I do think about looks. You need a leggy Swan Lake,
“Diamonds” pas de deux, adagio dancer. You also need someone with the speed, accuracy and technical brilliance for Kitri
or Square Dance. You look for those types, but you don’t
always get them.
I think the biggest thing is, Can
this person lead an entire show?
Can they own the entire stage?
And can they do it consistently
and in many different roles?
Some people, like Beckanne Sisk
and Chase O’Connell, walk fresh
out of school and have it. Most people grow into it.
When I arrived, Emily Adams was very quiet, and seemed
to cling to the back of the studio. Over the years she started
moving forward, not aggressively, but just owning her technique. Each assignment she was given she gave 1,000 percent
of herself. All of a sudden everybody started noticing her.
Audience members were asking me when I hired her.
I think when it takes a long time, it’s easier for the person
to appreciate where they are in the work. You should always
be asking, What is my next step? Whether that’s a new ballet
or your 400th Sugar Plum, you can never go on automatic,
and the most successful dancers recognize that. I need people
who aren’t afraid to work hard and be vulnerable.
It sounds cheesy, but it’s like Spider-Man: With great talent
comes great responsibility. It’s not just the capacity to turn
and jump, but the way you turn, the way you jump. It’s about
work ethic, how fast you learn, how musical you are, how
open you are to new things, how willing you are to let people
see who you are in a very raw way.
I want people who can transform onstage. For instance,
new principal Lillian DiPiazza is a very sweet girl, but when
she did Siren in Prodigal Son she came out as a femme fatale—
she was such a force.
I was made a principal at 19, but I don’t know if I was
completely mature. You have to be careful as an artistic direc-
tor. If you promote someone too soon and they don’t have a
strong sense of who they are, their accomplishments can go
to their head. If someone waits too long, they lose hope, and
they lose that spark.
At the end of the day we’re doing
this for the audience, so yes, there’s an
element of star power. What you cast,
who you cast—it’s with the audience in
mind. But you also have to guide them
to new things, whether that’s ballets or
Kristin Schwab is a writer in New York
PROMOTED TO PRINCIPAL
Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Lindsi Dec and American
Ballet Theatre’s Isabella Boylston talk about joining
ballet’s highest rank.
How did getting promoted to principal feel?
Dec: I had been waiting for 12 years. I was shocked. I didn’t tell anybody until it
was written down in an official contract.
Did you have a hunch that it was coming?
Boylston: I’d been doing several full-length ballets—Swan Lake, Don Q, Giselle.
I certainly hoped, but you never know.
Did you suddenly feel more weight on your shoulders?
Boylston: Of course I wanted to live up to the title. But it’s really a vote of
confidence from the director that you’ve demonstrated maturity and artistry.
Dec: The first couple of months, yes. After that you kind of get a grip on things.
What was your first time onstage as a principal like?
Boylston: It was Coppélia, and one of my worst performances ever. I was a
basket case and so shaky onstage.
Did anything change about your daily life?
Boylston: It made my performance schedule lighter, actually. Before, I was doing
all the soloist roles and several principal roles. It’s nice to have more energy.
Any unexpected perks?
Dec: We get a nicer paycheck! Sometimes we get out of rehearsal earlier. And
Laura Tisserand and I share a dressing room suite on the stage level. The corps
is down in the dungeon.
Did your relationship with other dancers change?
Boylston: No, I could feel so much love from my colleagues. There’s so much
support for people who work their way up through ABT from the inside.
Dec: Not at all. We’re a big family, though sometimes dysfunctional like any other.
Now that you’re at the top, who do you look up to?
Boylston: Gillian Murphy. It’s inspiring to see how she continues to work.
Dec: I love Igone de Jongh at Dutch National Ballet. Another tall dancer!
Looking back, was there anything frustrating about your rise to principal?
Dec: There were lots of times when I thought maybe this isn’t the right
company, that maybe people didn’t see me in that light. But I wouldn’t have
traded my process for anything. It made me work that much harder. —KS
Lindsi Dec in The