5 Things We Learned from “city.ballet.” Season 2, Episode 5

December 2, 2014

Season 2 of “city.ballet.”—the AOL On series that gives an insider’s look at New York City Ballet—is live now! We’re recapping one episode per week. Watch all 12 at dancemagazine.com.

I’ve always worshipped ballet masters. They’re the unsung heroes of ballet companies, the artists—nearly all former dancers—who spend countless hours making sure each and every piece is ready for the stage. Episode 5 takes a look at some of New York City Ballet’s ballet masters, the keepers of the flame. Here are five things we learned from the ep.

Ballet master Jean-Pierre Frohlich works with principal Sterling Hyltin (photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy NYCB)

1) Ballet masters have…a certain way with words.
“This is casual. You’re just walking over to Bergdorf’s.” “Welcome to Buffalo! Here are my chicken wings.” “You have to do kitty-cat hands over to the muffin head.”

2) And an equally impressive repertoire of noises.
“Step, WOMP, step, WOMP.” “Aaaand dah dah dah DUM.”

3) Being a ballet master involves a sort of heroic self-abnegation.
Yes, ballet masters are incredibly precious: They have all the knowledge of these ballets. They hold the keys. But their goal isn’t to impose their own vision of the work on the dancers; it’s to give them the tools they need to develop their own interpretation. “When you teach a role, you want the dancers to be 110 percent themselves,” says Darci Kistler.

Darci Kistler watches rehearsal (still from “city.ballet.” courtesy NYCB)

4) That said, teaching a ballet isn’t just about teaching steps.
Or not for every ballet master, anyway. While Kistler is more of a a steps-and-music-only person, for Jean-Pierre Frohlich, there’s “absolutely another layer” to the process. “It’s important for dancers to visualize,” he says. “Think of the sun on your shoulders. Think of the water. Think of the air.”

5) In the end, ballet masters feel like proud parents.
“I love seeing when a dancer thrives onstage,” says Kathleen Tracey. “You just get this flood of joy. You can take some pride in yourself and say, Hey, I helped with that…a little bit!

Click the image below to watch the full episode!