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What It's Like to Dance Your Final Season After 14 Years in the Corps
Even before I began my 14th season with Boston Ballet last fall, I knew I wanted it to be my last. I had taken the summer layoff to analyze my career, weighing my casting heartaches with my performance successes. I noticed that as I watched my colleagues dance, I felt more inclined to spend time encouraging their artistic success than fighting for my own. Plus, the timing would be cinematically perfect: The Sleeping Beauty was the very first ballet I performed as a child in 1991, and it will be the last full-length of Boston Ballet's season in May 2017.
Photo courtesy Boston Ballet
I kept this decision a secret until my director called me in last September to inform me that he also thought this would be a good time to retire. I left his office unsure of whether I had finally communicated my feelings or just received notice that my career should end. Still, more relieved than sad, I now had the date of my final performance.
At age 34, I am what you may call a corps de ballet lifer, a prima corps de ballerina. Though I was never promoted, there has not been one day where I did not learn something new about my craft. I read a quote from Martha Graham that everyone loves to use in depressing discussions of ballet retirements: "A dancer, more than any other human being, dies two deaths." Though retiring is scary, I know in my heart it is not a death.
Wroth in Kylian's "Bella Figura." Photo by Gene Schiavone.
Whenever the rumor mill spins about a retirement, there is always a terrible awkwardness. So to make the most of my final season, I chose to email the entire company. I felt like being open would help everyone to stop "fearing the death" so much.
The formal announcement of my retirement only inspired me more. I began to openly acknowledge my plan to someday become an artistic director, and I set eagerly to work preparing a resumé and looking for available positions. I kept throwing my name and contact information out there into the ballet world, desperately hoping for an offer.
I also continued building my arsenal of artistic-leadership knowledge. It's amazing the sense of empowerment that comes from knowing the end of the chapter is near: After years of teaching optional open class to Boston Ballet dancers, I finally got up the nerve to ask to teach our official company class. I was granted three classes of my own in the fall. After the first one, my peers applauded this step towards the other side of the studio.
Wroth doing barre during her pregnancy (with her dog Butters). Photo by Igor Burlak.
There are days when the end of this season feels like an exciting unknown. Then there are days when I am so nervous that I can barely breathe. While I'm doing pliés, instead of hearing the music, I hear a terrifying voice inside me shout "You don't have a plan for next year!" My dilemma is better than most ballet retirees. Having both graduated college and obtained my master's degree, I'm not so nervous about finding "a job" as I am about finding "the right job." I have always been passionate about my vocation. I'm spoiled by it, and I really know no other way to live.
Throughout all this, performing has been my therapy. It is one of the only times my mind is free. I will relish every performance this year while preparing myself as much as possible for my next stage.
My advice to all professionals is to dance every year of your career as though it were your last. Because inevitably, when it actually is your last year, your enjoyment becomes all the more important and yet so much harder to focus on.
I love being transgender. It's an important part of the story of why I choreograph. Although I loved dance from a very young age, I grew up never seeing a single person like me in dance. So how could I imagine a future for myself there?
The enormous barriers I had to overcome weren't internal: I didn't struggle with feelings of dysphoria, and I wasn't locked down by shame.
The dance community is heartbroken to learn that 14-year-olds Jaime Guttenberg and Cara Loughran were among the 17 people killed during the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL.
Guttenberg was a talented competition dancer at Dance Theatre in Coconut Creek, FL, according to a report from Sun Sentinel. Dance Theatre owner Michelle McGrath Gerlick shared the below message on her Facebook page, encouraging dancers across the country to wear orange ribbons this weekend in honor of Guttenberg, whose favorite color was orange.
In today's dance world, it seems to go without saying: The more varied the training, the better. But is that always the case? Rhonda Malkin, a New York City–based dance coach who performed with the Radio City Rockettes, thinks trendy contemporary techniques that emphasize improvisation and organic movement quality are detrimental to the precision and strength needed to be a Rockette, in a traditional Broadway show or on a professional dance team. Her view is controversial: "If you really want to work, making $40,000 in three months for the Rockettes or $25,000 in one day filming a commercial, you need ballet, Broadway jazz, tap, hip hop—not contemporary," she says.
On the flip side, techniques that allow dancers more freedom may help them connect more deeply with their body and artistry, while providing release for overused muscles. We broke down the argument for both sides:
For many dancers, a "warmup" consists of sitting on the floor stretching their legs in various positions. But this strategy only reduces your muscles' ability to work properly—it negatively affects your strength, endurance, balance and speed for up to an hour.
Save your flexibility training for the end of the day. Instead, follow a warmup that will actually help prevent injury and improve your body's performance.
According to the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science, a smart warmup has four parts: "a gentle pulse-raising section, a joint mobilization section, a muscle lengthening section and a strength/balance building section."
A statement released yesterday by New York City Ballet and School of American Ballet reported that an independent investigation was unable to corroborate allegations of harassment and abuse against former ballet master in chief Peter Martins, according to The New York Times. This marks the end of a two-month inquiry jointly launched by the two organizations in December following an anonymous letter detailing instances of harassment and violence.
The statement also included new policies for both the company and school to create safer, more respectful environments for the dancers, including hiring an independent vendor to handle employee complaints anonymously. These changes are being made despite the independent investigation, handled by outside counsel Barbara Hoey, purportedly finding no evidence of abuse.
Not all ballet dancers cling to their youth. At 26, Lauren Lovette, the New York City Ballet principal, has surpassed the quarter-century mark. And she's relieved.
"I've never felt young," she says. "I can't wait until I'm 30. Every woman I've ever talked to says that at 30 you just don't care. You're free. Maybe I'll start early?"
When Beatlemania swept through the U.S. in the 1960s, Mark Morris was one of millions of young Americans who fell head over heels for the revolutionary group. "I was not immune," the choreographer says. "My sisters were mad about The Beatles and so was I. At age 12 I had a crush on Paul, of course."
Flash forward 50 years and he is still rocking to the British band, but this time with a new Beatles-inspired dance work his company is touring across North America, starting this month with scheduled stops in Seattle, Toronto, Portland, Oregon, and another 25 cities before the end of 2019.
You could call it island-hopping, but it's not exactly a vacation. After choreographing last season's Come From Away, and winning a Tony nomination, Kelly Devine zipped from frosty Newfoundland to the Caribbean beach resort that is the setting for Escape to Margaritaville.
In the fall, she was shuttling between them, before they start this month: flying to Toronto to prepare a new Canadian production of Come From Away, then jetting back to Chicago for the final stop of Margaritaville's four-city pre-Broadway tryout.
"These two shows could not be more different from each other," Devine says with a dash of understatement. Come From Away is about the small Newfoundland town where airliners grounded by the 9/11 attacks dumped thousands of unexpected visitors; Escape to Margaritaville, at the Marquis Theatre, is a comic island romance concocted from the beachcomber songbook of Jimmy Buffett.
How does someone go from being a New York City Ballet corps member to training Hollywood A-listers like Natalie Portman, Rooney Mara and Jennifer Lawrence? By getting injured, says Kurt Froman.
When an ankle sprain left him sidelined a few years back, Froman was "sitting at home, depressed" when he sent his friend Benjamin Millepied an email asking what he was up to. It turned out that Millepied had just been hired to choreograph some scenes for a movie, but had to be in Paris during pre-production. "He needed someone to teach two actors choreography and get them in shape," says Froman. With nothing else on his plate, he said yes, and started prepping Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis for Black Swan.