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PostPosted: Fri Jun 08, 2007 10:53 pm 
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American Ballet Theatre
The Sleeping Beauty
Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center
New York, NY
June 4, 5, 6(E), and 9, 2007



American Ballet Theatre’s new production of “The Sleeping Beauty,” first reviewed following its premiere performance on June 1, 2007, continues to impress as it approaches its last performance Saturday evening. This is not a production that simply recreates the original with new sets and costumes, nor is it a “modern” version that might provide entirely new choreography and a reimagined setting for the usual characters. Although some modifications still should be made, the production is a worthy attempt to restage the ballet so that its pace and tone have a more modern feel, while still maintaining both the classic framework and the classic Petipa choreography.

The June 4 performance, with two major exceptions (including Gelsey Kirkland’s debut as Carabosse), essentially had the same cast as did the premiere. But already, after only a few more performances, the production is more cohesive, and the dancers – particularly Veronika Part – have relaxed and begun to enjoy themselves. Less obviously preoccupied with successfully executing the steps, Ms. Part did what the choreography told her to do, but she also danced with more confidence and acted more like a princess. She is an unusual ballerina – looking at times like a porcelain doll perched on legs that never end. This stretched appearance lends an air of surprising delicacy to her movement quality, which is rare in a ballerina who is taller (or appears taller) than the average. In addition to the clarity of her movement, she is a superb jumper who demonstrated, during Act II, grand jetes that not only soared, but floated – and then flew even higher, bringing gasps of delight from the audience.

Gillian Murphy was Tuesday’s Aurora (substituting for the injured Julie Kent). While Ms. Part was beginning to relax in the role, Ms. Murphy looked like she’d been rehearsing the role since she was old enough to leave the crib (and she probably stood en pointe for a few minutes when she did). She even looks like a Princess Aurora. Ms Murphy finds her center the way normal people find a way to open their eyelids in the morning: Instinctively, and effortlessly. A natural balancer and turner, her performance, and particularly her superb Rose Adagio was exactly what anyone who has previously seen Ms. Murphy dance would have expected it to be. [For Ms. Murphy, a greater challenge may be Juliet, which doesn’t rely as much on balances and turns. Ms. Murphy is scheduled to dance Juliet in a few weeks.]

Paloma Herrera danced Aurora at the June 9 performance, and won over most of the house that remained following the announcement that she was subbing for Diana Vishneva, who was too ill to perform. She is a puzzlement to me. Her dancing was nothing less than superb. Her execution was virtually flawless. But, to me, there was something missing. As good a performance as she gave, she failed to convince me that she was a 16 year old. Her expression throughout was too dour, too monochromatic. It wasn't as if she was anticipating the steps - she was considerably beyond that. But, to me, she never became Aurora until she let go in Act III.

Not surprisingly, the one Aurora who provided the entire package was Diana Vishneva at the June 6 performance. It simply is unfair to other ballerinas to have Ms. Vishneva dance the same roles they do. While the quality of her dancing is a given, she is an accomplished actress who can make the audience believe that she’s inhabiting the role, not just performing it. As has been observed by this writer (and others) previously, it is a privilege to watch Ms. Vishneva dance. This is not to say that the performance was perfect – in Act II, during the dream scene, she seemed to stumble ever so slightly (it was the shoe; it had to be the shoe). For the rest of Act II she was less than 100% perfect. Maybe 99%. But she recovered for Act III.

Ms. Vishneva’s prince was David Hallberg. He far exceeded my expectations, both as a partner for Ms. Vishneva and in the role itself. He was the most youthful and most joyful of the three I saw who assayed the role. His often wooden expression of determined concentration was gone, replaced by an animated appearance that I haven’t previously seen. As always, Angel Corella was exciting to watch as the Prince, but wasn't able to move with the same conviction in the "dream" scene as did Mr. Gomes. Ethan Stiefel’s prince showed more maturity than Mr. Hallberg’s, but was equally accomplished. And, to the surprise of no one in the knowledgeable audience, his partnering of Ms. Murphy was flawless. But Marcelo Gomes’s reprise of the role on June 4 remains the most memorable.

