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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 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.

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June 18, 2024

Pride Feature:
Honoring Leopold Allen

A Visionary in Hair and Makeup Artistry

As part of ABT’s Pride Month initiatives, the ABT RISE Legacy Committee is honored to feature Leopold Samuel Allen (1945-1989), the first resident Hair and Makeup Artist for American Ballet Theatre and a cornerstone of the Company from 1978 to 1988.

"Leopold was a lovely person; talented, caring, fun and with a huge heart."

- Mikhail Baryshnikov

Leopold Allen and Michael Owen. Photo: Paul B. Goode.
Leopold Allen and Michael Owen. Photo: Paul B. Goode.

Born on November 17, 1945, in New York City, Leopold was the only boy and fourth of five children born to his mother and father, Leopold and Louise Allen. From a young age, Leopold displayed extraordinary talent for drawing and painting. He inherited a love for fashion and creativity from his father, a tailor from Antigua, and his mother, a seamstress from North Carolina.  

By junior high, Leopold was designing outfits for his four sisters, Joan, Glenda, Rose, and Bertha, which led him to attend the High School of Fashion Industries in NYC. After graduating, he began his career with Diane Martin Wigs, where his talent caught the eye of pioneering Black supermodel Naomi Sims. 

"Leopold was such a light at ABT. He made the process of putting makeup on so much fun. He had the funniest sense of humor and was always making us laugh. He just made everything delightful. Every night his makeup was a work of art. I always felt safe in Leopold’s Artistic hands. After he passed away and I began doing my own makeup I followed his every detail so in a way he lived on through me."

- Susan Jaffe

"Leopold’s make up room was always a haven for me during some difficult times. There was music, laughter, and genuine caring there. He was a very special person….talented, professional, intelligent, and sympathetic to all. I loved going to visit his “oasis” even when I didn’t need any makeup or hair assistance."

- Cynthia Gregory

"As one of the dancers who got to spend time in the chair in Leopold's room, I can say that it was a refuge. He always had music playing and it felt light and happy."

- Lisa Rinehart

Leopold Allen and Alessandra Ferri. Photo: Paul B. Goode.
Leopold Allen and Alessandra Ferri. Photo: Paul B. Goode.

Leopold’s innovative work with wigs and makeup earned him positions at the Metropolitan Opera House and later American Ballet Theatre. At ABT, under the direction of Mikhail Baryshnikov, he traveled extensively with the Company, including on the Baryshnikov & Co. tours. Leopold expertly honed his craft in beauty and character makeup, hairstyling, wigs, and prosthetics, blending artistry and technical skill to create stunning looks that captivated both audiences and performers. 

His career was distinguished by bringing to life many incredible productions and notable characters, including Carabosse in MacMillan’s The Sleeping Beauty and the Bronze Idol in La Bayadere. His work has been featured in books such as Ten Dancers and Private View: Inside Baryshnikov’s American Ballet Theatre. 

"Leopold was among the first people I met when I joined the company in August 1985. I arrived from London directly for a performance of Act 2 Bayadere at Wolftrap. He made me feel welcomed immediately with his joy and his smile. I was very nervous about my debut, but he made me laugh, teasing me about my British/Italian accent. We all loved him; he was one of us. "

- Alessandra Ferri

"Characters like Carabosse were very involved and took a lot of time, so I spent a lot of time in his chair. I always knew going into his room that he was going to be prepared. When I premiered a role, I was nervous, but he understood and knew exactly what to do. It was like he was taking care of his own family. He transformed us. He was a special and gifted artist, and when he passed stage makeup lost a star."

- Michael Owen

"He had the best smile, which made us feel confident and happy before the most terrifying of ballets. I don’t think I ever felt as glamorous as when he did my hair and makeup. He was an original and I am so fortunate that he passed through my life in ABT."

- Cynthia Harvey

Cheryl Yeager and Leopold Allen. Photo: Paul B. Goode.
Cheryl Yeager and Leopold Allen. Photo: Paul B. Goode.

American Ballet Theatre fondly remembers Leopold as a radiant light, always filled with joy, comfort, and positivity. He constantly lifted spirits with music and singing, filling rooms with laughter and making everyone in his chair feel ready to take the stage. 

A proud gay Black man, Leopold was gender nonconforming and undeniably himself from a young age. His life was tragically cut short by AIDS on October 27, 1989, but his legacy lives on in the dance, fashion, and performance worlds he helped shape, and in the lives of those he impacted. 

