The dream of becoming a professional ballet dancer is held by quite a few children, once they witness for the first time the seemingly effortless grace with which these athletes glide across the floor.
From Mikhail Baryshnikov to Margot Fonteyn, legendary names have drawn audiences into a world of music and fantasy over the years, and now a new generation has taken over.
One such shining star in the ballet firmament is Gabe Stone Shayer, currently resident artist at the Palm Heights Hotel in Cayman and a fast emerging celebrity in the international dance community.
The first African-American male dancer to graduate from the prestigious Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow, 27-year-old Shayer is making waves on the stage, thanks to a combination of talent, self-motivation and boundless creativity. His recent artistic collaboration and his docu-series, entitled “Pas de Deux”, sponsored by Chanel and presented in vogue magazine, is one of many reasons to make Shayer a staple.
the Cayman Compass had the chance to sit down with Shayer at Tillies, the beach restaurant in Palm Heights, to talk about how he chose this career and the exciting projects he has planned in the months ahead. We also went with him on a visit to Dreamchasers Cayman, a local dance studio with big dreams.
Shayer was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to an artist and psychologist mother and a lawyer father. Thanks to the interests and activities of his mother, he was brought to art exhibitions and ballet from an early age. His first introduction to “The Nutcracker” dates back to the age of 6.
Dance lessons ensued, but it was a visit to the Bolshoi in Philadelphia and their rendition of “Spartacus” that really impressed Shayer. “It was hugely inspiring to me,” he said, saying he came out of that experience with the momentum he needed to take the next step.
He began his formal training at the age of 9. Over the next few years he progressed through his classes and, according to his biography, at the age of 13 he was offered the lead role in the world premiere of modern ballet, ‘Darfur’. , as the main guest of the Rebecca Davis Dance Company.
From there he had a summer internship with the Bolshoi in New York when he was 14, and when the training was over, the director came to see last week, as well as a performance, and she invited Shayer to join the Bolshoi in Moscow.
You might think that being so young he would have been hesitant or nervous about traveling so far from home, but quite the opposite.
“I was excited,” he said. “I was one of those kids who would jump out the second story window and see if I could land like a gymnast. I loved challenging myself and moving to another country was an amazing opportunity.
There were language and cultural barriers, but he looks back on it as one of the most incredible experiences of his life. In two and a half years, he not only excelled in dancing, but also learned to speak, read and write Russian fluently.
When Shayer finally returned to the United States, not yet 17, he joined the American Ballet Theater’s Second Company and, a few months later, the Main Company.
Shayer graduating from the Bolshoi was a historic moment. As the first African-American male dancer to graduate from the academy in its nearly 250-year history, he was getting noticed.
Although he is now based in New York, performing at the Metropolitan Opera House with ABT, he has had the opportunity to tour exotic locations such as Italy and Greece.
Saying he’s a fan of both classical and modern (“50/50”) ballet, Shayer relishes new twists on the familiar, like the all-male version of Matthew Bournes’ “Swan Lake,” which made his debut in London in 1995. .
“Matthew Bournes’ wit is amazing, and his comedic timing is hilarious…it’s just another kind of effort for an artist to do that, so that’s doing classical ballet.”
He is happy to work outside the box and explore new ways to express himself through movement. You could tell he constantly jumps out the second story window and lands differently each time.
When the coronavirus swept the world in early 2020, it had a devastating impact on many industries, including theater and the performing arts. Broadway and the West End went dark, putting thousands of actors out of work.
Rather than resting on his laurels, Shayer saw the break as an opportunity to be creative.
“I wasn’t discouraged, because I thrive on challenges,” he said. “Ballet is a constant challenge…navigating your emotions through art is a constant challenge, so to figure it out after the initial shutdown of everything for the first two weeks…I caught the bug to do something ; to create something that excites me [through] collaboration.”
His dance company wasn’t doing much at the time, so Shayer came up with the idea of creating a web series, where artists would collaborate with dancers. It would be a marriage of dance and pop culture that would hopefully appeal to “different audiences who wouldn’t necessarily come to ballet or think these two mediums would mix,” he explained.
Shayer wanted a fashion element included, and when he and ABT approached Chanel, the legendary house announced they wanted to fund the entire project. Not too bad.
