Chloe Misseldine, American Ballet Theatre’s Elegant New Soloist, Is Swiftly Coming Into Her Own
When Chloe Misseldine is dancing, it’s hard to look away. In Don Quixote’s Act III “Flower Girl” variation, the fledgling American Ballet Theatre star lets the music lead her, luxuriating in each crisp balance and sailing through complex turns, then tossing the audience a charming smile to show off her total sense of control. “When she dances, I just feel she is completely herself. It’s very natural,” says Misseldine’s mother, Yan Chen. “I can see the happiness within.”
Chen’s praise goes beyond motherly affection; Chen spent seven years as a soloist with ABT following a tenure as a principal dancer with The Washington Ballet. And although Misseldine, 20, is following in her mother’s footsteps, her trajectory has surprised them both. Until she was 14, Misseldine thought of ballet as no more than an after-school hobby. “She was very internal,” says ABT repertory director Nancy Raffa, who first met Misseldine that year at an ABT Summer Intensive. “She did not project an energy of confidence, but of shyness.”
It’s extraordinary, then, to think of Misseldine’s rapid growth over the last five years: She joined ABT’s Studio Company as a teenager in 2018 and the main company’s corps de ballet in 2021. Choreographers quickly noticed her—she’s already worked closely with Lauren Lovette and Alexei Ratmansky. Her first Metropolitan Opera House season saw Misseldine balancing corps responsibilities alongside coveted featured roles—in addition to being a Flower Girl in Don Quixote, she took on Big Swans and the peasant pas de trois in Swan Lake, the Queen of Babylon role in Ratmansky’s Of Love and Rage and a demi-soloist role in Balanchine’s Theme and Variations. And now, as the season winds to a close, ABT has promoted Misseldine to soloist, effective in early September. “Chloe has developed and matured in leaps and bounds,” says Raffa. “She has absolutely come into her own.”
A Growing Love for Ballet
Misseldine was raised alongside her two brothers in Orlando, Florida, where her mother was a ballet master at Orlando Ballet, and her father ran a hospitality furniture design and manufacturing company. Chen put her in classes at Orlando Ballet School from a young age, but only to keep her busy in the afternoons while she was teaching. Having come from a strict Vaganova-training background in Shanghai, where young hopefuls are selected from groups of hundreds, Chen was uncertain that Misseldine had the potential to go far. “She’s always been pretty musical and coordinated, but when she was younger she’d just go into class to have a good time. She was probably more interested in snacks and friendship,” says Chen, lovingly laughing.
Around age 14, Misseldine started paying closer attention to the school’s older students. “She started thinking ‘I want to try,’” says Chen. Misseldine began training for competitions, and realized that the more seriously she took ballet, the more she enjoyed it. “That’s when my mom started coaching me more, and I started taking her input and not resenting her,” Misseldine says recently over iced coffee. “I was kind of lazy before. But I started realizing how beneficial she can be.”
Once she started applying herself, things accelerated quickly. At 15 she won second place at the Youth America Grand Prix finals, and from 2016–2018 she attended ABT’s New York City summer intensive as a National Training Scholar. “When I stepped foot in the building, seeing the history behind it had a big impact on me,” she says. The experience further intensified her drive.
In the fall of 2017, Misseldine switched to an online high school program to focus on ballet full-time and started preparing for the 2018 Prix de Lausanne. “As she got older, she matured and saw what needs to be done in order to achieve,” says Chen, a Lausanne prizewinner herself who acted as one of Misseldine’s coaches. “I always say you have to work hard and work smart. Whatever talent you have, without hard work it’s really nothing.”
In Lausanne, the ABT JKO School’s then-artistic director, Cynthia Harvey, offered Misseldine a spot in the Studio Company for the following fall. Two weeks later, the Studio Company’s then-artistic director Kate Lydon reached out: they needed a dancer immediately to fill in for an upcoming European tour. Misseldine was only 16 and didn’t feel ready to leave home, but she jumped—a week later, she was living in New York City, learning repertoire alongside dancers mostly a few years older than her, all while finishing high school online. “It was the best decision I ever made,” she says.
