Darci Kistler (right) rehearsing company members

In a black, wide-neck T-shirt bearing the words “Drama Queen,” the legendary Darci Kistler coaches dancers on Peter Martins’ Morgen. “For me, the most important thing is not to put Darci on it,” she says, laughing. The Balanchine muse teaches only the steps and music, she says. Nothing else. She leaves it to the dancer to imbue the role with their own sense of self.

In this episode, we hear from a few of New York City Ballet’s 12 ballet masters. While choreographers create the ballets, says director Martins, “ballet masters maintain the ballets” and teach them to dancers.

Jean-Pierre Frohlich joined NYCB as a dancer when he was 17.

Former soloist Kathleen Tracey talks about the obligation she feels to maintain the integrity of an original work while rehearsing it. She often asks herself, “If the choreographer came into the studio, would he or she be happy with what he was seeing?” When that choreographer is the ghost of Mr. B, it’s a pretty weighty responsibility.

Jean-Pierre Frohlich discusses his multifaceted job as teacher, coach mentor, baby-sitter, psychologist and more to the dancers. Both he and Tracey agree you have to develop excellent interpersonal skills to communicate well with dancers of different ages and temperaments.

But in the end, says Tracey, you get to watch dancers onstage and feel proud knowing you helped with that. That’s a feeling all teachers can relate to.

Kathleen Tracey

Click here to watch full episodes of “city.ballet.”

Sara Mearns is one of my favorite faces of New York City Ballet. She has this sassy, eye-rolling way about her, and for some reason I like that she has a deeper voice than I expect from a ballerina. She just seems like a cool, down-to-earth woman: strong body, strong convictions, beautiful dancer.

In episode 4, she speaks about a back injury that sidelined her for eight months in 2012. She says the experience helped her grow. “Injuries change everything about you, mentally and physically. I became an adult, I guess. It gave me a new life. I actually, in a way, feel stronger now and more confident in my dancing. And I feel freer.”

Bergasse (left) rehearsing Mearns for the Fire Island Dance Festival

But the real fun of this episode is hearing about Mearns’ new relationship. She is head over heels for Broadway choreographer Joshua Bergasse, whose revival of On the Town is currently making headlines. And we get to see her flipping literally head over heels in a clip of the jazzy dance theater piece Bergasse choreographed on her for the Fire Island Dance Festival last summer. Mearns thrives on the challenge to perform a new style of dance during the off-season, she says, and she only felt self-conscious once about rehearsing with her boyfriend.

Bergasse and Mearns at home

Their connection seems to hinge on the fact that Bergasse understands her hectic schedule and, in fact, has one of his own. “He’s in the dance world, but he’s not in my dance world,” she says. At the same time, she mentions the difficulty of dating someone outside the company, especially once the performance season starts. “We’ll be in the same city, but we won’t see each other,” says Bergasse. Still, Mearns speaks candidly about wanting to plan their future together and start a family one day. “I’ve never been so happy in my life,” she says. Seems like a match made in heaven.

Click here to watch full episodes of “city.ballet.”

Unity Phelan

City.ballet.” is back! And the Season 2 premiere is plenty tantalizing. They promised us more up-close input from dancers, and we’ve already got two very interesting characters to follow.

We meet two corps members, starting with 19-year-old Unity Phelan, who is beginning her first season with New York City Ballet. I really don’t think anyone could manage a more bright-eyed and eager demeanor. All she wants to do is dance—as much as she possibly can. When she faces a long day of classes and rehearsals, she doesn’t think about how grueling it’s going to be. “When pliés start, I’m like OK let’s do this. I am so excited for this day!” Right now, she is grateful for every moment, because she has achieved what she thought was her biggest dream: being in New York City Ballet. But that honeymoon can’t last forever.

Harrison Ball

Enter Harrison Ball, only two years older than Phelan but starting his third year in the corps. His worries already outweigh his enthusiasm. Is he being taken as seriously as he wants to be? He’d prefer soloist parts to the character roles he’s gotten so far. Does he really present himself in the best light? He battles typical 21-year-old habits like constantly running late and going out most nights, while at the same time trying to be a dedicated professional. All he can think about is when and if he’ll be promoted.

The most telling moment in the episode is when both dancers describe how they spend their evenings when they aren’t performing. Phelan sits in the audience. “I go and watch the ballet, because even being there is special.” Ball paces outside on the Lincoln Center Promenade, pondering his career path.

The premiere is the tiniest bit redundant in that, once again, it focuses on the corps de ballet, which we were already introduced to last season. But Sarah Jessica Parker’s narration is noticeably absent—minus an opening line—which helps it feel less like a Ballet 101 lecture and more like a docu-drama.

Click here to watch the full eight-minute episode plus bonus clips.

This episode also features Ball's cat, who doesn't seem worried about much of anything.

One of our favorite web series is almost back! On Tuesday, November 4, AOL Originals’ “city.ballet.” returns with 12 new episodes about life in the one and only New York City Ballet. After last season, which covered broad topics like what it means to be in the corps and how it feels to get a contract for the first time, this go-round promises more specificity. Some of the episodes will center on individual dancers—Sara Mearns and Chase Finlay and even director Peter Martins—and follow them through their daily routines. It should give students a valuable glimpse at real, day-to-day life as a professional performer in a top-notch company. Plus, it sounds like we’re in for a little romantic drama, too, which never hurts. Check out the season promo video here:

I think I speak for most former dancers when I say it’s easy to feel jealous of professional ballerinas. The lives they lead! What if that was me? What if I’d auditioned for companies instead of going to college? Would I be Ashley Bouder now? Setting aside the fact that the odds of joining New York City Ballet are slim no matter how hard you train, it’s also easy to forget what abnormal and often difficult childhoods (and adulthoods) professional dancers endure. Episode 7 of "city.ballet." focuses on the sacrifices that come with the career.