Stella Abrera, was the Lilac Fairy at the Monday, Wednesday and Saturday evening performance, and Michele Wiles repeated the role on Tuesday. Ms. Wiles’s performance was much improved over her debut. In this performance, she was open, warm, gracious, and glittery. In short, her Lilac Fairy was wonderful. Ms. Abrera is a beautiful dancer, but at times she seems to dance with her head more than her heart. Her Lilac Fairy would benefit from more emotion.

Ms. Kirkland’s Carabosse was more focused evil than was Martine van Hamel’s debut in the role. She was as much a hissing snake as an insect/spider, and her every gesture was exaggerated and nuanced for effect. Even her make-up looked vicious. Not one movement was superfluous or out of place. And for an insect the (relative) size of a mosquito, she was able to convey surprising power. That having been said, however, she is so tiny that the image of an imposing witch/fairy doesn’t seem quite there. But for Carabosse’s spidery minions, the Lilac Fairy could simply have swatted her away.

Tuesday’s and Saturday's Bluebird and Princess Florine were Carlos Lopez and Sarah Lane. Mr. Lopez performed adequately and energetically, but lost power as the pas de deux approached its end. And his Saturday performance had little pizazz. Ms. Lane, as has been observed previously, has a special delicacy about her dancing. Xiomara Reyes, who danced the role in other performances I saw, was a flashy Florine who seemed to try to keep pace with her Bluebird, Herman Cornejo. I preferred Ms. Lane’s simple purity. And on Saturday, Ms. Lane demonstrated that her talent is not just in looking good - she maintained extended balances that were as thrilling as they were unexpected.

Craig Salstein’s Catalabutte at the June 5 and 6 performances was a tour de force. His was the kind of polished performance that one would expect of highly experienced character dancers, not from a dancer whose experience to date in such roles has been limited. Also notable were Hee Seo as The Fairy of Serenity, Ms. Lane and Renata Pamam (on Saturday) as The Fairy of Joy, Jennifer Alexander as The Countess, and Maria Bystrova as the Queen at Tuesday’s performance. Ms. Alexander’s finely nuanced portrayal and gentleness of demeanor made one wonder how the Prince could possibly have been so miserable. And Ms. Seo, who looks like she could be a super dancer, breathed life into what had previously appeared to be a relatively dull variation.

The Garland Waltz includes two sets of student dancers who are marvelous: Skylar Brandt and David Alvarez, and Beatriz Stix-Brunell and Drew Nelson.

Lastly, some brief additional observations about the production.

My initial impression of the beginning of the “hunt scene” in Act II (following the Prince’s exhilarating first appearance) was that too much time was spent on the Prince’s unhappiness, and that some parts of that portion of the scene could be condensed. Seeing Mr. Gomes perform the role again, however, made me reconsider. His portrayal is so good, so nuanced, that I don’t know what I’d want to cut. The scene flows effortlessly from the Prince’s melancholy (with the lighting altered to reflect the Prince’s mood), to his dream, to his decision not to join his friends for the hunt, to his vision.

The journey scene always seems too long (in my mind’s eye I see Fernando Bujones in the initial incarnation of the previous ABT production traversing an overgrown forest for what seemed like the full hundred years that the princess slept). In this production, to help break up the journey, a new and expanded confrontation scene between the Prince, Carabosse, and the Lilac Fairy is added in which Carabosse (playing on the insect-spider image that has been created for her) spins a web in which Prince Desire is trapped, until the Lilac Fairy rescues him and Carabosse is left dangling. The scene doesn’t always work (and, if nothing else, the timing needs to be improved), but it is interesting, and different, and keeps the audience from napping.

But there are several changes that might be made to make this production even better than it now is.

Granted that the Prologue takes place indoors, and that the expansive setting of other scenes might be inappropriate, nevertheless the stage in this scene is much busier than it needs to be. If many of the attendants to the court could be moved offstage after their intial entry, that might eliminate much of the problem.

