A profile of James Whiteside, one of American Ballet Theatre’s principal dancers, who is also notable for his activities as a DJ, video producer, drag queen, model, and Instagram star. A profile of Iain Forrest, an electric cellist known as Eyeglasses, who is participating in MTA’s Music Under New York program. And a look at one of the works in the collection of the American Folk Art Museum.

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♪♪

Coming up on 'NYC-Arts,' we follow American Ballet Theatre's James Whiteside.

So, I was 9 years old when I started dancing.

I did jazz, ballet, tap, acrobatics at a local school in Fairfield, Connecticut.

And I got into dancing because I had tried everything else -- you know, football, baseball, soccer.

And my mom one day threw me a phone book and said, 'You know, you have to pick something.

You're driving me crazy, you hyperactive monster.

And so I found an ad for a dance studio in in the phone book, and it was of a man holding a woman over his head with one hand, and it just looked awesome, and I said, 'I want to try that.'

And a look at the underground career of electric cellist Iain Forrest.

I'll play a bass part, percussion part, a harmony part on the cello, and then I can loop that segment over and over again.

I'm playing 9 or 10 different cello parts at the same time.

♪♪

And a visit to the American Folk Art Museum.

The center of the quilt is emblazoned with a large letter 'L.'

Also included is a musical staff and notes.

When Clara and her family made the journey by covered wagon, included with her piano.

Funding for 'NYC-Arts' is made possible by... This program is supported in part by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the city council.

Additional funding provided by members of Thirteen.

'NYC-Arts' is made possible in part by First Republic Bank.

First Republic Bank presents 'First Things First.'

At First Republic Bank, 'first' refers to our first priority, the clients who walk through our doors.

The first step?

Recognize that every client is an individual with unique needs.

First decree?

Be a bank whose currency is service in the form of personal banking.

This was First Republic's mission from our very first day.

It's still the first thing on our minds.

And by Swann Auction Galleries.

Swann Auction Galleries.

We have a different way of looking at auctions, offering vintage books and fine art since 1941, working to combine knowledge with accessibility.

Whether you're a lifelong collector, a first-time buyer, or looking to sell, information at swanngalleries.com.

♪♪

Good evening, and welcome to 'NYC-Arts.'

I'm Paula Zahn at the Tisch WNET Studios at Lincoln Center.

Tonight, we'll meet one of American Ballet Theatre's principal dancers, James Whiteside.

Originally from Fairfield, Connecticut, Whiteside began studying ballet at the age of 9.

He started his professional career at Boston Ballet in 2003 before eventually moving to New York in 2012 to dance for ABT.

He was promoted to principal dancer in October of 2013 and has been widely praised for his powerful, energetic dancing.

But Whiteside is also notable for his activities outside of the ballet world as a deejay, video producer, drag queen, model, and Instagram star.

♪♪

So, I was 9 years old when I started dancing.

I did jazz, ballet, tap, acrobatics at a local school in Fairfield, Connecticut, and I got into dancing because I had tried everything else -- you know, football, baseball, soccer.

And my mom one day threw me a phone book and said, you know, 'You have to pick something, you're driving me crazy, you hyperactive monster.

And so I found an ad for a dance studio in the phone book, and it was of a man holding a woman over his head with one hand, and it just looked awesome, and I said, 'I want to try that.'

When I look back at the videos of when I was a kid, you can see pure joy in the videos, and I wouldn't replace that with anything.

My technique has evolved so much, but the energy is the exact same energy.

It's like the sort of, I don't know, just like spastic wildness, which sounds like a bad thing, but I think it's a good thing.

My first dance teachers brought me to see ABT, American Ballet Theatre, at the Met Opera when I was 12 years old.

I didn't even know what ballet could be at that point, but I really saw it that night, when I decided that's really what I wanted to do.

ABT was my first dream, and so I haven't stopped until I got here, and I now that I'm here, I'm still not stopping.

As a principal dancer, I dance a lot of princely roles, so Prince Sigfried from 'Swan Lake,' Prince Albrecht from 'Giselle.'

I actually had never done the prince in 'Swan Lake' until I joined American Ballet Theatre.

