This ABT Corps de Ballet Dancer Performed in 73 Shows Over 11 Weeks
Erica Lall, a member of American Ballet Theatre's corps de ballet, accomplished an impressive feat this spring: she danced in every single one of ABT's spring Metropolitan Opera House season performances. That's 64 shows—actually, as Lall notes, "it would technically be 69 shows at the Met," since she performed in all of the ABTKids performances as well.
On top of the Met season, she traveled with the company to Wolf Trap in Virginia, adding another three shows to her tally, and then on to Vail Dance Festival for one more performance, bringing her total up to 73 shows. Lall shows no signs of stopping. She has several more summer gigs lined up before ABT heads back into rehearsals for the fall season.
We caught up with Lall just after she returned from Vail to chat about her season highlights, staying healthy through so many shows, and what's up next for her this summer.
Lall and Arron Scott in In the Upper Room.
Marty Sohl, Courtesy American Ballet Theatre
Her Highlights from the Met Season
Among the many roles she performed, Lall enjoyed cutting her acting teeth playing young schoolgirl Adele in Cathy Marston's Jane Eyre and Red Riding Hood in Alexei Ratmansky's The Sleeping Beauty. "It was a lot of fun to get to portray Adele as a character," she says, and just like Adele she's "very peppy in real life, and just always wanting to have fun."
Another highlight was performing the "Little Swans" pas de quatre in Swan Lake. "I've been kind of learning it for two years now, and I finally got the opportunity to perform it this season," she says. The experience was made even more special by her fellow cygnets: soloists Skylar Brandt, Luciana Paris and Cassandra Trenary. "I've looked up to them for years, so it was an honor to be next to them and performing with them," she says.
And, Twyla Tharp's marathon of a ballet In the Upper Room she describes as "one of the highlights of my career thus far."
Lall (far right) with (from far left) Luciana Paris, Skylar Brandt and Cassandra Trenary, in costume for Swan Lake.
How She Stays Healthy
Lall credits a few tricks for maintaining her energy and strength throughout the season: Gyrotonics, Epsom salt baths ("every night after the show I would take one, no matter how late it was"), "snacking and eating three full meals a day," drinking Sqwinchers before shows "for added electrolytes," and a banana before the ballets she knew might cause muscle cramps.
ABT's Star Game
Every year during Met season, ABT dancers play what they've dubbed the "Star Game," according to the company's Instagram page. Tallies are kept on each female corps dancer to determine who has danced the greatest number of shows, and acts, during the Met season.
Lall took the crown this year with the most shows, Virginia Lensi danced in the most acts, and Betsy McBride was the runner-up.
While Lall's not sure where the tradition originated, she says that corps dancer Alexandra Basmagy "usually does the Star Chart, but she's pregnant this year." Scout Forsythe, another corps member, took on the task this time.
What's Up Next
Alongside some of her ABT colleagues, Lall is currently in rehearsals for the Hamptons Dance Project's debut performances next week. Then she's off with ABT principal James Whiteside to Paraguay and Buenos Aires where they'll be performing the pas de deux from Le Corsaire and the choreography from Whiteside's Wallflower music video in IX Gala Internacional de Ballet at the end of the month.
After that, she finally gets a vacation: "I'm going to Jamaica with my family."
Advice for Fellow Corps de Ballet Dancers
Lall tells fellow corps members who face similarly challenging seasons to have confidence in themselves: "This is what we've trained our entire lives for, and our body is capable of doing it."
While Lall wasn't initially scheduled to dance in every Met show ("we get our casting two weeks before the performance week"), she had a feeling in her gut at the beginning of the season that she wasn't going to have a single show off. Looking back at her achievement, she reflects, "It's really just great to be in every show, honestly. It's very hard but...you feel very accomplished once the season is over and you've made it."
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In the middle of one of New York City Center's cavernous studios, Misty Copeland takes a measured step backwards. The suggestion of a swan arm ripples before she turns downstage, chest and shoulders unfurling as her legs stretch into an open lunge. She piqués onto pointe, arms echoing the sinuous curve of her back attitude, then walks out of it, pausing to warily look over her shoulder. As the droning of Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto's mysterious "Attack/Transition" grows more insistent, her feet start to fly with a rapidity that seems to almost startle her.
And then she stops mid-phrase. Copeland's hands fall to her hips as she apologizes. Choreographer Kyle Abraham slides to the sound system to pause the music, giving Copeland a moment to remind herself of a recent change to the sequence.
"It's different when the sound's on!" he reassures her. "And it's a lot of changes."
The day before was the first time Abraham had seen Copeland dance the solo in its entirety, and the first moment they were in the studio together in a month. This is their last rehearsal, save for tech, before the premiere of Ash exactly one week later, as part of the opening night of City Center's Fall for Dance festival.
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
Dancers are understandably obsessed with food. In both an aesthetic and athletic profession, you know you're judged on your body shape, but you need proper fuel to perform your best. Meanwhile, you're inundated with questionable diet advice.
"My 'favorite' was the ABC diet," says registered dietitian nutritionist Kristin Koskinen, who trained in dance seriously but was convinced her body type wouldn't allow her to pursue it professionally. "On the first day you eat only foods starting with the letter A, on the second day only B, and so on."
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.