In Conversation with Skylar Brandt and Gabe Stone Shayer

Jerry Hochman

In advance of their appearance at Youth America Grand Prix’s Virtual Gala on March 31, 2021, I recently spoke via Zoom with American Ballet Theatre dancers Skylar Brandt and Gabe Stone Shayer, each of whom was promoted in September, 2020: Brandt to Principal Dancer, and Shayer to Soloist.

We discussed a variety of subjects over the course of the hour, including the impact Covid-19 has had on them, how their interest in ballet developed, their feelings about ballet critics, their thoughts about YAGP, and a preview of Gabe’s choreography for YAGP’s upcoming Virtual Gala. In order to make for somewhat easier reading, my questions or comments are italicized; Brandt’s are highlighted in bold-face, and Shayer’s by underlining. At times I will include informational references during the course of a response: these will be placed within brackets.

Skylar Brandt, Matthew Whitaker, and Gabe Stone Shayer
during rehearsal for
the YAGP 2021 Virtual Gala
Photo by Taylor Brandt

JH: Thank you for agreeing to join me today

Each of you has been interviewed multiple times already, so I‘ll try not to devote this discussion to issues already covered, but that’s almost impossible to avoid. So if I repeat questions you’ve already answered, I apologize.

With that in mind, let’s begin by talking about the elephant in the room, or at least one of them, which is Covid-19. I have a simple question to each of you: How has the pandemic affected you?

Gabe, let’s start with you.

GSS: For me it’s given me some space to think about my work from a different perspective, and without the pressure of time. As much as it was tragic to not perform in a theater anymore, and to have such a long time away from the theater and friends, on the flip side I think it’s been an integral step in my artistic development.

So do you consider it a positive rather than a negative?

Well, I think that there’s a silver lining to every cloud. Definitely I’d wallow in the annoyance of not being on stage, but this is the hand we’ve been dealt, and I turned around and made it positive.

What have you been doing to make the most of it?

I’ve used it as an opportunity to take a closer look into my identity; finding what that means and how I can apply that toward my creative voice and further develop me as an artist as well.

Skylar, how has the pandemic impacted you?

SB: I think very similar to Gabe. I’ve actually experienced a lot of growth and a lot of pleasure during the pandemic. Of course I was pretty devastated when things came to a standstill. I’d just had my Giselle debut, and was supposed to debut as Aurora next, and I felt that I had a certain amount of momentum, which was really exciting. So when that all came to a pause, I just didn’t know how to contend with our present situation.

But I came to realize that the pandemic led to other kinds of opportunities. I’ve been reflecting on the past year, and found that I actually really enjoyed this time to myself; to be able to explore other aspects of the art form and also to really take the reins of my own career and how I spend my time. So I’ve found it to be a blessing in a large way.

Let’s go back to the beginning.

Skylar, there are rumors that you were born wearing pointe shoes and a tutu. The truth is probably not too far from that. How did you get started in ballet?

I came from a dancing family. My older sisters took dance classes, and my mom and I would go with them and wait there for them to finish. To my young self it seemed that we spent more time in a dance studio than at home. My mom tells me that one day we were at the studio and I asked if we lived there.

My oldest sister was a professional hip-hop dancer for the Knicks basketball team. She was amazing – she reached the top of her field in hip-hop, but I think she hated every ballet class she ever took. My middle sister also grew up dancing. And we were always this fun household, moving around and being silly.

But I think what really turned me on to ballet was that my parents would take me to watch ABT. We were originally from New York, so we were right there. We’d go to the ballet, we’d go to the Philharmonic, we’d go to Broadway, and we grew up quite cultured. It was definitely a privilege.

Skylar Brandt as Amour in YAGP’s Don Quixote Suite
at YAGP’s 2019 Gala
Photo by VAM Productions

And I just looked at these big story ballets that ABT was putting on and I said to myself “this looks like fun. It’s basically adults playing dress-up,” which is what I do in my own room at home: getting to be a fairy or a princess or what have you, and being able to use your imagination to create a story. That was really appealing to me.

