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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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.
Just four years ago, the University of Southern California's Glorya Kaufman School of Dance welcomed its first class of BFA students. The program—which boasts world-class faculty and a revolutionary approach to training focused on collaboration and hybridity—immediately established itself as one of the country's most prestigious and most innovative.
Now, the first graduating class is entering the dance field. Here, six of the 33 graduates share what they're doing post-grad, what made their experience at USC Kaufman so meaningful and how it prepared them for their next steps:
Chiara Valle is just one of many dancers heading back to the studio this fall as companies ramp up for the season. But her journey back has been far more difficult than most.
Valle has been a trainee at The Washington Ballet since 2016, starting at the same time as artistic director Julie Kent. But only a few months into her first season there, she started experiencing excruciating pain high up in her femur. "It felt like someone was stabbing me 24/7," she says. Sometimes at night, the pain got so bad that her roommates would bring her dinner to the bathtub.
Michele Byrd-McPhee's uncle was a DJ for the local black radio station in Philadelphia, where she was born. As a kid she was always dancing to the latest music, including a new form of powerful poetry laid over pulsing beats that was the beginning of what we now call hip hop.
Byrd-McPhee became enamored of the form and went on to a career as a hip-hop dancer and choreographer, eventually founding the Ladies of Hip-Hop Festival and directing the New York City chapter of Everybody Dance Now!. Over the decades, she has experienced hip hop's growth from its roots in the black community into a global phenomenon—a trajectory she views with both pride and caution.
On one hand, the popularity of hip hop has "made a global impact," says Byrd-McPhee. "It's provided a voice for so many people around the world." The downside is "it's used globally in ways that the people who made the culture don't benefit from it."