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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 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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Wig and Makeup Supervisor Rena Most and Principal Dancer Devon Teuscher. Photo: Susie Morgan Taylor.
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September 29, 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.

Von Rothbart Lakeside’s prosthetic headpiece.<br>A disposable baldcap (right) fits over the interior headpiece (left) and is then painted and glued to the dancer. <br>Photos: Rena Most and Jill Haley Gugliuzza.
Von Rothbart Lakeside’s prosthetic headpiece.
A disposable baldcap (right) fits over the interior headpiece (left) and is then painted and glued to the dancer.
Photos: Rena Most and Jill Haley Gugliuzza.

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.

The maidens in Alexei Ratmansky's <i>Firebird</i> wear whimsical wigs. Photo: Marty Sohl.
The maidens in Alexei Ratmansky's Firebird wear whimsical wigs. Photo: Marty Sohl.

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.

Rena Most is ABT’s Wig and Makeup Supervisor.

Check out Rena's feature in Dance Magazine!See more of Rena's work on her ABT OffStage profile!
Annellyse Munroe.
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August 11, 2020
How did you get your start in ballet and how did it lead you here to ABT?

"I remember seeing Misty Copeland in the hallway, and she instilled in me a measure of hope and confidence that I could be a professional dancer because there was someone who looked like me. My early experience at ABT solidified my aspiration to move to New York one day and become a professional dancer."

By Annellyse Munroe

My connection and love affair with dance began at the age of five. When my father would play the piano, I could not help but dance. Or when Molly from the children’s TV show The Big Comfy Couch would come on, I couldn’t help but do her famous clock stretch, my leg naturally extending to the six o’clock position.

I begged my parents to enroll me in cheerleading, but they put me in gymnastics. Although I excelled in gymnastics, I was told that I was a bit too tall, which led me to ballet.

Annellyse Munroe as a child in one of her first ballet classes.
Annellyse Munroe as a child in one of her first ballet classes.

I remember arriving to my first ballet class in Payless ballet slippers, pink tights and a light pink leotard, with flowers around my messy bun. I was the only Black girl in my class, and I was tall, skinny and introverted. As time progressed, my teacher at South Florida Ballet encouraged my talent. I thank her for believing in me and not treating me differently based on my skin color. She made it clear that talent in ballet does not have a race appended to it.

In middle school, I began to audition for ballet summer intensives, one of them being at American Ballet Theatre. I attended my first summer intensive at ABT’s studios in New York. Again, I was the only Black girl at my level. I remember seeing Misty Copeland in the hallway, and she instilled in me a measure of hope and confidence that I could be a professional dancer because, after all, there was someone who looked like me. My experience at ABT solidified my aspiration to move to New York one day and become a professional dancer.

I continued to pursue my passion for dance at New World School of the Arts in Florida and discovered various dance styles, such as Limon, Graham and Cunningham. When I was in the eighth grade, my family took me to see Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre at New York City Center. I remember sitting in the orchestra, watching the curtain rise and seeing Black women who looked like me. It filled me with joy, happiness and admiration for being an African American woman.

It was then that I told my parents of my intention to attend that school. So, I auditioned for the Alvin Ailey Summer Intensive every summer through high school and attended programs at other New York schools including Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH) and the Martha Graham School.

Annellyse models skin tone tights and pointe shoes for Gaynor Minden.
Annellyse models skin tone tights and pointe shoes for Gaynor Minden.

While attending DTH, I was introduced to wearing skin color tights and pointe shoes for ballet class. After that experience, I never wore pink tights or dance shoes again. I thank DTH for instilling in me the beauty of my skin color and showing me how amazing my lines look with matching tights and pointe shoes.

I went on to earn a BFA degree in dance from the University of Florida through the conservatory program at New World School of the Arts, graduating Cum Laude in three years.

Soon after, I auditioned for Alvin Ailey and made it to the end of the final round. Although I was not selected, I was asked to return the following day to audition for their second company, Ailey II. I was chosen to join this fantastic organization that I had dreamt of being a part of, and as they say, the rest is history.

I had the honor of traveling the world with Ailey II, doing what I love. I was featured on the cover of Dance Spirit Magazine alongside two of my colleagues. This life-changing opportunity will forever be with me. I lost my mother to cancer before joining the company, and dance saved me during this time. It provided an outlet to for self-expression and helped me learn to find myself, love myself and grow.

Annellyse's <i>Dance Spirit</i> Magazine cover with fellow Ailey II dancers.
Annellyse's Dance Spirit Magazine cover with fellow Ailey II dancers.

At the end of my two years with Ailey II, I auditioned for many companies and Broadway shows. However, I made it to the end of my audition marathon without securing a job. I decided to apply for graduate school and studied for the GMAT test, accepting dance gigs on the side. I randomly received a phone call from my former director, who informed me that a choreographer needed dancers for a televised awards show.