"The joy and comfort in Leopold’s makeup room was infectious. Even though I did my own makeup... I always went to Leopold for final touches. It was a ritual. It wasn’t about the powder or what he was doing but how he made me feel. I felt cared for... He was a magician."

- Cheryl Yeager

"My first few years at ABT, I spent most of my free hours at the theatre hanging out with Leopold. listening to his music and watching him work. He always made me feel welcome...his wonderful sense of humor and warm personality made his makeup room feel like home. When I had my first solo roles to perform (like in "Sleeping Beauty" and Clark Tippet's "Rigaudon"), he would "touch up" my makeup which always made me feel special and glamorous."

- Julie Kent

"He was a consummate professional and a wonderful artist. Most importantly, a caring and kind individual who loved his work. We loved sharing the creative process with him."

- Victor Barbee

Leopold Allen. Photo courtesy of Sharon Kyle.
Leopold Allen. Photo courtesy of Sharon Kyle.

At the start of the month, ABT dancers, staff, and faculty gathered with members of Leopold’s family to kick off Pride Month and honor this legacy by unveiling a photo of Leopold on the wall of ABT’s 890 Broadway studios where he can be remembered for years to come.

For more on Leopold’s personal impact on his family, please read the following LA Progressive article:

LA Progressive

"He loved to make people beautiful, but he also loved to make people believe they were beautiful."

- Sharon Kyle, Leopold's Niece

Photo: Emma Zordan.
Photo: Emma Zordan.

During ABT’s 2024 Summer season, please take a moment to visit our exhibit to honor Leopold Allen’s legacy at the vitrine in the South TV Lounge, near List Hall in the Metropolitan Opera House.

 

Celebrate Pride with ABT
Posted In
History
June 12, 2024

Tutus and Their Glory

The Evolution of Costuming in Ballet

From tying satin ribbons to wearing dazzling sequined tutus, what a dancer wears on stage captivates the audience’s attention as much as their flawless pirouette or stunning penché. As the world of ballet enters a contemporary era of storytelling, costuming is living beyond the tulle tutus of Swan Lake to a statement of inclusivity with Wayne McGregor’s Woolf Works.

The Wilis from <em>Giselle</em>. Photo: Amos Adams/Charleston Gaillard Center.
The Wilis from Giselle. Photo: Amos Adams/Charleston Gaillard Center.

Before the creation of modern tutus and pointe shoes in the seventeenth century, male dancers wore tonnelets or fabric wired skirts, while female dancers wore costumes that resembled court dresses. No matter the gender, both males and females danced in heeled shoes. By the eighteenth century, costuming began to shift with everyday fashion trends. Male dancers wore vests and breeches while female dancers began to shorten their court style dresses for more flexibility to dance.

In 1832, there was a substantial change in costuming with Marie Taglioni debuting the Romantic tutu and the first version of pointe shoes at the Paris Opera. In the ballet La Sylphide, Taglioni’s multilayer below the knee-above the midcalf tutu caught the attention of other dancers who wanted to dress in the same style on stage, thus creating a future for costuming in ballet. Today, versions of the Romantic tutu are worn by current ABT corps de ballet members in Giselle.

Scene from <em>Swan Lake</em>. Photo: Rosalie O’Connor.
Scene from Swan Lake. Photo: Rosalie O’Connor.

During the1880s, the Romantic tutu was shortened as footwork became more intricate. From the cut of the Romantic tutu, the Classic tutu that is seen in Swan Lake was created. There are four versions of the Classic tutu that vary in different framing, netting, hoops, and pleats, with all tutus protruding from the hip and shorter in length. The pancake tutu is short, has a wired hoop, pleated, and has layers of tulle. The platter tutu is like the pancake tutu but has a flat top layer that is decorated instead of pleats. On the other hand, the bell tutu has layers of netting and does not have a wired hoop allowing for the tutu to fall into a bell shape. Finally, the powder-puff tutu does not have a wired hoop and has layers of netting allowing it to be more free forming. These tutus are seen in majority of classical ballets worn by female dancers.

