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Q&A: American Ballet Theatre's Kathryn Boren

Do you think of ballet as art or ballet as sport?

I don't think it's fair to try to classify ballet as an art or ballet as a sport. It's the only thing in the world that really combines those two elements. It's very athletic and very physically demanding, but you're creating art and movement. If you look at it as a sport and as just doing the motions, that's not ballet, because ballet creates emotion and feeling within the audience and within yourself. Fuck it—ballet is ballet. It's not one or the other. Art is art. Sport is sport. Ballet is ballet.

What does high-performance living mean to you?

I realized at a young age that this was a career path that I was destined for and in order to create that, I had to do all the proper cross-training, all the proper nutrition, I didn't want to go out at night, I didn't want to drink. It wasn't hard for me, it was just something that I knew. Seeing how successful it made me and how much easier it made my job, I wanted to continue with that.

What has surprised you most about being a ballerina?

It’s the least glamorous job in the world. It may look beautiful on stage when we're in these beautiful costumes and sets and makeup. But, if you're on stage with us, you will be smelling those costumes that we've been wearing since the ‘70's and they can only dry-clean them once a year and everyone's got blood in their shoes and you're changing your tights because you skinned your knee and there's blood everywhere. Our goal is to put [the audience] at ease and to make you comfortable and to take you to some place else. Meanwhile, the steps we had to take to get to that level were nothing of the sort.

What's your morning routine?

I usually get up around 7:30-ish, have a kombucha, and then do a 15 to 20-minute ab series. It’s important to do my own warm-up and get my body moving outside of the studio before I get to rehearsals. Before class, I do 30 minutes of cardio. Once the day starts with class at 10:15, we're going nonstop until 7:00, and that's if we're rehearsing. If we're performing, it's the same thing, except you're going until 11:30 or midnight.

How do you keep yourself going?

When I was in ABT II, we had this great director, Wes Chapman, and he is the epitome of no bullshit. He expected the most out of us, and we were doing really hard [pieces] and he's like, ‘Eh, just do it. Oh, and you're going to do [grand pas classique] in the same program and you're going to do Interplay, and you're going to do Black Swan pas de deux.’ And we'd be like, ‘Are you crazy?’ He's like, ‘Just do it.’ So now, over and over in my head I just hear him sitting there saying ‘Just do it. Just do it.’

What's an off day like for you?

We usually get Sunday and Monday off when we're rehearsing. Sunday, I teach and try to keep a pretty regimented workout routine. Monday is when I just take the day to recover and sleep.

Do you have any recovery tips or tricks?

A lot of massages, Epsom salt baths, stretching, and rolling out. Especially after performances where we're doing a lot of jumping on a hard stage, it tightens our muscles. If I take the time after the show to just roll out for 15, 20 minutes, it makes a huge difference.

What's your proudest accomplishment?

I was asked to perform the title role in the ballet Giselle with a company in Texas, which is where I'm from. It’s a dream role. I got the opportunity to really prepare and build a character and I'd never been more exhausted in my life. But that was just one weekend, one performance. Of course it took months and months of preparation. Also, I've had to fight so hard to get into ABT, to stay in ABT, to get recognized. It's so easy to just get swallowed up—swan number 17 in the back corner every night and nobody even knows that you're on stage. Being able to keep up the fight to stay here and keep growing up in the company—it's not always easy, but I'm really proud of myself for doing that.

What separates ABT in your mind from other ballet companies out there?

ABT is great because of its history and the people who have come up through that company. I love the rep that we do. With a name like ABT, you can bring in such great choreographers and new, fresh, and innovative ideas. Because I grew up at ABT it always felt like home.

Okay, so here comes the fun part. We're going to do a little this or that. Black Swan or Center Stage?

Center Stage!

Massage or facial?

Massage.

Cardio or strength?

Strength.

Eat-in or takeout?

Eat-in.

Still or sparkling?

Sparkling.

Beaches or mountains?

Beaches.

Now this is an important one. Equinox clubs or Equinox hotels?

Hotel. I'm excited to see this hotel.

Thank you, Katie.

Of course.

This interview has been edited for publication.

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