ABT Needs Your Support Now ABT CRISIS RELIEF FUND

Blog

SideBarre

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.

Posts in: VolunteeringView All Posts
October 6, 2020
In July and August, Lauren Bonfiglio held a book drive to serve children in the New York City area and bring the ABT community together.

"This “free time” experience has kept me connected with my ABT family, along with introducing me to new friends and collaborators. I look forward to volunteering with Brooklyn Book Bodega again in the near future."

By Lauren Bonfiglio

Lauren Bonfiglio with books collected for her ABT book drive.
Lauren Bonfiglio with books collected for her ABT book drive.

There’s been a shared sentiment amongst many of us that having extra time on our hands has led us to explore our other interests and passions. Having more time in the day to think, reflect and fill those hours has proven to be a unique challenge.

Before the pandemic, every department of ABT was gearing up to celebrate our 80th Anniversary, and we were on a high after the successful world premiere for Of Love & Rage.

For me, this momentum fueled my desire to create and stay engaged with the ABT community, along with NYC in the months following the shutdown. Thus far, I’ve enjoyed wearing a few different hats: dancer, college student, teacher, videographer, editor. Volunteering was something that I always wanted to take part in, but with ABT’s bustling rehearsal and performance seasons, it was hard to find time to do so. This unexpected break in our schedule has given me the opportunity to explore volunteering possibilites.

I came across Brooklyn Book Bodega through a community email. They are a 501(c) (3) organization, based in Brooklyn, whose mission is to increase the number of households that have 100+ books for babies, kids and teens. I was enthralled by this idea, as reading was something that I loved while growing up, and I wanted to help families build a library of their own, especially during this time of the pandemic.

With this, I decided to host a book drive and wanted to include my colleagues and friends at ABT. I organized a few different ways as to how people could participate in donating that included books coming through the mail to my apartment and scheduling socially distanced or contactless pick-ups around the boroughs of NYC.

I was so thankful and thrilled for the enthusiastic response, as we’ve already delivered about 600 books to Brooklyn Book Bodega. And, as more packages keep arriving at my apartment, the count is now closer to 800 books!

The process of putting word out, receiving and collecting books, sorting them into age categories and delivering to Brooklyn Book Bodega was a fantastic experience for me, learning how to take a project from beginning to end. I love to keep busy and having Brooklyn Book Bodega to work with made my summer very fulfilling.

While sorting the books, it was fun to come across some of my favorites like The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Giving Tree, Goodnight Moon, along with The Giver, Fahrenheit 451, The House on Mango Street, The Outsidersand of course Romeo and Juliet. It was also so wonderful to have an author in our ABT community sign and donate copies of her new book Gravity.

This “free time” experience has kept me connected with my ABT family, along with introducing me to new friends and collaborators. I look forward to volunteering with Brooklyn Book Bodega again in the near future. I’m feeling super grateful to all that supported this book drive, making it a success. Happy Reading!

Lauren Bonfiglio has been a member of the corps de ballet since 2015.

Last month, the first two books in ABT’s partnership with Random House Children’s Books launched. Have you checked out B is for Ballet and Boys Dance! yet? Find them wherever books are sold!

Diva Goodfriend-Koven. Photo by Matt Dine.
Posted In
Get to know...Volunteering
September 1, 2020
On May 27, American Ballet Theatre debuted ABT Heals, a bi-weekly music and dance program to provide comfort and the beauty of ballet to patients, physicians and staff at Mount Sinai Kravis Children's Hospital.

"It really gave me a reason to practice, and what we were doing was very worthwhile in terms of outreach and education."

By Diva Goodfriend-Koven

My name is Diva Goodfriend-Koven, and I have been performing in the ABT Orchestra on flute and piccolo since 1976 – I joined just before ABT’s first season at the Metropolitan Opera House in 1977.

Since ABT’s 80th Anniversary Spring Season was cancelled due to the pandemic, I was hoping to have some outlets to continue to make music and be of service somehow. It seemed important during the worst days of Covid-19 in New York City to support the essential caregivers and children during that time. I was sad not to be playing music with my colleagues, and none of us knew, or even know now, when it will be possible for us to work together again as an orchestra.

