Isabella Boylston

ABT's real swan speaks up.

It's wild. Within the company, Julie Kent is an amazing artist, and I admire Gillian—she's the total package and her technique is rock solid. It's also inspiring to see the guest artists that we have, like [Alina] Cojocaru and [Natalia] Osipova.

What are your shortcomings? What do you think you have to work on?
There is so much that it's almost overwhelming. Experience is the best teacher. But there's a lot. I always want to refine my technique. I want to work more on developing characters. One of my goals is to be genuine onstage. I don't want to be putting on some emotion because I think that's what I'm supposed to be doing or what I think the role requires. I want it to be coming from a place that's genuine, even if it's just being motivated by the music. That's my ideal for myself. Experience is what I need. Through the experiences I've had this year, I can see my own progress really clearly—I want to get more opportunities with more characters, more roles with a lot to them, and working to develop that. Everyone feels they have stuff, technically, to work on. It's endless. But the part that's really interesting is to work on developing yourself as a performer, and you can do that to a degree in the studio.

How so?
I've been trying to almost perform when I'm in the studio, which I didn't used to do because I felt stupid. I think it's important to try those things out. That was also something that Alexei said. He said, "When you get onstage, you're going to be nervous, so you have to try it in the studio full-out," and I totally agree with that. Same thing with Theme and Variations. When I first started learning it, I only had three weeks, which isn't that long to get it together. I had done the corps and the demi [parts], so I knew the ballet really well. I did it full-out in every rehearsal. That was some advice that Cory [Stearns] gave me. If you work full-out everyday, the stage is still a totally different thing but at least you'll be most of the way there instead of having nothing to go on other than just knowing the choreography.

Do you work only with Susan Jaffe?
I also work sometimes with [Irina] Kolpakova, who I just love to bits. She is adorable. And she is a wealth of knowledge. I mean she has so much experience and knowledge and pedagogy backing it up.

And she was Susan's coach.
Yes. I feel when I work with them, it's a similar approach. It's not like one undoes what the other one is doing, which I think is important. It's good to have different input but it can also be detrimental to have too much—if one day you work with one person, and they're like, "Do this," and the next day, someone else says, "What are you doing? Don't do that," it's very confusing.

Do you work alone?
I do. With Theme and Variations, it was basically me going over it on my own. Actually most of the work that I did was in my head and studying tapes. I watched several ballerinas doing it. Gelsey Kirkland is the golden standard. She is so interesting and [when she was staging Sleeping Beauty] I always felt that she wanted the best for everyone. She wants to work with people who want to work, so if you let her, she has a lot to offer. I felt like I was almost getting too much information [about Theme]—I was thinking about it too much and watching it too much and finally I had to be: Well, they did it and they were amazing, but now it's my turn to do this ballet, and I have to make it my own. As dancers, when we're doing work that's not new, we're interpreters. So the challenge is to make it relevant and make it your own; otherwise, it's pointless. Otherwise, there's no reason to keep doing these ballets over and over. I really want to do Swan Lake. [Smiles] That's probably the role that right now I'd most like to do. The music. I like that the story is not believable—it's about magic. There's a lot there. I love the duality of the character—playing two different roles and seeing how different you can make each one.

Which one do you think you'd have a better handle on: Odette or Odile?
I feel like I would have been the white swan. I always saw myself as more of a lyrical dancer until recently; now I've tapped into my technique more and my power. So I would have said the white swan, but I think the black swan might be more fun. Because she's mean. [Grins] And she's wild.

Did you see Black Swan?
I did. I finally worked up the courage to go see it. It's fine. Honestly, I thought it was really amusing. I don't understand why people were taking it so seriously. I didn't really see it as something to be taken seriously. It was interesting. It didn't really have much to do with ballet. It was really horror. Thriller. Or something. I don't know.

How would you define a ballerina? Or the ballerina you want to become? I think there are lots of different kinds of ballerinas. I appreciate dancers like Wendy Whelan. There's nothing conventional about her. I also appreciate someone more classical or restrained. I think my ideal is to keep working on my technique so that it's really strong. I don't feel that's my weak point, but the more you analyze your technique the more you can be expressive with your technique, and I think that's the goal: To really have your expression manifest itself in your movement—not just pulling faces. I think a ballerina has to make the audience feel something and hopefully transport them to another world. And draw them into her world—wherever it is.

is at the Metropolitan Opera House Mon 16-July 9.

See more in Dance

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4