So I started ballet and I realized when I was eight years old that this was what I wanted to do with my life. I told my parents, who were quite taken aback because most people don’t know what they want to do when they graduate from college, so how is it our eight year old daughter knows what she wants to do?

Some of us still don’t know what we want to do with our lives.

Yeah, exactly. But, thankfully, they put me in soccer, they put me in piano, they put me in tennis, they basically forced me to do every other thing aside from dance before allowing me to really pursue it in the way that I wanted, just to be sure that that was my choice. And basically the rest is history.

I very quickly realized through the help of my Russian trained and Russian born ballet teacher that ballet is not easy, and it’s not just all the make believe and pretend stuff that we enjoy so much: it’s actually a lot of hard work. But that only fed my interest more because I was the type of person who always enjoyed challenges. I think I was one of these people who was born with an old soul, and I was at a certain level of maturity where ballet really spoke to me and really fulfilled me.

In addition to some people thinking you were born wearing pointe shoes and a tutu, what you said leads into another area. Some people think you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth. You’ve had a lot of privileges that other aspiring dancers have not had. Is that something you recognize?

Yeah. It’s actually something that I like to speak about, because I was extremely fortunate growing up. I had support from my parents emotionally, and not everybody has support from their family to pursue their dream. And if I wanted private coaching and if I wanted to move into the city to be closer to ballet so we weren’t commuting anymore, and all these other things, I had those resources.

So I think that as a person who came from those privileges and was fortunate enough to be provided with everything needed to pursue this art form, I just understood the incredible luck that I had, and I didn’t want to squander any of it because it was all available to me. So I made sure I made the most of every single moment. It was important to me to not waste those resources.

Is there a particular performance that you consider to be a breakthrough for you?

Yeah. I think probably dancing Giselle for the first time, simply because it was a role I never aspired to do. I’d always really enjoyed the ballet, but I’m a realistic enough person to know that not every person can do every single role, and I didn’t think that the quality of work required in, say, the Adagio, was my strong suit. So the fact that I was cast in it and that I could work up to the point that I could feel I was suitable for it felt like I had conquered a large mountain because I never pictured myself in that role to begin with. So I felt like I was able to prove something to myself by hopefully doing that role justice.

For me it was long before that. I’d seen you in the corps before, but in about 2013 I saw you in Twyla Tharp’s In The Upper Room, and you cut through that like a buzz saw, but also with a startling display of delicacy and precision. 

Yes, I love that ballet.

You could tell.

Would you say that Giselle is your most challenging role so far?

Skylar Brandt,
here in Alexei Ratmansky’s
“The Golden Cockerel”
Photo by Rosalie O’Connor

Actually, by the time I was ready to perform it it didn’t feel like such a challenge anymore, I think maybe because of the amount of preparation I put into it.

I think there are other roles that have proven to be more challenging simply because it was harder for me to connect with the character or it was really difficult stamina-wise. One of the hardest roles I’ve done was The Golden Cockerel, because there was no depth to the character that I was playing: a chicken. On top of that all my choreography had to be sharp and mechanical and there was no way to breathe into something. There are lots of roles that feel less fulfilling artistically, and I think those become the most challenging roles, beyond even the technical aspect.

Gabe, we haven’t forgotten about you.

I imagine that your start with ballet was a little bit different. Can you explain how you got started?

Well, similar to Skylar my family was very art-oriented in certain ways. I’m from Philadelphia; I was exposed to gallery openings, every type of performance art and theater. So I similarly say I was dancing out of the womb.

It also started with my grandmother. She’s from Ghana and she speaks Ga, which was her language over the phone to relatives, and I would make every sound and every part of the cadence of her speech into movements. I think from there my mom put me in every activity as well. They thought I was going to go to the Olympics because I was running and jumping over everything, making everything a competition with myself. But I was also dancing.