Both the Romantic and Classic tutus have become a universal symbol to represent ballerinas. Along with their stunning designs and the ability to display complex footwork, their original intent was for female dancers to look weightless to connect with the femineity of the characters they portrayed on stage. When male dancers switched from tonnelets to vest and breeches in the hopes of matching fashion trends, they were trying to distance themselves from the connotation between long skirts and womanhood. Once this distinction was made, using gender fluid costuming became a storytelling element, as it is used in Woolf Works to focus on versality of character.

Jake Roxander in Wayne McGregor’s <em>Woolf Works</em>. Photo: Emma Zordan.
Jake Roxander in Wayne McGregor’s Woolf Works. Photo: Emma Zordan.

Inspired by the life and work of Virigina Woolf, Wayne McGregor’s full-length ballet, Woolf Works, does not limit costuming by gender when paying homage to the novel Orlando. Written in honor of the romance of Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West, Orlando is the story of discovering one’s identity across centuries and gender.

From Orlando, McGregor created “Becomings,” during which costume designer Moritz Junge uses costuming inspired by the seventeenth century to remind the audience of internal identity being genderless. One example of this being: in the act, both male and female cast members are draped in a solid gold dress that has similar properties as the classic tutu by protruding from the hip but with a skirt that extends to the floor level further than a romantic tutu. To allow for movement the costume’s seam is backed with elastic fabric.

Additionally, as “Becomings” is performed, the cast is seen in gender androgynous costuming that includes calf level leggings and miniature tutus in solid gold fabric. The fabric of the tutu is folded on top of itself, creating its own structural support. Both types of costumes include Elizabethan style collar that are tributed to the seventeenth century. Additionally, some of the female characters in the scene wear black, platter tutus that have an addition of black sheer like fabric that is in between the length of the gold dress and a Romantic tutu.

The costume’s color gold is used as a reflective element for dancers to stand out on stage against the dark background. Ninety percent of the fabric is metal and is from a fabric manufacture based in Switzerland. This fabric stylistically complements the use of lasers throughout the ballet. These lasers are used during Woolf Works to show a change in time.

Chloe Misseldine and Patrick Frenette in Wayne McGregor’s <em>Woolf Works</em>. Photo: Marty Sohl. .
Chloe Misseldine and Patrick Frenette in Wayne McGregor’s Woolf Works. Photo: Marty Sohl. .

Woolf Works’s innovative costuming makes a statement on character and casting in the ballet industry. The beautiful collaboration between choreographer Wayne McGregor, costume designer Mortiz Junge, and lighting designer Lucy Carter shows how the future of ballet can explore gender identity.

The evolution of court dresses to Romantic tutus to Classic tutus for female dancers and from tonnelets to vest and breeches for male dancers is disregarded as “Becomings” in Wayne McGregor’s Woolf Works highlights the styles of the seventeenth century while using Virigina Woolf’s influence of gender androgyny.

 

The writer, Camron Wright, was the ABT Press Intern for Spring 2024.

Madison Brown in Aleisha Walker’s Do You Care? Photo: Sascha Radetsky.
Posted In
HistoryTraining
February 13, 2023

ABT x Prix de Lausanne

2023 marks the 50th anniversary of the Prix de Lausanne. An international ballet competition for young dancers, the Prix de Lausanne provides participants the opportunity to develop their skills and showcase their potential to leading ballet companies around the world.

Dancers perform and compete in front of the Prix de Lausanne Jury of renown dance personalities for scholarship opportunities, apprenticeships, medals, and cash prizes.

American Ballet Theatre has been a close partner of the Prix de Lausanne, sending a number of dancers, faculty, and staff to the competition over the years. The ABT Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School is a Partner School of the Prix de Lausanne, while ABT Studio Company is a Partner Company.

Madison Brown and Aleisha Walker at the 2023 Prix de Lausanne. Photo: Sascha Radetsky.
Madison Brown and Aleisha Walker at the 2023 Prix de Lausanne. Photo: Sascha Radetsky.

2023 Competition 

ABT sent three members of the ABT family to Lausanne this year: Aleisha Walker, Madison Brown, and Lilia Greyeyes.

As friends, colleagues, and a stellar choreographic-dancer duo, ABT apprentice Aleisha Walker and ABT Studio Company member Madison Brown competed in the Young Creation Award competition for which Aleisha’s Do You Care? was one of five worldwide finalists out of over 80 entrants. Madison performed Aleisha’s solo in front of the Prix de Lausanne Jury and a live-streamed audience on Wednesday, February 1. Later that evening, Aleisha was honored with one of two coveted Young Creation Awards.

