The first thing that jumps out about Gabe Stone Shayer, who begins a year-long contract with American Ballet Theatre’s Studio Company in September, is how easily he commands attention. Tall and sinewy, he has an ever-ready smile that wows, and a carefree confidence that makes him a natural prince.
When Gabe was six years old, he wrote in a grade school essay that the best day of his life occurred when he decided to become a dancer. He’s 17 now, and it’s clear he’s in it for the long haul. A Rock School alum and a Youth American Grand Prix winner, he earned a month-long scholarship to the Bolshoi Ballet Academy after completing their summer intensive in New York two years ago. Last fall, he returned to Moscow for nine months of transformative training with the ballet master he now considers his most influential coach, Ilya Kuznetsov. (At the end of his term at the Bolshoi, Gabe snatched up 5s–the equivalent of As–in all his exams!)
Gabe returned to the US in June, just in time to begin ABT’s NYC summer intensive. Kustenov was also in the Big Apple, teaching at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy’s summer intensive. I caught up with them both just as they were finishing up their summer projects to discuss their strong, father-son-like bond.
Giannella Garrett: What was it like to spend a year studying at the Bolshoi Academy, Gabe?
Gabe Shayer: Amazing! At first they saw me as an international student who hadn’t trained for as long as the Russian students, or who wasn’t as polished. But I ended up getting to the top of the class. As a result, I stood in the middle of the barre, which is a big deal there.
GG: I heard that Mr. Kuznetsov noticed you during your first month-long stay at the Bolshoi Academy and requested that you be put in his graduating class when you returned.
GS: Yup. I first arrived in Moscow on a Saturday morning, just in time for pas de deux class. When it was over, Ilya took me to the school’s auditorium stage, where they were rehearsing La Fille Mal Gardée. He called over the kid who was doing the soloist role, and told me to “go on stage right now, in his spot.” So I went. I didn’t know what I was doing. But I ended up dancing that part at the Bolshoi and during the school’s tour to Greece.
Ilya Kuznetsov: I was impressed by Gabe’s appearance on stage. I begged to have him in my class. It’s his combination of appearance, talent and character. It’s hard to explain. When I watch Gabe dance, I forget about the rules.
GG: Gabe, you took Mr. Kuznetsov’s two-hour technique class six days a week. What made him an effective teacher for you?
GS: Many times after class ended and everyone was leaving he’d keep me in the studio and give me corrections, working with me privately and talking to me about what I needed to do with my body and what wasn’t working in class. That scaled everything down to bite-sized terms I could understand better.
IK: The amazing thing about Gabe is he’s the only student who never missed a lesson! He’s an extremely hard worker. He had only five months to reach the same level of my graduating class. He surpassed them.
GG: What are your hopes for the future, Gabe?
GS: I think everyone wants this, but I would love to be up there with Baryshnikov and Nureyev. People think, oh, ballet, it’s about the girl. And it is, a little. But those men made names for themselves because they were just so amazing at what they did. I’m trying to get there.