Category Archives: Ballet

Musings of a former ballet dancer who’s returned, years later, to the studio as a student.

SFB’s “Frankenstein” is well worth checking out

Joseph Walsh in Scarlett’s Frankenstein.
(© Erik Tomasson))

It was the perfect setting, weather-wise, for attending San Francisco Ballet’s Frankenstein last Saturday night, following Friday’s North American premiere of this co-commission with the Royal Ballet. Storm clouds scudded over the darkened February skies, recent rains abated, an uneasy truce between storms that you knew would not last. Frankenstein weather. Something big was about to happen.

People tend to draw their Frankenstein acumen through one of two sources: the 1818 Gothic classic by Mary Shelley, or the 1931 movie adaptation (or, truth be told, through Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein). The latter group might not be aware of the love story the original contains, nor the chaos wreaked because of love withheld. Choreographer Liam Scarlett calls his production, “a story of betrayal, curiosity, life, death, and above all, love.” This is Scarlett’s first full-length ballet; at only thirty, creator of the acclaimed 2014 Hummingbird, among others, he’s currently the Royal Ballet’s artist in residence. Employing the talents of John Macfarlane’s stage and costume design, David Finn’s lighting and Finn Ross’s projection design, this production is a feast for the eyes.

One of the benefits of attending the second night of a production is seeing the second cast. They were brilliant, to the last. In addition to powerful performances from Max Cauthorn and Lauren Strongin, as Victor Frankenstein and Elizabeth Lavenza, and Taras Domitro as The Creature, Julia Rowe and Angelo Greco delivered memorably as well. Act 1, set in late 18th century Geneva, allowed us to witness the metamorphosis of two young friends—Victor and the orphaned Elizabeth taken in by the Frankenstein family—who grow to fall in love. Cauthorn and Strongin paired wonderfully as young adults in love in a tender, lyrical pas de deux, replete with rapturous back arches, leaps, partnered turns that morphed into lifts. Both are dancing well beyond their rank—Cauthorn is in the corps and Strongin is a soloist—and surely promotions are imminent. (Please, Mr. Tomasson, promote Max Cauthorn now. Tonight. He’s earned it.) **Editor’s note on March 13th – Cauthorn’s promotion to soloist was just announced! Yippee! Big congrats, Max!

As this story goes, the death of Victor’s mother in childbirth throws a pall over the household on the eve of Victor’s departure to medical school. There, at Ingolstadt University, the grieving Victor takes keen interest in his professor’s lectures on the possibility of reanimation. Macfarlane’s circular anatomy theater set is spectacular, period-specific, featuring an 18th century replicate electrostatic machine, with wires and tubes and such that emit staticky  pops and snaps.

One of the ballet’s structural problems reveals itself around this time. At close to three hours, the production runs long. The fifty-minute first act has five scenes (and a prologue). Although the story delivered up to this point preps the audience nicely for what is to come, it might prove overlong to those anxious for the “real” drama to begin. Instead, ensemble dancing within each scene often seems presented to assure plenty of “ballet” and not just pantomime exposition. That said, a medical students’ cavort was charming, and soon a quartet of solemn-faced nurses in long skirts joined them, assistants to the Professor (James Sofranko). It began to feel odd, though, within this academic, institutional setting. Some places, like churches, libraries, psych wards, don’t lend themselves aesthetically to ballet. The presence of a cadaver splayed out behind the dancers on an observation table likely didn’t help. And there is simply no way to watch someone dance with a dismembered limb or a brain in a jar without it seeming either creepy or hilarious, or a mix of both. Which may not have been the goal.

San Francisco Ballet in Scarlett’s Frankenstein.
(© Erik Tomasson))

But finally, after a tavern ensemble frolic, the long awaited moment: Victor’s return to the anatomy lab that stormy evening, his inspired efforts, the patched-together cadaver being raised to the skies as lightning flashes all around, the machine exploding in a pyrotechnic dazzle, accompanied by Lowell Lieberman’s wonderfully dramatic commissioned score. It was spectacular, operatic in its intensity.