Gabe Stone Shayer,
here in Natalia Makarova’s staging of “La Bayadère”
Photo by Rosalie O’Connor

When I was in kindergarten one of my first legible journal entries said, in these or similar words, “the best day of my life was when I decided I wanted to become a dancer.” I know that at that age the thought of employment was not at the forefront of my mind and I didn’t know exactly what that meant, but to my young mind I put together some future where I’d be a chef by day and a dancer by night, I guess to pay for my dancing.

And how old were you when you made this journal entry you were talking about?

I was about 6.

[laughs] What was it about ballet that attracted you to it, or was it sort of inevitable because that’s the way it was?

It was dance at first; the ability to express myself through movement, which is a cliché thing but really let out a lot of emotion and energy, and I’d have a dialogue through my choreography which I did when I was really young as well. But in particular in ballet, I loved the structure, the line of it, and I loved the structural beauty of the vocabulary that is ballet.

One of the first productions that I saw was The Nutcracker, but the one that made a huge impact on me was when The Bolshoi Ballet came to Philadelphia and performed Spartacus. I watched the whole ballet and was extremely inspired. I loved this romanticized manifestation of a human experience; the mood, the vocabulary of elegant ballet. So I think that’s what it was for me.

You’re on record as having said that Mercutio is your favorite role. Does that remain true?

I would say definitely that that’s one of the favorite roles, yes.

Is there a role that you particularly look forward to performing now that you’ve been promoted to Soloist?

Yeah, I’m not sure of the role.

All of them I assume.

Yeah, but there are a few in particular. I’d love to dance Lensky in Onegin, but reaching higher and further I love a lot of the romantic roles, so Romeo, and Des Grieux from Manon, and then of course the Don Qs, the Spartacuses, all that jazz.

You had challenges that others don’t have when they come to ballet. First of all you’re male, and second you’re African-American. Can you describe what impact both had on you in relation to ballet?

In my normal day-to-day life definitely being a young male child doing ballet was a point of contention for my elementary school peers, and so I was bullied a lot, definitely. But then at that age and I guess time period there weren’t that many boys in ballet class. I did find community in the ballet studio, but I was the only boy, so I was favored for a long time. It wasn’t until I went to the Rock School that I was surrounded by a bigger community of male dancers and that was a positive.

On the other hand, throughout my competition days there were teachers and people not affiliated with the competition who would make comments to me asking if I wanted to go to Alvin Ailey or telling me I should, and trying to deter me from the path I was so desperately reaching for.

I know that you were the first African-American to graduate from the Bolshoi Ballet Academy, and soon after you finished there you were offered a contract to ABT Studio Company and then to ABT. Was there a difference between how you were treated at the Bolshoi Academy and how you were treated at the ABT?

Hugely, yes. Hugely.

It’s pretty nuanced and intricate. What I can say is – at the Bolshoi, something I speak on a lot in terms of ignorance and bias – I went to Russia and of course I stuck out like a sore thumb. Everybody in school was white (and pretty blond as well) and I was the brown kid from America. Once they got past that fact I made friends. We were all on the same page, and that was the reality.

At the Academy they definitely base their choices and measure progress off of the hard work put in and not off of skin tone. I started at the bottom of the school – a fact that’s clearly laid out when you’re at a ballet class in Russia. Barre spots really matter: the farther away from the center you are the more you need to work. I started out at the end of the barre and by the time I graduated I was at the center. And that’s a big deal.

That’s different from the way you were treated at ABT?

When I arrived, first in the Studio Company, I was very very Russian / Vaganova trained, which was clear in the way I looked in the mirror and the way I held my upper back, and there was a push to change me. I think it was in the hope of making me a more versatile dancer, but from my standpoint – and from my teacher in Russia, who still to this day has remained in contact with me – Russian ballet and Russian training is the basis of a lot and give you the technical skills to be able to do anything. So that was not good.

But to the surprise of some people at the Studio Company I was the only boy who got into ABT from the Studio Company that year.

Skylar, you have a Russian connection also. I wrote at one point after your visit to Russia in the summer of 2018 that you were that year’s international “it” girl. How did Russia happen for you?

