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By Harris Green
The NYCB Dancer moves with joy and energy.
Rehearsing Justin Peck's In Creases
Rosalie O’Connor, Courtesy NYCB
The first pas de deux of Jerome Robbins’ I’m Old Fashioned may have the most daunting entrance in New York City Ballet’s repertory. Dedicated to Fred Astaire, it opens with a film clip from You Were Never Lovelier (1942) showing him and Rita Hayworth dancing to Jerome Kern. The less glamorous pair of dancers waiting in the wings for the movie screen to go dark—they are usually corps members—may already be experiencing flop sweat, knowing that when they enter they will have to compete with the image of two Hollywood icons standing three stories tall.
For 22-year-old, 5' 6"corps dancer Emilie Gerrity, who joined NYCB in 2010, this entrance last season became an opportunity to be welcomed, not a challenge to be dreaded. “I looked at my partner Justin Peck,” she recalls, “and zap! I suddenly realized we were going to be the only ones out there!” Her response was a joyous upsurge of energy that transformed what has often been conscientious partnering into a rapturous pas de deux.
“I try to bring something beyond steps and counts to my dancing,” Gerrity says. “The choreography comes first. Always. But if the thought of, say, a sunset fits the music and the movement, then I dance better when I keep that in mind as an extra inspiration.”
Gerrity started dance at age 5 with classes at Betty Jean’s Dance Studio in Wappingers Falls, New York. She found such satisfaction in meeting the challenges of the discipline that enrollment at the School of American Ballet became her goal. At 13, she began attending SAB’s intensive each summer. After three years, she was accepted as a full-time student in 2006. “I left home at age 15,” she says. “I came to this town all by myself and I intended to stay here.”
She may have been determined, but her SAB teachers don’t remember her as pugnacious or intense. Rather they recall a willowy dancer with limpid eyes and a voracious appetite for work. Kay Mazzo, co-chairman of the faculty, says, “You spotted her at once. As a teacher, you look for joy and energy, and she displayed both as she moved through space. If she needed a correction, she welcomed it, asked for more, and thanked you for helping her.” In 2009, Gerrity was named one of the winners of the Mae L. Wien Award, which the school gives to students of outstanding promise.
Roles began coming her way even while she was still at SAB. Justin Peck, who already had begun choreographing as well as performing in the corps, used students for dances he created while enrolled at the New York Choreographic Institute. “I cast Emilie for Quintet because I found her consistently musical,” he says. He has continued to use her since she joined the company.
Gerrity was in one of the four couples in his well-received In Creases (2012), his first work for NYCB. Peck’s ballets often contain passages suggesting a subplot just may lurk within a pas de deux or an emotion may have triggered a solo. Exercising a choreographer’s privilege of letting the dance speak for itself, Peck has carefully refrained from spelling out such intent; however, he didn’t forbid Gerrity from bringing an urgency to one passage of In Creases that was amusing yet as dramatic as a lightning bolt. The three other women in the ballet had no regular partners, but Gerrity had principal Robert Fairchild all to herself. Suddenly there he was, standing all by himself with the width of the stage between them. She shot to his side to prevent another dancer from claiming him. Thrilling as the urgency and abruptness of her move were, it was the sheer musicality of her running that sent reviewers plunging into their Playbills to learn her name.
She was easier to identify as the Fairy of Tenderness in last winter’s revival of Peter Martins’ Sleeping Beauty and impossible to overlook at this year’s fall gala, where she shared the stage in the world premiere of Benjamin Millepied’s Neverwhere with principal Sterling Hyltin and soloist Lauren Lovette. At one point all three had their arms interlocked in what resembled a revolving nail puzzle. Hyltin praises Gerrity as “an ideal colleague, gifted, dedicated, genuinely sweet.”
Life offstage is more relaxed, now that her career is in motion. She has a dog, Fredersicksen, and a boyfriend, photographer Seth Casteel, whose collection Underwater Dogs, she notes, “went viral on YouTube.” Fredersicksen wasn’t in it because Gerrity met Casteel after the book was finished. He’s a cavapoo and if that doesn’t qualify Gerrity as a bonafide New Yorker, nothing will.
Harris Green writes on ballet for Pointe and other publications.