Also, initially, the Garland Waltz appeared absolutely stunningly done. But it looks very different from the Orchestra than it did from the Dress Circle, where I was at its premiere. From the orchestra, the clarity and precision of the patterns is missing (from above, at one point the garlands form the pattern of a moving flower -- this image is lost from the orchestra view), and the overall impression is too crowded (it's difficult to see the foreign princes parading through the garlands). The Waltz is so well done, it is unfortunate that the audience in the orchestra can't see it. Perhaps something can be done to open it up a bit.

And the ensemble dancing at the beginning of Act III seems repetitive and unnecessary. Condensing it would do no harm to the conception of the scene, and would speed things along. And in this production Princess Florine is carried onstage inside a birdcage, and is then released by the Bluebird. Shouldn't it be the other way around?

Finally, and notwithstanding my previous praise of the sets, I noticed that the one of the curtains forming the forest barrier during the journey scene has skeletons trapped in it, almost hidden among the skeletons of dead leaves. It makes the scene look like something out of Indiana Jones. Worse, it conveys the impression that there may have been other “Prince Charmings” who tried to make it through the forest, only to be eliminated by Carabosse before they could plant a kiss on the princess. Since everyone knows there’s only one true Prince for the Princess, this couldn’t be right. So what are these bones doing there? I suggest they be removed before a generation of young ballet goers think that the Lilac Fairy might have lost three or four rounds before finally getting the better of Carabosse.


Last edited by balletomaniac on Sun Jun 10, 2007 6:58 pm, edited 4 times in total.

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PostPosted: Sat Jun 09, 2007 10:25 pm 
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News flash: Diana Vishneva was unable to dance at tonight's (June 9) final performance of The Sleeping Beuaty because of "illness." And Gelsey Kirkland was injured midway through the performance, and had to be replaced.

ABT provided no information about the condition of either of them. Vishneva is not known for missing performances, so her illness must have been at least significant enough for her to disappoint a sold out house. As for Gelsey, rumor has it that she was burned on her hand by an errant pyrotechnic at the end of Act I, but no official information was available as to her condition.

If any readers have inside information as to either, posting it would be much appreciated.


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PostPosted: Tue Jun 12, 2007 4:00 pm 
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A rather poetic review from Gia Kourlas at the NY Times, covering a number of casts in "Sleeping Beauty". I get the feeling that her opinion of the ballet is not too far from Macaulay's, in that she likes the dancers, but not particularly the ballet. Very nice photos of David Hallberg as well.

Funny though, as while Angel Corella certainly isn't very tall, I've never had any qualms with his partnering - he's no "slight" partner in my opinion. Even way back when he was partnered with Julie Kent (his 'training wheels') there was always a solidity in his partnering - the first time I saw him, I was nervous because he is so short - but I've never seen him waver in the slightest. The lifts always go up, he's almost always in the right place at the right time. So I never even worry, as I do with some other dancers. Perhaps it is that in a fairy tale, we expect a certain image - a handsome prince who can 'take care' of the princess - and that generally is someone who is sufficiently tall so they look 'protective' and totally capable (whether or not they really are).

It should be noted - since Ms. Kourlas mention Julie Kent's injury, but somewhat unfairly, not the circumstances regarding another cast - that Hallberg and Vishneva, I believe, were not scheduled to dancer together, but were partnered after Vladimir Malakhov withdrew due to injury (time, I think, for him to make his farewell appearance and focus on the artistic direction job which takes much of his time now).

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/12/arts/ ... 2ball.html


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PostPosted: Wed Jun 13, 2007 11:52 am 
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Gelsey's injury was confirmed in the New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/12/arts/12arts.html


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PostPosted: Wed Jun 13, 2007 8:20 pm 
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All the news that's fit to print, even if they don't see fit to print it for a couple of days.