I was already working on a couple of solo flute videos for the American Symphony Orchestra, of which I’m also a member, when one of ABT’s conductors, David LaMarche, asked if I would be interested in participating in the ABT Heals project. Being involved with live-streaming music to the kids who were patients at Mt. Sinai felt like a great idea. My partner of many years happens to be an Infectious Disease Pediatric Specialist there, so I had been hearing about the troubling cases he was dealing with during the critical months of the lockdown in NYC.

Image from an <i>ABT Heals</i> performance.
Image from an ABT Heals performance.

I had recently joined the ABT Orchestra Committee and found myself being called on to lead some of the Zoom meetings we were having with the management and an All-Orchestra meeting for us to make contact with each other, and see how everyone was doing at home. As a result of my leadership, David asked me to be the emcee for the second ABT Heals show, which was designed around musical families.

I was a bit nervous at first, but it was so wonderful to be introducing my colleagues and hearing everyone play and speak about the music for the benefit of the children that were hospitalized.

It was strange not to be able to see or hear the kids’ reactions or applause, but we were applauding each other! We feel like we’re part of a family of musicians, especially since many of us have known each other and been colleagues for many years. I ended up participating in two more of the programs, and it really gave me a reason to practice and to feel like what we were doing was very worthwhile in terms of outreach and education.

Now that we’re into the sixth month of the pandemic, it’s been getting harder to feel motivated to practice and come up with projects. I’ve done some gardening, cooking, yogurt-making, and like so many others, cleaning and reorganizing my house!

Fortunately I was recently asked to perform some contemporary music solo flute and alto flute pieces for the Locrian Chamber Players (I’m a founding member), and a specially commissioned chamber music piece for another group I belong to, the American Composers Orchestra (all the orchestras I currently perform with start with the letter “A”!)

I’m really hoping that ABT will have some kind of Fall Season that includes the Orchestra, and that we will be able to continue ABT Heals concerts. We heard that there was a great response from the doctors and patients, which was gratifying.

Diva Goodfriend-Koven plays flute and piccolo for the ABT Orchestra.

ABT Heals Press ReleaseABT Heals on Spectrum News NY 1
August 25, 2020
What causes do you care about?

"Working with Candlelighters NYC made me realize that dancing is so powerful and can bring so much joy. It’s so much bigger than ourselves—it’s for the people."

By Virginia Lensi

On March 13, everything closed. From one day to the next, our lives changed. The first week of quarantine, I was trying to figure out what was happening and how very different my life was going to look. It took some time to adjust, but after a few weeks, I changed my mindset to see this time as an opportunity to do things that I wouldn’t have had the time to do while rehearsing and touring with the Company.

During this pandemic, my days are filled with taking ABT Company classes, trying to maintain my mental health, FaceTiming with friends and family and studying the ABT National Training Curriculum. I had originally planned to take the National Training Curriculum course in August, so the fact that I was able to do it virtually a few months early alongside my fellow dancers has been so helpful. During this time, I started teaching ballet classes on Zoom and realized that I really enjoy teaching.

Virginia Lensi volunteering with Candlelighters NYC at a farm upstate.
Virginia Lensi volunteering with Candlelighters NYC at a farm upstate.

I also helped organize my first youth event with the United Nations, the International Youth Conference, which was held virtually on May 30-31. I started participating with the UN at the beginning of this year because one of the themes I really care about is youth involvement in world issues.

One of the things I love doing most is volunteering with the organization called Candlelighters NYC, which helps kids fighting cancer. I started volunteering there in September 2019.  I will never forget when the founder called me on a Sunday at 6 am asking if I was interested in a volunteer opportunity at 7 that morning. I quickly dressed up, took an Uber and met the group, then headed to a farm upstate with all of the kids. From that day, I fell in love with the organization. Everyone is so loving, and there is so much joy and happiness during these moments together. The kids are my heroes: I learn from them every day, and I’m grateful to be part of this whole team of volunteers.

Virginia Lensi and fellow ABT dancers hold an event for Candlelighters NYC at ABT's studios.
Virginia Lensi and fellow ABT dancers hold an event for Candlelighters NYC at ABT's studios.

