Miami City Ballet dancers Rebecca King and Michael Breeden collaborate on an insightful podcast series called Conversations on Dance. The podcast is the newest feature of King’s popular and inspiring blog site, Tendus Under a Palm Tree. Since the series premiered in June, Conversations has leveraged an intimate communication style to probingly delve into a wide range of topics that bring personal perspective to ballet journalism. The World Dances spoke with King and Breeden about what it means to them to share important stories from the ballet world, dancing at Miami City Ballet, their experience working with world-class choreographers, advice for aspiring dancers, and more.
How did you become interested in communicating about ballet, and why do you think it’s valuable?
MB: I’ve always been really interested in ballet history. I find it’s immensely helpful, particularly with the works of Balanchine. Since he’s not around anymore to tell us what he really wants, the only way to create authentic performances is to absorb the information that he left through his dancers and what they’ve left through their various biographies and interviews. It’s always fascinated me and I feel that it’s so important to absorb that knowledge while it’s around. Otherwise we’re going to get further and further away from authenticity, and I don’t think there’s anything worse than an inauthentic artist.
RK: I come at it from a different perspective. When I started my blog, I realized what an interest there is to know what dancers’ lives are like and what goes on behind the scenes in ballet. It’s been a really great way to connect with people. For so long, it was part of the audience experience to not know the dancer on a personal level. It made the dancers otherworldly and untouchable. But now we have the opportunity to pull back the curtain to share more aspects of the art. I think that’s something wonderful and that it’s enhancing the audience’s ability to enjoy and understand what they’re seeing. Doing this research really does enhance our careers as well because it gives us a new perspective.
How do you think it impacts you as artists to have this different approach or connection to your art form?
MB: It’s always a great reminder and source of inspiration. For instance, we recently did an interview with the Delgado sisters, principals at Miami City Ballet. It made me come in the next day reinvigorated about dancing and reminded me of tenets I hold dear to my heart about what kind of dancer I want to be. Just as a beautiful performance or work of art can inspire you, your friends can provide a source of inspiration.
RK: I have to echo everything that Michael just said. I had the same experience when we spoke with Zoe Zien. The conversation we had [about Balanchine technique] was so inspiring and it’s been on my mind since we talked. That’s been an unexpected benefit. I think when we’re talking with choreographers who are here [such as in this new podcast with Justin Peck] it will provide more perspective for when they’re working with us. There’s a lot to be discovered!
Michael, can you explain the tenets you mentioned about the kind of dancer you want to be?
MB: These are definitely Balanchinian traits, but also something that permeates a lot of new choreography since choreographers like Ratmansky and Justin Peck are very heavily influenced by Balanchine. Things like a disciplined body—as Balanchine used to say, the body is lazy. You have to keep yourself disciplined, work very hard to keep yourself musical. If you don’t do that from the very beginning of class, if you’re taking it easy, if you don’t find musicality at the barre, you’re not going to find it in the center. These are easy things to let go of. You’re tired one day and want to give yourself a break. But you can’t do it because things will slip away. Musicality, speed, and aesthetic beauty—those are the kinds of things that Balanchine really emphasized that I like to remind myself of.
Miami City Ballet works with luminary choreographers. What’s that like for you? Is it difficult to switch gears, or is it intimidating at all?
MB: It’s different with everyone. It’s funny, though, because some of the putting the choreographers on a pedestal just doesn’t happen. Liam Scarlett and Justin Peck are two great young choreographers we’ve worked with extensively recently. Justin Peck and I were in the dorms together at School of American Ballet, and Liam became friends with us early on as well. That is something that lessens the divide, but it works nicely. All the dancers are inherently so respectful that it’s never going to be an issue, but at the same time you have a comfort with the choreographers in the studio. You know as a friend that they’re looking after your best interests. They’re not going come after you in a way that’s unpleasant. You’re all in the studio to make art, and you trust that because you know them as people. Stylistically, they’re really different but they do have similarities—lots of emphasis on musicality, huge movement, a go for broke, abandoned style. They’re both all for drawing out the biggest version of you.