Taras Domitro, as The Creature brought to life, delivered an unforgettable performance. Costumed in an unearthly pale unitard with the to-be-expected stitches and gashes and blood speckles that worked brilliantly and showcased Domitro’s superb form and musculature, he brought a nuanced vulnerability to the role. You could almost love this Creature. You’re certainly stirred to pity at his plight, as Victor recoils in horror and rejects his creation. The Creature’s “other-ness” was cleverly depicted in quirks: little head rolls, cocking the head in a not-normal way. We, as the audience, get to follow his evolution. In the beginning, he can hardly walk, but learns by observation and imitation. By the final act, he has discovered how to effortlessly fit in to a crowd of waltzing revelers, employing a “blink and you’ve missed him” ninja presence that rattles Victor terribly, who continues to reject this horror he’s created. The power The Creature now holds is formidable—but what powers The Creature, in turn, is the childlike longing to be accepted, loved by his creator, to not be so alone.

The story doesn’t end well, as you probably know (unless your reference is Young Frankenstein, which ends quite adorably). Victor’s attempts to block out his deed and The Creature fail. The Creature’s failed attempts at love and acceptance have curdled into maniacal rage. And yet, still the longing. In the final scene, Elizabeth’s sorrowful pas de deux with The Creature (who has learned to perfectly imitate Victor’s movements) is so poignantly danced by both, it breaks your heart to watch. So does the ensuing pas de deux between The Creature and Victor, desperate and grappling, overflowing with raw emotion. These two final pas de deux showcase Scarlett’s choreographic brilliance, and the dancers at their best. Utterly unforgettable.

Vitor Luiz in Scarlett’s Frankenstein.
(© Erik Tomasson)

I loved this ballet. I didn’t love it because I thought it was a perfect ballet and did everything right. I loved it because it was a great story to slip into, with fabulous sets, music and dancing, and the honest human—or inhuman—emotions conveyed. In its scope and appeal, it’s very cinematic and, as such, holds tremendous potential to draw in new viewers, particularly males who might not otherwise consider going to the ballet on the grounds that it’s too girly. Even my teen son told me, “now that’s one ballet I would go to.”

Do yourself a favor and check it out.

New to 2017: Classical Girl Giving

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“Help save the world” sounds like a rather ambitious 2017 New Year’s resolution, so I won’t call it that. But there is this new thing rising in me that I feel compelled to share.

It all started last spring. With my son turning seventeen, and a trio of Really Challenging Years behind us, something in me began to relax, or maybe wake up, to the fact that this world of ours comes with a host of Really Big Problems to try and help solve. Or maybe my daily mindfulness meditation practice starting yielding its own results. Point being: I heard the whisper of a call.

Now, I will argue that devoting oneself to passive tasks such as writing about the arts is not completely off the mark in the department of “helping to save the world” and/or make it a better place. If everyone spent their time immersed in work they found relevant, nourishing, challenging, important, I’m willing to bet we’d all live on a more peaceful planet.

That said. You tell people you served two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa, and it will produce a different reaction from when you tell them you’re a blogger who devotes big chunks of your day to waxing lyrically about the performing arts—preferably the fuddy-duddy classical stuff from the 19th and early 20th century.

Did I tell you I served two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa?

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But that was another life entirely. Decades ago. Writing novels and raising a family claimed that space in my heart, it would seem. Until one day last May, after a Diablo Ballet performance, when I was talking with the company’s artistic director, Lauren Jonas. Art has a way of clearing out my inner clutter to begin with, and it had been a delightful, artful program. Lauren was telling me about a new extension of their PEEK* outreach program. This endeavor, funded by a California Arts Council grant, brought Lauren and PEEK’s associate director, former company dancer Edward Stegge, into Juvenile Hall, where they presented movement classes to at-risk incarcerated 15-to-17 year-old girls as part of their in-house Court School Program.

