Do The Hustle: What it Takes to Juggle Multiple Dance Jobs
Having just returned to New York City after a couple weeks of guesting in Southeast Asia, American Ballet Theatre principal Daniil Simkin is in rehearsal for the lead role in Alexei Ratmansky's latest creation, Whipped Cream. In between this brief rehearsal period and ABT's Metropolitan Opera House season, Simkin will be using any days off to travel for other guest performances. That is, when he's not in production meetings or rehearsing in Chicago or New York for his own project premiering at the Guggenheim in the fall, or preparing his debut as Albrecht in Giselle for an ABT tour.
"If I have an hour break between rehearsals, I try to get my work done for the day," says Simkin. "There are emails, meetings, fundraising, a lot of administration stuff with the Guggenheim project, delegating, checking in—'Will Dior do the costumes?'—and then I might get a guesting invitation and then I have to check my schedule, book flights and hotels."
Daniil Simkin's Intensio project. Photo by Jim Lafferty
Multitasking has become the new normal in the concert dance world. Many dancers, not just international stars like Simkin and Misty Copeland, are adding freelance careers on top of their regular company commitments. It seems like most artistic staffs have come to accept and even embrace this type of branching out, citing artistic growth for the dancers and marketing benefits for the company as their dancers grow more visible.
But the question remains: How much can one dancer juggle while maintaining both health and sanity—and still satisfying their commitments as a company dancer?
Dancers didn't always operate this way. "There was a different culture when George Balanchine was alive," says former New York City Ballet soloist and BalletMet artistic director Edwaard Liang. "People were extremely focused on their main job and work with Mr. B and Jerome Robbins." Even though big stars were able to guest, there weren't many opportunities for rank-and-file company dancers.
Los Angeles Ballet's Zachary Guthier and Smuin Ballet's Erica Felsch at National Choreographers Initiative. Photo by Dave Friedman.
Today, there are more guestings, galas, pickup troupes and other side jobs available all over the country and abroad. And the thinking inside many companies has evolved to encourage this outreach.
"This career goes so quickly; as much experience as you can get is good," says Liang, who took leave from NYCB to do Fosse on Broadway and dance with Nederlands Dans Theater during his own career. Today, he tries to hook up his dancers with outside projects, like the National Choreographers Initiative, whenever he can. "When they come back they are richer, deeper, more creative, even more engaged in the company."
Anthony Randazzo, ballet master at Boston Ballet, where several dancers like Lia Cirio participate in and manage side projects, agrees. "It is a chance to grow," he says, "and that helps strengthen the company, which is a win for everyone." He admits that there are challenges when a dancer asks for a day off during the season, but is quick to point out that if it can be accommodated, the benefits of the opportunity usually outweigh the extra work required to manage scheduling and rehearsal flow.
For some dancers, performing outside work just makes financial sense. Since few contracts are year-round, summer and side projects can keep up their technique as well as cushion their bank accounts.
But physical therapists warn that taking on too many projects can come at the expense of rest. Dancers have to be careful not to overwhelm their bodies if they already have a demanding rehearsal, performance and touring schedule. However, Simkin feels that the variety of styles his guestings generate has actually kept him healthier and less prone to injury.
Not all dancers go after this extra work. For instance, New York City Ballet principal Sterling Hyltin turns down such offers during the season in order to help preserve her work-life balance. "I can't physically do any more," she says. "I have had seasons where on Mondays I would be doing a photo shoot, or once I flew off to Russia for a weekend gala, but then I wound up without a day off. Some people can operate that way, but it hasn't been good for my body or my mind."
Instead, Hyltin finds ways to further her artistic growth and recharge herself by doing things besides dance—reading, going to museums and walking her dog. While she understands that other dancers in the company find fulfillment in performing on Broadway and elsewhere, she feels completely nourished by the opportunities she already has at NYCB.
Sterling Hyltin, photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy NYCB.
Making the most of these career choices comes down to defining what success means to you. "Different dancers have different visions of success, whether it be galas and medals versus being a part of a company, or simply doing fashion photo shoots in their spare time," says Randazzo. "The trick is to find what might have a deeper meaning for you."
"There were absolutely times I felt left out when I was younger, when I felt like it was a form of competition: how many galas, how many modeling gigs you have," says Hyltin. "You can really get down on yourself, but you have to find a certain amount of healthy exposure. Decide what works for you. If you spread too thin, all your work can become less meaningful."
Luckily for Simkin, his workaholic schedule seems to suit his personality. "I get to do what I love, I get to travel and live a good life," he says. "You can always be too tired and feel like you are juggling too much, but our careers are too short, so I enjoy spreading myself out." However, now that he is scheduled for the next two years, Simkin admits that he's added something new to his to-do list: downtime.
Last night, American Ballet Theatre held its annual Fall Gala at the David H. Koch Theater in New York City. To celebrate ABT's artistic director Kevin McKenzie's 25 years of leadership, dancers from ABT's company, apprentices, studio company members and students from the Jaqueline Kennedy Onassis School took to the stage in Jessica Lang's The Gift, Alexei Ratmansky's Songs of Bukovina and Christopher Wheeldon's Thirteen Diversions.