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PostPosted: Thu Jun 14, 2007 2:23 am 
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I think we're spoiled from the internet and tend to forget that print newspapers take a bit of time to compile.

Weekend events, in particular, are quite tricky. They often get delayed reporting because the NY Times (and most papers) don't print reviews in Sunday papers (a good chunk of the Sunday NYT is actually delivered on Saturday including the Arts section) and I suspect anything for Monday has to be delivered to the editors on Saturday. Also, in this case, Sunday being the off day for ABT, ABT may not have issued a press release until early this week. (The release sounded a bit strained - a workman's comp issue to be settled perhaps...)

And even dance critics are allowed to have a day or two to relax!

The NY Times has actually gotten much better in recent years, now publishing reviews online as soon as they are edited so there sometimes is next day coverage. Print reviews always take at least two days to appear.

Kate


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PostPosted: Thu Jun 14, 2007 6:54 am 
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From Marcia Siegel in the Boston Phoenix (following review of NYCB):
Quote:
Two tales retold
NYCB’s The Nightingale and the Rose, ABT’s Sleeping Beauty

....
I don’t know what American Ballet Theatre had in mind with its new production of Sleeping Beauty. The brainchild of ABT artistic director Kevin McKenzie, former star ballerina Gelsey Kirkland, and teacher/dramaturge Michael Chernov, this Beauty incarnation leans toward tradition but at points veers off toward some kind of not-quite-contemporary theatricality. One aspect kept interfering with the other, till I lost my sense of the ballet altogether.

More...


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PostPosted: Thu Jun 14, 2007 7:57 am 
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Kate - You may be right about a extra day lag in writing a review in a daily. (Though it wasn't always that way; it used to be determined, roughly, by the time the performance ended. There used to be 'late editions', which would often include reviews from the previous night's performance.)
But things are recorded and noted and written about in print faster now, not slower. And the news about Gelsey's injury was not a review - it was news. It's a daily paper - they print news from the previous day, including the previous night. I doubt very much that the NY Times wasn't aware of the incident on Saturday night, when it happened, or certainly by the next day; what they reported on Tuesday was a press release.


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PostPosted: Thu Jun 14, 2007 11:09 am 
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Greetings
However, there is no daily arts news in the Sunday NY Times because the Arts & Leisure section is delivered on Saturday if you have a delivery subscription to the paper. Which means that Sunday arts news is compiled no later than Friday night. The Arts section is also 'put to bed' earlier than other sections, which is why the occasional review ends up in the Metro Section, which is mostly news, so run on a tighter schedule.

Ironically, I think the web has actually made papers a bit later in reporting the news. There's no longer the need to have a late or early edition because news and reviews can be published online whenever they become available. So the print version doesn't need to be cutting edge anymore - save that for the website.

What I think happened in this instance was a combination of it not really being huge news and - I suspect - the company asking the paper to hold off on reporting the issue.

While injuries might be big news to ballet fans, they aren't really huge news in terms of the NY Times - and this one didn't sound that bad from the description. There have been other onstage injuries which have taken days to be reported - often they are in the 'odds n' ends' column of the Arts & Leisure which is run a few (?) times a week. The reviewer might have had to wait until Monday (ABT is off on Sundays) to confirm info on the injury with ABT, and then wait another day or two for the publication of another review where the information could be inserted.

Companies have also been known to ask papers to hold off on reporting such matters, especially if the exact nature of the injury isn't immediately known or there are other issues at hand. Injuries do involve personal privacy issues, so a company can't say much without the performer's permission when it comes to such matters.

ABTs release, as quoted by the NY Times, also seemed a bit stilted, which made me wonder if it was only issued because they were pressured for the information. As I said, it makes me wonder if there were some legal issues involved - i.e. workman's comp - and they didn't want to say much in public yet. One would assume there's probably some lawyerly back n' forth on the incident and what Kirkland is entitled to and if it's negligence or accident or performer error etc.