Without hesitation, I showed up at the rehearsal, and a dream I could have never imagined happened: I performed with Beyoncé at MTV’s Video Music Awards.

Upon this opportunity, I signed to Bloc Talent Agency and went on to participate in various engagements, including the H&M x Kenzo New York Fashion Show SS17, Desigual’s SS18 collection at New York Fashion Week and a commercial for Carolina Herrera’s 212 VIP fragrance.

A new chapter in my life opened when I was accepted to grad school at Columbia University. There, a colleague who was a former dancer, informed me of an internship at ABT where he worked. I found myself back at 890 Broadway, interning in the Education and Training department. During my internship, I successfully applied for a position as Resident Manager at ABT.

Upon graduating from Columbia with my Master of Science in Nonprofit Management, I applied for the role of Student Life Coordinator at the ABT Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School. It means the world to me to utilize my background as a professional dancer and the knowledge gained from my Master’s degree as I help ABT JKO School students find their footing in New York.

Did I stop dancing professionally? The answer is a resounding “no.” In addition to my full-time job at ABT, I am a professional dancer part-time for the NBA. A day in my life begins with waking up at 7 am to arrive at ABT by 9 am, working until 5 pm. I make it to rehearsal 6–10 pm and repeat that schedule daily. On game days, I will come in to ABT in the morning with a suitcase filled with all of my dance necessities and leave early to make it to the arena for court rehearsal by mid-afternoon. I have been doing everything to make this opportunity happen, which sometimes means making up work hours on Saturdays.

I admire everyone ABT because they are willing to work with you as long as you plan out your schedule in advance. I also love how supportive my colleagues are, and some have even come to see me perform. I will say anything is possible if you communicate and plan accordingly. Yes, it is difficult sometimes, but I am thankful to fulfill both of my passions, and that is what drives me to make this unique opportunity work.

Annellyse Munroe is the Student Life Coordinator at the ABT Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, as well as a professional dancer herself.

"My teacher at South Florida Ballet made it clear that talent does not have a race appended to it."

"Fun fact: I served as a supernumerary in ABT's Swan Lake and watched their tech rehearsals when they performed at Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Center."

"I am so thankful to ABT for granting me this job as Student Life Coordinator."

"I hope this inspires other dancers that they can have a full-time job and still perform."

August 4, 2020
If I weren't a Conductor, I would be...

"I think my true calling might be in geology and paleontology."

By Charles Barker

Way back in November of 1986, I got a call from the General Manager of ABT asking if I would be interested in conducting some shows of The Nutcracker for the Company at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. I’ve been here ever since, and how could I not? ABT is a fabulous company with amazing theatrical experiences every year.

If I weren’t a conductor, there would be several other occupations I’d like. I adore Homer and all things ancient Greek and Latin. I plan to pursue that in retirement. But I think my true calling might be in geology and paleontology. Last summer, my family and I took a road trip from the Black Hills to Yellowstone, and we detoured off the highway onto an obscure mining road to a place called Devil’s Kitchen near the town of Greybull, Wyoming. After passing a sign that warned, “Enter at your own risk,” we pulled off that road to the brink of a half-moon shaped, half-mile deep canyon of sandstone, mudstone and calcedony, with white gypsum covering the base. Because of its shape and location, it’s a giant natural oven.

It took us a while to find our way down into the canyon as there were no trails or paths, but once we got to the gypsum and poked around for a bit in the sweltering 110-degree sunshine, we found what I had come for – a gastrolith. It is a walnut-sized piece of well-worn porphyry that had once been in the gizzard of a 1,000-pound Cretaceous-era sauropod to aid with its digestion. My family was not as impressed as I was to find a stone that had been in a dinosaur’s stomach, but I still carry the gastrolith with me all the time and am all too willing to talk about it to any interested party.

While on tour with ABT in Oman a few years ago, I had the opportunity to explore something most geologists never see: the most dramatic ophiolite sequence on earth. Undersea vulcanism created massive amounts of pillow lava, automobile-sized balls of lava hardened under millions of pounds of pressure, which are now exposed in the hills of northwestern Oman due to a geological anomaly 90 million years ago in the Gulf of Oman. Nearby, walking the dry creek bed, I found a large outcrop of Hawasinah formation, a rumpled rug of allochthonous, deep-water sediments that were thrust onto the Arabian continental margin beneath the ophiolite.

And it’s not all just rocks – part of the ophiolite sequence, peridotite, actually absorbs atmospheric CO2. There is a tremendous amount of peridotite in Oman, and several geologists are exploring the possibility of CO2 sequestration. It would be fun to join their team one day.

July 21, 2020
If I weren'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
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.

Vernon Ross backstage during Whipped Cream. Photo courtesy Ross.
Posted In
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June 30, 2020
What do you do at ABT?

