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From left: Anthony Crickmay, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives; Courtesy Ballethnic

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.

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Teachers Trending
Joel Thomas, courtesy Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet

Damara Bennett, former San Francisco Ballet dancer, founder of City Ballet School and former director of the Oregon Ballet Theatre School, passed away on November 15 at the age of 67 after a years-long battle with breast cancer. She is survived by her husband, Michael Wallace, and her daughter, Eleanor Wallace, artistic associate at Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York City.

Bennett was born on May 6, 1953, in Munich, Germany, where her father, a U.S. Air Force officer and pilot, was stationed. The family returned to the U.S. a few years later; Bennett and her mother, a school teacher and elementary school principal, eventually settled in Laguna Beach, California. Bennett's initiation into classical ballet began there when she was 9; around age 12, she started training at Ballet Pacifica, the school founded by former American Ballet Theatre and Ballets Russes dancer Lila Zali, who was renowned for her rigorous Vaganova training. Having come to ballet at the relatively ripe age of 9, Bennett hurled herself into an arduous regimen to make up for lost time, taking every class she could.

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Teachers Trending

From left: Courtesy Madrids; Ryan Feng, courtesy Madrids

As highly sought-after dancers and choreographers, Keone and Mari Madrid had a full schedule at the beginning of 2020, including choreographing and directing the Broadway-bound Britney Spears musical Once Upon a One More Time and performing in the off-Broadway run of their Beyond Babel show.

Their resumé is packed with the kind of career highlights other dance artists only dream of: With over 2 billion views on their YouTube videos, thanks in part to the fame they've gotten for dancing in and choreographing Justin Bieber's "Love Yourself" music video, the couple have won numerous dance-competition championships, worked with brands like Nike, Beats by Dre, Nordstrom and Hyundai, and received nominations for best choreography at the MTV Video Music Awards.

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Teaching at the Kirov Academy of Ballet summer program. Photo by Paulo Galli, courtesy Djoulouokhadze

When Vladimir Djouloukhadze met Vakhtang Chabukiani (one of the first men to inject a sense of Georgian folk-dance tradition into 1930s Russian ballet), Djouloukhadze's life changed. His ballet career would be shaped by the bold and uninhibited movement power that Chabukiani, his teacher, made so globally famous when he staged ballets like La Bayadère. When ballet is combined with character folk dance accurately and without any mocking, the delicacies and manners of the royal courts are married with a more wild, personal spirit that is invited to shine through various social folk-dances.

Djouloukhadze came to the U.S. after dancing for the Georgian National Ballet and other companies, and launched what has become one of the most successful teaching careers combining ballet and character techniques. His students have gone on to become principal dancers and soloists of the major ballet companies—to name a few: Matthew Golding, Rasta Thomas, Melissa Hough, Rory Hohenstein, Brooklyn Mack, Brian Maloney and me!

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Teachers Trending
Courtesy KCB

Una Kai, a former New York City Ballet dancer and ballet mistress for Kansas City Ballet, the Royal Danish Ballet and others, passed away on December 10 in Savannah, Georgia at the age of 92.

Kai danced with the New York City Ballet from 1948 to 1960. George Balanchine personally invited her to become the ballet master for the company, where she served from 1956 to 1971.

Kai also was ballet master of Joffrey Ballet in New York City from 1960 to 1963. In 1973, she became the artistic director of New Zealand Ballet (now The Royal New Zealand Ballet), and in 1975 moved on to become ballet mistress of the Royal Danish Ballet.

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