HOW’S this for a surprising success story? In 2007 Katie Smythe, a ballet teacher working out of her native Memphis, was driving her most remarkable student, Charles Riley, across the Mississippi to a lecture-demonstration in Arkansas. Mr. Riley, a young man specializing in the local form of virtuoso hip-hop footwork known as jookin, had started taking ballet lessons to gain strength and extend his range.
Ms. Smythe had already persuaded some jookin dancers to improvise to Haydn and Mozart. Now she asked Mr. Riley to perform to the cello “Swan” music from Saint-Saëns’s suite “The Carnival of the Animals.” Playing him the music in the car, she told him how Mikhail Fokine had choreographed this for the ballerina Anna Pavlova to dance on point.
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