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.
ABT presents a post-performance panel on the World Premiere work Lifted on Saturday, October 29, 2022
Join us for a post-performance panel discussion on Christopher Rudd’s World Premiere work Lifted, created with an all-Black cast and creative team. Free for all audience members, the discussion will follow ABT’s 2:00pm matinee performance of Lifted, Jessica Lang’s Children’s Songs Dance, and Jiří Kylián’s Sinfonietta on Saturday, October 29.
Moderated by author and professor Aimee Meredith Cox, the discussion will feature Lifted creators as panelists: Choreographer Christopher Rudd, ABT Dancers Calvin Royal III and Courtney Lavine, Fashion Designer Carly Cushnie, Kennedy Center Composer-in-Residence Carlos Simon, and Conductor Roderick Cox.
Lifted aims to highlight, amplify, and celebrate Black creative voices. ABT’s panel will create a forum to bring attention to the landmark nature of Rudd’s ballet and what it means for younger generations of dancers of color to see themselves represented on stage in this monumental way.
In July 2022, choreographer Christopher Rudd and Principal Dancer Calvin Royal III sat down for a discussion about Lifted. This conversation was first published in the Fall 2022 issue of ABT’s On Point newsletter.
This Fall, Christopher Rudd, dance-maker and founder of RudduR Dance, brings a historic first to American Ballet Theatre: Lifted. Utilizing an all-Black cast and creative team, this World Premiere highlights, amplifies, and celebrates Black creative voices. Lifted is set to music by Carlos Simon, with costumes by Carly Cushnie, lighting by Alan C. Edwards, and dramaturgy by Phaedra Scott. Roderick Cox will serve as Guest Conductor and Sarah Lozoff will provide Intimacy Direction.
Principal Dancer Calvin Royal III will perform in the World Premiere at ABT’s Fall Gala on Thursday, October 27. Recently, he sat down with Rudd to discuss the upcoming work.
Calvin Royal III: What is the concept of your new ballet Lifted?
Christopher Rudd: I asked myself, “what could happen if the DNA of an entire ballet was made from Black people?” I thought about it shortly after George Floyd was murdered. And I realized it was something that the ballet world needed and I wanted, and the country can witness in a way that could make us feel, understand, and empathize with melanated people. At first, it was going to be a protest piece: shock and awe, in your face, a guttural thing. Now it’s been two years, and I feel like what I really need is a celebration of Blackness, a celebration of melanated people, a way to highlight our beauty, our talent, our lives, in a way that shows the evolution of a Black human. When we go into the studio, it’s about creating that picture of what a Black life is like, from before we’re born, into being born into our families, our communities, and the introduction of an interruption in our path to reach our full potential; and our ways of fighting against that, revolting against that, and thriving.
Royal: What do you envision the future of the piece being? Will it, in your mind, live on to be only the Black dancers, the Black creators, the Black conductor?
Rudd: I don’t intend for the work to perpetually and forevermore be Black. However, as the ranks of Black dancers grow within ABT, it’s going to be designed so that the more, the better. But one of the things that I’m curious about with this work is the idea that the DNA of the piece is still, was still, Black. Most of the roles that we do as ballet dancers come from white people. We, as Black dancers, especially in the classical field, have to embody these people who are Eurocentric, “princely” — which I wanted to do because I loved the roles. But I’m curious about the future of a work whose DNA was Black, and was created on ballet dancers, not modern dancers, and we just do it as a ballet company. But what does that do? The reality which I love to mirror in my thought process behind this is, in fact, we all started out as Black. And the DNA of us comes from Black people. And now we have a society. I’m curious what the work would look like, over time, if it followed the science of our species.
Rudd: What are you excited about for the piece, Calvin?
Royal: I am excited to, one, be back in the studio with you. And knowing that it’s the type of work that will evoke something that’s different from experiences that I’ve had at ABT thus far is exciting for me. Like when I found out that Touché [Rudd’s 2020 pas de deux for ABT] was going to be something different than I had ever done at ABT, it was exciting and I went into it with open arms, hoping that it would be something that would allow me to have a new perspective on myself as an artist and work with another creative team.
