As American Ballet Theatre opens its 37th season this weekend in Kennedy Center’s Opera House, its boys’ division is getting a big helping hand from their boys’ division.
New Heights, a nonprofit organization devoted to developing “excellence and responsibility in the performing arts,” is bringing 10 ballet boys ages 11 to 14 from the tier-one boys’ division to the opera house this weekend and Monday for 10 days of intensive, three-week, intensive training. The boys will perform a Balanchine ballet and rehearse it daily with apprentice performers from the girls’ division.
“We wanted to find a way to expand our reach and include the boys because the boys are very interested in performing in this style, and ballet in general,” says Suzanne Mertz, the director of New Heights.
The boys’ division has been called “one of the hardest and most challenging” sections of the ballets ABT dancers do, Mertz says.
But the boys, as well as some dancers in the girls’ division, are also facing some of the same difficulties as their female classmates.
“They also experience bullying in school and are sometimes excluded because of their physical appearance or behaviors,” Mertz says. “Bullying is a challenge for all the dancers, but it is even more extreme in the male ballet dancers. We are looking for the boys to try to resolve that situation.
“We’re focusing on artistic development, not party development.”
The training begins in the costume rooms — which are separate from the studios — to review costumes.
“We talk about how they look and prepare them for a dancer’s life in life,” Mertz says. “Then we show them a very good ballet from beginning to end and talk about what it is they can learn from this.”
There are more than 60 boys in the group, but one male dancer said the group can accommodate more, which is the reason for the camp, which will double the number of boys, Mertz says.
On Friday, Mertz will review the ballet with the boys, conducting a fashion show with male dancers from all ABT dancers to get them the feel of a dancer’s life.
“It’s like going into fashion and seeing what a clothing designer does with clothes,” Mertz says. “We want to show the boys how to look like an elegant dancer.”
The boys will perform three times Friday night, two with an ABT dancer and one with a guest male dancer from the Houston Ballet, which is performing in the Kennedy Center’s Opera House.
On Saturday, the group will rehearse the ballet. On Sunday, it will go to rehearsals with the dancers from the other dancers, and Monday, the boys will perform.
Mertz will review the dancers before the first performance, which will be at 2 p.m. Saturday, and it’s the boys’ first performance in New Heights.