So I worked really hard, and my first show here with ABT of 'Swan Lake' was with with principal ballerina Gillian Murphy, and she really showed me the ropes and made me comfortable with the ballet.

I've known about Gillian's prowess for 1 million years.

She's the resident prima of American Ballet Theatre, and I'm so happy to be dancing with her.

I just adore her.

She's hilarious, also.

I feel like, in a story ballet, it's a lot about dialog, about listening to what the other person is saying through their movement and through their, you know, physical storytelling.

And I feel like the older I get and the more I dance with these ballerinas, the more solid and readable our dialog is.

I have a sort of little backstory that I tell myself.

I feel like the the prince in 'Swan Lake' has a little secret.

He's lonely, and in my mind, it reminds me of how I felt as a teenager being afraid to come out of the closet as a gay man.

When I am doing the first act and everyone's celebrating me and it's my birthday and I'm the prince, and how could I not be just overjoyed?

I think back to that feeling I had of isolation, even though I had absolutely no reason to put myself through that other than fear of perception.

I try to give that feeling through body language.

Instead of always being the proud prince, to show vulnerability and insecurity.

♪♪ ♪♪

I think 'Fancy Free' is a storytelling work of genius.

You've got such a sense of atmosphere from this ballet, which is really hard to do.

So I've been doing 'Fancy Free' for a really long time, I think since I was maybe 21.

I've been the same part -- third sailor.

My character specifically has this haughty sass, which I really love.

I sort of treat it like The Fonz.

I'm curious to see how it holds up in, like, in societal change.

Right now, I feel like we're right on the brink of it being almost inappropriate.

However, that being said, I love dancing this ballet.

It is so much fun.

The music is unbelievable.

Choreography is so charming and strange and wonderful and jazzy.

♪♪ Choreography, for me, has always been something that I've enjoyed just from a very natural place.

Like, I would take my dad's records and put them on my Fisher-Price turntable and make up dances in my bedroom.

At my jazz studio in Connecticut, they saw that I like to make things and they would let me make up dances for competitions.

They really nourished my creative needs.

When I joined Boston Ballet, I kept making things.

I kept creating.

And now here I am at ABT, and I'm still showing interest and being given opportunities that I am so grateful for.

I made a piece last fall.

It was my first commission with American Ballet Theatre which premiered in Vail.

I made 'New American Romance' as a nod to the classicism of romantic ballets.

But I also wanted to inject a little bit of my personality and my perception on romance into it, which is limitless, really.

It was sort of my appreciation for what romance could be, for all the possibilities.

♪♪ So, my new ballet, called 'City of Women,' is about the generational sharing of knowledge from ballerina to ballerina.

♪♪ I know them all so well.

I wanted to make a dance for the ballerinas that would showcase their individual gifts and also represent, you know, the wisdom of Gillian, the sort of brazenness of Katherine, and the courageous dancing of Isabella.

I know their strengths and I know their personalities, not just their strengths.

So I wanted to showcase that ♪♪ ♪♪ [ Applause ] I created JbDubs in 2005.

He is a pop musician sort of rapper thing.

I produce, perform, write all the music, as well as choreograph the music videos.

♪ I'm Mr. 'Who is this Queen' since I was 17 ♪ ♪ Don't matter if I'm Prince Sigfried ♪ ♪ Or JB in them red high heels I have been witness to a lot of discrimination and homophobia in ballet, and also, I have seen a lot of sexual misconduct allegations sort of shake up the ballet world.

So all of these things happened at once, and my brain exploded.

And my instinct was to write.

So I wrote a song called 'WTF,' and it's exactly like it sounds.

And it wasn't so much pointing fingers at people as sort of just expressing my exasperation and the incredulity of the situation.

♪ What the what happened to the city ♪ ♪ What the what happened to the states ♪ ♪ What the what happened to creativity ♪ ♪ Whoo, what a, what a, what a waste ♪ The reason I wanted to dance en pointe in the music video is to further hammer home the point that we as dancers should not be forced to be gendered or put in a box.

I want to encourage as many people to dance en pointe as they want to.

♪ Suzanne, Gelsey, Wendy ♪ Anna Pavlova, Nijinsky ♪ Suzanne, Gelsey, Wendy ♪ Martha and Tallchief And while I am a cisgendered male, I want to be free to dance in whatever I want.

