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SideBarre

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 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.

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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…