On the Rise: Joseph Gorak

Purity and elegance make this ABT corps dancer stand out.



“Use that God-given fifth position,” demands artistic director Kevin McKenzie as he coaches Joseph Gorak on his pirouettes. An American Ballet Theatre Nutcracker rehearsal is underway, and choreographer Alexei Ratmansky stands by to help. Gorak’s ability and potential have been drawing a lot of attention—and corrections—lately. An ABT corps member since 2010, Gorak has had a breakout year, displaying impeccably centered virtuosity in Tharp’s In The Upper Room and calm, sinuous control in the premiere of Demis Volpi’s Private Light. He has also danced the prince in Ratmansky’s Nutcracker, and a featured role in his Dumbarton. The 22-year-old’s splendidly arched feet and scissored lines, combined with pure, perfectly placed technique (with none of the upper body tension that sometimes plagues strong male dancers) command attention onstage.

ABT principal David Hallberg, who has been a mentor, sees a lot of similarities to himself when he was Gorak’s age. “Joey’s so naturally gifted, he almost doesn’t realize it,” says Hallberg. “What I try to help with is his confidence. ABT is a really big pond, but with his talent he can swim just as well as any of them.”

Gorak fell in love with ballet after seeing The Nutcracker when he was 4. His parents enrolled him in ballet classes at a local Texas studio. When the family moved to Orlando, Gorak took lessons with the late Fernando Bujones and Peter Stark. “They worked on technique, placement and fine-tuning my body,” says Gorak. Bujones and Nureyev were his ballet idols. “Growing up, I had all Nureyev’s tapes,” he says. “I wanted to be Nureyev.”

Gorak entered, and won, a bushel of competitions: the silver medal in the senior men’s division at the 2005 Helsinki International Ballet Competition; the gold medal in the senior men’s division at the 2005 YAGP Finals; and the Grand Prix at the 2006 YAGP Finals.

Kirk Peterson, then director of ABT Studio Company, spotted the 16-year-old prodigy at the 2006 YAGP Finals and asked him to join the company. Gorak stayed until he was made an ABT apprentice in 2009. 


After signing a corps contract, the reality of swimming in the big pond was initially disorienting. “I got burned out and thought about leaving,” he admits. Then ABT sent him and Christine Shevchenko to compete for the 2011 Erik Bruhn Prize, which he won with the aid of coaching in La Sylphide from McKenzie. It helped him turn the corner in finding himself as a person and an artist. “Now I think I am completely confident in myself,” he says. “I can work for myself without trying to please others.” 

In June, Gorak is scheduled to dance Lensky, the lyrically tormented soul in Cranko’s Onegin, during ABT’s Lincoln Center season. Does he feel up for it? “Oh, yes, I am ready to be a mad Russian,” he says. “Tragedy and despair are right up my alley. I’ve always wanted to do the acting, the dying.”

He also dreams of classical roles like Siegfried and Albrecht. “I think Joey’s future is still unwritten,” says Hallberg. “What I appreciate about him, because it comes so naturally, is his cleanliness. So often cleanliness is compromised for trickery or flash. You don’t have to have the flashy pirouettes to be a great dancer.”

Joseph Carman is a senior advising editor at Dance Magazine.


Gorak in Ratmansky's Dumbarton. Photo by Gene Schiavone, Courtesy ABT.

The Conversation
Courtesy Ritzel

Capezio, Bloch, So Dança, Gaynor Minden.

At the top of the line, dancers have plenty of quality footwear options to choose from, and in most metropolitan areas, stores to go try them on. But for many of North America's most economically disadvantaged dance students, there has often been just one option for purchasing footwear in person: Payless ShoeSource.

Keep reading... Show less
Jayme Thornton

When Sonya Tayeh saw Moulin Rouge! for the first time, on opening night at a movie theater in Detroit, she remembers not only being inspired by the story, but noticing the way it was filmed.

"What struck me the most was the pace, and the erratic feeling it had," she says. The camera's quick shifts and angles reminded her of bodies in motion. "I was like, 'What is this movie? This is so insane and marvelous and excessive,' " she says. "And excessive is I think how I approach dance. I enjoy the challenge of swiftness, and the pushing of the body. I love piling on a lot of vocabulary and seeing what comes out."

Keep reading... Show less
Dancers Trending
Robbie Fairchild in a still from In This Life, directed by Bat-Sheva Guez. Photo courtesy Michelle Tabnick PR

Back when Robbie Fairchild graced the cover of the May 2018 issue of Dance Magazine, he mentioned an idea for a short dance film he was toying around with. That idea has now come to fruition: In This Life, starring Fairchild and directed by dance filmmaker Bat-Sheva Guez, is being screened at this year's Dance on Camera Festival.

While the film itself covers heavy material—specifically, how we deal with grief and loss—the making of it was anything but: "It was really weird to have so much fun filming a piece about grief!" Fairchild laughs. We caught up with him, Guez and Christopher Wheeldon (one of In This Life's five choreographers) to find out what went into creating the 11-minute short film.

Keep reading... Show less
The Creative Process
Terry Notary in a movement capture suit during the filming of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Photo by Sigtor Kildal, Courtesy Notary

When Hollywood needs to build a fantasy world populated with extraordinary creatures, they call Terry Notary.

The former gymnast and circus performer got his start in film in 2000 when Ron Howard asked him to teach the actors how to move like Whos for How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Notary has since served as a movement choreographer, stunt coordinator and performer via motion capture technology for everything from the Planet of the Apes series to The Hobbit trilogy, Avatar, Avengers: Endgame and this summer's The Lion King.

Since opening the Industry Dance Academy with his wife, Rhonda, and partners Maia and Richard Suckle, Notary also offers movement workshops for actors in Los Angeles.

Keep reading... Show less


Get Dance Magazine in your inbox