Diablo Ballet had been one of only eight organizations receiving awards for this highly competitive and limited-funds program, called JUMP StArts*. Lauren told me she’d been thrilled. “When I co-founded Diablo Ballet, back in 1993,” she said, “something like this had always been a part of the plan, the dream.”

Lauren shared a few details about the program, that had begun in mid-July the previous year. Once inside the facility, she and Eddie were screened and fingerprinted, given a list of things they could and could not do. They’d been told what colors they should not wear, questions they could not ask. They had to be accompanied by guards and were warned that some of the girls might have difficulty expressing themselves, and/or might start fights.

And then the once-weekly program started. Not dance classes or lectures, so much as movement creation exercises, discussions that taught the teen girls about themselves, their bodies, the self-esteem within them Lauren believed could be coaxed out, and a healthier self-expression. After just one session, Lauren and Eddie knew they had found something extraordinary. Some weeks they brought a musician along for live music, like Bolivian guitarist Gabriel Navia, which the girls loved. Sometimes they brought other dancers, like company member Amanda Farris, whom the girls had seen on the cover of the Diablo Ballet magazine. Here she was now, beautiful, famous, and so warm, so accessible! Venezuelan company member Rosselyn Ramirez was another great hit with the dancers. During one movement exercise, she assured a particularly difficult girl that the way she was doing the movement was perfect. The girl clasped her hands together and turned to her neighbor. “Did you hear that?” she said in a hushed, awed voice. “She said I was perfect.” Which, when Lauren recounted this to me, made my throat squeeze up.

 

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(*PEEK = Performing Arts Education & Enrichment for Kids)
(*JUMP StArts = Juveniles Utilizing Massive Potential Starting with Arts)

The program ran from July to February. Lauren had already begun searching for additional grants in the hope of keeping the program annual (which they received – yay! – and this second year’s program continues through Feb/early March 2017). She and Eddy agreed that it had been one of the most rewarding experiences they’d ever had.

Her own quiet excitement, enthusiasm, deep commitment, was like a big gong within me. It was a real I want to join the Peace Corps moment, like I’d had at age twenty. It all came rushing back to me, the desire to be more, do more, to try and make a bigger difference in the world.

On my drive home from the performance, a reality check settled in. I’ve come to understand that I am not an extraverted do-er. I had a tough time in the Peace Corps, truth be told. My introverted side took over in a major way and, if I can be honest here, I didn’t do anything noble in the least. My greatest achievement was sticking out my two years and letting the host nationals observe on a daily basis that white, privileged Americans could be bumbling and stupid, make mistakes right and left, and not have any more answers than they did. Outside my teaching hours (English to high school students) I took comfort in writing, being alone. I spent hours journaling, reading, vicariously immersed in someone else’s misadventures, processing and chronicling my thoughts and feelings.

But there’s room in the world for both, right? The world needs the do-ers, the performing artists, activists, leaders and such. But it needs its observers, processors and scribes. Those who can help spread the word and offer support, financial or otherwise.

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Which is what brings me to my 2017 New Year’s resolution. I hereby announce the creation of Classical Girl Giving. I am still in the process of figuring out precisely what this entails, but my thought is to offer a modest quarterly donation to foundations to help support worthy ballet-based [or influenced] dance companies and projects. The inaugural recipient of the Classical Girl Giving project is, no surprise, Diablo Ballet, to help support their PEEK Extension program.

Beyond that? Yikes. I’m a little intimidated. Giving, as it turns out, is harder than just writing a check and handing it over. Where on earth do I start? Who’s behind the funding of grants that choreographers, artistic directors and arts administrators need in order to fund an outreach program? Which foundation deserves a shout-out over another? So much to learn. But Pema Chödrön, my favorite Buddhism/meditation/inspiration writer says it best: start where you are.