I am really hoping the future of ballet remains very classical.

I want the definition of classical to evolve.

I think, socially, ballet has to adapt, and I absolutely want to be one of the people leading the charge on the creation of more representation in classical ballet.

I have huge respect for the classics, but that doesn't mean new stories can't be told.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪

Every year, the MTA's Music Under New York program holds auditions to select the next group of diverse musicians who are then given access to the best performance locations throughout the subway system.

♪ Get pumped

The program currently has more than 350 registered musicians and groups.

As a result, you'll never know what music might greet you on your commute.

Iain Forrest, known as Eyeglasses, is a student at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

A classically trained cellist, he performs both for patients at the hospital and commuters in the subway.

His sound is instantly recognizable thanks to his use of an electric cello and his own unique remixes of contemporary pop music.

We met up with Iain at one of his performances at Herald Square.

♪♪ ♪♪

I started cello in fourth grade when our music teacher came around with a cart of instruments.

So I picked up the cello.

I played the first note, which was a really low, resonant note.

I just love the sound of it, that bass note.

But after high school, me and a friend, we actually went out to the streets in Washington, D.C., and we started playing contemporary songs.

And I remember the reaction of people walking past on the streets.

It struck me like, 'Hey, this could be really something special here.'

After college, I moved up here to New York City area for medical school at Mount Sinai, and one of the things that drew me to New York City was obviously the culture that we have with the arts.

And as soon as I came here, I saw street musician after street musician, and I immediately thought, 'This could be my next home.'

That's when I looked up MUNY -- Music Under New York -- and I found out they had a whole audition process.

Sent them an application, did the audition.

And thankfully, everything worked out, and now I can call myself a street musician in New York City.

And the reason why I chose Eyeglasses is because of two reasons.

I want to be an ophthalmologist.

I want to help people see better, specifically kids who have lost their vision at a young age.

The second reason, which is a bit more lighthearted, is that Beethoven, he wrote a piece called 'Eyeglasses Duet.'

When musicians sat down and read the sheet music in front of them, there were so many notes on it, it was such a tricky, difficult piece to play that the only way musicians could read the music is if they wore really, really strong glasses.

I absolutely loved the story behind that.

I took inspiration from that.

So, I play the electric cello, and it's made by Yamaha, and it's the exact same four strings as an acoustic cello.

The only difference is they stuck a little pickup inside the electric cello so it can be amplified so it's louder.

What I love to do is also use a looper.

So essentially what I do is I'll play a bass part, percussion part, a harmony part on the cello, and then I can loop that segment over and over again.

So it essentially comes down to I'm playing 9 or 10 different cello parts at the same time.

So it just opens up a lot of doors as to what I can do musically.

♪♪ I've had people come down.

They come off their subway, they come up to me like, 'Where's the orchestra,' and I'm like, 'No, it's just me, one electric cellist.'

[ Playing Coldplay's 'Viva La Vida' ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ So, unfortunately, there's not much sheet music out there for, like, nine cellos to play, like, pop songs or rock songs.

So, yeah, oftentimes I'll just hear a song on the radio or on Spotify, and then once I listen to it a couple of times, I kind of extrapolate it out and try to create, you know, a cello rendition of it.

♪♪ ♪♪ Amongst all that kind of, like, chaotic energy, with people, you know, bustling and crowds moving, I think the best part of that is just seeing how the music impacts these people who, you know, either have their headphones on or just watching their phone, trying to get from point 'A' to point 'B' as quickly as possible, and then just seeing them being able to stop, just enjoy the moment for what it is.

♪♪ In medicine and music, you really have to connect with the human being sitting in front of you.

Helping uplift them with music, I find it actually makes me a better medical student and hopefully a better doctor down the road, too.

♪♪ ♪♪ [ Applause ] Thank you, guys.

Thank you so much.

♪♪

Next, we'll visit the American Folk Art Museum located right across the street from our Lincoln Center Studios.

Since 1961, this museum has been showcasing the creativity of artists whose talents have been refined through personal experience rather than formal artistic training.

Its collection includes more than 8,000 works of art from four centuries and nearly every continent.

Curator Stacy Hollander recently talked with 'NYC-Arts' about one of the artworks from the museum's collection.