But we also love a good behind-the-scenes glimpse—especially when designer gowns are involved. And the dancers gave us plenty of glam looks to obsess over once the curtains closed. Ahead, see our favorite moments from gala straight from the dancers.
Devon Teuscher in the floral print suit of our dreams (by designer Patricia Bonaldi) practices her dance moves with Christine Shevchenko. Both girls accessorized with sparkling jewels from gala sponsor de Grisogono.
The dancers file into an audition room. They are given a number and asked to wait for registration to finish before the audition starts. At the end of the room, behind a table and a computer (and probably a number of mobile devices), there I sit, doing audio tests and updating the audition schedule as the room fills up with candidates. The dancers, more nervous than they need to be, see me, typing, perhaps teasing my colleagues, almost certainly with a coffee cup at my side.
Last week Ballet West breezed into New York City's Joyce Theater from Salt Lake City. The dancers are excellent—especially the women (what else is new). The company brought five pieces including works by Gerald Arpino, Val Caniparoli and resident choreographer Nicolo Fonte.
Arpino's last work, made in 2004, is a duet called RUTH, Ricordi per Due ("remembrance for two"). It's about a man haunted by the memory of the woman he loved. Christopher Ruud is strong and sensitive as the man, and Arolyn Williams is riveting as the ghost of his beloved.
Val Caniparoli energizes his dancers with juicy movement, and always sticks to his theme. (He doesn't ramble, and let's face it, long rambling choreography is a problem these days.) In his premiere for Ballet West, Dances for Lou, he takes on the music of Lou Harrison, a composer known for his Eastern sounds and rhythms.
Photo by Filip VanRoe, courtesy Marquee
Your Saturday nights are about to go from "Netflix and chill" to "Marquee and chill." (Okay, maybe we'll need to coin a new phrase).
But seriously, the new streaming app Marquee Arts TV lets you curl up with Bolshoi Ballet's Swan Lake, Sylvie Guillem dancing Mats Ek's solo Bye, a dance film by Cullberg Ballet called 40 M Under, or a documentary about Alonzo King and LINES Ballet. Marquee unlocks a world of digital arts: dance, theater, opera, music, documentaries and film shorts that you can stream directly to your TV or mobile device.
When Simone Forti moved from California to New York City in 1960, she brought with her the improvisational approach of Anna Halprin. As one of the first five students in Robert Dunn's John Cage–inspired composition course (that led to Judson Dance Theater), she was a magnet for two others in that class: Yvonne Rainer and Steve Paxton. This month the three reunite for Tea for Three, an evening of moving and talking at Danspace Project, Oct. 26–28. It's a chance to see how dance mavericks grow and change and mellow. Forti will also give "Body Mind World" workshops Oct. 19–20. danspaceproject.org.
When you're dancing for what feels like eight days a week, it takes more than just stretching to put your body back in order. You need a good rub down. Unfortunately, most of us don't exactly have the money to afford an on-call personal masseuse.
The solution: Self-massage, with foam rollers, lacrosse balls, elbows and anything else that can help loosen up your muscles. We dug into Dance Magazine's archives to find the best pieces of advice we've published on the topic. Follow these rules to get what you, ahem, knead out of self-massage.
This week American Ballet Theatre launches its fall season at Lincoln Center with an exciting lineup of performances. One last-minute addition to the program is a new work from Benjamin Millepied, which will be performed by ABT Studio Company and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School dancers in the theater's promenade during select intermissions. Although the specifics of the performance are hush hush, we stepped into the studio with Millepied for an inside look.
What has it been like to choreograph on younger dancers and how, if at all, did you change your approach?
To be honest, they're really good. Rhythmically, it's not easy at all and they've done incredibly well. The piece could be longer. It's really one movement but, for the first time, to use that space it felt right. Nothing says I couldn't add two more movements next season to make it longer.
What are your thoughts on bringing classical ballet outside the proscenium setting?
For me, it's great to think of spaces theatrically. We build sets with lighting and props, but there are also all these environments that are beautiful and theatrical, and with a little bit of work you can create something within them and that becomes site-specific. That's really fun because you create something really specific for the environment.
What would you like to see more of from young ballet dancers?
What I would want to see more of in ballet is just more interesting collaborations. These ballet dancers are great and they're ready and what they need is more interesting work. I feel people are playing it safe a lot. If anything, I think it's the choreographers and the directors who need to make an effort for these dancers who have made this art form their passion, and to really be as daring or at least as relevant as some of our peers were when they were commissioning pieces a long time ago.
For many victims of recent natural disasters like Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Maria, the new "normal" involves power outages, food shortages and massive property damage. The dance community has stepped up to help by doing what they do best: This Sunday, October 22, members from major American companies will perform in two separate concerts in New York City, benefitting those affected by the hurricanes in Texas and Puerto Rico.