So. Here I am, bumbling and all, and let’s call this list a work in progress, shall we? What I’ve accrued here (with much help from choreographer/dancer/artistic director Robert Dekkers – thank you SO much!) are names of foundations that support dance companies and projects through grants. Some accept outside donations, others maybe not. Maybe I give straight to the dance company, maybe not. This list will likely change as I learn more; it might become multiple lists, one for readers who’d like to support the arts, one for dancers and choreographers looking for funding. Currently it favors California and the San Francisco Bay Area, but if you want to recommend a worthy foundation based elsewhere, please do. Are you a choreographer, artistic director, an arts nonprofit administrator who has a different foundation to suggest? I’d LOVE your help. You can either contact me privately or leave a message below in “comments.”

And without further ado, in alphabetical order…

10 great foundations that help champion and sustain dance and the arts

  1. California Arts Council (‘Artists in Schools’ Program and JUMP StArts Program)
  2. Dancers’ Group
  3. East Bay Fund for Artists
  4. The Fleishhacker Foundation
  5. The Rainin Foundation
  6. San Francisco Arts Commission
  7. San Francisco Foundation and Grants for the Arts
  8. The Schubert Foundation
  9. The Phyllis C. Wattis Foundation
  10. Zellerbach Family Foundation

SFB from Nuts to 2017

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Okay, so I’ve reviewed San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker before. Like, well, five times. It’s a little humbling when you pen a shiny new review, only to discover that you’ve unwittingly used much of the exact same wording in past reviews. Actually, it’s embarrassing, or would have been, if I hadn’t caught myself before submitting THIS REVIEW of Nut’s opening night to Bachtrack. And when it came to penning a few words here, for The Classical Girl, whaddya know, the same thing started happening.

So let’s do this instead of risking self-plagiarism, not to mention boring you. What changes annually in an established production is the casting and the dance performance. Costumes, lighting, scenic design, the musical score—no changes. You can find my “baseline” review HERE, complete with links to past reviews. Read first… or not.

And now, without further ado, here are 14 Really Great Things worth mentioning

1) The gorgeous set: an Edwardian house with a posh living room, circa 1915, that I really want to live in. Act 1 just flies, with pantomime and dances that are elegant and unfettered. It’s why I can watch this production over and over.

2) Grooving on the little kids in the audience, hushed and wide-eyed and totally absorbed in everything happening, especially Drosselmeyer’s magic. Their hushed intake of breath when the Nut doll turned life-sized in a clever shifting of boxes (or however they do it. Six times now, and I still don’t get some of the “magic” tricks. Isn’t that so cool? Bravo, SFB.)

© Erik Tomasson

© Erik Tomasson

3) Rubén Martín Cintas’ Uncle Drosselmeyer, particularly compelling as he rose from within the fog during Clara’s dream, at the commencement of The Best Music Ever, and where he made Very Psychedelic Things happen.

4) The Best Music Ever = as the Christmas tree keeps growing and growing, Drosselmeyer does his mysterious stuff, and the music reaches this thundering crescendo. In a lightning-fast set change, furniture and wrapped presents are whisked away, replaced by wildly oversized ones and in the blink of an eye we’ve all been shrunk to mouse size. Best. Moment. Ever. Kudos to the incomparable San Francisco Ballet Orchestra and music director Martin West.

5) Opening night’s Mouse King’s (Alexander Reneff-Olson) antics. So entertaining, I kinda started rooting for him. Hilarious, too, was Dec 27th matinee’s Mouse King, Benjamin Freemantle, when he grabbed a big hunk of cheese and gnawed on it, dropping it in shock at the BOOM of the cannon the toy soldiers set off. Never noticed that detail before. Crack me up.

6) The snow. And more snow. And more. Opening night’s Snow Queen and King Mathilde Froustey and Carlo Di Lanno were equally sublime, in this brilliantly staged Land of Snow.