RK: We were talking about this with the Delgados, actually. For many years, MCB didn’t work with much new choreography. Works may have been new to us, but there was always a video of how it had been done before. Liam was the first commissioned choreographer with whom we worked and that piece debuted in January, 2012. Then all of a sudden, Liam led to Ratmansky and Justin. Liam and Justin have both been here two or three times now. Ratmansky’s coming back this month to work on his new ballet with us. I’m really looking forward to it. We have more experience now working with choreographers. Since we’ve worked with him before, we’ll have a more relaxed atmosphere. When he first came it was super intimidating. He’s such a big name! Now we know that he likes us and likes being here. He was so positive with us when we went to New York with his ballet, Symphonic Dances. He came backstage and he was so sweet! It’s really fun to know the choreographers on a personal level. It gives extra depth to your understanding about what you’re doing for them.
What drew you both to Miami City Ballet?
RK: I came for the school originally. I knew the company had a lot of Balanchine rep and that was really interesting to me. I got lucky. They started using me in the company and I immediately realized how special this place is and that the ballets they’re doing are great. I was like, “This is it. This is the place for me.” That’s kind of a unique story. People often move around a lot before they find their forever home in ballet, but for me it came quickly.
MB: I got bit by the Balanchine bug at SAB when I was 15 and I never looked back. I was a little too short to be at New York City Ballet, but I was craving a Balanchine core in the rep. That’s what I found here. Definitely the rep was what drew me here, as well as getting to work with Edward Villella, who had worked so extensively with Balanchine.
What is your connection to Balanchine and that technique?
RK: This is something I try to focus on when I teach: explaining why I’m having the students spotting front, turning from a straight back knee, those sorts of things. When I was early on in my training, I went from one school that was all classical to a bigger school where I was learning Balanchine technique. But nobody told me. I didn’t know what that was and I didn’t really understand. Then I went to San Francisco Ballet School for the summer and that was my awakening. I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is what I’m doing and why I’ve been working on it!” I saw San Francisco Ballet do a lot of Balanchine works and those blew me away. Those were so entertaining as an audience member. When I came to Miami City Ballet was when I really started to get to know the ins and outs. I learn more every day, even when we’re doing one of his ballets we’ve done a million times. You see the genius more and more every day as you get to know the ballets more intimately. So it’s a growing thing, but I did have that Balanchine beginning even if I didn’t know what was happening to me.
MB: I still am ashamed to admit that I can’t really spot front. It’s so hard! I had zero Balanchine training before I was 15. I sort of just stumbled into SAB. I had wanted to go to the American Ballet Theatre summer program, but they didn’t have housing back then. But SAB had a dorm and I had a scholarship, so I was like, “OK, I’ll go there.” But when I got there I realized I was in a lot deeper than I’d known I would be. Because it was a summer program, there were a lot of other students who were also first timers to Balanchine technique. We were lucky to get teachers like Peter Boal, Suki Schorer, and Susan Pillare, who would, in a very animated way, tell us why we were doing it that way, what makes it more beautiful or more functional. That’s what won me over. I was converted by midway through that summer program and knew that’s how I wanted to dance.
What advice would you offer aspiring young dancers?
MB: I can’t say this enough: hard work is the most important thing. It’s the only thing you have that you’re in control of. You can’t control your body’s limitations. Maybe your foot doesn’t have a crazy arch or you’re not naturally gifted with long legs. You can’t control if someone has a bias against you. But you can control how hard you work and how much improvement you make because of that work ethic. When you get something because you’ve worked hard for it, that’s so much more rewarding than if something is handed to you on a silver platter because you happen to look like Sylvie Guillem. The benefits of hard work are everywhere.
RK: I agree with all those things. Just be dedicated. If this is what you want, you can make it happen and make it yours.
Photos by Julian Duque