Pushing Through the Pandemic
Misseldine danced with the Studio Company for a year and a half. In December of 2019, the dancers had one-on-one meetings with ABT director Kevin McKenzie. “Kevin said, ‘The last time your mom sat here was to tell me that she was pregnant with you,’” she says. He then offered her an apprenticeship with the main company. “Chloe is focused and incredibly gifted,” says McKenzie. “It is very exciting to see a second-generation dancer excel at ABT.”
Misseldine spent the next few months adjusting to the newfound freedom that comes with being a professional and learning the ropes of company life. But just as she was settling into her new routine, the coronavirus pandemic hit, forcing the company to cancel the rest of the season.
Misseldine moved home to Florida. “It was very hard at the beginning,” she says. “But eventually I just had to adjust.” In addition to the daily Zoom classes that ABT was providing, and a pandemic hobby sewing leotards and legwarmers, in August 2020 Misseldine joined Orlando Ballet as a guest artist. (The company had returned to in-person performances with strict social-distancing guidelines.) “Every time I go home I always take class with the company, and I knew ABT wasn’t going back anytime soon,” she says. Though she’d just barely started her ABT apprenticeship, with Orlando Ballet Misseldine danced leading roles like Aurora and the Sugarplum Fairy, as well as a featured part in Jorden Morris’ Moulin Rouge. “I was fortunate enough to dance in roles I never would have thought to,” she says. Plus it offered a chance to get extra coaching from her mom.
By March 2021, ABT was back in action, albeit in small-scale bubble residencies with strict COVID protocols. Misseldine was part of the creative process of Ratmansky’s new story ballet Of Love and Rage, and was cast in the small ensemble of Lovette’s La Follia Variations. That summer she and 19 other dancers traveled across the U.S. by bus in the ABT Across America Tour. In September, as the company was finalizing preparations for its fall New York City season, McKenzie promoted Misseldine to the corps.
Then, three weeks before the season opened, she was called on to replace an injured dancer in Ratmansky’s Bernstein in a Bubble, a jazzy piece with a star-studded cast of principals Misseldine still barely knew. “Chloe, with perseverance, pushed every day to rise to the challenges of the work and of fitting into a group that had been rehearsing the same choreography for months,” says Raffa. One of these challenges was the movement itself, which was far more contemporary and sultry than anything Misseldine was used to. “The amount of hours I had to spend going over steps just to make sure it looked somewhat right,” remembers Misseldine, trailing off at the memory of it. “It was a lot of work,” she adds, smiling.
Learning to Pace Herself
With her polished technique, expressive visage and seemingly endless classical lines, Misseldine exudes elegance both onstage and in the studio. But it’s her focus and work ethic—something she admires about her mom and tries to emulate—that stands out behind the scenes. In a recent Theme and Variations rehearsal her attention never wavered. She gave each run her all, nodding along thoughtfully to each of Raffa’s notes, her neat bun and crisp practice tutu alluding to absolute professionalism.
“Everybody sees her and thinks ‘Oh, she’s got everything—the long legs, and she’s flexible,’” says Chen. “But if you look deeply, you see she’s had a lot to work on. And she works hard.”
While Misseldine danced an impressive number of featured roles this Met season, she was just as excited to finally have the chance to settle into life as a corps member. “I’ve always wanted to be a part of the corps de ballet of Swan Lake or Giselle,” she says. “It’s so rewarding to be in it from the start to end of the ballet.” Little did Misseldine know that this would be her only season in the corps.
She’s learning to pace herself in the process: “Now I have to be careful, warm up properly, work properly and be smart about my body.” Misseldine lives in a quiet shared apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and tries to find balance in her hours away from the studio. She spends her days off exploring the city, reading in the park or doing homework; she’s just completed her first year at Fordham University, taking classes in philosophy and writing composition.
Looking ahead to next season, Misseldine is eager to work with incoming artistic director Susan Jaffe, who replaces McKenzie after his three decades at the helm. (McKenzie was brought in during Chen’s first year with the company, marking a full-circle moment for Misseldine and her mother.) And while her dreams for the future know no bounds—she’d love to dance roles like Odette/Odile, Nikiya and Juliet—she remains grounded, thanks to Chen’s steady advice to remain true to herself and focus on the work. “Her future is now in her hands,” says Chen. “Chloe’s the one that has to take control of it.”