Jennifer Stahl in Tomasson's Nutcracker. (© Erik Tomasson)

Jennifer Stahl in Tomasson’s Nutcracker.
(© Erik Tomasson)

7) Little scuttling ladybugs, in the Act II opener, so cute you could scream. Wonderful use of the kids from the SF Ballet school, whose dancing is genuinely enjoyable to watch.

8) Sofiane Sylve’s elegant, never-too-sugary Sugar Plum Fairy. Quietly perfect.

9) Seeing corps dancers Isabella DeVivo and Mingxuan Wang dance Snow Queen and King on Dec 27th matinee. Occasional unsteadiness, but otherwise a delight to watch them, the way they ended each passage and/or step with regal finesse. I’ve seen DeVivo in soloist roles before; she made my 2016 promotion wish list (http://wp.me/p3k7ov-Cn) but I’ve never seen Mingxuan Wang in a big role. Wow, he did great. Give him more!

10) In Spanish Dance, seeing former trainee and new corps member Natasha Sheehan living up to the buzz she’s generated.

11) WanTing Zhao in Arabian Dance on opening night. She owns this role. Sexy, sinuous, classical, mysterious, like something out of an opium-laced dream. And she arrives onstage inside an oil lamp carried onstage by her partners Daniel Deivison-Oliveira and Anthony Vincent. Way cool.

12) The pleasure of watching Max Cauthorn (also on my promotion wish list) continue to dance really well, particularly in Russian Dance on Dec 27th matinee. And speaking of Russian…

13) Finally learning when not to blink as the Russian Dance commences (a millisecond before the music) and the three dancers leap out from their respective papered Fabergé eggs. Gotta see it to appreciate it. An iconic holdover from a past staging, choreographed by Anatole Vilzak.

14) Hansuke Yamamoto dancing as Nut Prince on Dec 27th matinee. A longtime soloist, it was wonderful seeing him in this lead role. He might fall short of the powerhouse presence of some of the company’s male principals, but in its place he offers such graciousness, likeability, and clean technical work, with feather-soft landings to the jumps. Paired nicely with Koto Ishihara in the Grand Pas de Deux, whose performance was a solid notch up from last year, where she seemed a touch green, tentative in her pirouettes and presentation. Very rewarding to watch a dancer like this mature and develop artistically.

I love the way artistic director Helgi Tomasson gives his younger, newer dancers an opportunity to shine in solos during the Nut run. Here are castings and pairings that I wish I could have seen as well (some of which didn’t actualize due to injuries):

Sugar Plum Fairy

  • Jahna Frantziskonis
  • Norika Matsuyama
  • Elizabeth Mateer (new this year)
  • Isabella DeVivo

Queen and King of the Snow

  • Koto Ishihara, Francisco Mungamba
  • Elizabeth Mateer, Steven Morse
  • Norika Matsuyama, Hansuke Yamamoto
  • Isabella DeVivo, Max Cauthorn

Grand Pas de Deux

  • Lauren Strongin, Wei Wang
  • Julia Rowe, Angelo Greco (new this year)
  • WanTing Zhao, Tiit Helimets

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The company’s 2017 repertory season begins on Jan 24th with Program 1, featuring Tomasson’s “Haffner Symphony,” Bubeníček’s “Fragile Vesssels” and Justin Peck’s “In the Countenance of Kings.” Program 2 follows right on its heels on Jan 26th and features Ratmansky’s “Seven Sonatas,” Possokhov’s “Optimistic Tragedy” and Forsythe’s Pas/Parts 2016 (which I reviewed HERE.) Performances of these two programs are intertwined, date-wise, and will finish on Feb 4 and 5 respectively. And then, look out, because Frankenstein, a co-production with The Royal Ballet, opens on Feb 17th and you’re right in thinking this is going to be one unique, talked-about production. (Read my review of it HERE.) I’ll be leaving links for future program reviews here, as well. Look for those in mid-and-late March.

