S6 E6 | CLIP

Young Spirits Taking Flight

When the pandemic put a halt to groups performing together, dancers from American Ballet Theater's teen training program found a way to create—and perform—new work.

AIRED: December 25, 2020 | 0:08:35

(ethereal music)

- [Jim] When the pandemic forced the world into lockdown,

there was collective shock

soon followed by what looked a lot

like the five stages of grief,

as defined in the 1960s by the Swiss psychiatrist,

Elisabeth K übler-Ross.

Denial and isolation,





Some moved quickly through this process.

Others got stuck along the way.

Those who found acceptance quickly, and could,

began adapting the way they lived.

Others, for whom human contact was essential to their work,


If working alone from home was already your norm,

this was less disruptive.

But as the summer came to an end,

some orchestras,

theatre companies

and at least one ambitious group

of young ballet dancers in New York city

began finding ways to rediscover their bliss.

- I guess, I was training to here and then ended up there.

(cool music)

- (indistinct) was a fun experience

and I know that we are very grateful

and, like, had a lot of fun doing it.

- This could be something that we could do instead

and keep ballet alive in our hearts.

- Well, I thought we were just, like,

maybe performing on the stage, or, like, in a studio.

And I had no idea, like, it'd become this big.

(cool music)

- [Jim] These are members

of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis ballet school,


Co-founded by the late first lady,

it's the incubator,

the pre-professional division of American Ballet Theatre,

one of the world's foremost dance companies.

Many of its more recent graduates not only danced with ABT,

but in many other prestigious companies around the globe.

The work these future ballet stars created

began backstage at the Metropolitan Opera House,

ABT's home stage.

- Around two years ago now,

my friend, Audrey and Molly,

who's also in this ballet,

and I were just playing around and it was the year

that Misty Copeland was performing "The Firebird".

And then Charles would always play the piano

in between our classes.

And he saw us doing it.

He's like, "Oh, I wanna create music for that."

I'm like, "Okay, go do that."

And then he comes back two weeks later,

with, like, a 20-minute long piece of music...

At the beginning we were all saying,

"Charles, this is a joke.

Come on, this is never gonna be a real ballet.

We're just kids. We can't do it.

And especially now, I mean, we can't even go outside

and ballet's canceled."

And he really was like, "No, no. We can do this

and we can make something."

- I asked people what characters they wanted to be.

And then I took all of those characters and made a story

and then I sent it to Ava.

And I told her what each character was doing in each song.

And she choreographed the dances for each song.

And then she sent it to the dancers who were doing it.

Since we couldn't rehearse in the studio,

we rehearsed on Zoom.

- We decided that now we could use Zoom

and different technologies to meet.

So this is something that just completely evolved

and something we've all been looking forward to every week.

- Yes, Ely. But make sure to turn your head at the end.

- So really, it's... (piano plays)

- Yes, yes.

But make sure the arms are still bended a little bit.

So like...

So we have Zoom rehearsals and I have to run them;

to show people the choreography and teach them the steps.

That's very nice, yes.


(piano plays)

- So the main characters are The Waterbird.

Then she has like a rival,

and that's Ava, the choreographer.

And she's called The Evil Duck

and she, kind of, rules all the ducks in the story.

Then there's The Fairy.

And The Fairy and The Queen Swan are sisters in real life.

- Hi, my name is (indistinct).

- And hi, my name is (indistinct).

- But I go by Shui. - And I go by Mei.

- And I'm The Queen Swan.

- And I'm The Fairy Queen.

- And my name means water. - And my name means beauty.

- So The Fairy turns Bird into The Waterbird

and that's how she gets the name.

So the bird gets trapped by The Evil Duck.

The Evil Duck kid kidnaps her, in this story,

and then two raccoons find her.

But they can't rescue her by themselves so they go get me,

who's The Eagle,

and I'm, kind of, like, the king of the land, I guess.

So I have all the keys and all of, like, the knowledge

(indistinct) we go rescue The Waterbird.

(bright classical music)

- [Jim] But they could only make so much progress on Zoom.

That's when they decided to call in the grownups.

- My grandma has put so much into this farm

to make it beautiful.

And like, "Why not use it?"

- [Jim] Grandma Helen Chapman's farm

in Frenchtown, New Jersey,

is a farm in name only.

The animals here are her pets,

family members,

breakfast companions rather than items on the menu.

(upbeat music)

- This is Racket

and he fell madly in love with Leona.

(playful music)

And my son-in-law's named Neil

and his nickname is Cecil.

So this is Neil and that's Cecil.

(playful music)

- [Jim] And then,

two dancers from ABT's main company came forward to help.

Luis Ribagorda,

a member of ABT's corps and a seasoned filmmaker,

and principal, Sarah Lane.

- They came from a really pure place in these kids' hearts

and their talent is just incredible, really.

So those two things put together,

I think it makes something really special.

- And I remember the first time they talked to me about it,

I was just so impressed by the amount of work

and what they've created.

I feel like most of professional ballet companies

they haven't even attempted to do something like this.

I mean, it's very difficult to create a full ballet.

And for children to do something like that,

I was so inspired.

- I think that we can all learn from children.

They see the world so simply,

and we tend to make things more complicated

than they really are.

We want more, more, more all the time.

And sometimes just to be grateful for what you have

and to fill your life with more of that simplicity,

love and gratefulness, I think we would all be better off.

- I think that just whatever you put your mind to

you can do.

And just because we're kids...

Like Charles and Ava choreographing and composing

the ballet,

they were still able to do it

just as well as any adults would.

So just anyone can do anything that they put their mind to

and they can make it as big as they dreamed of.

- I guess when people have time, they can do amazing things.

And if they care about a project,

if they're inspired by a project and, like, they can do it.

We just put all of our minds together

and made something really cool.

(bright classical music)

- [Jim] Today, this group of young dancers

are showing the rest of the ballet world,

and maybe all of us,

that it's possible not merely to overcome,

but to boldly move from isolation to acceptance

and in the process to find joy in dreaming,

in creating,

and being.

(bright classical music)

(bright classical music)

- [Announcer] "Articulate" with Jim Cotter

is made possible with generous funding

from the Neubauer Family Foundation.

(bright music)


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