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By Astrida Woods
New York City Ballet is overflowing with youthful energy. With an unprecedented nine new soloists this year and corps members making their mark as they step into major roles, there seems to be an onrush of new talent. So deep is NYCB's "bench" that when injuries occur or key dancers like Jock Soto and Peter Boal retire, corps dancers and soloists step into leading roles, blending in with seasoned professionals.
Ballet master in chief Peter Martins recently said, "I myself look at this particular crop and I am astonished!" As a tribute to this next generation of fleet and fabulous dancers, he choreographed Friandises, a half-hour tour de force, on 20 corps members. The piece, which premiered in February, showcased the entire cast's individuality, agility, and partnering skills-and several were promoted to soloist. The Diamond Project was another opportunity to see these young dancers create new roles. Comprising seven new ballets, the Diamond Project matched internationally acclaimed choreographers with dancers in all the ranks.
In this issue, Dance Magazine profiles seven of the upcoming dancers; three are still in the corps and four have become soloists.
Casting the petite Ana Sophia Scheller as Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons in A Midsummer Night's Dream, seems like a stretch, but with her Latin flare-she was born in Buenos Aires 19 years ago-and confident air, she pulled it off convincingly. Still in the corps, Scheller held her own among the three principal ballerinas who performed with her in Jorma Elo's new ultra modern Slice to Sharp. The hyper-kinetic role, brilliantly danced by Scheller, catapulted her into the spotlight during the spring 2006 season.
Scheller began her ballet training at 6 at the Instituto Superior de Arte del Teatro Colon. In 2000, she won Argentina's National Presidential Prize for Cultural Excellence in Classical Dance, which awarded her a scholarship to SAB. After a short stint with American Ballet Theatre's Studio Company, she returned and joined NYCB's corps in 2004. A polished performer, Scheller dazzles in the demanding Ballo della Regina, but impresses most with her exhilarating performances of the Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux, a role she first performed with Julio Bocca on his summer tour in 2005.
Tiler Peck, a 17-year old pixie from Bakersfield California, is completely fearless onstage. Her charm and spectacular technique come through in her star turn in Peter Martins' Friandises, as she whips off multiple pirouettes, triple fouettes, and petite batterie with precision and panache.
Growing up around her mother's dance studio, Peck loved jazz, but at 7 she started private ballet lessons with Bolshoi ballerina Alla Khaniashvili. By 11 she switched to Patricia and Colleen Neary's (both alumni of NYCB) studio and Yvonne Mounsey in Santa Monica. Before reaching her teens she danced in Donnie Darko and performed at the Goodwill Games. By the time she reached SAB in 2003, she was a seasoned performer. This year-only her second year in the company-audiences have cheered her shimmering Dewdrop in The Nutcracker and the feathery lightness of her Butterfly in Midsummer. Martins cast her in a featured role in his new neo-classical work, The Red Violin, and she was a natural in Mauro Bigonzetti's avant-garde In Vento.
Craig Hall, 26, began dancing at age 4 but started ballet at 14 at the Chicago Academy of the Arts. He became a full-time student at SAB in 1997, and joined NYCB corps in 2000. While in the corps he has been dancing featured roles and partnering top ballerinas. Last spring marked a breakthrough for the elegant and athletic Hall when guest choreographer Jorma Elo cast him in his jaggedly modern Slice to Sharp Diamond Project ballet. Hall delivered dynamic performances that showed his strength, speed, stamina, and adaptability to an idiosyncratic style. He partnered Maria Kowroski and Wendy Whelan, one of his idols, with utmost care and sensitivity.
Hall has also distinguished himself in Christopher Wheeldon's Polyphonia, and he captured the essence of the bluesy central pas de deux in Robbins's N.Y.Export: Opus Jazz. He hopes one day to dance Apollo, a role never done by a black dancer in City Ballet.