Want to know about new dancers and promotions for the 2016-17 season? Here you go!

Promotions/Level

  • Carlo Di Lanno                 Principal
  • Sasha de Sola                   Principal (just promoted! Effective Jan 2017)
  • Francisco Mungamba       Soloist
  • Julia Rowe                           Soloist
  • Wei Wang                            Soloist
  • WanTing Zhao                    Soloist
  • Blake Kessler                     Corps de Ballet (from apprentice)

New Company Members/Level

  • Ludmila Bizalion                Corps de Ballet
  • Angelo Greco                      Hired as soloist, promoted Feb 2017 to principal (Yay! Congrats!)
  • Elizabeth Mateer                Corps de Ballet
  • Aaron Robison                    Principal Dancer
  • Natasha Sheehan              Corps de Ballet (from SFB trainee program)

New Apprentices

  • Alexandre Cagnat
  • Shené Lazarus
  • Davide Occhipinti
  • Nathaniel Remez
  • Isabella Walsh

Congratulations to all San Francisco Ballet dancers and trainees on another successful Nut run, and I look forward to seeing all of you dance in 2017!

Kathryn Morgan: from stage to social media spotlight

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Picture this scenario: a beautiful, young, talented ballet dancer joins an ultra-elite company from its feeder school, and she is mesmerizing to observe. She starts at the lowest rank, like countless others before her, but it quickly becomes clear there’s something extraordinary about this dancer. Something luminous, eye-catching, that whispers “lead roles” and “put her in the limelight.” The big roles come for this dancer, almost immediately, and she excels. Critics take note. Accolades follow. As do bigger roles, increasing challenges, that this dancer rises to meet each time. Hers is a major talent, career potential without limits.

Until one season her body stops cooperating. A nameless fatigue dogs her. Sluggishness. Even—how could this be possible?—weight gain, in spite of all the punishing hours of rehearsals, performing, daily class she endures.

The talent is still there, in droves. So is the will to take this ballet career to the top.

Try harder. Work harder.

For those of you who’ve read my recently released novel, Outside the Limelight, you wouldn’t be off the mark to think I’m referring to Dena, one of the story’s two main characters. A rising-star soloist whose career is knocked off its access by a debilitating medical condition that sidelines her, Dena fights to regain her health, her energy, her sense of the dancer she’d once been. Only this isn’t Dena; it’s Kathryn Morgan, former soloist of the New York City Ballet.

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Kathryn shared her story with me over the phone one day several weeks ago. “All of it happened after I’d been promoted to soloist,” she said. “In March of 2010, I started putting on weight for no reason, my hair started falling out and I was also absolutely exhausted all of the time. I thought I was tired because I was working so hard. But the weight didn’t make any sense.”

Her hair grew so thin she was afraid she was going to lose it, and she had trouble staying awake for class and rehearsals. And the weight gain continued. Finally a doctor’s visit and blood tests gave her answers. No, not mononucleosis, as she’d thought, but hypothyroidism. But even with diagnosis and medication, she didn’t return to her old self.

Severe hypothyroidism can be slow to remedy, because it involves slowly upping a medication dosage and then waiting six weeks to see if it was what the body needed. And until that dosage is correct, the body doesn’t respond. Weight stays on. Forty pounds on a small frame is a tremendous weight, both physically and psychologically. For a ballet dancer, the agony is tenfold. (Kathryn would later come to find that treatment was complicated by the fact that she had Hashimoto’s thyroiditis—inflammation of the thyroid gland—an autoimmune condition where immune cells mistakenly attack healthy thyroid tissue and the muscles.)

“It was a terrible time,” she told me. “I hung on for two years and finally left the New York City Ballet to go back home. There, it got even worse. When I was no longer dancing, the weight really came on, and my hair was falling out, too.”