Well, I should say that the first person I studied with privately was Valentina Kozlova and she’s basically Bolshoi trained. Throughout my career I’ve taken classes from all kinds of teachers and I felt it was really important to absorb information from everyone, but I always came back to that Russian style of dance, which I happen to love – it’s just a personal opinion. So I continued to pursue that style.

But yeah, I ended up going to Russia twice in one year. The first time was with Gabe. After a tour, we just wanted to go and train. We ended up at St. Petersburg, we studied at the Mariinsky, and we spent a week or two there getting privately coached by various Mariinsky teachers.

And then later on in the summer I was approached by a dancer [Julian MacKay, now a Principal with the San Francisco Ballet]  who was participating in this reality TV show” called “Big Time Ballet” that’s a two hour program and a really big deal in Russia. Ballet is much more respected in Russia than it is here in the States, so a ballet competition TV show is super popular there.

And so at the very last minute I flew to Paris and then to Russia to be able to be his partner – a non-competing partner; I just filled in at the last minute. I had to learn maybe five different pas de deux in the span of five days. I remember I actually screen-recorded the choreography so when I took the flight over to Paris and there was no Wi-Fi I could still study the choreography. I then got off the flight and went to the first rehearsal at the Paris Opera and then from there went through this whirlwind of performance filming in Moscow.

Considering that I so respect Russian ballet, being on TV in front of millions of people on their culture channel performing these iconic works completely unprepared was nerve-racking. But it’s like me just to say yes to those kinds of things, so overall it was fun. And it really was such a surprise when the judges presented me with a Special Jury Award, I think just for coming in and saving the day. That was very generous of them since I wasn’t a competitor.

Actually they invited me back this past year to compete, but I wasn’t able to go because of Corona travel restrictions. They filmed during the summer, and some of the biggest stars that we know of today competed – like Maria Khoreva, who actually won the competition this year. [Khoreva will be participating in YAGP’s Virtual Gala as well.]

Maybe I’ll be able to go back as a competitor one of these years. I think it was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life.

Let’s go on to a different subject: critics.

Some dancers never read reviews at all, and some have very negative feelings about ballet critics. What do you think of when you read ballet critics’ reviews?

Gabe, let’s start with you.

I think there’s a middle ground between those feelings. Of course, sometimes there’s a feeling that there’s someone sitting somewhere on a high horse that doesn’t really know much; on the other hand there are people who are historians who understand the art form and have something real to say about something. And then on the third hand there’s the layman art audience member who has the right to observe art and give their opinion. I think sometimes there are articles that are phrased that seem like a detriment to the status or the psyche of a dancer that can be kind of controversial. But at the end of the day they’re all just opinions drawn from whatever history, whatever aesthetically pleasing ideal of whatever they want to see may be.

I read them – not religiously, but my mom has a search of my name so she sees everything, even the things that I can’t find. And usually she’ll update me during the season. I’ll take a look at the reviews and consider what they said, but I don’t let it penetrate too much. If it’s too negative I’ll try to understand maybe where they came from.

Have you ever found yourself changing something you did as a result of a comment in a review?

Not quite changing, but questioning myself and where I was and what I was doing. There was one review that compared me to Daniil [Simkin]. He wrote: “he [referring to Shayer] didn’t do it as quickly as Daniil;  he did it more lyrically.” And I said to myself: “well, that’s because I’m not Daniil and I like to make things a little bit more lyrical.” But I also thought it’d be fun to delve into that and play with this niche that I’ve been forced into as a short “virtuosic” person and really try to embody that side as well as the side that I want to perpetuate.

Skylar what about you? Do you read your reviews?

I do. I like to read all of them. I really like to see what people have to say.

I think similarly to Gabe. I think it’s important to take peoples’ opinions with a grain of salt, but I also consider what people are saying. I’m also a person who likes to laugh at myself, so if someone says something, even if I don’t agree with it, I’ll probably more likely giggle about it. Or sometimes I do agree with what people say and then I’ll even discuss it with my coaches or my parents or what have you, or at least cross-reference it: you know, someone said this sort of thing, do you find it to be true?

