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.
With her fearless demeanor onstage, it's easy to see how Washington Ballet apprentice Sarah Steele attracted the keen eye of former American Ballet Theatre stars Julie Kent and Ethan Stiefel. Promoted mid-season from the studio company by artistic director Kent, Steele was cast by Stiefel as the lead in Frontier, his world premiere for The Washington Ballet, this past spring. For the space-themed piece, Steele donned a black-and-white "space suit" onstage, exhibiting dual qualities of strength and grace. Most evocative about Steele's dancing might be her innate intelligence—she was accepted to Harvard on early admission, and plans to resume her studies there in the future. But first, she'll dance.
Lots of college groups do stepping—a form of body percussion based on slapping, tapping and stomping—but Step Afrika! is the first professional dance company to do it. They are currently at New York City's New Victory Theater, presenting The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence, a show based on the painting series by Harlem Renaissance artist Jacob Lawrence about The Great Migration of the 1900s, when millions of African Americans fled the Jim Crow South and traveled by train to the North for a better life. The Great Migration transformed the demographics of the country, and Jacob Lawrence's paintings became famous for their bold color and evocative power.
As we approach Thanksgiving, there's much to be grateful for. Perhaps one of the most important things on your list is dance. Whether you're a full-time company member, an aspiring professional, an audience member, or you simply delight in dancing in your daydreams, this art form is a creative escape.
That's not to say that being a dancer is easy: Pursuing such a competitive career can be heartbreaking, especially when you're faced with rejection.
La Folía, a short dance film by director Adam Grannick that was recently released online, echoes these sentiments in under 12 minutes.
It took two years of intense nutrition counseling and psychotherapy to pull me out of being anorexic. My problem now is that I've gained too much weight from eating normally. Is there no middle ground? I can't fit into my clothes, but I don't want to go back to being sick.
—Former Anorexic, Weston, CT
We always figured that stretching made us more flexible by loosening up our muscles and joints. Some of us, ahem, might have even tried to fall asleep in our middle splits to get our stubbornly stiff inner thighs to let go.
But it turns out that might not actually be how stretching works.
A new review published in the Scandinavian Journal of Science & Medicine in Sports suggests that increased flexibility actually comes from your brain growing more used to the tension.
Efficient movement is easy to recognize—we all know when we see a dancer whose every action seems essential and unmannered. Understanding how to create this effect, however, is far more elusive. From a practical perspective, dancing with efficiency helps you to conserve your energy and minimize wear and tear on the body; from an artistic point of view, it allows you to make big impressions out of little moments, and lasting memories for those watching.
So much struggle and determination goes into your training that it can be difficult for early-career dancers to recalibrate their priorities toward simplicity and ease, says Laurel Jenkins, freelance performer and Trisha Brown Dance Company staging artist. "Your aesthetic might shift, and you might have to find new things beautiful." Mastering the art of effortless movement requires a new perspective and a smart strategy—on- and offstage.
Whatever your feelings about Wayne McGregor's heady, hyper-physical choreography, we can all probably agree on one thing: We'd really, really love to pick his brain. And tomorrow, Dance Umbrella, a UK-based dance festival, is giving everyone the chance to do exactly that.
"Women are often presented as soft, fragile little creatures in ballet," says Léonore Baulac. "We're not." The Paris Opéra Ballet's newest female étoile is discussing her unease at some of the 19th-century narratives she portrays. "It was real acting," she says with a laugh of La Sylphide. "James kills her by taking away her wings, yet she tells him not to worry and goes to die elsewhere onstage!"
Sitting in the canteen of the Palais Garnier, Baulac embodies some of ballet's contradictions in the 21st century. With her fair curls and dainty features, she could easily pass for a little girl's fantasy princess. As Juliet, she exuded a girlish ardor that felt entirely natural; her reservations notwithstanding, her Sylphide was committed and carefully Romantic in style.
Yet the 27-year-old is no ingénue. At Garnier that day, her sweater reads "I can't believe I still have to protest this s**t," a feminist slogan; last winter, Baulac proudly wore it over a Kitri tutu on Instagram. And her repertoire is as thoroughly modern as she is offstage. A versatile performer even by Parisian standards, she is equally at home in Nutcracker as she is in the works of Pina Bausch and Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker.
You know Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo as the men who parody your favorite ballet variations—and make it look good. But there's more to the iconic troupe than meets the eye.
A new documentary, Rebels on Pointe, goes behind the scenes of the company, and it's full of juicy tidbits about what it's like to be a Trock. These were some of our favorite moments:
After 30 years of pioneering work in physically integrated dance, AXIS Dance Company co-founder Judith Smith has announced plans to retire from the Oakland, California, company. Throughout her tenure, she strived to get equal recognition for integrated dance and disabled dancers, commissioning work from high-profile choreographers like Bill T. Jones. Her efforts generated huge momentum for expanded training, choreography, education and advocacy for dancers with disabilities.
By phone from her home in Oakland, Smith reflected on how far the field has evolved since the early days of AXIS, and what's yet to be done.