American Ballet Theater promotes dancers despite pandemic crisis

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The American Ballet Theater on Thursday announced promotions for six soloists, elevating them to the role of lead dancer despite an empty live performance schedule for the fall and dire financial straits due to the pandemic.

Among the new principal dancers is Calvin Royal III, 31, who is the third black dancer to be elevated to this role in the company’s history, after Desmond Richardson and Misty Copeland.

The other new directors are Joo Won Ahn, 26; Aran Bell, 21; Skylar Brandt, 27; Thomas Forster, 34; and Cassandra Trenary, 27. Gabe Stone Shayer, 26, a member of the corps, has been promoted to soloist.

Dancers will receive raises with their promotions but, like the rest of the company, are not paid the same as they would be in a normal season.

Like all performing arts organizations, the American Ballet Theater has seen its ticket revenue stagnate since mid-March. The company estimates it will lose $ 20 million due to the cancellation of its spring and fall seasons as well as six scheduled tours.

“Despite the financial challenges we face, it is important that we recognize the artistry and leadership of the dancers who are now being promoted,” said Kelly Ryan, company spokesperson, in an email.

There have been pay cuts across the company, Ms Ryan said, and dancers are paid six weeks’ salary, up from 10 weeks last year. Dancers also receive extended additional unemployment benefits.

To help ease its financial woes, the company received money from the Federal Paycheck Protection Program and established a Crisis Relief Fund to help its dancers, pianists, production crew and other members of the staff.

Canceling the spring and fall seasons is particularly difficult for the company’s up-and-coming dancers, who typically view every moment on stage as a chance to continue their ballet career. Several soloists, including Mr. Bell, Mr. Royal and Ms. Trenary, were due to make important debuts this spring.

It has been a year of disappointments for rising stars like Mr. Royal, who was chosen to be artist in residence at this year’s Vail Dance Festival, which went virtual due to the pandemic. The promotion is a recognition of Mr. Royal’s much-discussed talent: Last fall, Times dance critic Gia Kourlas called Mr. Royal “the most elegant dancer in the company” after his debut in the role -title of “Apollo” by Balanchine. . “

Mr. Bell, at 21, is young to be promoted to principal dancer, but he’s used to doing things early. In 2018, at just 19, he made his debut as Romeo in the production of “Romeo and Juliet” by Kenneth MacMillan.

It’s unclear when the new lead dancers will be able to return to the Metropolitan Opera House stage.

The company isn’t able to rehearse or train in its New York rehearsal space, but they’ve found an alternate way to create commissions that can be viewed online. This month, his dancers will form several “ballet bubbles” as they travel outside New York City to rehearse and practice while being isolated with some of their fellow company members.


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