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Why I Dance: Ashley Bouder
New York City Ballet principal Ashley Bouder embraces every role with great relish and dazzling technique. She sparkles in Balanchine's Stars and Stripes and exudes just the right whiff of romance in his “Emeralds." She's a favorite of visiting choreographers too. She seems to be bursting with happiness in Ratmansky's Concerto DSCH, and in Wayne McGregor's recent Outlier she projects a slightly sinister shading. Her brilliance stretches across the wide-ranging NYCB repertoire.
Bouder grew up in Carlisle, PA, where she studied at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet from the age of 6. She attended the summer program at the School of American Ballet in 1999 and enrolled full-time that year. After the workshop performance the following spring, she became an apprentice with NYCB and joined the company in the fall. While still in the corps, Bouder stepped into the lead role in Firebird as a last-minute replacement, earning her a “25 to Watch" in 2001. She rose to principal within four years and has performed an enormous number of leading roles. During breaks from her NYCB schedule, she's been a guest artist on the international circuit, dancing Giselle with Rome Opera Ballet and Kitri with the Kirov. On top of all that, she's a guest blogger for The Huffington Post.
Why do I dance? Because I love it. Why do I love it?
Ah, there's the difficult question. I ask myself, Why did I choose this life of endless ache? Why did I pick this career when I know that around the age of 40 I'll have to choose another? Well, I'll tell you. For me, it was not a choice. There was no big decision to make ballet my life. It just simply is.
Recently I had to rehearse the Robbins ballet Other Dances, and I needed to review the choreography. As I started the tape and kicked off my shoes to mark through the first solo in the NYCB video room, I could suddenly feel the sun on my face and see the water. The steps came back and I was flooded with the imagery of the dance.
I delight in the sheer joy dance can bring. When I am dancing a piece like Balanchine's Square Dance, the choreography and music take me to a very happy place. The music is gorgeous and the steps fit perfectly. It is like once I learned the choreography I literally couldn't do anything else to that music. Even thinking of the steps or just marking through them puts a smile on my face. Unfortunately, I've been accused of premeditating my onstage smiles by a critic. I can assure you that is not the case. It is just my joy in what I am doing coming out in the most appropriate place I can think of: the stage. I treasure the quick lightness of many of the ballets I dance; being in New York City Ballet and having the opportunity to dance so many Balanchine roles is another reason why I dance.
Dancing is also one of the best ways I can think of to let out extreme emotions. I look forward to the challenge of carrying a storyline without words. I find that all those life experiences that I'd rather forget about, like having my heart broken or losing someone close to me, can be turned into something helpful and meaningful. It is a thrill and a challenge to express the tragedy of Giselle, the joy of Kitri, or the romance of Aurora with only the limitations of my face and body.
On the other hand, I like that dance can force me to put aside my emotions. That nervousness before a show disappears when I step out of the wings. I get out there and think, “Whatever happens, happens. If I fall, I fall. This is live theater and I am living in it." It is a necessity to overcome fear and insecurity in order to get onstage and I think that helps in other life situations too.
I also love to walk into a studio and check my baggage at the door. I'm just a dancer working. I'm just a ballerina perfecting her craft through literally blood, sweat, and tears. Sometimes it's just me and the music. That's the best.
Bouder as Princess Aurora in Peter Martins' Sleeping Beauty. Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.
My dance coach wants my word that I'll keep competing under his school's name for the next year and not audition. I'm 18 years old and already doing lead roles and winning medals. I love his teaching, but shouldn't I be ready to go out and get a job?
—Gil, Las Vegas, NV
How do we make ballet, a traditionally homogeneous art form, relevant to and reflective of an increasingly diverse and globalized era? While established companies are shifting slowly, Richard Siegal/Ballet of Difference, though less than 2 years old, has something of a head start. The guiding force of the company, which is based in Germany, is bringing differences together in the same room and, ultimately, on the same stage.
Before she became the 20th century's most revered ballet pedagogue, Agrippina Vaganova was a frustrated ballerina. "I was not progressing and that was a terrible thing to realize," she wrote in a rough draft of her memoirs.
She retired from the Imperial Ballet stage in 1916, and for the next 30-plus years, devoted herself to creating a "science of ballet." Her new, dynamic teaching method produced stars like Rudolf Nureyev, Alla Osipenko, and Galina Ulanova and later Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov. And her approach continues to influence how we think about ballet training to this day.
But is the ballet class due for an update? Demands and aesthetics have changed. So should the way dancers train change too?
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."
Claude Debussy's only completed opera, Pelléas et Mélisande, emphasizes clarity and subtlety over high-flung drama as a deadly love triangle unfolds. Opera Vlaanderen and Royal Ballet of Flanders are commemorating the 100th anniversary of the composer's death with a new production of the landmark opera that is sure to be anything but traditional: Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Damien Jalet are choreographing and directing, while boundary-pushing performance artist Marina Abramović collaborates on the design. Antwerp, Feb. 2–13. Ghent, Feb. 23–March 4. operaballet.be/en.
Black History Month offers a time to reflect on the artists who have shaped the dance field as we know it today. But equally important is celebrating the black artists who represent the next generation. These seven up-and-comers are making waves across all kinds of styles and across the country:
When a new director began transforming Atlanta Ballet a couple of years ago, longtime dancer Alessa Rogers decided to finally explore her dream of dancing in Europe. "I always had this wanderlust," she says. She wasn't set on a particular city or company, but thought learning French would be fun. She began her research that September, making note of repertoire and the number of dancers as well as which companies employed foreign, non–European Union dancers. "I saw that Ballet du Rhin was looking for dancers," says Rogers. "They also had a new director coming in, so I thought it could be an opportunity." After sending a video, Rogers traveled during her layoff week to take company class. She was offered a job on the spot.
Uprooting and moving out of the country, far away from your support system, language and customs, is not something to take lightly. While it can push you as an artist and be an exciting opportunity for personal growth, working as a dancer in a foreign country comes with its challenges. Lots of research and an adventurous spirit are required.
Justin Lynch is surprisingly nonchalant about the struggles of being a full-time lawyer and a professional dancer. "All dancers in New York City are experts at juggling multiple endeavors," he says. "What I'm doing is no different from what any other dancer does—it's just that what I'm juggling is different."
While we agree that freelance dancers are pro multitaskers, we don't really buy Lynch's claim that what he does isn't extraordinary. In fact, we're pretty mind-boggled by the career he's built for himself.
At the annual Gala de Danza in Los Cabos, Mexico, the lineup of performers is usually pretty typical gala fare: You can expect celebrity performers like Lil Buck, reality stars like Ballet West's Beckanne Sisk and "So You Think You Can Dance" finalist Tate McRae, plus principals from top companies like New York City Ballet's Tiler Peck and Daniel Ulbricht.
What's absolutely not typical? The venue.
At 5'10" I felt like an ant in the studio with Alonzo King LINES Ballet. The San Francisco-based company is full of statuesque dancers whose passion is infectious. Every story was told not only through their movement, but through the expression on their faces and their connection to one another.
We talked to artistic director Alonzo King about his love of collaborations and why he thinks politicians need to dance more.