The Giselle files

Five members of ABT's corps de ballet step up to the plate.

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Photograph: Johan Heckens

Melanie Hamrick

Date of birth July 17, 1986
Hometown Williamsburg, Virginia
Training Eastern Virginia School of the Performing Arts, Universal Ballet Academy
Minor league ABT Studio Company; guested with Universal Ballet of Korea
Some big roles so far Calliope, Apollo; Dark Elegies; Odalisque, Le Corsaire; Spanish Dance,Swan Lake; Prelude and Mazurka, Les Sylphides
Ballet idol Julie Kent. She is the essence of a ballerina and beauty; even if she’s doing something that is so hard, she looks weightless and effortless.
Most consecutive pirouettes I’m not much of a turner. Three or four for me is great.
Favorite dance movie The Turning Point
Most memorable moment onstage It’s still my first performance: The first time I ran out on that stage—it’s so big and you can’t see anything but the conductor. It was La Bayadère—I was a waltz girl—and it took my breath away.
Offstage I like to read. On my breaks, I usually go to Barnes & Noble.
Giselle role Moyna
Best part of being in ABT You get to see amazing dancers every day, all day. You’re never at a loss for inspiration.

See the next dancer: Simone Messmer


Photograph: Johan Heckens

Simone Messmer

Date of birth August 10, 1984
Hometown Minneapolis, Minnesota
Training Ballet Arts Minnesota, Harid Conservatory, ABT’s Summer Intensive Program
Minor league ABT Studio Company
Some big roles so far Lead D’Jampe, La Bayadère; Stepsister, Cinderella; Fairy of Valor, The Sleeping Beauty; the Polish Princess, the Spanish Dance and the Lead Szardas, Swan Lake
Ballet idol Gelsey Kirkland
Most consecutive pirouettes Seven or eight
Favorite dance movie The Turning Point and Ballet
Favorite dance reality-TV show None. They kind of bother me because they’re not really dancers for the most part. It adds to the lessening of an art form that’s already somewhat forgotten in this day and age.
Most memorable moment onstage The first curtain call was unreal and nothing that I had ever experienced before—you rarely get that as an adult.
Giselle role Moyna. After I learn it, I’ll take a step back and spend some time in the studio alone deciding how I’m going to play it.
Best part of being in ABT The Met stage. Every time you go out there, it’s like the first time. You never forget how lucky you are.

See the next dancer: Hee Seo


Photograph: Johan Heckens

Hee Seo

Date of birth March 13, 1986
Hometown Seoul, South Korea
Training Sun-hwa Arts Middle School, Universal Ballet Academy, John Cranko Ballet Academy
Minor league ABT Studio Company; guested with Stuttgart Ballet
Some big roles so far Princess Florine and Fairy of Sincerity, The Sleeping Beauty; Lead D’Jampe, La Bayadère; Big Swan, Swan Lake
Ballet idol Mikhail Baryshnikov
Most consecutive pirouettes Not very many. I’m not a turner. I think the most important thing—and it took me years to come to this conclusion—is that you have to be beautiful. Julie Kent is the most beautiful dancer in ABT. She’s not doing large, big pirouettes, but she is so beautiful.
Favorite dance movie Center Stage
Giselle role Peasant Pas de Deux [with Blaine Hoven] and Moyna. I’ve been injured and they’re going to be my first soloist roles this season.
Best part of being in ABT I think finally I realized that I am a special dancer. For the longest time, I’ve been comparing myself with the greatest dancers and I was always, in a way, depressed: Why am I not as good as them? But ABT finally made me realize that I’m a special dancer. It’s given me a motivation to keep going forward.

See the next dancer: Blaine Hoven


Photograph: Johan Heckens

Blaine Hoven

Date of birth October 29, 1985
Hometown Mobile, Alabama
Training Mobile Ballet, North Carolina School of the Arts
Minor league ABT Studio Company
Some big roles so far Bluebird, the Russian Prince and a Fairy Knight, The SleepingBeauty; Benno, Swan Lake; the Standard Bearer, The Green Table; Cassio, Othello; Baker’s Dozen; C. to C. (Close to Chuck); In the Upper Room
Ballet idol Mikhail Baryshnikov. Now that I’m in the company, I really look up to Marcelo Gomes.
Most consecutive pirouettes Seven or eight.
Favorite dance movie Dirty Dancing and Grease
Favorite dance reality-TV show America’s Best Dance Crew
Offstage life I love the park. I love the sun. I grew up in the South so any chance for sun I get, I’m there.
Most memorable moment onstage I fell in Polovtsian Dances. I got my foot caught in my bow and I fell from two feet in the air. It was really funny.
Giselle role Peasant Pas de Deux [with Hee Seo]. It’s probably pretty difficult because the guy has two variations; I’m not sure it will be as difficult as Bluebird staminawise—because I’ll probably be able to feel my legs after this one.

See the next dancer: Mikhail Ilyin


Photograph: Johan Heckens

Mikhail Ilyin

Date of birth February 19, 1980. Is this connected to the zodiac? Shall I expect the birthday card?
Hometown St. Petersburg, Russia
Training Vaganova Ballet Academy, School of American Ballet, the Ailey School
Minor league Boston Ballet, Miami City Ballet
Some big roles so far Pirates’ Dance, Le Corsaire; turning lead, Études; Fairy Knight, The Sleeping Beauty; Neapolitan Dance, Swan Lake
Highest jump I try not to take things extremely literally. It’s the spirit of the jump. Sometimes it’s not extremely high, but it has the right momentum and it seems like you’re hanging and it’s effortless, and this jump, for the audience, could be more valuable than a high jump with a sloppy ending. I am trying to remind myself that it’s an art form. It’s not just how high.
Most consecutive pirouettes Many! I love turning. There’s something about revolution and spotting; within the shape, it requires relaxation, so it’s very much about coordination. Pirouettes do serve a purpose: It’s a whirl of excitement. It could also be a contemplation about something, so it can have emotion. You have to go beyond. For this, I try.
Giselle role Peasant Pas de Deux [with Sarah Lane]. I’ve done two other versions—at the Kirov and at Miami City Ballet. It’s romantic, it requires someone to be excited about life and to be lively and clean and simple—it’s all in the name and in the music.
Most memorable moment onstage I would say the first timeI performed at the Metropolitan Opera House. It’s humongous, it’s five and a half wings, and it’s overwhelming and exciting. Somehow it feels like home.

American Ballet Theatre performs Giselle Mon 7–July 12.

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