American Ballet Theatre soloist Simone Messmer talks about her decision to leave

Simone Messmer discusses her decision to leave American Ballet Theatre for San Francisco Ballet

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Time Out New York: Thank God.
Simone Messmer:
I was like, Great, fine. Because it’s going to be all on merit. It’s funny: I think there’s a soloist from the Paris Opera going to San Francisco. And a boy soloist from the Bolshoi.

Time Out New York: Does that scare you?
Simone Messmer:
No! It’ll lift everything. New blood. We all come from three major organizations that are probably very different. It’ll probably juggle up some stuff, which is good. You need juggling. Things need to change.

Time Out New York: And having more time is key. I noticed at City Ballet, they were having the same dancers do the same roles this season, and I thought that was really smart. It’s made for some beautiful performances.
Simone Messmer:
Yeah! Because they finally get a chance to be comfortable onstage. You cannot be comfortable with one show. I mean eight swan queens in eight shows? Half of them don’t even get stage time. Unacceptable. Sorry. I’m sure there are other reasons behind it, but that’s not my job, and I find it unacceptable. And I’m sure it doesn’t make any of the dancers happy. Half an hour rehearsal here, half an hour there, 20 minutes here.

Time Out New York: It shows. 
Simone Messmer:
Of course, it’s going to show. You can’t hide anything in ballet. But I think it has a lot to do with starting there young. It’s really hard to get treated like guest artists get treated, because they are treated like adults and we’re treated like we were when we were younger. Maybe for me it’s different, because I have been very outspoken with Kevin; I don’t think he speaks to me like a child, but he’s very careful about what he says. I’m sure you have to be as a director. You can’t promise something and take it away, but there’s a tone and there’s a way to say things and there is a time to say, “No, I’m not giving this to you,” so you can make a decision. But if you don’t get no and you get a maybe—“maybe I don’t see you like this”—it’s really hard to wrap your head around that and make a decision. And [performances] are so uneven. You see one thing, and you’re like, Wait a minute. But there are people that really appreciate it. I did the pas de trois in Swan Lake today, and it was probably my last big company rehearsal in the studio doing something like that, and it was acknowledged. Herman [Cornejo] came up and was like, “That was amazing.” Just to acknowledge that the effort was put in? It was 4:30pm. Everyone’s sitting on their butts, tired because it’s been a long season—the dancers who are 19, 20, 21 years old, and you show them that this is what you do. This is rehearsal. You just suck it up and enjoy it. You’re fucking dancing. You’re not sitting behind a desk. You’re not working at McDonald’s. Most of you haven’t graduated high school. You have a job! And you get to do what you love. Let’s take a minute. Maybe things will change. I don’t know. I’m not sure what the goals are anymore.

Time Out New York: Do you know what you’re dancing in Sylvia or Sleeping Beauty?
Simone Messmer:
Terpsichore. There’s not much to be had in that. In Beauty, I asked for Lilac [Fairy] and they’re going to put a corps member on.

Time Out New York: Who? 
Simone Messmer:
Leann Underwood.

Time Out New York: I would have loved to have seen you as Lilac. 
Simone Messmer:
I would have appreciated it as my last show. It’s not going to turn out that way.

Time Out New York: Do you know what your last show is? 
Simone Messmer:
The Finger Fairy. It might turn out to be an interesting finger that night. [Grins] It’s nice that they put me on the last show. I’m grateful for that. End on a high note. And I’m flying the next day. That’s good though. I find a lot of people leave ABT on a sour note and not at their best, because they’re struggling with it, and I do not find myself struggling with this. I’m beginning the highlights of my career, and I need to treat it as such. I’m not holding a grudge. It was definitely the right decision, because I’m not fraught with being disturbed about it. And I’m leaving with a possibility of a continued relationship. Whatever that may be. San Francisco is going to Paris next summer. There’s a three-week dance festival; it’s, like, 17 ballets. That was the first dancer e-mail I got. I was like, if you’re going to get a first e-mail, that is the one to get. Three weeks in Paris? Amazing. It’s the right time. When I had flown out and was so sick, I ended up calling my boyfriend from the airport in Beijing and said, “Go into my medicine cabinet and find some antibiotic and send it to me because my mouth is infected.” He ended up showing up the next day. He spent all three days trying to make me better. He is fantastic. So it’s all good. Clearly, I’m in a transition period and I need to grab on to it and not try to fight it. Just go for it.

Time Out New York: Do you like San Francisco?
Simone Messmer:
I think I do. It’s an interesting city though because it’s sort of like one street is fine and one street is like you’re in the projects.

Time Out New York: I’ve read that there’s no middle class.
Simone Messmer:
Yeah. To rent there is more expensive than New York. It’s crazy. And people actually find that the best way to find an apartment is on Craigslist. But for the first time trying it, the woman on the phone was like, “Yeah, I understand what you’re telling me, but during the time that we’ve been on the phone, I’ve gotten three e-mails and checks for this apartment. So should I just hang up?” For real. I was like, I don’t even know what to say to that! Thankfully the landlord of our apartment is a ballet patron; the apartment needs renovation and my boyfriend was like, “I’ll do the renovation.” I bought a motorized bike, so I don’t have to go up those hills. It’s not happening! I’ll bike to work, it’s about a mile away. The building that they have is so beautiful. They have a very comprehensive health program too. You get a free session a week with Gyrotonics, and they have a relationship with Lines Ballet, and you can go and use the equipment for free. There’s massage and a Jacuzzi. They really take care of their dancers.

American Ballet Theatre performs at the Metropolitan Opera House (at Lincoln Center) through July 6.

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Users say

3 comments
jerry eaderesto
jerry eaderesto

Simone is a great gift to the entire ballet community. Her sublime and incredibly versatile artistry has been a thrill to behold. San Francisco is gaining a great ballerina. I eagerly look forward to her return.

chris
chris

It is a shame that ABT doesn't promote more from within - I think all would agree that Stella Abrera should have been promoted to principal years ago. Ms. Messmer has impressed me as a dancer who considers herself above the fray. Perhaps she thinks that audiences and patrons are blessed to be able to see her dance. I am glad that she is leaving and I hope she learns something in San Francisco.

MH LOYACONO
MH LOYACONO

The ballet world and its politics are as interesting as the politics involved in any other industry or organization. Complicated because one is evaluated on talent which can be so hard to pin down and is so much opinion without a clear set of measurable standards. The careers of dancers are short-lived comapared to many other careers. Like the athletes they are, dancers like sports athletes have a peak in their careers and are subject to quick falls especially if injured. She has made the smart and inevitable decisions to do what is best for her.

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