Royal: Opening night. The ballet is live. The curtain comes down after the dancers finish the piece. What do you hope audience members experience as they leave the theater after having witnessed Lifted?
Rudd: When I watched Touché live, I felt like I was watching the world change.
There’s something about being a part of the journey that you two were on… something about it was unifying for me. We were all breathless and soundless. There is something about that feeling that I’d like to bring back to the way this new work unfolds. It’s going to be a lot — it’s going to be longer, and it’s going to have its peaks and valleys. I’m actually curious about that journey. But I want to evoke that feeling of the world has changed now.
From September 21–October 26, ABT dancers Anabel Katsnelson, Betsy McBride, Duncan McIlwaine, Erica Lall, Jacob Clerico, and Melvin Lawovi, along with Director of Repertoire Carlos Lopez and choreographer Darrell Grand Moultrie, created the first ballet bubble at PS21 in Chatham, New York. The group lived together on the grounds of the performance space, set in the foothills of the Berkshires, for five weeks to rehearse and film a new ballet under strict safety protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic.
SideBarre spoke to Anabel about the unique opportunity and her experience there.
How did you feel rehearsing and performing again after months of lockdown?
It was truly a pleasure to dance in a theater after spending months taking “quarantine class” at home on my little square of marley from Harlequin floors. It felt so freeing to take up space and do big jumps across the floor! Rehearsing and creating a new work delighted and challenged me in so many ways; I really tried to soak it all in.The first couple of weeks were physically difficult as far as getting back into dancing shape, but by the end of the project, I felt like I had surpassed where I was as a dancer even pre-covid.
What were the grounds of PS21 like and what did you do there during downtime?
The grounds of PS21 were gorgeous, and we were lucky enough to be there for peak fall foliage! We rehearsed at the on-site theater, just a short walk from the house we all stayed in. I loved being able to go apple picking on my five-minute breaks and take long walks around the grounds in my downtime. There was an animal sanctuary next to the house with pigs and goats! In our downtime at the house we cooked together, watched ballet videos, tie-dyed, celebrated birthdays, sang karaoke, and had dance parties!
How was your experience working and living with the same group of people?
The incredible pod group made the experience so special! Of course, all of us dancers knew each other before the project, but living together for five weeks bonded us all in so many ways. Carlos Lopez, the Director of Repertoire, taught classes for us, organized events for us, rehearsed us, took care of all of our safety protocols, and motivated us every day!
It was inspiring to watch ballets together and have open conversations about our artistic aspirations in a setting outside of the studio. Our choreographer, Darrell Grand Moultrie, also stayed in the same house and got to know each one of us! I think the living situation added a human aspect to the piece. Darrell became acquainted with our personalities and urged us to remain true to ourselves in our dancing.
What was it like working with Darrell Grand Moultrie for the first time?
Working with Darrell was incredible! From the get-go, he had a great eye and was able to assess each dancer’s strengths and weaknesses. He was passionate about not only creating an awesome piece, but also ensuring that the process was transformative and impactful. What I learned during these weeks helped me grow as an artist and will stick with me for the rest of my career!
Darrell chose Duke Ellington music for his new work, which will premiere at ABT’s virtual gala on November 23. How was it dancing to jazz music rather than classical piano or orchestra?
I loved dancing to Duke Ellington! It felt great to dance to familiar music while still maintaining a classical base. In this case, the music really dictated the movement. The piece came together seamlessly because the choreography fit the phrasing of the music so well.
Any other reflections from lockdown or the bubble?
I found that working in this bubble after months of not performing with ABT was extremely fulfilling and inspiring. I cannot wait to see the final result at ABT’s virtual gala on November 23!
Anabel Katsnelson is a member of the corps de ballet. She joined ABT in 2016. Follow her on Instagram @anabel_katsnelson.