But I think that as ballet dancers we’re forever students, and so it’s in our nature to take constant criticism. I think also that Gabe and I grew up with that hard-core Russian mentality of brutal honesty and directness. So I think as a dancer you develop a thick skin and things don’t get to you as easily. If anything, you just take it in and manage it as it comes by, and you either agree with it or don’t agree with it.

I’m going to ask you a question that I already know the answer to – have you ever changed something about the way you perform as a result of a comment in a review?

I would say I’ve definitely taken things into consideration. If I feel like there’s something that really holds any weight or that I think has any validity than I will go back to review and try to at least adjust what I’m doing if I agree with it. So yeah, there’s definitely times where I think that’s true. I keep my eyes open.

One time I spoke briefly with your mother – I think it was after your debut as Medora in “Le Corsaire” – I said: “Everything’s going very well, but it seems that every time she finishes a phrase she opens her mouth.”

Uh huh, yeah.

Your mother said: oh you’re the one who wrote that in a review [it was back in 2013]. The next time I saw you perform, it was gone.

Yeah, I do really remember that. Actually, in dance we call that “air biting.” It’s a term that dancers use when you’re feeling something so much, it comes out through your face expressions. My face is expressive, it moves a lot. Even working on Giselle I remember having to pay attention to that because, again, it’s just in the nature of my face and the way my emotions come out of me that a lot comes through my eyes, my mouth, my eyebrows, things like that. So something I worked on in later years was how to control the amount of expression that comes through my face, because it’s definitely true. And like, a dancer can be feeling so great and that to punctuate something it comes out in their face in a way that sometimes is not necessary.

It may be unavoidable in some circumstances, but from an audience member’s point of view, or at least this audience member’s point of view, it often comes across as self-congratulatory, like: “look what I just did.” So that’s why it concerned me. Just a pet peeve that I have.

Let’s move to another subject. You both have had a long, continuing relationship with YAGP. Can you elaborate on that?

Gabe, let’s start with you.

I’ve been competing with YAGP since I was about 12 or 13. And progressively through the years I’ve put on different hats, if you will, competing, and when I became a professional, in the galas. I started judging as well, and teaching abroad, in Paris, and now choreographing for them. So I’ve done almost every artistic job you can do with them.

 On top of that, Gennadi [Saveliev, husband of YAGP founder and director Larissa Saveliev and former ABT Soloist] was in the same class as my teacher from Bolshoi, so there’s some Russian network working there as well.

What effect did being in YAGP have on you, in your development; in your sense of self-esteem? 

One, it’s an amazing performance opportunity. Not everyone gets to do that sort of solo work on stage like that, and before an audience as well. It’s also an opportunity to be exposed to what’s going on around the world as well as to expose yourself to the world. So it’s nothing but helpful. People do get discouraged, but again, Skylar and I have been bred with thick skin and I always took anything negative with a grain of salt. So this was a tremendous opportunity to further my development as a student as well as to visit places and train with amazing people.

And Skylar, what about you? Can you talk about your connection with YAGP?

Similar to Gabe, I started out as a competitor.

I always think that YAGP is a wonderful organization because it’s one of the only off times in the year when teachers and directors come together in the same place and are able to look at you. So for young and aspiring students and professionals it really provides incredible exposure.

Skylar Brandt at age 11 in YAGP Competition
Photo by VAM Productions

Again, you get to perform in front of directors, teachers, heads of schools, and then have the opportunity to be offered a contract or a scholarship or what have you. And I think what’s also incredible about YAGP is that you don’t have to be an award-winner to get a scholarship or a contract. So it’s really an amazing organization and an amazing network.

And I would also say that YAGP is a gift that keeps on giving. Once you become alumni the connections and friendships and relationships you build just by being in the YAGP family really serve you for the rest of your life. Same as Gabe, I’ve been immensely grateful for Larissa’s support. And it’s not just us: she provides connections and opportunities to dancers who are in their training phase, and also beyond that as professionals.

