Brandt in Giselle. Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy ABT

Skylar Brandt's Taste in Music Is as Delightful as Her Dancing

American Ballet Theatre soloist Skylar Brandt's dancing is clean, precise and streamlined. It's surprising, then, to learn that her taste in music is "all over the place," she says. (Even more surprising is that Brandt, who has an Instagram following of over 80k, is "in the dark ages" when it comes to her music, and was buying individual songs on iTunes up until a year ago, when her family intervened with an Apple Music plan.)

Though what she's listening to at any given time can vary dramatically, the through-line for Brandt is nostalgia: songs that take her back, whether to childhood, a favorite movie or a piece she's recently performed. Brandt told us about her eclectic taste, and made us a playlist that will keep you guessing:

On Her Anything Goes Preshow Playlist

Rather than make playlists based on her mood, Brandt listens to a mix of songs that are new to her at the time—including everything from rap to pop to classical. She doesn't have a pre-performance playlist or particular sound she likes to hear preshow—"whatever I'm listening to at the moment sets me up just fine," she says. Brandt recognizes that her eclecticism isn't everyone's preshow jam: In the dressing room she shares with five other soloists, she says she's "happy when other people put whatever they want on."

On the Beauty of Noise-Canceling Headphones

Most New Yorkers don't look forward to their commute. But Brandt does, thanks to her noise-canceling headphones and the opportunity to prepare herself for the day with music. "My most prized possession is my noise-canceling headphones," she says. "I can really hear everything and it blocks out the sound of the train. My parents always tell me, 'Sky, you have to be really careful crossing the street because you can't hear if there's someone honking at you!' "

On Leaving It in the Studio

Though Brandt says she's "anal" about musicality, you won't find her outside the studio listening to music for pieces she's working on. "That way I get a break from it," she says. "I don't want to get sick of it." After she's performed a piece though, she'll listen to the music "constantly," she says—that's why you'll find Andrews Sisters songs from Paul Taylor's Company B and Beach Boys songs from Twyla Tharp's Deuce Coupe on her playlist. (Brandt has never even danced Deuce Coupe: "I'm sure my friends who were in it never want to hear those songs again," she says. "But I can picture them dancing when I listen to it.") Philip Glass' In the Upper Room is another favorite—Brandt recently danced the "stomper" role in the famous Tharp piece.

On Discovering New Music

Brandt is admittedly old-school about finding new music, often getting recommendations from her sisters or friends, or looking up songs she's heard at performances. Sometimes she finds music on Instagram—as was the case with Cardi B & YG's "She Bad," which she became obsessed with after watching a hip-hop routine to it.

Movies, too, are a place to find music for Brandt: Songs from La La Land, Blue Is the Warmest Color, The Land Before Time, Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (which she's never even seen!) made it onto her playlist.

On Her Penchant for Nostalgia

"A lot of my taste comes from experiences that are tied to specific songs," she says. "There are some songs that I'll listen to that make me happy because of a memory I have. 'Papa Was A Rolling Stone' reminds me of my dad. There are some '90s songs from Destiny's Child and TLC that remind me of my older sisters." Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" reminds her of her mom, who was Lauper's fitness trainer for a time.

She even has "Hava Nagila" on her playlist, which reminds her of weddings and celebration, and some Punjabi music she discovered at an Indian wedding she recently attended.

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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