Paloma Herrera in the studio with Colón's dancers. Photo by La Nación/Maximiliano Amena, Courtesy La Nación

Paloma Herrera Talks Returning to Company Life—As a Director

Paloma Herrera's final performance of Giselle in 2015, like the rest of her 24-year career with American Ballet Theatre, was impeccable. The New York Times described her as "wonderfully musical, unexaggerated and unmannered," words that more or less encapsulate the quality of her dancing in a vast array of classical and contemporary works.

Now, just two years after her retirement and subsequent return to her native Argentina, she has a new role: director of her country's largest and most celebrated ballet company, the Ballet Estable del Teatro Colón. The company, founded in 1925, has around 100 dancers and a storied past—as well as a gorgeous home theater—but has been hobbled in recent years by meager seasons, labor strife and a crisis of confidence in its leadership.

Herrera's directorship was announced in a surprise press conference in February and she got to work right away. As she says, she has barely left the theater since.

So, what happened to the freedom you were looking forward to after your retirement?

I know! Where did it go? I'm in rehearsals and then, during my breaks, I'm in the office, and afterwards I stay late answering emails. I have no life! But I'm happy.


How did the appointment come about?

It was a total surprise. María Victoria Alcaraz, the Colón's general director, contacted me at the beginning of the year to tell me they were looking to completely replace the artistic team at the opera house. Once I understood her vision and could see that they really wanted to make a change, I was interested.

I gave them a long list and said that if these things couldn't be accomplished, I wouldn't take the job, because it wasn't something I needed or wanted. I was perfectly happy teaching, coaching, traveling.

What were the conditions?

Some things are more immediate and some of them will take time. First of all, the dancers need to dance more, including tours. [For the 2017 season, the ballet company is scheduled for only 27 performances.] Then there's the issue that the dancers need more coaching. And then there's the question of retirement age. [The federal retirement age is 65, which makes it hard to hire new, younger dancers.] No one wins with the situation we have now.

But the retirement age is beyond your control, isn't it?

We're discussing different options with the authorities. It's a complex problem, but I'm determined to change it, because that will change the expectations of the dancers, and help them value what they have. There have to be opportunities for everyone. The best person—the one who works the most and deserves it the most—will be chosen for each role.


Paloma Herrera danced Giselle for her final performance with American Ballet Theatre in 2015. Photo by Gene Schiavone, Courtesy ABT.


How were you received by the company?

It was incredible. Already on the first day the dancers put in a great effort, with lots of energy and a positive attitude. They've been amazing. I hope it continues. I talk to them a lot, and I'm brutally honest, about the good things and the things I don't agree with.

You've just written a memoir, haven't you?

Yes! It's called Mi Intense Vida [My Intense Life], and it was presented in May at the Buenos Aires International Book Fair. Writing it was an intense experience, in every sense.

Have you found it difficult to see yourself as the leader of a company?

You know what? I haven't. Not at all. I use the same formula that served me well during my entire career. It's simple: pure hard work, and a love for what we do.

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Courtesy Harlequin

What Does It Take to Make a Safe Outdoor Stage for Dance?

Warmer weather is just around the corner, and with it comes a light at the end of a hibernation tunnel for many dance organizations: a chance to perform again. While social distancing and mask-wearing remain essential to gathering safely, the great outdoors has become an often-preferred performance venue.

But, of course, nature likes to throw its curveballs. What does it take to successfully pull off an alfresco show?

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Dwight Rhodens "Ave Maria," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Keeping dancers safe outside requires the same intentional flooring as you have in the studio—but it also needs to be hearty enough to withstand the weather. With so many factors to consider, two ballet companies consulted with Harlequin Floors to find the perfect floor for their unique circumstances.

Last fall, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre invested in a mobile stage that allowed the dancers to perform live for socially distanced audiences. "But we didn't have an outdoor resilient floor, so we quickly realized that if we had any rain, we were going to be in big trouble—it would have rotted," says artistic director Susan Jaffe.

The company purchased the lightweight, waterproof Harlequin's AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and the heavy-duty Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl, which is manufactured with BioCote® Antimicrobial Protection to help with the prevention of bacteria and mold. After an indoor test run while filming Nutcracker ("It felt exactly like our regular floor," says Jaffe), the company will debut the new setup this May in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park during a two-week series of performances shared with other local arts organizations.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Open Air Series last fall. The company plans to roll out their new Harlequin AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl floor for more outdoor performances this spring.

Harris Ferris, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

In addition to the possibility of rain, a range of temperatures also has to be taken into account. When the State Ballet of Rhode Island received a grant from the state to upgrade its 15-year-old stage, executive director Ana Fox chose the Harlequin Cascade vinyl floor in the lighter gray color "so that it would be cooler if it's reflecting sunlight during daytime performances," she says.

However, for the civic ballet company's first performance on its new 24-by-48–foot stage on November 22, heat was less of a concern than the Northeastern cold. Fortunately, Fox says the surface never got icy or too stiff. "It felt warm to the feel," she says. "You could see the dancers didn't hesitate to run or step into arabesque." (The Harlequin Cascade floor is known for providing a good grip.)

"To have a safe floor for dancers not to worry about shin splints or something of that nature, that's everything," she says. "The dancers have to feel secure."

State Ballet of Rhode Island first rolled out their new Harlequin Cascade™ flooring for an outdoor performance last November.

Courtesy of Harlequin

Of course, the elements need to be considered even when dancers aren't actively performing. Although Harlequin's AeroDeck is waterproof, both PBT and SBRI have tarps to cover their stages to keep any water out. SBRI also does damp mopping before performances to get pollen off the surface. Additionally, the company is building a shed to safely store the floor long-term when it's not in use. "Of course, it's heavy, but laying down the floor and putting it away was not an issue at all," says Fox, adding that both were easy to accomplish with a crew of four people.

Since the Harlequin Cascade surface is versatile enough to support a wide range of dance styles—and even opera and theater sets—both PBT and SBRI are partnering with other local arts organizations to put their outdoor stages to use as much as possible. Because audiences are hungry for art right now.

"In September, I made our outdoor performance shorter so we wouldn't have to worry about intermission or bathrooms, but when it was over, they just sat there," says Jaffe, with a laugh. "People were so grateful and so happy to see us perform. We just got an overwhelming response of love and gratitude."

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Susan Jaffes "Carmina Terra," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

February 2021