Does Ballet Have Boundaries?

November 28, 2001

When I saw Paloma Herrera of American Ballet Theatre step onto the stage of So You Think You Can Dance last fall, I was speechless. One of my favorite ballerinas posed confidently to begin Kitri’s variation, on what seemed to be an awful floor for pointe work. Nevertheless, Herrera delivered under bright spotlights, in front of TV crews, and for millions of SYTYCD fans watching at home. If she was out of her element, it was impossible to for anyone to tell. Herrera could probably perform with spunk, strength and spot-on turns under any given situation.

Yet after she finished, my first thought was, “What is she doing up there?” The sophisticated ballerina didn’t seem to fit on the stage of the popular television show. In no way could I belittle what So You Think You Can Dance has done for the dance world—the show has exposed amazing, raw talent and has broadened the horizons of audiences, with or without dance experience. Nor do I find contemporary styles any less beautiful than classical ballet. However, the SYTYCD stage exudes a slightly different atmosphere than the Metropolitan Opera House. I couldn’t help but wonder if putting artists like Herrera on reality TV belittles the art of ballet.

Then this week I heard that American Ballet Theatre soloists Yuriko Kajiya and Jared Matthews are scheduled to perform the pas de deux from act III of Don Quixote live on SYTYCD tomorrow night. Finding out about this upcoming performance urged me to brainstorm more about the situation. Sure, dancers from classical companies are different than contemporary dancers, and they thrive in different venues. However, distinctions between the classical and the contemporary are blurring now more than ever before. (Flash back to rapper Big Boi from OutKast’s collaboration with Atlanta Ballet in 2008.) Maybe soon we will see stars from So You Think You Can Dance and America’s Best Dance Crew touring at the Met and the Kennedy Center.

If anything else, ABT’s appearances on the popular TV show will give audiences an increased awareness of the ballet world. Someone who has never even heard of Don Quixote could develop a newfound love and appreciation of ballet—which is always an amazing thing.

Catch ABT’s Yuriko Kajiya and Jared Matthews on So You Think You Can Dance tomorrow night at 9:00 PM (EST) / 8:00 PM (CST), and share your thoughts in the comments!