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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 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
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
Occupations
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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