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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.

Posts in: MentorsView All Posts
July 21, 2020
If I wasn'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
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.

Posted In
Mentors
June 23, 2020
Who is your mentor?

"When I think of mentors who helped me to attain my dream...several names come to mind."

By Cynthia Harvey

Cynthia Harvey and Natalia Makarova in <i>La Bayadère</i>. Photo: Kenn Duncan.
Cynthia Harvey and Natalia Makarova in La Bayadère. Photo: Kenn Duncan.

They say it takes a village; a village and at least 10 years to become a dancer. With that in mind, when I think of mentors who helped me to attain my dream of becoming a dancer with American Ballet Theatre, and who simply helped me to navigate life, several names come to mind. No singular person is more important than another.

My first ballet teacher, Christine Walton, was the first person who influenced me. Mrs. Walton opened my eyes to beauty of line. She taught me about effortless grace and imbued in me the joy of dance. She continues to be one of the most open-minded people I know. I look to her now, like I did when I was a child, to respond to my inquisitive nature on the “HOW” of the dance.

The next influential person and mentor to me would have to be the legendary teacher David Howard. He came into my life at a time when I needed to learn how to really move. He dissected movement and helped me to understand that the linking steps were very important, and further, his own generosity of spirit was a lesson in love. Then, around the same time, Natalia Makarova became a mentor. She taught me the importance of dynamism. She taught me that simply making things look easy was boring and that quality and expressiveness were always something to aspire to. She gave me more than she knows.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I did not include Mikhail Baryshnikov as one of my big mentors. He taught me that purity of form was beauty in itself and verified that the work was the most important thing – always the work. He also made me understand that challenges could be attractive. I owe him, and the other people named here, a tremendous amount.

Cynthia Harvey retired from the stage in 1996 after a celebrated career as Principal Dancer with American Ballet Theatre and
The Royal Ballet. She was named Artistic Director of the ABT Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School in 2016.