores of the 20th Century is Igor Stravinsky's Apollo.

By Ormsby Wilkins

Undoubtedly one of the greatest ballet scores of the 20th Century is Apollon Musagète by Igor Stravinsky. However, it is probably less appreciated than the big three ballets written at an earlier stage of Stravinsky’s career: Firebird, Petrouchka and The Rite of Spring. I have had occasion recently to delve more deeply into this work. 

Firstly, I have been fortunate enough to have conducted performances of Apollo with three different companies over the last two years, including ones with American Ballet Theatre during its 2019 Fall Season at the Koch Theater in New York. 

Secondly, I recently did an interview for an online arts journal and as I knew that this interview would be an extensive look into the score, as well as its close relationship to the inspired choreography of George Balanchine, I did some extra reading and to my delight turned up all sorts of interesting facts and stories surrounding the original creation of the ballet.

Stella Abrera (Terpsichore), Melanie Hamrick (Calliope), Joo Won Ahn (Apollo) and Katherine Williams (Polyhymnia) in <i>Apollo</i>. © The George Balanchine Trust. Photo: Rosalie O’Connor.
Stella Abrera (Terpsichore), Melanie Hamrick (Calliope), Joo Won Ahn (Apollo) and Katherine Williams (Polyhymnia) in Apollo. © The George Balanchine Trust. Photo: Rosalie O’Connor.

I did know that the first performance, commissioned by The Library of Congress, had taken place in Washington, D.C. in April of 1928, though of course that choreography was not by Balanchine but by Adolph Bolm, now completely lost and forgotten. What I did not know was that in some early sketches, Stravinsky had planned to include harp and piano in the instrumentation, perhaps representing Apollo’s lyre, but in the end composed it for a string orchestra (the solo violin makes a glorious stand-in for the lyre!).  It was only two months later, in June 1928, when the Balanchine version (now with the simplified title Apollo) was danced by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, with Serge Lifar as Apollo. 

Ormsby Wilkins joined ABT as Music Director in 2005.

Learn more about Apollo
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June 18, 2020
What is your favorite memory in your career?

"I will never forget the first time I got to do a run-through of In the Upper Room."

By Carlos Gonzalez

Cast of <i>In the Upper Room</i> poses backstage at Northrop while on tour to Minnesota in 2019. Photo courtesy Carlos Gonzalez.
Cast of In the Upper Room poses backstage at Northrop while on tour to Minnesota in 2019. Photo courtesy Carlos Gonzalez.

Hi there! I’m Carlos Gonzalez and this is my fourth year as a dancer with American Ballet Theatre. I’m in the corps de ballet, and I’m dying to be reunited with all my friends and wonderful people I get to work with every day post-pandemic.

Choosing a favorite memory is hard since there are too many that I would love to share with everyone. But there is one memory from my career so far that sticks out the most.

In the fall of 2018, I got the chance to learn In the Upper Room by Twyla Tharp. Not only was I excited to work with the one-and-only Twyla Tharp, but I was also looking forward to absorbing as much knowledge from her as I could from the moment she stepped in the studio. I remember everybody telling me how amazing their experiences performing that piece onstage were, but I didn’t really believe how incredible it would be until I got the opportunity to dance it myself. I will never forget that first time the second cast got to do a run-through of In the Upper Room. I have never been that exhausted in my life! But also I had never felt more accomplished.

Cast of <i>In the Upper Room</i> gathers on stage before the show (2019). Photo courtesy Carlos Gonzalez.
Cast of In the Upper Room gathers on stage before the show (2019). Photo courtesy Carlos Gonzalez.

You know when you put every part of yourself into something, and then the work pays off? I remember feeling how the hard work, day after day, finally felt rewarded, and that feeling was common among all the dancers in both casts. Everybody gave an incredible effort, and we all went home really happy that day. The second cast performed the work for the first time on tour in Minneapolis in April of 2019; that one show was unforgettable. I loved that we were all completely devoted to giving 110% of ourselves to it. And the thing I love the most is how In the Upper Room requires that all of the dancers work as a team: we go through the nine different sections of the ballet together. It really taught me how to distribute my energy and how to make a challenge so fun and enjoyable.

I really hope I get to perform In the Upper Room again and pass it on to future generations who will have the wonderful experience of doing the work in the studio and seeing it come together on stage.

Carlos Gonzalez joined ABT as a member of the corps de ballet in 2017.