Bond rehearsing Cassandra Trenary for ABT's Innovation Initiative. Photo by Jim Lafferty for Pointe.
Gemma Bond can be said to be leading a double life as both a dancer and a choreographer. British born, she has the distinction of having been a member of The Royal Ballet and now American Ballet Theatre. Today, at age 32, she is pursuing dancemaking more heavily. And as she’s grown as a choreographer, she’s also become a more captivating dancer.
But Bond’s dancing and choreographic voices weren’t always so confident. Like most dancers, she channeled all her energy into performing when she first joined The Royal. After being promoted to first artist, she took on challenging work, like Princess Stephanie in MacMillan’s Mayerling. “I learned to stand the way a peasant would stand, and much more, from ballerinas Tamara Rojo, Sarah Wildor and Lynn Seymour,” Bond says.
But after a few years in the position, she hit an artistic standstill. “I left The Royal because I felt I had performed everything I would there,” she says. Drawn by its extensive MacMillan repertoire and location in New York City, she joined ABT in 2008.
The urge to choreograph was sparked when ABT began what is now called The Innovation Initiative, a program to encourage fledgling dancemakers. “Gemma was one of the first to respond,” says ABT artistic director Kevin McKenzie. “She emerged right off with a distinctive approach I’d call ‘architectural.’ It’s no surprise that she’s already been involved in three Initiative processes.”
Initially, Bond had trouble playing boss, not because of a shortage of ideas, but a lack of respect from her ABT colleagues. It was difficult for her to find the balance between being a dancer alongside them and the leader at the front of the studio. “I was just Gemma to them,” she says.
But her struggles must not have shown in her choreographic work onstage. One of her early workshop efforts made such an impression that Diana Byer, artistic director of New York Theatre Ballet, asked McKenzie if Bond could do a short piece for her company.
Working with NYTB gave Bond the confidence she needed to push her choreography forward. In 2013, she made a second work for the company, Silent Titles. It was very personal to her, and certainly ambitious: “Three movies inspired it,” says Bond. “The French film The Artist made me want to do a ballet in black-and-white that recaptures the spirit of the classic Hollywood musicals Gigi and White Christmas that I adore.” Set to Gottschalk piano pieces, it consisted of three short dances flanked by scenes set in a theater dressing room. Fan dances, tangos, jaunty music-box tunes—they’re all there. NYTB has since become a regular haunt of Bond’s. The troupe premieres her new work, The Assembly, at Danspace Project this month. And she’s also created pieces for Youth America Grand Prix, ABT soloist Craig Salstein’s Intermezzo Dance Company, University of Hartford and New York City Ballet’s New York Choreographic Institute.
Not surprisingly, as Bond’s choreographic voice and confidence have grown, so has her dancing. Being teamed with fast-rising soloist Joseph Gorak has brought her major roles in Liam Scarlett’s With a Chance of Rain and Alexei Ratmansky’s The Nutcracker. This spring the Los Angeles Times noted her performance in Ratmansky’s new Sleeping Beauty, in which she played the ballet’s rarely included role of Cinderella.
Bond is eager to let her experiences as a dancer inform her work at the head of the studio. Asked what she had learned from dancing for Ratmansky, she said with a sunburst of a grin: “Everything!”