After a year and a half in ABT Studio Company, Isabella Boylston, 19, is making her professional debut. As one of only two dancers selected to apprentice with American Ballet Theatre for its eight-week spring Met engagement, she had a whirlwind season, dancing a different ballet every week and learning choreography at lightning speed. But her hard work paid off: Halfway through the season, at the end of June, Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie handed her a corps de ballet contract.
If ABT is high society, then the Studio Company is finishing school, where dancers learn how to tour, read schedules, be confident onstage and apply corrections quickly. But in the corps, the pace picks up. Whereas the Studio Company often performs works choreographed specifically for its dancers, which gives them the benefit of learning together, apprentices in the corps are usually the only ones in the company who haven’t already danced the season’s ballets. “You sit in the back and watch, and then you’re thrown in,” says Boylston of her first few corps rehearsals. “Really, I found it best to be thrown in, because you’re forced to be aware of your spacing.”
Among her many roles, Boylston performed in the ensemble of harlots in Manon, as one of Pasha’s wives in Le Corsaire, and in Petrouchka, her first Stravinsky work. “Everything is your responsibility; you go to the stage manager and ask for a video of whatever production [you’ll be in] and then watch it on your own time,” Boylston says. “There’s [also] a lot of peer corrections—a lot of times the ballet mistresses have so much to look at, you learn from the people around letting you know what you’re doing wrong.”
A highlight was getting to dance the Vision—an apparition of Odette who appears in Act III of Swan Lake to try to prevent Siegfried from pledging his love to Odile. To prepare, Boylston enlisted the help of principal Gillian Murphy, who also danced the Vision when she first joined the company. Murphy coached Boylston on how to initiate arm movement from her back to create a more winged effect. “I look up to Gillian so much,” Boylston says. “The principals set such good examples for us. I’m impressed just to be near them and [to be] watching them in class.” After the first Swan Lake dress rehearsal, McKenzie also gave Boylston feedback: “I was flapping too fast, and Kevin told me to take my time. [I was] actually [onstage] a lot longer than I expected!”