Here’s another scenario: a sidelined soloist, facing longer recuperation time than she’d ever expected, feeling discouraged, depressed, fearful of how long she’d be kept away from her dance, finds a solution through a surprising avenue: social media. And what an avenue it is–a dozen ways to share ballet with the world, through words, photos, networking, videos. All those people out there, eager to learn about this cloistered place, this ivory tower, the professional ballet world. And here she was, a sidelined dancer, all the time in the world to share it with people.

Dena’s story, or Kathryn Morgan’s?

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Trick question. It’s both.

Although with one key difference here. Dena’s challenge in Outside the Limelight included dealing with one-sided facial paralysis, an un-pretty condition. Katie Morgan—she invites her friends to call her Katie, and the moment you meet her she feels like your friend—is, on the other hand, still as beautiful as a model. She has the kind of creamy, unblemished complexion, movie star eyes and expressive brows that compel you to stare at her, mesmerized, as she speaks. But what makes her better than a model or actress is the difficult journey you know she’s taken to be where she is now. She’s honest about it all: the thyroid and health-related challenges; the slow recovery; the desire to finally return to where she’d been at the NYCB, only to find out there was no longer a place held for her. Her earlier dance years. The surprising challenges of being a soloist, a professional ballet dancer. You don’t magically arrive at the finish line and stay there, on a pink, buoyant cloud. It’s work. It’s a tremendous struggle, this dream career of being a professional ballet dancer.

No surprise, Katie’s a big hit with the social media public. How could you not adore someone who’s beautiful, caring, engaged, an ultra-elite ballerina from the highest echelons of ballerina-dom, who’s suffered like you have, who’s had to live with staggering setbacks and frustrations like you have, who is sharing these fantastic, amazing tidbits and secrets about ballet, that just lift you out of your own mundane world, and make you feel a part of hers, if only for the length of the video. All of this, free. All of this, she keeps giving and giving and producing.

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She has 24,000 Instagram followers and 62,129 YouTube subscribers. There’s Twitter and Facebook. She’s an advice columnist for Dance Spirit. She visits Facebook groups and offers advice, support, sometimes just a friendly “hello.” She has fully regained her health and now also performs, teaches, and speaks around the country. (And this past year, she got engaged – congrats, Katie!) She’s been featured in Dance Magazine, Dance Spirit Magazine and Teen Vogue. New in 2016 is The Kathryn Morgan Show, a podcast and part of the Premier Dancers Network.

My personal favorite is her YouTube channel. There are scores of interesting YouTube episodes to watch; here are examples of the popularity of just a few of them:

  • Thyroid Illness – 40,700 views
  • Stretching and Flexibility Routine – 163,000 views
  • Classic Ballet Barre – 65,800 views
  • Turns/Pirouettes – 100,000 views
  • Fouettés – 180,000 views
  • Pointe Shoe Tips/Tricks – 164,000 views
  • Diet for Dancers – 85,00 views

You can find tutorials for hair, stage makeup; daily ballet workouts; monthly Q&A from readers sending in their questions; what it’s like to be a professional. Her engagement story. A fun section called “hacks” – for ballet, for hair and makeup. Also a “favorites” section, where she shares her favorite gift, ballet and lifestyle items/ideas.

Here’s one that’s perfect for this time of the year, also known as Nutcracker season. It’s Arabian Dance, with the Mobile Ballet, when Katie was only fifteen years old, but clearly bound for great things. Warning: it’s so beautiful, it’ll make you cry.

I asked Katie how the idea of a YouTube channel first came about.

“There are vlogs out there [vlog = video blog] that cover lifestyle and wellness, but none of them incorporating ballet. And when I was young, looking for help or advice on ballet issues, I couldn’t find it. With my first pair of pointe shoes, there was no one to show me even how to tie the ribbons right. I like that I can be here for young dancers, that they can get answers here, and send me their questions. I love doing this. I love helping people.”