"Working in Wardrobe can be very demanding, and it helps to be very organized and attentive to detail, which strangely enough, I enjoy."

By Vernon Ross

To be a supernumerary in Dance Theatre of Harlems production of Firebird at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. was a life-changing experience for me at the age of 21. It was the impetus for my changing the course of my career path after graduating from college. Having studied mostly modern and African dance because ballet training was less accessible, I had the opportunity to take company class for a week while DTH was in D.C. and consequently was invited to attend the summer intensive workshop that year. At the end of the summer intensive workshop, I was invited to return in the fall as a student in the professional training program. I was a student in the school for two years and was given an apprenticeship the following year. At the request of Mr. Arthur Mitchell, I was asked to work with the wardrobe department. Of course, as an aspiring dancer I was not thrilled with this decision but was hopeful. As part of my apprenticeship, I was given the opportunity to travel with the company and to take daily company class before starting my wardrobe duties. My career at DTH spanned the course from student to wardrobe assistant to wardrobe supervisor, culminating as the production manager for the professional touring company.

Touring nationally and internationally and working in some of the worlds most renowned venues was an invaluable experience for both my personal and professional development and growth. To witness firsthand the multifaceted complexities of live theater kept me focused and knowledgeable. There were always hurdles and challenges that I would have to face when coordinating and setting up shows – I would often have to pull a rabbit out of a hat.”  I look back on my trajectory and sincerely believe that the transition from a wardrobe assistant to the wardrobe supervisor brought me the most joy and satisfaction, which is why I now enjoy working at American Ballet Theatre. Working in wardrobe can be very demanding, and it helps to be very organized and attentive to detail, which strangely enough, I enjoy.

I started working as a dresser for the Principal men at ABT in May 2006; and in January 2017, I was hired as the assistant wardrobe supervisor for Principal men. Keeping up with the details, logistics and maintenance of the wardrobe for a company of 90-plus dancers, which tours extensively, can be very challenging. Documentation and organization are paramount to stay on top of all of the tasks and responsibilities required of the job. There are so many moving pieces that you have to be organized to a fault. How we pack the wardrobe equipment and costume crates before we travel, and unload them when we arrive at the theater, are crucial for seamless and successful engagements and performances.

I enjoy many aspects of my job, such as assuring that the dancers look their best and feel as comfortable as possible when performing on stage. This is achieved by way of individual costume fittings and alterations. I also collaborate with my fellow co-workers on ways to improve and streamline some of the basic wardrobe daily operations. The least favorite aspect of my job, only because of the personal stress it causes me, is preparing and assigning costumes for the dress tech rehearsals at ABT.  While it is exciting and I am always happy to see dancers promoted with the opportunity to perform new roles, it’s unlikely in the ballet world that each dancer performing in a new role will have his own costume. In addition, we often do not run the rehearsals in program order, which prevents me from having sufficient time to properly prepare the costumes for the next cast as precisely as I would like. Oh well, welcome to the world of ballet!

Vernon Ross has been a valued member of ABT’s Wardrobe Department since 2006.

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Vernon Ross has been a member of the wardrobe department with American Ballet Theatre for the last fourteen years, however, working behind the scenes was not Vernon’s first love. Born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, Vernon made his way to New York as a dancer in 1981, joining the Dance Theatre of Harlem pipeline, first as a student in the school and then as a dancer with the company before eventually taking over the production department. In a pinch-hitting situation, (“I didn’t even know how to sew!”), Vernon was plucked from the studio and into the wardrobe department by Arthur Mitchell himself. Vernon quickly became an integral part of the creation of skin-tone tights and shoes for all of the company’s dancers. Vernon spent countless hours standing over 30-gallon boiling pots of water concocting the perfect shade for each individual company dancer. For the first time in ballet history dancers of color were embracing their skin colors on stage that celebrated them instead of covering them up with the traditional “ballet pink” toned tights, “All of them [the dancers] would treat tights like gold, because they wanted to look their best. It was one of the biggest aspects of my job because Mr. Mitchell was really a stickler about the flesh-tone shoes and tights. And, really, he set the platform for it being what it is today.”⠀ ⠀ #Juneteenthdancebreak | Thank you @MoBBallet for the inspiration. ⠀ ⠀ #BalletRelevesForBlackLives #AmplifyMelanatedVoices ⠀ ⠀ Photo Credits:⠀ Photo 1: Eddie Shellman and members of the Harlem Dance Theatre rehearsing Balanchine’s “Four Temperaments”, New York, New York, 1970. (Photo by Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images)⠀ Photo 2: Tights and shoes on exhibit at “Dance Theatre of Harlem: 40 Years of Firsts.” Photo by Gene Ogami⠀ Photo 3: Vernon Ross. Photo courtesy of Vernon Ross

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