Lillia Greyeyes at the 2023 Prix de Lausanne. Photo: Stella Abrera.
Lillia Greyeyes at the 2023 Prix de Lausanne. Photo: Stella Abrera.

Aleisha’s solo Do You Care? set to “Nocturnal Waltz” by Johannes Bornlöf will now become part of the competition’s contemporary repertoire.

Representing the ABT JKO School in the Partner School Choreographic Project at the 2023 Prix de Lausanne, Lilia Greyeyes was part of a new work by Goyo Montero and performed with other representative students from Prix de Lausanne Partner Schools around the world. Lilia was recently promoted from the ABT JKO School to ABT Studio Company – congratulations!

 

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Sung Woo Han at the 2011 Prix de Lausanne. Photo: Gregory Batardon.
Sung Woo Han at the 2011 Prix de Lausanne. Photo: Gregory Batardon.

A Long (Impressive) History

Current ABT Dancers

To be honored at the Prix de Lausanne is an impressive achievement, and we are proud to have so many dancers from this respected bunch at ABT.

Current corps de ballet members Fangqi Li and Yoon Jung Seo were honored in 2017 and 2019, respectively.

Gillian Murphy at the 1995 Prix de Lausanne. Photo: Francette Levieux.
Gillian Murphy at the 1995 Prix de Lausanne. Photo: Francette Levieux.

In 2014, Garegin Pogossian participated in the Prix de Lausanne and was awarded a scholarship to join ABT Studio Company. He has since graduated to the main Company is currently a member of the corps de ballet.

Current ABT dancers who received scholarships from the Prix de Lausanne include Soloist Zhong-Jing Fang (2000), Principal Dancer Hee Seo (2003), and Soloist Sung Woo Han (2011).

Principal Dancer Gillian Murphy was awarded the Prix de Lausanne “Hope” award in 1995 and served on the 2018 Prix de Lausanne Jury. 

Nancy Raffa at the 1980 Prix de Lausanne.
Nancy Raffa at the 1980 Prix de Lausanne. Photo: Marcel Imsand.

 

Former ABT Dancers

Although no longer dancing with ABT, our former dancers contribute to the rich history and partnership between American Ballet Theatre and the Prix de Lausanne – a list of past ABT dancer/Prix de Lausanne winners includes:

Former corps de ballet dancers Sarawanee Tanatanit, Zhang Zhiyao, and Nancy Raffa. Sarawanee won an apprenticeship at the 2001 Prix de Lausanne. Ten years later, in 2011, Zhang won a scholarship.

In 1980, Nancy was the youngest and first American female to win a gold medal at the Prix de Lausanne. She served on the 2012 Prix de Lausanne Jury and is now a Director of Repertoire at ABT.

Soloist Yuriko Kajiya won a scholarship at the 2000 Prix de Lausanne. She is now a principal dancer with Houston Ballet.

Former Principal Dancers Marcelo Gomes, Ethan Stiefel, Julie Kent, and Alessandra Ferri have also received awards. Marcelo won the Prix de Lausanne “Hope” award in 1996 and later served on the 2016 Prix de Lausanne Jury. Ethan won a cash prize in 1989, while Julie won a scholarship and later served on the 2023 Prix de Lausanne Jury. Alessandra additionally won a scholarship in 1980 and served on the 2014 Jury.

Fabrice Herrault, Finalist Max Barker, and Cynthia Harvey at the 2020 Prix de Lausanne. Photo: Elizabeth Aymong.
Fabrice Herrault, Finalist Max Barker, and Cynthia Harvey at the 2020 Prix de Lausanne. Photo: Elizabeth Aymong.

In addition to ABT dancers who won awards at the Prix de Lausanne early on in their careers, there are some former ABT dancers who have participated in the competition as established and valued pillars of the ballet community.

Julio Bocca, former Principal Dancer at ABT, has served on the Prix de Lausanne Jury on many occasions, including in 2014, 2018, and as President of the Jury in 2016.

Last, but never least, Cynthia Harvey was the President of the 2015 Prix de Lausanne Jury, as well as served as a Classical Variations Coach in 2016. Cynthia was a Principal Dancer with ABT,  served as Artistic Director of the ABT JKO School from 2016-2022, and continues to teach at ABT as a member of the faculty.