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.
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.
When conveying a story onstage, certain roles come more easily than others. Some dancers naturally possess the regality of the Lilac Fairy, others the attack of Kitri. Some take on the naïve Aurora with ease, but have trouble with Myrtha's complexity. Tackling a role that's outside your character wheelhouse can be tricky—especially since ballet's princesses, creatures and sylphs can be hard to relate to.
But luckily, just like your technique, you can strengthen your acting chops. American Ballet Theatre's go-to acting coach Byam Stevens, who's worked with everyone from Kevin McKenzie to Isabella Boylston, shares how he helps dancers connect with a character.
And if that statement rubs you the wrong way—particularly coming from a highly acclaimed white male choreographer—you're not alone.
On Sunday, American Ballet Theatre artist in residence and international ballet choreographer Alexei Ratmansky posted this on his Facebook page:
Obviously, there's a lot to unpack here. And many of the comments did the unpacking for us:
One of my favorite parts of working with Wendy Perron over the past 12 years has been listening to her talk about dance. More than anyone I know, Wendy can explain a piece of choreography or a dancer's approach in the most visceral, compelling way. She doesn't even always use words—sometimes she turns to sounds or body language to fully describe something she loves.
Having a casual chat with her can be like getting a master class in the most interesting dance going on right now. And as Dance Magazine's editor at large, she sees a lot. She's one of the most well-connected people I know in the dance world, so more often than not she's got juicy insights, strong opinions and fascinating background info.
We decided to share this with you by filming a short video clip each week, capturing Wendy talking about the dance events she's most looking forward to in our new series, "What Wendy's Watching." Or, as she puts it: "Just wind me up and make me talk dance."
American Ballet Theatre is breaking out of the proscenium.
The company announced earlier today that in addition to the works already scheduled for their two-week fall season at Lincoln Center's David H. Koch Theater (Oct. 18–29), a new work for members of ABT's Studio Company and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School will also take place during select performances. But more surprising than the lateness of the addition is where it will take place: on the theater's promenade during intermission. Entitled Counterpoint for Philip Johnson, the new work will pay homage to the architect of the theater, according to the company's press release. It marks the first time that ABT will perform outside of the traditional proscenium stage at the Koch.
Dancers trying their hand at designing is nothing new. But they do tend to stick with studio or performance-wear (think Miami City Ballet's Ella Titus and her line of knit warm-ups or former NYCB dancer Janie Taylor and her ballet costumes). But several dancers at American Ballet Theatre—corps members Jamie Kopit, Erica Lall, Katie Boren, Katie Williams, Lauren Post, Zhong-Jing Fang and soloist Cassandra Trenary—are about to launch a fashion line that's built around designs that can be worn outside of the studio. Titled Company Cooperative, the luxe line of women's wear is handmade in New York City's garment district and designed by the dancers themselves.
Every soloist hopes and prays for the moment when their director offers that first big lead role. For American Ballet Theatre's Christine Shevchenko, it happened last November when artistic director Kevin McKenzie informed her that the following spring she'd dance the role of Kitri at the Metropolitan Opera House.
After three years as a soloist, she felt ready. Shevchenko was particularly glad that her first lead with ABT would be in Don Quixote. She'd won competitions with the third-act variation as a kid back at The Rock School for Dance Education. A few years ago, she danced the full ballet in Ukraine, the country where she was born, with the Donetsk Ballet. Plus, it's a fun ballet, she told me a few weeks before the debut. The whole cast is rooting for you, she says, clapping along, snapping their fingers.