After six months of working with the kids, I started organizing some dance events for Candlelighters families by bringing together a group of ABT dancers and creating an afternoon dedicated to the kids, dancing and playing together. I’ve always felt that dance could help so many people and be a bridge to connect everyone. Sometimes we tend to forget that and instead focus obsessively on our goals and achievements. Working with Candlelighters NYC made me realize that dancing is so powerful and can bring so much joy. It’s so much bigger than ourselves—it’s for the people.

I had been wanting to volunteer for a while, but I never found the time or the right organization to start. I just felt so strongly that I needed to do something bigger than myself. I love dancing so much, and I’ve always felt that this art form could be of help. The only problem was, How do I start? One day as I scrolled through Instagram, I came across the Candlelighters page, and since that moment I knew that it was the perfect place to start. Since then, I have also participated in ABT’s 80 hours of service project with New York Cares coat drive.

Dance is my life, and I think that it is important that it is connected to all of my other interests because it can shed a light into everyone’s life. I want to dedicate my time to connecting dance to kids that are facing difficult times and help us all smile together.

Virginia Lensi is a member of the corps de ballet. She joined ABT in 2017.

Read Virginia's Q&A in Pointe Magazine
July 2, 2020

"It is impossible to ignore the welfare of our fellow humans."

By Remy Young

The misfortune this pandemic has created is unparalleled. These circumstances are ubiquitous; they have affected every single human being in some way. However, in my opinion what is most mind-blowing is the dichotomous nature of our present state: the physical isolation and loneliness this virus has generated have also resulted in a widespread feeling of unification among people around the world. We can now empathize with one another more candidly than ever before. The only antidote to the stress and anxiety of flattening the curve is considering the greater good— it is impossible to ignore the welfare of our fellow humans.

Once we reach the other side of COVID-19, permeating our world with art will be vital to healing our collective brokenness. Art unites, inspires, empowers— we cannot do these things alone. The purpose of a dancer is to share stories with an audience; we dance FOR the audience. I think everyone is experiencing some hardship in not feeling the presence of a community. This is what I am most looking forward to once we conquer this virus: bringing people together and sharing with them something beautiful. In the meantime, there are plenty of ways to remind ourselves that there is indeed a community out there eagerly anticipating the return to normalcy.

Remy Young phone banking for New York Cares. Photo courtesy Remy Young.
Remy Young phone banking for New York Cares. Photo courtesy Remy Young.

For me, volunteering with New York Cares was an exceptionally heartwarming experience that did just that. It consisted of a relatively simple task: make calls to senior members of The Actors Fund to see how they are holding up. I came across many different personalities— some lively and spirited, others just frustrated and fed up with this pandemic. No matter their degree of responsiveness, every person I spoke with was appreciative of the opportunity to chat. The call was beneficial on both sides of the phone line. For them, it was a reminder that they are thought about, cared for, and have access to resources if needed. For me, it provided a sense of purpose that eased the helplessness quarantining has instilled. I was refreshed by brusque New York dialects and inspired by the voices of such well-seasoned artists. I was given hope by seeing that there is still good that can be done from my couch.

Most of all, I was reminded that my community, my New York, is still there, and none of us are alone. I am very much looking forward to volunteering for New York Cares again and would recommend it to anyone who is homesick for the city, in need of a pick-me-up, or just looking for a fun and fulfilling way to spend their time.

Remy Young joined ABT as a member of the corps de ballet in 2016.

June 16, 2020
In May 2020, volunteers from ABT participated in virtual phone banking to assist seniors and other adults served by The Actors Fund.

"Making the calls had made us feel more connected, potentially even more of a benefit to us than to those we called."

By Rachel Richardson

Hello everyone!

My name is Rachel Richardson and I’m a dancer with ABT. I’m currently sheltering in place at home in Oregon since the Company stopped work in mid-March. Last week I had a chance to volunteer with my colleagues at ABT for The Actors Fund through a program called New York Cares. We were calling members of The Actors Fund over 60 years of age to check in and see if they needed support in any way. This was the second company-wide volunteering project through New York Cares, and I look forward to the next one! It was such a fun and rewarding experience that perfectly complimented the experiences I’ve been having at home.