The American Folk Art Museum has one of the most important collections of quilts in the country, and one of our most significant recent acquisitions is a Crazy Quilt that was made by a woman named Clara Leon.

Clara Leon was an immigrant from Germany, one of the thousands of Jewish immigrants who came to the United States in the second half of the 19th century.

She landed in New York City, met her husband, Pincus Leon, and the two of them moved to the New Mexican territories, to Las Vegas, New Mexico.

The quilt that Clara Leon made, probably in the 1880s, reflects the idiom of the Crazy Quilt.

This was a kind of construction that was introduced after the American Centennial Exposition that introduced Japanese decorative arts to American audiences for the first time.

So, women saw porcelains with crazed and crackled surfaces and glazes and exotic motifs like spiderwebs and quarter fans, and they very quickly introduced this new aesthetic into their quilt making.

So Clara Leon, one of 36 Jewish families in the pioneer frontier community of Las Vegas, New Mexico, coming to America without a tradition of quilt making at all, and interpreted and adapted the Crazy Quilt to reflect this new aesthetic that was introduced at the Japanese pavilion of the Philadelphia Centennial.

The center of the quilt is emblazoned with a large letter 'L' for her family name, Leon.

Also included is a musical staff and notes, and this reflects the musical background of her family.

In fact, one of the family's stories is that when Clara and her family made the journey by covered wagon, included onboard the covered wagon was her piano.

Aesthetically, she did something with the borders that's unusual.

There is a floral band on each side of the quilt, and typically this would be identical top, bottom, left, right.

But in fact, she's reflecting the seasons.

So there are autumn leaves, spring flowers, summer daisies, and winter sprays.

Quilts have always been a medium for women to express their own thoughts and their own participation in American life.

And Clara Leon clearly took that to heart when she decided what motifs and what techniques were going to be used in her beautiful quilt.

♪♪ ♪♪

Thanks for joining us this evening.

I'm Paula Zahn at the Tisch WNET Studios at Lincoln Center.

Goodnight.

Next week on 'NYC-Arts,' we look at the exhibition stretching the canvas now in view at the National Museum of the American Indian.

I think it was the first tempera paint on newsprint that said to me, 'This is what I'm gonna be doing the rest of my life.'

It was that action of the fans.

And I remember being 6 years old or something like 6 1/2 and thinking, 'I don't know, this feels -- I'm in my zone now.'

This hit me.

This is what I'm gonna be doing the rest of my life, and I'm still doing this.

And so I think you can be born a painter sometimes.

And a visit to the Neue Galerie for a look at the career of Madam d'Ora, the Austrian photographer whose work captured both the glamour and the darkness of her lifetime.

Hats were the most important thing for a woman.

So you would buy the hat before you buy the dress.

There are hundreds of hat photographs by d'Ora, but of course, they were fashion photographs and used in the magazines, and to stress the fact of the importance of the hat photographs, they had contemporary artists come in and make new hats inspired by the creations that d'Ora photographed.

To enjoy more of your favorite segments on 'NYC-Arts,' visit our website at NYC-Arts.org.

Leonard, what a privilege to be able to sit down and talk with you.

I love being here with you too, Paula.

Where are we?

We're at a moment to take nothing for granted.

Well, it's a pleasure to be with Marci Reaven, the curator of this exhibition full of hope.

We are in the midst of some of the greatest sculptures by the iconic names.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪

Funding for 'NYC-Arts' is made possible by... This program is supported in part by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the city council.

Additional funding provided by members of Thirteen.

'NYC-Arts' is made possible in part by First Republic Bank.

First Republic Bank presents 'First Things First.'

At First Republic Bank, 'first' refers to our first priority, the clients who walk through our doors.

The first step?

Recognize that every client is an individual with unique needs.

First decree?

Be a bank whose currency is service in the form of personal banking.

This was First Republic's mission from our very first day.

It's still the first thing on our minds.

And by Swann Auction Galleries.

Swann Auction Galleries.

We have a different way of looking at auctions, offering vintage books and fine art since 1941, working to combine knowledge with accessibility.

Whether you're a lifelong collector, a first-time buyer, or looking to sell, information at swanngalleries.com.