What You Need to Make it into ABT

What does it take to be a dancer with American Ballet Theatre? The company's dancers and staff tackled that question last night at the Guggenheim Museum's Works & Process program. “ABT dancers need to do it all,” said Kevin McKenzie in a video clip. “They need to have the ability to cross the borders of the stylistic demands of contemporary dance and ballet.”

After performing a pas de deux from Anthony Tudor’s The Leaves are Fading, soloist Stella Abrera spoke about how she uses her body in different ways for contemporary and classical pieces. “In contemporary, there's more room for interpretation,” she said. “In classical dance, interpretation is in the expression, in the upper body.” Abrera feels that she can really “bare her soul” in contemporary works and revealed that she prepares for a performance of Tharp’s In the Upper Room by doing barre to music by Janis Joplin. “I get more nervous for a classical ballet performance,” she said. “It is almost an exact science and you get one shot only on stage.”

Raymond Lukens, director of ABT’s National Training Curriculum, and dancers from ABT’s studio company gave a lecture demonstration on ABT’s distinct “non-style” of training, which doesn't favor any one method such as Cecchetti or Vaganova.  “It is certainly not just about the number of pirouettes you can do,” said ABT ballet mistress Susan Jones—although the studio company dancers all effortlessly performed clean triple pirouettes. Jones wants dancers who have a strong classical foundation, good facilities and coordination. Because ABT has such a diverse repertoire, they need dancers who won’t struggle with musicality and can “learn choreography correctly and quickly.”

Catch the ABT in performance at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City, May 13 to July 6.