One of my close friends told me she never made it to any high school dances because she always had rehearsal Friday nights. The corps members interviewed for this episode sound like they had similar teenage years: no football games, no other extracurriculars, nothing but “Eat, sleep, dance, repeat,” Giovanni Villalobos says. Principal Sara Mearns seems even a bit disgusted with her adolescent self. “All I would do was rehearse and perform and just think about dance, dance, dance, rehearsal, rehearsal, pointe shoes, hair, makeup,” she says. “I can’t even believe I did that to myself.”

And it doesn’t get much easier as an adult. While many dancers manage to find time to woo and wed (usually other dancers), Jenifer Ringer feels like an outlier in her decision to have children during her career. Many dancers wait until they’re done performing or forego having kids altogether, she says. Since the episode was filmed, Ringer has actually announced her retirement. I’ll be interested to hear more about her decision and her plans for life after the stage.

As a lover—nay, worshipper—of the art, I often forget how out-there ballet’s requirements are compared to almost any other career, except maybe playing a professional sport. I guess it comes down to how much you love it. That notion gets tossed around a lot, but this episode made me consider what it really means: If you don’t love ballet enough to give up almost all nondance-related activities and relationships, it’s not the career for you. So, it isn’t just that we mortals don’t have the talent or body type. Most of us also want lives that are just a bit more traditional, with glorious weekends off and optional gym workouts. And maybe the occasional dance class, when we’re feeling bold.

For more "city.ballet.", visit dancemagazine.com/cityballetAOL.

“Now the work begins,” warns Peter Martins, as newly hired corps members celebrate their contracts. The third installment of New York City Ballet’s “city.ballet.” webseries introduces viewers to life in the corps of one of the nation’s top companies. The corps is, put simply by narrator and executive producer Sarah Jessica Parker, “the large group dancing in unison around the featured roles” in a ballet. Other company members elaborate: The corps is the backdrop, the base, the architecture of the ballet. One new face in the corps, Silas Farley, sums up the experience of being asked to join the company: “It’s equal measures elation and terror.” The stakes are high, he adds, but by the time they make it that far, dancers feel ready for the challenges that lie ahead.

The episode’s most important takeaways:

1. Apprentices get hired exactly how you thought they did, based on Center Stage. They’re still in their dance clothes when they get called into a room with the director, and then they freak out and call their parents! Pretty cute, really.

2. Even great dancers—great enough to be hired by NYCB—may not make it. It’s depressing, in a way, but a valuable reality check. “It’s only my third year, and I already feel my body winding down,” says corps member Harrison Ball. We see him execute breathtaking jumps in slow motion, with perfectly pointed feet. When he says, “I just hope there’s a future in ballet for me,” I think, Of course there is! Look at you! But the industry’s competition is so intense that success is never a sure thing.

3. There’s a ton of corps bonding—some of NYCB’s highly ranked dancers reflect fondly on their time in the corps not only as a valuable training experience, but as a period when they built relationships with their fellow dancers. “It’s great to get out there and do something special,” says principal Megan Fairchild, “but it’s even better to share it with someone.”

4. It takes time to make it to the top. We learn that up-and-coming soloist Georgina Pazcoguin spent 10 years in the corps. She’d even begun to question her career path when she was finally promoted! It’s easy from the outside to see that Pazcoguin (featured last summer in Dance Magazine) was always bound for the spotlight, but she still had to put in the hours—and the hard work—to climb the ranks.

Visit dancemagazine.com/cityballetAOL for more "city.ballet."

AOL released its new web series "city.ballet" today. Following the growing trend of straight-to-Netflix series, all 12 episodes about the inner workings of New York City Ballet are now available online, each about six to eight minutes long. But that’s no reason we can’t appreciate them one week at a time, like a good old-fashioned TV show.

The first episode breaks down the ranking system at NYCB, unique for training nearly all of its dancers at the School of American Ballet and requiring students to climb—one step at a time—from a coveted but tenuous apprentice role to corps member, soloist and eventually (hopefully) principal. It’s informative to nondancers and in many ways even to balletomanes; refreshingly candid interviews with dancers reveal lesser-known pressures of each rank.

We see the new apprentices, who rarely get the spotlight, let alone the microphone, speak about the pressure to prove themselves. And principal Teresa Reichlen admits that being a soloist was the hardest part of her career, because she felt stuck in between being a fresh new talent and a top dog. Ashley Bouder even offers some performance advice. She says, “We’re told a lot when we’re learning things, ‘Do it as big as you can, and I’ll tell you when it’s too much.’”

For all the hype about the drama of competing to “make it big” in a “cutthroat industry,” it looks like “city.ballet.” might be taking a more educational, documentary approach. On the other hand, we haven’t seen the “Relationships,” “Sacrifice” or “Injuries” installments yet, so perhaps we’ll get some drama after all.

Click here to see the full “Intro & Ranks” episode.

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