She’s currently dancing again in a freelance capacity. I asked her if she missed being part of a company. “Yes, sometimes,” she admitted. “But if I were to join a new company now, that would mean restrictions on what I can or can’t say via social media. It’s another reason you don’t see more ballet dancers doing this. When you’re under contract to a dance company, there are strict policies on what you can and can’t say, or share. It’s been really liberating for me, to create what I want and say what I want.”

As Kathryn Morgan, New York City Ballet soloist, she served an elite, localized crowd. But as Katie Morgan, ballet’s social media icon, her reach is enormous: an audience whose size and demographic diversity are staggering. Not thousands, then, but hundreds of thousands. Millions. Young women and old. Guys. Little girls. With fans and subscribers growing daily. Having followed her progress since my earliest days of writing ballet novels (circa 2008) and having addressed the issues of infirmity in the ballet world in Outside the Limelight, it both warms my heart and thrills me to see her succeed so brilliantly here. There exists no better example of rising from the ashes of an insurmountable challenge and pursuing what is artful, beautiful and important inside you, and extending it out to the world.

Thank you, Katie, for all that you do. You rock.

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PS: the above was taking from “The Red Shoes,” a 2015 dance film based on the fairy tale, choreographed by Donald Garverick and performed at Kennedy Center in March 2016, for “An Evening With Kathryn Morgan.” Fortunately, for those of us who couldn’t be there, we can watch it on YouTube HERE. (Be sure and keep watching for the eerie way the shoes start to take control, around 4m20. Music is Franz Lizst’s “Dante Symphony”. All great stuff.)

PPS: check out my related guest post at fellow dance blogger Grier Cooper’s site, called “When Life Calls for a Plan B.” This one’s not just about Katie, but also about former NYCB dancers Zippora and Romy Karz.  You can read it HERE.

The New Arrival

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OFF BALANCE is thrilled to announce the arrival of its sister novel in the Ballet Theatre Chronicles series. Welcome to the world, OUTSIDE THE LIMELIGHT!

So, the baby got a lovely write-up in Kirkus Reviews, which summarizes OUTSIDE THE LIMELIGHT as “a lovely and engaging tale of sibling rivalry in the high-stakes dance world.” And remember my recent post on “Ballet Terms Made Simple?” Happy to report that Kirkus liked it, saying, “the glossary of dance terms at the end of the book proves a marvelous resource for the uninitiated,” and announcing, “this is a novel both for ballet lovers and those new to the art.” Cool! You can read the whole review HERE. (Editor’s note on Nov 15: woo hoo, an award! See below for the press release!)

I’m thinking this calls for a glass bubbly tonight. Care to join me? Come join me, as well, on my virtual book tour this week, where I’ll be interviewed or reviewed by the following bloggers, courtesy of Sage’s Blog Tours.

October 30th Freda Hansburg ~ INTERVIEW
October 31st Eskiemama Reads ~ INTERVIEW
November 1st Jessica and Gracie’s Tree ~ REVIEW
November 4th Comfy Reading ~ REVIEW
November 5th Reecaspieces ~ REVIEW

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Visit Sage’s Blog Tours to enter a giveaway for a print copy of OUTSIDE THE LIMELIGHT, matching tote bag and $10 Amazon gift card HERE. Or cut to the chase and buy your own copy right now, HERE.

And by the way, Happy Halloween, San Francisco style! Below is a very cool photo, not retouched or photoshopped, which I saw in the San Francisco Chronicle a few years back, and now feels like the perfect time to use it. Spooky, elegant, and as I was in San Francisco last night, at the symphony (look for a blog on that later this week), it just felt right. The Civic Center was animated, beautifully lit, crowded, crazy, a little weird and unsettling — everything you could hope for in a pre-Halloween Saturday night in San Francisco. And if you’d like a soundtrack to your Halloween, remember to check out my Top 10 Halloween Classical Faves HERE.

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And that award I was talking about, from Kirkus Reviews?