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By Nancy Wozny
Last season Houston audiences experienced the full force of Samantha Lynch’s dancing in Jirí Kylián’s Forgotten Land, his ode to the sea’s power to reclaim the shore. Using every inch of her 6' frame to curl, recoil, and explode, Lynch conjured her own brand of a tsunami. “I felt this constant fire going up my spine as I danced,” says Lynch.
Dynamic yet controlled, the 21-year-old Australian has made her mark over the past two seasons at Houston Ballet. Artistic director Stanton Welch has been pleased by how quickly his countrywoman has made her mark. “She was amazing,” says Welch of her duet with James Gotesky in Forgotten Land. “It was the best I’ve ever seen. She’s a jewel.” Gotesky also found he had a match in Lynch. “She is intensely driven,” he says. “She’s a hungry dancer whose desire for dance is never satiated. The role required tremendous maturity, coupled with strength and stamina. With Sam, I was sure that we could meet the task.”
Growing up in Melbourne with two brothers, one of whom plays professional football, Lynch didn’t come from a dance family. But by 11, dancing became her passion. She credits her ballet teacher, Christine Walsh, at the Australian Conservatory of Ballet, for setting her sights on the U.S. at a time when most of her peers aimed for The Australian Ballet. “She taught me how to be clean in my technique,” Lynch says, who also notes her teacher’s emphasis on professionalism.
Lynch competed in the 2006 Prix de Lausanne and it proved a turning point when she made it to the finals. She had practiced her Aurora variation every day for a year before going to the competition. “I learned to cope with my nerves and show who I was onstage,” she says. Participating in the Prix also gave her a sense of the opportunities that might be available elsewhere. “There’s so much exposure there,” she says.
When she returned to Melbourne, she sent off her audition tapes, and San Francisco Ballet offered her a traineeship. “My year at SFB was great,” she remembers. “It was the first company other than The Australian Ballet that I had seen live.” However, she wasn’t used to taking class in pointe shoes. “The footwork is so much faster here,” she says. “My pointe work needed to get stronger.” Because SFB did not need another tall dancer when her year was up, she auditioned for Houston Ballet, and was offered a spot in the corps.
Being on her own after living with 20 other trainees proved the biggest change, but there were others. “You don’t have a teacher on you for six hours a day correcting you,” she says. “We have great ballet masters and mistresses here, but I was used to being hounded all day. And you are learning choreography left, right, and center; we are an extremely fast- paced company.” Lynch adjusted with a can-do spirit. “What I love about Houston Ballet is that the rehearsals are run like a show,” she says. “Every company member gives their all every day.”
This season Lynch’s momentum continues. In Tu Tu, Welch’s deeply personal homage to the ballet world, Lynch showed her subtler side along with her acting ability in a solo originally created for San Francisco Ballet principal Muriel Maffe, a mentor for Lynch while an SFB trainee. It seemed fated for Lynch to end up in the very same solo about the pangs of a too-tall ballerina. She let her stature do the talking, giving full weight to Welch’s emotional shading of longing, regret, and finally, resilience.
As the tallest dancer in the company, Lynch is well aware that her roles are limited. “I’ve always been tall, with huge feet,” she says. “I’ve come to terms with my height and learned never to make an excuse of it. I’m harder to cast, and I understand that there are certain roles I will never dance.” Lynch spends her downtime watching dance videos. “I’m a little bit obsessive,” she says.
Lynch looks forward to performing in Christopher Bruce’s Grinning in Your Face, and next season’s new production of Giselle. “This past year I’ve realized that my contemporary work is strongest. It’s where I feel the most power,” she says. “My job now is to continue to grow as an artist and dance to the fullest.”
Nancy Wozny writes about the arts and health from Houston.
Lynch as the tall ballerina in Welch's Tu Tu. Photo by Ron McKinney, courtesy HB