Brooklyn Mack Thought It Was a Prank When ABT Asked Him to Guest—and Now He's Dancing the Opening Night of Le Corsaire
After almost a decade at The Washington Ballet, Brooklyn Mack has struck out on his own. Last summer, after unsuccessful contract negotiations with the company—now under the direction of Julie Kent—the 32-year-old star decided to go it alone. So far, his full-time freelance career has taken him to Hong Kong, Mexico, Norway, Russia, Georgia (the country, not the state) and various cities across the U.S. But his biggest debut is still to come. This month, he appears with American Ballet Theatre at the Metropolitan Opera House for four performances of Le Corsaire, playing both Conrad and Ali.
How did the invitation come about?
I was contacted on Instagram by Kevin McKenzie's assistant. At first, I thought I was being pranked!
Has ABT always been a goal for you?
Most kids dream about dancing at ABT, and I was no exception. Actually, I spent one year in the Studio Company when I was 18 (in 2005). Isabella Boylston, Cory Stearns and Thomas Forster were all there at the time. So I'm excited to reconnect.
Would you like to dance more with the company?
Of course! But we'll see what comes. I'm definitely looking forward to the debut and being in that moment.
What have been some of the highlights of the past year?
I got to dance in a gala evening honoring Arthur Mitchell while he was still here. He was onstage, sitting downstage right, the whole time. I also got to dance at Fall for Dance with Tiler Peck and Lil Buck in Jennifer Weber's Petrushka; it was so rewarding to work with them—they're amazing movers.
Are you still based in DC?
Actually, while I'm guesting, I'm moving my base to South Carolina, where I'm from. DC is an expensive city!
Besides ABT, anything big coming up?
I will be joining English National Ballet for the first half of their season. The casting isn't done yet, but I expect to dance leading roles in the majority of the fall/winter repertoire—like Le Corsaire (which was my debut with ENB in 2015), Wheeldon's Cinderella, The Nutcracker—and possibly Akram Khan's Giselle if I have time to jump in, and surely some new and interesting things in the mixed rep as well!
Carlos Quezada, Courtesy Mack
Ideally, is there a dream company you'd like to join?
The older I get, the whole idea of a "dream company" is less of a thing. Every company has pluses and minuses. The best thing a dancer can do is to find a place with a decent amount of pluses. And if you also have a bit of freedom, that's excellent, because the things you're not getting there you can supplement elsewhere. That way you get a balanced diet.
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New York City–based choreographer and director Jennifer Weber once worked on a project with a strict social media policy: " 'Hire no one with less than 10K, period'—and that was a few years ago," she says. "Ten thousand is a very small number now, especially on Instagram."
The commercial dance world is in a period of transition, where social media handles and follower counts are increasingly requested by casting directors, but rarely offered by dancers up front. "I can see it starting to show up on resumés, though, alongside a dancer's height and hair color," predicts Weber.
If you think becoming a trainee or apprentice is the only path to gaining experience in a dance company environment, think again.
The University of Arizona, located in the heart of Tucson, acclimates dancers to the pace and rigor of company life while offering all the academic opportunities of a globally-ranked university. If you're looking to get a head-start on your professional dance career—or to just have a college experience that balances company-level training and repertory with rigorous academics—the University of Arizona's undergraduate and graduate programs have myriad opportunites to offer:
Yes, we realize it's only August. But we can't help but to already be musing about all the incredible dance happenings of 2019.
We're getting ready for our annual Readers' Choice feature, and we want to hear from you about the shows you can't stop thinking about, the dance videos that blew your mind and the artists you discovered this year who everyone should know about.
What happens during a performance is the product of the painstaking process of realizing an artistic vision. Whether held beforehand, afterward, offsite or online, audience discussions tend not to be so preordained, easily thrown off track without a skilled moderator at the helm.
"I'm someone who dreaded talkbacks and Q&As," admits Bill Bragin, former director of public programming at Lincoln Center. "While I was in New York, a lot of the time it was just audience members trying to show off how smart they were."
These events present a pile of difficult questions: How much do you reveal about a piece before it's shown? How can a conversation designed to hit key points feel casual and spontaneous? How do you cater to the needs of diverse attendees, from novice dancegoers to lifelong fans to scholars and critics? And how do you avoid smothering dance with language, flattening all its complexity?