I’ve probably watched the film Center Stage at least 50 times since it premiered at the turn of the millennium. They call it a cult classic for a reason: growing up as a dancer, an obsession with Center Stage was an understood requisite. From the memorization of every line, to owning and listening to the soundtrack on your Walkman on repeat, to you and your peers begging your pointe teacher to let you perform to Jamiroquai’s “Canned Heat” during your senior year recital, the thrill of that movie became an engrained part of my identity, as I believe it did any dancer born during the 80’s or 90’s. (For the record, our gracious teacher did let us perform “Canned Heat”—albeit somewhat to her chagrin—and we dyed our pointe shoes red, and did the part where they move downstage in the line en pointe, and it was arguably one of the most spectacular moments of my life to date. I say this only half facetiously.)
Given this context, you can imagine the intense restraint of giddiness required for me to maintain my otherwise always cucumber-cool state when I passed Ethan Stiefel (aka “Cooper Nielson”) in the hallway on my first day at ABT. I remember we made eye contact, and I thought to myself, “Could that be…?” My eyes must have given me away, because he looked back at me with a subtle, knowing smirk as though to say, “Yes. I am who you think I am.” It was equally as hard to maintain nonchalance when I started oohing and ahh-ing over a cute dog in the hallway (a typical occurrence for me… one unexpected perk of ABT is that many of the dancers and staff members have very cute dogs that they often bring in to work). I slowly began to lift my gaze up from the lil’ pup, only to discover that the dog’s owner was Julie Kent. (Side note: I have seen Julie Kent a number of times since this first meet-cute encounter, but no matter how accustom I become to passing by her in the office or the studio, it still takes a great deal of willpower to keep myself from shouting out, “I love you! You’re perfect!” Every time. Seriously.)
The final test of the indifferent New Yorker composure I’ve worked so hard to perfect was getting to sit down at our weekly Friday intern meeting with Sascha Radetsky (that’s “Charlie,” for any non-dancers out there). Sascha—(we exchanged somewhere between five to seven sentences with each other, so suffice to say we’re on a first name basis now), spoke with us about his best and worst experiences touring with the Company; what a typical rehearsal day at ABT was like; his experience spending two years away from ABT to dance as a Principal with the Dutch National Ballet; his interest in teaching and writing; and of course, a bit about how he got involved with Center Stage. Fun fact: apparently a different ABT dancer was originally cast for the role of “Carlos” in the film, but was unable to perform. The casting crew then hired Radetsky instead, and changed the character’s name to Charlie.
One of the many great things about my experience interning with ABT has been the setup of its 890 Broadway location. Sure, the offices aren’t glamorous (we are still in the nonprofit world, after all), but they are directly adjacent to the studios where the Main Company takes class and rehearses. I believe this arrangement provides an important cohesion between the art form and its administrative work. As a Performing Arts Administration graduate student, we often discuss the role of an arts administrator within an artistic organization, and the administrator’s relationship with the art form (s)he is working to promote. Anyone who is an arts administrator or is contemplating going into the field undoubtedly has an underlying love of the arts at the core of his or her professional interests, and this is an essential component of the work we do.
Nonprofit organizations—the category into which the arts typically fall—cannot offer financial incentives to compensate for the ‘less attractive’ aspects a job might involve in the way that for-profit corporations can. Instead, nonprofits offer a different kind of wealth: a kind of “human capital” obtained only from intrinsic motivation, and a sense of self-fulfillment derived from the fact that you genuinely believe in the good of the work you are doing—a belief that stems from a personal conviction towards the cause that you are directly serving.
ABT’s studio-office layout really helps to advance this concept. As much as I genuinely loved the substance of the work I did this semester, naturally there were days that writing and re-writing grant proposals could feel tedious or monotonous. During these moments, being surrounded by the art form was incredibly helpful: to hear the music of Shostakovich overflowing from the studio into my office; to pass by Misty Copeland rehearsing on my way to lunch; to recall the gasps from students in the audience as they watched one of ABT’s stars lift another effortlessly into the air during the Young People’s Ballet Workshop the week before… these are the instances that bear a significance beyond explanation. These aspects are significant to a nonprofit arts administrator because they are a constant reminder of why you do the work you do.
To contribute to and be involved with a company that I have idolized and revered from a young age—and to know that my work will help sustain this art form so that future audiences can be similarly inspired—has been a privilege. And of course, brushing shoulders with the ever-beloved stars of Center Stage hasn’t hurt, either.😉
Institutional Support Intern