The two of you are performing in YAGP’s Virtual Gala this year on March 31st.  Gabe, you’re choreographing a piece, and you’ve been named YAGP’s 2021 Emerging Choreographer. First, can you tell us what that means to you, being singled out in that way?

It’s amazing. The continued support of Larissa and the whole YAGP family has been always an integral part of my career development as well as my artistic development. So it’s more exposure in a different light. I haven’t really shown my choreography on this large of a scale. So again, it’s just an amazing opportunity to kind of make my first stamp on the large community that YAGP has built with my choreography.

Tell us about the piece you’re choreographing. I know that it’s to music that was commissioned from Matthew Whittaker, the blind young pianist and composer who was recently featured in a Sixty Minutes segment. How did that work? Were you presented with what he composed or did you work together with him on it?

I worked together with him, but that’s giving myself too much credit because it was really just a short Zoom call. When we went into the process to create the music he was very generous. He wanted to accommodate me, but I didn’t want that too much: I wanted it to be fifty / fifty.

Matthew Whitaker (on piano) and Skylar Brandt
in rehearsal for YAGP’s 2021 Virtual Gala
Photo by Taylor Brandt

I’ve listened to his music before. It’s really amazing; really intricate. But sometimes for me as a choreographer it’s hard to find the melodic component that I like to see in my choreography. So I suggested something that’s countable in terms of dancing or danceable in terms of counting. I also said something like: “what does New York sound like to you?” I was very particular about choosing those words. This was my first time meeting or working with a blind person, and one of that caliber as a musician, and it was really interesting to provoke what that could mean to him.

In a certain way what he composed was exactly what I wanted and thought it would be, and everything more. And he also did it all in a day and a half.

Is it finished?

I choreographed it a while back and Skylar went away to the ABT bubble to prepare for the Ratmansky performance [on March 23] and then we kind of put it back together in a week and filmed it this past Monday.

Can you tell us something about it?

I don’t want to paint some kind of grand narrative of the way it was coming together. I wanted to honor our space and memorialize our collaboration by making it just about us. Skylar and I work together a lot and we always kinda have fun in the studio

Yeah, I’ve noticed a little bit.

Yeah. So we got into the studio, listened to the music with the theme of the sound of New York and our New York experiences as well as the title being “Journey Uptown.” I thought it would be best for us to do what we do and wiggle in the studio (in my own words).

Ok. I’ll look forward to seeing it. I’ve seen a couple of your earlier pieces, or excerpts from them, online, and they’re interesting, which is not a negative, that’s a positive coming from me.

Skylar, did you have a hand in the choreography at all?

Zero. Again as Gabe said we have like this really great chemistry in the studio, we’ve been together for so long. Honestly, Gabe sometimes wouldn’t even tell me what he was about to do with me. He would just like lift in a given position and swing me around and pirouette me and I was just following along and then it was: let’s keep this and let’s not keep that.

Matthew Whitaker, Gabe Stone Shayer, and Skylar Brandt
in rehearsal for YAGP’s 2021 Virtual Gala
Photo by Taylor Brandt

Gabe is really easy to work with, I think because he’s still a present-day dancer as well. So it’s not just a dancer turned choreographer who maybe forgot what it’s like to be a dancer. And the fact that he’s also in the piece with me was a lot of fun. It was like us, again, goofing around and just being ourselves. But he ended up making a really beautiful, really profound and then entertaining piece that was made for film and also could be done on the stage.

It was also kind of a best case scenario. Even though I had zero to do with the steps he let me make them my own, which I think as a dancer is all you can hope for when you’re working on a new creation: just to be able to use your own voice to portray what is being given to you.

That holds true for the classics as well, doesn’t it?

Yeah, yeah, I think so. I mean I think the classics can be a little bit more limiting because while you’re making it your own you still have to respect certain story lines, certain aesthetics, certain rules. When you’re working with new choreography, typically the only rules present are the rules the choreographer imposes on you. And so I think that, again, Gabe gave me steps but he let me color them, so that’s really wonderful, as an artist.

Ok. Just some general questions to conclude this.

