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On the Rise: Margaret Mullin
Margaret Mullin unfurls a luxurious développé in the middle of a pas de deux. This brief moment of unhurried classical grace comes as a surprise amid the fast, fierce, contemporary angles of Jirí Kylián’s Sechs Tänze. Yet Mullin makes it feel all of a piece, and it becomes clear she not only understands classical and contemporary vocabulary, she can make them work together.
That suits Pacific Northwest Ballet artistic director Peter Boal, who cast the 22-year-old corps member in eight soloist roles last season. He points to her successes in such varied ballets as Sleeping Beauty (Bluebird), The Four Temperaments (demi-soloist), and Victor Quijada’s oozing Suspension of Disbelief (ensemble). “With Maggie, it’s all been surprises. I expected her to do well, and she did better than expected at many different turns.”
Mullin grew up in Tucson with her mother and grandmother. She took her first dance class at age 4. At 9, she moved to Ballet Arts, where she stayed through high school. She spent five summers at the PNB School, a year in its professional division, and joined PNB’s corps in 2009.
It was not a straight shot, however. Helping her were other students’ parents, who drove her to class when her mother was struck by a longterm illness, and her dance teachers Mary Beth Cabana and Chieko Imada. At 16, Mullin was sidelined by an ankle injury for nearly a year. She spent her downtime choreographing. The months off showed Mullin how committed she was to dancing. And she realized how crucial it is to know your body and take time as you learn. “Everyone gets injured; it’s just a part of what we do,” she says. “It’s important to not punish yourself for that.”
It’s easy to trace certain aspects of Mullin’s dancing to Ballet Arts, where the curriculum incorporated many styles. Variation classes—even for the little kids—emphasized artistry. Technique was not ignored, however. “Everything was very, very clean,” says Mullin.
The results were apparent even at the start of her 2008 apprenticeship, when she danced in Benjamin Millepied’s 3 Movements. She showed her strong stage presence, musicality, clean lines, and ability to fly across the stage. (“Her traveling is beautiful,” says Boal. “She lets the music help her jump.”)
Mullin works hard in class (even her tendus are a dramatic performance, strong feet slicing fast and clear). And she has performed challenging roles this spring, including Butterfly in Midsummer Night’s Dream and the Peasant Pas de Deux in Giselle. If Ballet Arts gave her what Mullin describes as “the raw material,” she says her years at PNB have been about “putting it into motion in the right way” with the help of Boal and the company’s ballet masters. Her control, refinement, and sophistication have increased so much so that Boal nominated her for a Princess Grace Award.
As for her interests outside of dance, Mullin says that she loves drawing, writing, and watching old movies. She also goes to lots of concerts with her boyfriend, who is a musician. Even at the symphony she catches herself choreographing in her head. Part of Ballet Arts’ curriculum, choreographing is something Mullin has continued to do at PNB for its annual choreographers’ showcase. Boal says this has helped her grow as an artist.
Watching Mullin set a piece on some poised Professional Division students, one can see how already she is passing down some of what she appreciates so deeply from teachers like Boal and PNB’s Elaine Bauer (who coached her on her Princess Grace Award submission). Bauer says that Mullin “has the fertile mind of an artist, taking the seed of an idea and making it grow before our eyes.” This bodes well for Mullin’s dream of someday dancing Juliette in Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Roméo et Juliette. Character, motivation, and musicality are key in this role—a role made for those who understand both contemporary and classical. It could be a perfect fit.
Rosie Gaynor is a Seattle dance writer.
Mullin in Paul Gibson’s The Piano Dance. Photo by Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB.
One of the biggest myths about ballet dancers is that they don't eat. While we all know that, yes, there are those who do struggle with body image issues and eating disorders, most healthy dancers love food—and eat plenty of it to fuel their busy schedules.
Luckily for us, they're not afraid to show it:
Looking for your next audition shoe? Shot at and in collaboration with Broadway Dance Center, Só Dança has launched a new collection of shoes working with some pretty famous faces of the musical theater world! Offered in two different styles and either 2.5" or 3" heels, top industry professionals are loving how versatile and supportive these shoes are! Pro tip: The heel is centered under the body so you can feel confident and stable!
When I wrote about my struggle with depression, and eventual departure from dance because of it, I expected criticism. I was prepared to be challenged. But much to my relief, and horror, dancers from all over the world responded with support and stories of solidarity. The most critical response I saw was this one:
"Dance isn't for everyone."
This may as well be a mantra in the dance world. We have become entrenched in the Darwinian notion that the emotionally weak will be weeded out. There is no room for them anyway.
Growing up in a family-owned dance studio in Missouri had its perks for tap dancer Anthony Russo. But it also earned him constant taunting, especially in high school.
"There was a junior in my sophomore year health class who was absolutely relentless," he says. "I'd get tripped on my way to the front of the classroom and he'd say, 'Watch out, twinkle toes.' If I raised my hand and answered a question incorrectly, I'd hear a patronizing 'Nice one, Bojangles.' "
What does a superstar like Carlos Acosta do after bidding farewell to his career in classical ballet? In Acosta's case, he returns to his native country, Cuba, to funnel his fame, connections and prodigious energies back into the dance scene that formed him. Because of its top-notch, state-supported training programs and popular embrace of the art of dance, Cuba is brimming with talented dancers. What it has been short on, until recently, are opportunities outside of the mainstream companies, as well as access to a more international repertoire. That is changing now, and, with the creation of Acosta Danza, launched in 2016, Acosta is determined to open the doors even wider to new ideas and audiences.
There's so much more to the dance world than making and performing dances. Arts administrators do everything from raising money to managing companies to building new audiences. With the growing number of arts administration programs in colleges, dancers have an opportunity to position themselves for a multifaceted career on- or offstage—and to bring their unique perspective as artists to administrative work.
While Solange was busy helping big sis Beyoncé give Coachella its best performances of all time, an equally compelling project was quietly circulating on Instagram:
New York City Ballet continues its first year without Peter Martins at the helm as our spring season opens tonight.
When he retired at the start of the new year, we plunged headfirst into unknown, murky waters. Who would the new director be? When would we know? Would we dancers get some say in the decision? Who would oversee the Balanchine ballets? Who would be in charge of casting? Would a new director bring along huge upheaval? Could some of us be out of a job?
In the world of ballet, Arcadian Broad is a one-stop shop: He'll come up with a story, compose its music, choreograph the movement and dance it himself. But then Broad has always been a master of versatility. As a teenager he juggled school, dance and—after the departure of his father—financial responsibility. It was Broad's income from dancing that kept his family afloat. Fast-forward six years and things are far more stable. Broad now lives on his own in an apartment, but you can usually find him in the studio.
Bales of hay, black umbrellas, bicycles—this Midsummer Night's Dream would be unrecognizable to the Bard. Alexander Ekman's full-length, inspired by Scandinavian solstice traditions and set to music by Mikael Karlsson, is a madcap celebration of the longest day of the year, when the veil between our world and that of the supernatural is said to be at its thinnest. The Joffrey Ballet's performances mark the seductively surreal work's North American premiere. April 25–May 6. joffrey.org.