‘no two‘ (translation: ‘Step of Two’) launched on October 29, 2020, with four episodes featuring principal dancer Isabella Boylston with Red Rooster leader Marcus Samuelsson; principal dancer Cassandra Trenary with artist Kat Sullivan; soloist Luciana Paris with artist Chloe Wise and Shayer with Alicia Keys.
For the fourth episode, Shayer reached out to one of his contacts — the owner of Live Nation — to see if Alicia Keys would come aboard. The answer was a resounding “yes”.
“She was amazing,” he said. “She said it looked amazing and said ‘I really want to do this’…she was very humble, extremely gracious.”
Stories about the series have appeared on many online magazine sites, including Architectural Summary, Tip Magazine and vogue. It garnered thousands of views, earning further accolades for the newly promoted soloist (Shayer’s promotion to ABT was announced in September 2020).
Gabe Stone Shayer stopped by the Dreamchasers Cayman studio. – Photos: Taneos Ramsay
Connecting to Caymans
Shayer had never visited the Cayman Islands before this in-house residency at the Palm Heights Hotel. If it hadn’t been for COVID, he probably wouldn’t have had time to realize it.
He said he met a dancer from the San Francisco Ballet, who was childhood friends with the person in charge of resident artist programming in Palm Heights.
“She said, ‘There could be this thing in the Cayman Islands,’ and I said, ‘Yes! again.”
He was excited to come here and see what he could do with the experience, including teaching classes, learning about the local culture, and meeting Caymanian artists he could collaborate with.
On the second night of his release from quarantine, he met artist John Reno, who then introduced him to other people. Finding his feet was relatively painless, thanks to the willingness of others to show him.
Since he’s been here, he’s done a bit of teaching; choreographed and danced pieces for certain thematic evenings of Tillies; talked with young dancers at Dreamchasers Cayman; and worked with a local cinematographer on a dance short about sustainable fashion and “the strength it takes to be graceful”, blurring the lines between femininity and masculinity.
An interview with the dancer and the premiere of his video were published in Vogue Italy April 19.
On April 24, the Compass accompanied Shayer on his visit to the Dreamchasers Cayman studio, located at the Kings Sports Centre.
Artistic director Melisha McField was testing her young students when Shayer arrived and, although the children were shy at first, they began to open up as he told them about his experiences as a dancer.
The moment they got really lively, however, was when senior student and vice-captain Michael Rhoden offered to show Shayer a variation of some dancehall reggae moves. The music continued, Rhoden started things off, and then Shayer joined in, matching him move for move. The children have gone mad.
Next up was Kassiedy Davis Quintero, also a senior student and captain. She showed Shayer some of the routines the class had been working on when he walked into the studio. Again, the room ate it.
After that, questions from the room came and went and he answered each of them with complacency, also casually adding that he had worked with famous principal dancer Misty Copeland, who is also part of ABT. Eyes widened at this big reveal.
At the end of the session, Shayer told the kids about people of color who are still struggling to make a name for themselves in the world of ballet, and he encouraged them to keep following their passions.
The class presented him with a bag of goodies, and he had them video-record a greeting to Copeland, with the promise of an answer at some point.
“It was amazing to have a dancer of his caliber in the studio,” McField said. “He had a huge impact on the kids and they loved interacting with him. I really hope he comes back to see us in the future.
Fourth and fifth position?
Shayer will be leaving Cayman later this month and is already working on his next project: A Book of Identity in 10 Essays. He is also scheduled to perform in London in 2022. No rest for the wicked… or the ambitious.
He emphasized how grateful he was to Palm Heights for giving him the opportunity to be here. “I was offered a lot of housing,” he said, “and I felt like I was invited into a family…a community of artists.”
At 27, Shayer still has a lot of dance in him.
“The top of the hill, before you start going down, is about 37-42 [years old]“said Shayer when asked about the maximum age for a male dancer.
Imagine what he will accomplish in the next 10 years.
Although Shayer respects the likes of Baryshnikov and Rudolph Nureyev as artists, his confident manner leads him to look at himself, and what he hopes will be the “future Gabe.” He is neither boastful nor arrogant, he is simply confident and very good about himself, with a desire to develop his unique style. From what we saw at the Dreamchasers studio that day, his attitude makes him a great role model for students.
I hope he comes back to visit Cayman again soon, but whatever happens he will definitely leave a lasting impression here.
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