Is there anyone in ballet who you most admire, or who you most want to emulate? Gabe?

Oh no. [laughs]

Do you want me to go to Skylar first?

That’s hard for me because there are so many artists I respect. I’ve had idols, but at this point, being an adult dancer, I take from people I admire – different things from different dancers. I’ll name a few. I really love the cleanliness, elegance, poise, and effortlessness of Semyon Chudin [Principal with the Bolshoi Ballet]. He’s one of my favorite dancers, as is Leonid Sarafanov [Principal with the Mikhailovsky Theatre] and of course Carlos Acosta [former Principal with the Royal Ballet; now Director of the Birmingham Royal Ballet]. Those are the easy ones to jot down. I have tremendous respect for how those artists and many other artists approach what they do and I definitely sometimes take from them.

Skylar, what about you?

My idols growing up were Irina Dvorovenko, Angel Corella, Nina Ananiashvili, Ethan Steifel, Jose Carreno, Marcelo Gomes [each a former ABT Principal], the list goes on. Now that we’re a little bit older and a little bit further into our careers there are definitely things that as a dancer you take and discard. So you say “oh I really love when this person does this; I want to do that;” or “that choice that they made is something I don’t relate to and it’s not the way I want to look.”

I think my idols right now are my coaches, Irina and Max [Beloserkovsky]. They give so much of themselves and are still able to demonstrate everything, and for me that’s like really important because I have a photographic memory. I take the image in front of me and I try to put it on my body and imitate it. So I think that being still so young and being able to show everything has been immensely beneficial.

Yeah. You do spend a little bit of time with Irina and Max. We know where to find you.

[laughs] You know where to find me, hashtag.

Is there anything that the two of you regret doing or wish you could take back and do over?

Hah! Oh golly. Fun question. That’s a hard question too. Sky can you come in please? [laughs]

I don’t think I have any regrets. Obviously there are things I haven’t been happy with, like personally, from my own performances or whatnot, but I think that everything is a learning experience, so it’s hard to say that I regret anything. I think that everything we do contributes to our growth and just learning more about ourselves and our craft. So I would have to say, no, there is nothing I regret.

Yeah, I’m gonna agree with Skylar on that. I would say that there are things I may have done differently, but again, they’re learning experiences and I am who I am where I am for all of those reasons for those choices.

And the other side of that question. Are there any accomplishments or developments that you’re most proud of?

Certainly being promoted to Principal Dancer. It’s my lifelong dream. It’s something that since I was a little girl I really had no doubt in my mind that it would happen. Obviously the more I grew up and the more I experienced life and the dance world the more some doubt was put into my mind from time to time. But I think that little eight year old self in the back of my head has known that this was what I was destined to do, and so I feel very happy and proud that it came to fruition.

Gabe what about you?

I would say the same, that the biggest one of my proudest accomplishments happened at an unconventional time in an unconventional way, but it’s something I’ve been striving for for a very long time – and I’m still striving for more.

Last question before we run out of time.

Is there life aside from ballet? What do the two of you do when you’re not involved in ballet? There must be something that you do besides sleep. Gabe, what about you?

I love to write. I almost went to school for creative writing. I love writing poems or essays, and actually right now I’m working on a book.

Really. Can you tell us a little about what it’s about?

All I’ll say is it’s about searching through possible identities and what identity actually means pertaining to race, and some other things.

Understood. Skylar?

My life outside of dance is really simple. It’s me being a couch potato, it’s TV, it’s computer stuff, it’s friends and family and dogs and relaxing. I think for the amount of work that we put in on a weekly basis it really makes me feel just like vegging out after all that work and I’m totally ok with that because it makes me feel like a balanced person.

More recently during the pandemic it’s also included being a teacher. I’ve been teaching a lot of private lessons and master classes, which is still in the realm of ballet but it’s something I really enjoy. Other than that, I really like to just decompress.

I would second that. I like being human as well, minus other things. Life and couches.


With that, I thanked Skylar and Gabe for their comments and insights, and we all went back to our respective lives and couches.