Major Magic at ABT

27 Jul

890 Broadway: a historic building in the heart of Manhattan where elevators are hand operated, live piano music is bound to be heard, and dance legends of past, present, and future walk the halls on nearly every floor. It is in this building that America’s National Ballet Company works tirelessly “to CREATE, to PRESENT,to PRESERVEand to EXTENDthe great repertoire of classical dancing, through exciting performances and educational programming of the highest quality, present to the widest possible audience.” Welcome to ABT.

I have long admired American Ballet Theatre for a wide variety of reasons: its vast and ever-expanding repertoire, its commitment to remaining accessible to audiences around the world, and its company of performers that are simply unparalleled in technique and artistry. This organization somehow simultaneously honors the rich history of the performing arts that led to its creation, and challenges the boundaries of tradition. I’d easily chalk it all up to magic, but these past four months as an intern at ABT have taught me just what is behind it all.

The quote just up above is ABT’s mission statement. This collection of words serves as a guiding light and common goal for every member of the company, and it could not be more apparent. Every person at ABT, from the dancers to the administrators and everyone in between, exhibits an understanding of and support for this mission. In the Major Gifts office, where I was lucky enough to spend my semester, it came through in every project we did. Here’s a particularly exciting one I worked on:

Every year, a select group of ABT’s Major Donors meets to discuss the state of the company, look ahead at plans for the upcoming season, take a moment to acknowledge just how much they have done to propel both ABT and the art form forward, and consider what they can do to help it along even more. This year however, in true ABT fashion of honoring tradition while pushing its boundaries, our team decided to make the occasion even more special. In addition to the usual agenda, we would present an engaging panel discussion. Being that this meeting fell during the week of Romeo and Juliet at the Met, the discussion would center on that ballet. The speakers? Robert LaFosse, Leslie Browne, Cynthia Harvey, Susan Jones, Kevin McKenzie, Isabella Boylston, and David Hallberg, moderated by dance writer Pia Catton. And yes, even months later, this list still gives me goosebumps.

The conversation was meant to highlight the way in which a classic piece of ballet repertoire is passed down through the generations, and how it maintains its integrity while also remaining relevant. Along the way, the panelists shared fond memories of working with choreographer Kenneth MacMillan, discussed their varied approaches to the iconic leading roles, laughed as they recalled comical mishaps with costumes or props, and enlightened everyone in the room on small yet crucial details of choreography that often go unnoticed. They did this all between viewings of archival video clips and photo montages put together in a presentation by, you guessed it, me! It was my responsibility to create all supporting materials for this meeting. In the weeks leading up to the event, my days were spent scouring archives, building PowerPoint presentations, writing talking points and cue cards for our speakers, and meeting with a crew at the Met to set light and microphone levels. When the day finally arrived, I took my place in the tech booth to control the presentation. It was in this tiny room at the back of the auditorium that I realized just how remarkable this entire event was.

Here we all were, discussing the CREATION of an iconic work of art, walking through and comparing its various PRESENTATIONS throughout the years, analyzing just how many original details have been PRESERVED through the care of our incredible ballet masters and coaches, and looking ahead to the future generations whose dancers will EXTEND the reach and push the boundaries of this work. This panel embodied every fiber of ABT’s mission statement, and it was on that evening in the middle of June that the words I had been reading for years on the company’s website, came to life for me.

It goes without saying that working at ABT is an extremely special experience, filled with memorable moments. Take a read through the rest of the magnificent posts on this page and you’ll get a sense of just how rewarding it can be. Whether you are sitting in on rehearsals in the studios, helping to run an educational program for young children, interacting with patrons at the theater, or coming across your childhood idols backstage, there is no shortage of opportunities to get involved and have your dreams come true at the same time. But there is one more detail missing from the list that makes this experience truly remarkable, and sets ABT apart: the people.

In my time with the company, I have had the pleasure of meeting and collaborating with some of the most encouraging, caring, talented, and hard-working individuals I’ve ever come across. They approach each project with confidence and creativity, they work together to successfully move mountains, and they support each other like one, big family. Simply being in this type of environment taught me more about how to successfully operate a non-profit than any academic course could. It taught me that at the heart of it all is a group of people with a shared passion—or mission, if you will. I am eternally grateful to have been a part of it. Now, as I sit in the audience, clapping as the curtain goes down and tears of wonder stream down my face, I see so much more than just the beauty on the stage. I see all of the work that goes into it, and the bigger picture it represents. And you know what, I still see magic. I’m not entirely convinced there isn’t a bit of that involved too.

Kate Pirtskhalava

Major Gifts Intern

Summer 2018

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