It was a big deal for Daniel Ulbricht to cop the lead in Martins' Friandises, in which his powerhouse performances spark repeated applause. Ulbricht has been dancing in the spotlight even before he graduated from SAB, when Martins tapped him in 2000 for as one of a trio of jesters in The Sleeping Beauty. Since joining City Ballet in 2001, Ulbricht has acquired a repertoire of virtuoso roles. He made Gigue in Balanchine's Mozartiana memorable with his precision footwork, and he endowed Puck of Midsummer Night's Dream with gleeful mischievousness.
As an energetic kid growing up in St. Petersburg, Florida, Ulbricht studied gymnastics and karate before discovering ballet at age 11. He credits his first ballet teacher, Leonard Holmes, with making ballet fun. But he learned the basics of ballet professionalism from Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux and Patricia McBride (former City Ballet principals) at their Chatauqua Summer Dance Program.
In spite of his small stature, Ulbricht, 22 and now a soloist, creates excitement every time he steps-or more accurately, bolts-onstage. He is working on reigning in his enthusiasm in order to bring nuance to his performances. But the audiences love him just the way he is.
Tall, blond, and exquisitely poised, Teresa Reichlen, who goes by the name Tess, fits the Balanchine ideal. As the lead in his seminal Monumentum pro Gesualdo, she projects a cool refreshing presence, but she turns on the heat in the "Rubies" section of Jewels, strutting her stuff to Stravinsky's sassy rhythms. As the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker, the 22-year-old soloist spans the stage with breathtakingly buoyant jetes. But it was not until Mauro Bigonzetti tapped her for his Diamond Project premiere in In Vento, that Reichlen discovered a starker, stronger quality in herself.
Born in Clifton, Virginia, near Washington, D.C., she began dance classes at 3 and got serious about ballet while attending the Russell School of Ballet. In 1999 she arrived at SAB as a scholarship student, and in 2000 Reichlen became an apprentice, joining the corps in 2001. Four years later she was promoted to soloist. A 2005 Dance Magazine "25 to Watch," she is no longer content to just hone her formidable technique, she's also concentrating on adding luster to her roles.
For the elegantly lanky, 6'1" Jonathan Stafford, partnering is a special joy, and he's a natural at it. "For me," says Stafford, "when someone says 'the girl danced throughout the pas de deux as if she were floating,' I take that as such a compliment." From his earliest days in the corps, he's been paired with top ballerinas such as Jennie Somogyi's Sugar Plum, Sofiane Sylve's Firebird, and Maria Kowroski's Lilac Fairy. Last spring, Stafford danced a key role with Jenifer Ringer in Ratmansky's new Russian Seasons, in which his emotional and physical connectedness resonated with his partners and the audiences. Since his promotion to soloist this year, the 25-year-old's career has taken off.
Raised in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, Stafford spent his boot-camp years at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet before reaching SAB in 1997. He joined NYCB two years later. (His sister Abi is also in the company.) Quietly self-confident-a quality Stafford says is newly acquired-his repertoire has expanded to include extroverted roles such as the hip-swiveling Rumba Boy in Fancy Free and the smooth mover in Robbins' N.Y. Export: Opus Jazz. "With the promotion came confidence and freedom onstage," says Stafford, "I've finally been able to reach that inner fire."
Endowed with a lithe and fine-boned body that she technically hones towards perfection, Rebecca Krohn's chameleon stage presence may be her finest asset. The 25-year-old soloist can morph from a sweetly innocent peasant girl in Martins' Songs of the Auvergne, to an undulating siren as Coffee in The Nutcracker, and turn chillingly menacing as the predatory Queen in Robbins' The Cage.
Born in Vestal, New York, Krohn came to SAB on a scholarship in 1995. After four years in the school and a year as an apprentice, she joined the company. Since reaching soloist status last spring, Krohn has blossomed into a consummate artist. When she stepped in for an injured dancer in Ratmansky's Russian Seasons, she imbued the complex role with a deeply impassioned, soulful quality.
Astrida Woods, a former dancer, writes on dance for several publications including Dance Magazine, Playbill and The New York Sun.