Kate


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PostPosted: Thu Jun 14, 2007 12:16 pm 
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As a working newspaper journalist, I can second that newsworthiness is very much a matter of subjectivity -- with editors being the final authority. And if they're not fans of ballet personally or the reporters don't do a great job convincing them, they simply will not "get" why a Kirkland injury was newsworthy to ballet fans.

And of course, space constraints are a huge issue in newspapers these days. We call it the "news hole" and it is shrinking because of rising costs. Yes, you could put more content on the Web, but some papers still seem to prefer putting out the hard copy first, and then placing it on the Internet. I don't know if that's the case with the NYT, but it could be.


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PostPosted: Thu Jun 14, 2007 12:50 pm 
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Kate - We'll have to agree to disagree on this one. Yes the Sunday Arts and Leisure section is prepared in advance...like the Magazine, Real Estate, etc. But the news section is prepared the previous night/early morning. Even for Sunday. And even if they confine arts "news" to the arts section (which doesn't always happen with respect to any 'special' section of the paper), there was Monday. I think it's sloppy and inconsiderate of its readers. Just like slipping an "evergreen" interview with Vishneva into today's paper, which wasn't updated to mention or address the illness which caused her to cancel a performance to a sold-out house Saturday night. It's like it never happened.
Jane H - I just saw your post after posting this earlier. I agree completely - it is subjective. Like the decision in today's paper to find space for an article about the euthanizing of a whale shark in Georgia. I'm sure that's of interest to whale shark devotees, and maybe the Times thought it might pique the interest of its readers. But in New York, and particularly Manhattan, the arts is a major reason for being. If the Times found space for a whale shark, I'm sure they had space for something that would have been of real interest to a large number of readers.


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PostPosted: Thu Jun 14, 2007 3:45 pm 
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Quote:
QUOTE "balletomaniac" . . . Yes the Sunday Arts and Leisure section is prepared in advance...like the Magazine, Real Estate, etc. But the news section is prepared the previous night/early morning. Even for Sunday. And even if they confine arts "news" to the arts section (which doesn't always happen with respect to any 'special' section of the paper), there was Monday. I think it's sloppy and inconsiderate of its readers. Just like slipping an "evergreen" interview with Vishneva into today's paper, which wasn't updated to mention or address the illness which caused her to cancel a performance to a sold-out house Saturday night. It's like it never happened.


Hi Balletomaniac!

Thank God and thank you for that! I'm glad that I wasn't the only one who noticed the egregiously bad timing of this morning's NY Times article on Vishneva. Today's article, (for ticket holders for her cancelled performance June 9, and for her performances this week and the remainder of the Met season), makes her look capricious IMO.


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PostPosted: Thu Jun 14, 2007 4:24 pm 
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Meaning no disrespect to Ms. Vishneva, she's hardly the only dancer ever to be hurt or ill, and not the only one to have had to back out of a performance this year. The NY Times simply doesn't have the space to mention every injury and by the time they can publish the info, it's old news. The vast majority of ballet fans who care will have read about it on the web or found out 'through the grapevine'.

I think the newspapers know the internet is out there and because of time and space demands, they tend to focus on reviews and features, and not on reporting day to day arts news. It's, I think, a shift from the past, but probably a decision to focus on what the newspapers can do best. As much as we all wish newspapers would provide more coverage of ballet, dance represents only a tiny fraction of what the papers have to cover.

The Vishneva interview didn't bother me - I'd guess that most people reading it wouldn't have know about her injury and I suspect that the final decision on what makes the issue doesn't reside with the dance critics - it's about balance and what fits on the page. Better to have it run now than never.

Also, as I said before, I strongly suspect that there are privacy issues involved with reporting a dancer injury or illness, apart from something that happens on stage in front of a performance audience. Thus it may be that a reporter must get permission, formal or informal, from the company and/or the dancer to specifically mention an illness or injury. I have known situations where the dancer did not want any specifics of why he/she wasn't dancing made public.