I’m so grateful to be with my family in Oregon. I spend lots of my time outside (running, biking and hiking) in the beautiful nature of the Pacific Northwest, which I can easily do while staying socially distant. I started my first college course this spring through Fordham University, and I’m taking two other summer courses, so I’ve had plenty of schoolwork to do as well. I’ve also been teaching online dance classes and dancing in my house, outside and in studios I’ve been able to use. ABT has provided us with ballet and conditioning classes, and I’ve also been able to take online classes from a slew of other teachers and in a variety of styles thanks to the magic of the internet. I’ve been working on variations over Zoom with a former ballet teacher and doing in-studio socially distant work with my first ballet teacher here in Oregon.  While these activities are all familiar to me (despite the new settings), the biggest change has been adjusting to family life.

Rachel Richardson taking Company Class at home. Photo courtesy Richardson.
Rachel Richardson taking Company Class at home. Photo courtesy Richardson.

I left home when I was 13 to attend a ballet boarding school in Philadelphia and haven’t been home for more than a few weeks at a time since. I feel like this time is really valuable to me, especially since it seems to be softening the individualism I’ve built up through my schooling and my time in NYC. It’s been especially fun having two foster sisters who came to live with us just last summer. I’ve really been getting to know each member of my family as an individual, separate from the “role” they play in the family. I can tell I was getting set in my ways of doing things, and this has been a great nudge to shift from a “me” centered life to an “us” centered life. I’ve always wanted to maintain a role in my community, and I’ve often looked for opportunities to volunteer in order to help with that. I volunteer regularly with my church, teach free dance classes and donate dance lessons to school auctions. I’ve helped organize and run youth events and have joined in on specific volunteer projects, like sourcing meals for low income NYC students and helping with the Broadway Flea Market. The best part has always been the people I meet and recognizing all the ways people are generous with their time and resources. While I used to feel like I should take every volunteer opportunity presented to me, I’ve realized that I have specific abilities and resources that are needed and that I enjoy giving, and I naturally want to help in those ways. Now when I’m presented with an opportunity, I’m either genuinely excited about it, or I feel confident saying it’s not right for me.

The opportunity with New York Cares sounded fun from the beginning because I’ve always loved meeting new people and engaging with members of the ABT family and the broader New York City community. I was surprised by the amount of action needed to prepare, which included two registrations, training sessions and a background check – all of this a testament to how committed and eager people are to help out. There were 14 of us from ABT volunteering that day and from the moment we began, I was filled with so much love for the people I work with. We started with a preparation call where each member introduced themselves and shared why they had chosen to participate; it was so unifying to hear the communal sense of gratitude for wellbeing during this time and a subsequent desire to help others. It’s always cool for the chance to interact with members from different departments within ABT. In addition to dancers, Orchestra musicians and two conductors, there were individuals from Administration, Education, Press, and Hair and Makeup. After briefing, we began calling the community members. My conversations were heartwarming. Each person I talked to shared how capable and healthy they felt, and that they were eager and grateful for the conversation. Everyone had unique and interesting stories and thoughts to share, and many mentioned how they were also looking out for others in need. When we joined the debrief at the end, I loved hearing how many meaningful conversations had taken place. We all agreed that making the calls had made us feel more connected, potentially with even more of a benefit to us than to those we called. I’ve felt similarly about my time at home; the opportunity to listen to others and consider how I’m contributing to the family teaches me so much and encourages me to grow.

While I’ve kept the goal of helping out my family while at home, it’s hard to say how much help I’ve been. It’s a definite learning curve with plenty of meltdowns on my end. However, like in the volunteering calls, I’m trusting that my presence at home has at least created a sense of connection for others as they have all been such a help to me. I do feel that I’m “shedding” my stubborn habits and character traits, and in return, I’m getting a greater sense of how special and valuable each and every individual is. I certainly felt that way with each person I talked to on the phone while participating last week. The value of connection has been a very universal lesson during this time. People seem to be learning it in a million different ways. It’s been great to learn more about how helping out is such a natural part of existing in a community. Being at home has taught me even more about the diverse ways people contribute.

Rachel Richardson joined ABT as a member of the corps de ballet in 2015.

New York CaresPress Release