Avery Gay and Marcus Sarjeant are the contemporary ballet bosses everyone's talking about. Their daring performance on "World of Dance" last week made for a surprising turn of events, knocking previous Junior Champion Eva Igo out of the competition. Not only are Avery & Marcus the only ballet act on the show to feature pointe work, but they're also hoping their crowd-pleasing approach to the art will change the way ballet is perceived by the public, making it more mainstream than ever before. Find out how these two got ready for their run on one of America's hottest dance shows—while living in different states.
How did you prep for "WOD"?
Marcus: I live in California, and Avery lives in Arizona, so we didn't have a lot of time to rehearse because on top of coordinating our schedules we had to deal with the added expense of traveling. We had about six months leading up to the show, and we'd have long, exhausting sessions with our choreographer Josie Walsh. She taught us to use visualization exercises so that when we were apart we could still rehearse by imagining the dance routines. It was extremely helpful.
What did it feel like beating Eva Igo?
M: It was intimidating to go up against her—not just because she's talented, but also because the show and its fans love her. But it forced us to push even harder for a great performance. Ultimately, going against Eva brought out the absolute best in both of us.
What's been your favorite part about being on "WOD"?
Avery: I've loved meeting the other contestants from all over the world and starting new friendships. "WOD" also gives you a peek into the life of a professional dancer and It's pretty special to dance for Derek, J.Lo, and NE-YO!
What is been most challenging about performing on "WOD"?
A: Having to polish our routines in such a short time was difficult. We had to trust each other and our choreographer to stay confident. Also, we were the first couple to dance on pointe on the digital, plexiglass "WOD" stage. They offered to cover it with a marley surface, but we didn't want to compromise the projections from the floor. So we essentially had to retrain our bodies to compensate for the unfamiliar surfaces. But that stage is state-of-the-art amazing, so it was worth the effort!
Dancing onstage is very different from dancing on TV. What do you do differently when you're performing for the camera in addition to a live audience?
M: We've both been trained to dance for live audiences, so we're used to looking out into a sea of people and feeling their reactions to our performance. But we had to learn how to dance for TV. We had to know where the cameras were at all times, for our safety and so the cameramen could get the shot they wanted. Sometimes we had to tweak our choreography so the lines would be pleasing to TV audiences.
How do you present ballet in a way that's appealing to a mainstream audience without compromising on technique or artistry?
M: Josie Walsh is extremely talented at choreographing contemporary ballet fusion. She combined ballet with b-boy touches, crazy lifts, and movements you don't typically see in contemporary ballet. At times it's difficult to stay true to our technique while pulling off some of our daredevil stunts. But we try to keep our performance engaging while maintaining the integrity of the art.
What do you hope people new to ballet will take away from your performances?
A: We hope people see the excitement, diversity, and athleticism that ballet dancers bring. Ballet isn't just Swan Lake or The Nutcracker. We want to encourage young kids to go to ballet class because it's cool , and to show ballet dancers in a different light.
Who's your dance role model?
A: I'm inspired by Josie Walsh and Stacey Tookey. They're very different choreographers, but they're both very Zen-like. They've taken the time to get to know me and teach me what they've learned in their careers—specifically, how to love yourself in a world where you're constantly critiqued. My classical ballet dance role model would be my ballet teacher, Olga Tarrasova. She's taught me not to try to emulate the famous ballerinas, but instead to dance like Avery Gay, and develop my own style with strong technique.
M: I have so many dance role models for different reasons. Sometimes it's their choreography or their style of teaching, sometimes it's their inspiring nature or creativity. Four people I really look up to are Chaz Buzan, Billy Bell, Josie Walsh, and Jackie Sleight. I love Chaz and Billy's movement, and Josie and Jackie are great teachers—always upbeat and encouraging.
What's next for you as a dancer?
A: Lots of training! I just turned 14 and I have so much ambition for the future, but one thing is constant: I want to be a professional dancer. I always thought I'd finish my training at a high-profile ballet institution, but recently I've become interested in the USC Gloria Kaufman School of Dance. Once I become a pro, I'd like to be able to have the flexibility to perform contemporary ballet and classical ballet in a concert setting. Who knows, maybe I'll even start my own company.
M: I'll be attending the Conservatory of Dance at State University of New York (SUNY) Purchase College in the fall. After college, I hope to join a company such as Nederlands Dans Theater or Batsheva Dance Company. I want to move between the concert and commercial dance worlds.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
A: I would tell myself to learn how to properly warm up before dancing full out on the dance floor to prevent unwanted injuries.
M: I would advise myself to start earlier—I didn't start dancing until about 12 years old and always felt like I was trying to catch up.