JaneH - I can't speak for all papers, but the NY Times tends to release articles online first. I've seen many reviews appear online during the day, and then appear in the hard copy the following morning. I read the paper online in the morning here in the UK, which is long before it would hit newsstands in the US.


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 15, 2007 4:07 am 
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Quote:
Give the Girl a Break
by DEBORAH JOWITT for the Village Voice
published: June 13, 2007

Kevin McKenzie, the company's artistic director; Gelsey Kirkland, once its most exquisite ballerina; and Kirkland's husband, Michael Chernov, a choreographer and former dancer, collaborated on the ballet's latest doctoring. They've retained some of Petipa's choreographic jewels, borrowed from other productions, and contributed new choreography and staging ranging from expressive (like parts of the Act II Vision of Aurora) to acceptable to dubious.
more...


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 15, 2007 5:22 am 
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If this is well run and taught, it sounds like an excellent course:

AMERICAN BALLET THEATRE AND
NEW YORK UNIVERSITY
TO OFFER MASTER’S DEGREE PROGRAM
IN BALLET PEDAGOGY


Courses to Begin Fall 2008


6/14/2007 - American Ballet Theatre and New York University have entered into a partnership to offer the first ever Master of Arts in Dance Education with a concentration in Ballet Pedagogy. This ground-breaking degree is offered through the Dance Education Program at the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development through its Department of Music and Performing Arts Professions. The new program can be completed in three semesters of full-time study. The program will welcome its first class in Fall 2008.

The NYU/ABT collaboration is a 36-point master’s degree program that prepares dance teachers for studios, conservatories, and company schools, as well as for further doctoral study in dance education and teaching in higher education. Students in the program will examine the study of ballet technique for the express purpose of developing research-informed and proficient teachers who possess a complete understanding of the use of the biomechanics of movement, artistic imagery, and the development of students on professional and recreational tracks of study. Integrated fieldwork studies with American Ballet Theatre’s training programs and ballet company will give students the opportunity to cultivate professional networks in the dance capital of the world. Students will also visit other exemplary artistic, teaching, and learning venues in New York City.

Unique courses in the curriculum include Methods & Materials for Teaching Dance, Teaching Performance and Composition, Ballet Fieldwork and Analysis, Creative Movement for the Studio School, Dancing Jazz through History, Dance Education Research, Principles and Processes of Dance Administration, and Teaching Apprenticeship. Students can also select from a diverse selection of courses such as African Dance, Dance for the Special Child, and Hip-Hop. Culminating projects for the degree include the development of a unique syllabus with a related research project and business plan tailored to individual teaching contexts.

ABT faculty for the NYU Master’s degree program include Franco De Vita, principal of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at American Ballet Theatre and Raymond Lukens, a faculty member at ABT’s JKO School. NYU Steinhardt Dance Education faculty include Dr. Susan Koff, director of the dance education program, and Barbara Bashaw, associate director.

“This academic partnership between NYU Steinhardt and American Ballet Theatre is unique in the world of higher education,” said Mary Brabeck, dean of the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. “It is just one example of the kinds of partnerships Steinhardt is forging with cultural and educational organizations throughout New York City. This new curriculum, drawing on the expertise and talent of both ABT and NYU Dance Education faculty, will provide a wealth of learning opportunities for our students.”

“We are delighted to be partnering with NYU on such an extraordinary program,” said Rachel Moore, executive director of American Ballet Theatre. “The opportunity to marry excellence in academics with excellence in dance pedagogy is thrilling. Through this program ABT and NYU will be working together to raise the quality of dance training across America. I believe this will be a tremendous step forward for the dance field and will benefit many young artists nationally.”

Applications for the NYU/ABT Master’s degree program are available through the NYU Steinhardt Office of Graduate Admissions at http://steinhardt.nyu.edu/graduate_admissions/. Applications for Fall 2008 must be submitted by January 6, 2008.

Additional information on the M.A. program in ABT Ballet Pedagogy at NYU Steinhardt can be obtained through NYU’s website at: http://.steinhardt.nyu.edu/ABTBalletPedagogy.


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