- The Latest
- Breaking Stereotypes
- Rant & Rave
- Dance As Activism
- Dancers Trending
- Viral Videos
- The Dancer's Toolkit
- Health & Body
- Dance Training
- Career Advice
- Style & Beauty
- Dance Auditions
- Guides & Resources
- Performance Calendar
- College Guide
- Dance Magazine Awards
- Meet The Editors
- Contact Us
- Advertise/Media Kit
To watch Jennie Somogyi rehearse the pulsating Fearful Symmetries is to witness a ballerina in her prime. Somogyi naturally taps into the sharpness and speed, angles and agility of Peter Martins’ choreography. In the adagio, her willowy body swirls around Philip Neal to the ebb and flow of John Adams’ music. Onstage, she brings a new womanliness to Fearful by amplifying every move.
When Martins, ballet master in chief of New York City Ballet, saw the ballet recently he was impressed with Somogyi’s performance. “I just thought, ‘Wow! She is a whole other level of dancer.’ ”Somogyi says, “I get so caught up with the music, and I feel like the movement just carries me along. I figured out what I could do with the steps in that first slinky pas de deux. Now it feels like a totally different ballet.”
Somogyi was born in Easton, Pennsylvania and grew up in Alpha, New Jersey. She was the only child of a working class couple. Her father, a mechanic, taught Jennie how to change oil and tune up a car before she was licensed to drive. An athletic child, Somogyi started gymnastics at age 4, but transitioned into ballet when she discovered the joy of moving to music.
At 6 she auditioned for the School of American Ballet (the training center for NYCB), but she was too young, and they suggested she study with Nina Youshkevitch, who had danced with Colonel de Basil’s Original Ballet Russe. Somogyi credits Youshkevitch with giving her core strength and courage. At 9 she was accepted on scholarship at SAB. For years, Somogyi’s extended family and neighbors drove her two hours between New Jersey and Manhattan.
Her first year at SAB, to her amazement, she was cast as Marie, the lead girl in The Nutcracker. That experience kindled her love of performing. At 15 she danced the lead in Balanchine’s Allegro Brillante in SAB’s annual Workshop. Impressed by her dynamic performance, Martins invited her to apprentice in the company and, soon after in 1994, she joined the corps. In 1998, Somogyi became a soloist.
She was promoted to principal in 2000, the same year she married Brian Fallon of the New Jersey Police Department. She walked down the aisle to the opening strains of Serenade, her favorite ballet. They continue to live in Alpha, where she and her husband built a house.
The ballerina didn’t realize how vastly different their worlds were until one night, shortly after their engagement, he watched from the wings as she came off from a “puffy” variation. “I was bent over, with my hands on my knees and Brian ran to me saying, ‘Are you all right? What’s wrong?’ I kept waving him off, and told him this was normal.” After that, he recommended she keep an oxygen tank in her dressing room. “It was an eye-opener for both of us.”
Somogyi has been the go-to ballerina in NYCB for several years. Strong and versatile, with a powerhouse technique, she dances with daring and clarity. Over the years, she has captured the Balanchine sweep and grandeur in Serenade, she is bold and articulate in Agon and Episodes, and performs Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet with lyrical abandon. She’s light and flirty in Who Cares? and dazzling in Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux. Somogyi is equally at home in Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering and does a unique, spidery Novice in The Cage. She made her debut in Peter Martins’ full-length Swan Lake with a last-minute substitute for Prince Siegfried—Charles Askegard—and Anna Kisselgoff of The New York Times pronounced it “triumphant.”
Considering the workload that Somogyi carried, it’s astonishing she was never injured. “Obviously,” Somogyi says with a little laugh, “I was saving it up for something big.” In January 2004 her luck ran out. During Balanchine’s gut-buster Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2 (also known as Ballet Imperial) her posterior tibial tendon (the one that allows you to stand on your foot) snapped. Somogyi says, “I felt a rush of heat go up my leg and thought I had jammed my foot. It was all very confusing. I remember thinking, ‘If I can get on pointe why can’t I work it out?’ ”
When Askegard saw her limping, he implored her to stop dancing. But she insisted on going on with the ballet, not realizing she had a serious injury. Backstage, he said to her, “If we go onstage, I’m going to sort of carry you around.” Which he did. “I wouldn’t take my hands off of her except when I had to.”
Somogyi says, “Charles and Perry (Perry Silvey is NYCB’s production stage manager) walked me from wing to wing, but it was only getting worse. Finally, Perry sat me in a chair and said, ‘Enough.’ That’s when he cut my pointe shoe ribbons.” Askegard carried her up to her dressing room, marshalled a cab in a blizzard, and took her home.
There are injuries that interrupt dancers’ careers and then there are injuries that threaten to end them. Somogyi sustained the worst kind of the latter. Not only did it look as if she would never dance again, it was doubtful she would ever walk. Although she had had discomfort in her left foot for several months and had two MRIs, the doctors did not think to look for this type of injury, which is commonly found only in obese middle-aged women.
After eight months of physical therapy and then major surgery, Somogyi still could not walk, and the prognosis was grim. “I got to the point where I didn’t care if I could dance, I just wanted to walk.” During her convalescence period, her extended family— particularly her husband—buoyed her spirits. Then came a breakthrough. Somehow the scar tissue dispersed and she regained mobility of her ankle. “Once I got to the walking, I wanted to dance just a little bit longer,” says Somogyi.
Now Somogyi is limited by what she can do in class: she needs to be careful jumping, only grand plies in second and slamming into fifth position is definitely a no-no. “But,” says Somogyi, “I actually get less winded than before. I used to be so nervous and attack steps, creating so much tension in my whole body. Now I’m finding little alleys and taking the back roads, and I’ve taken the pressure off of myself. I’m really comfortable—and I only have half a tendon.”
“I never expected to be doing what I’m doing,” Somogyi says, her luminous blue eyes welling up, “The doctors explained to me that if I hurt the tendon again, I’m done. There is not enough tendon to repair again. So I promised myself if and when I came back I was going to be a totally different person. If every day is a risk, at least I’m going to enjoy myself.”
On June 19, 2005, she returned to the stage in Lynne-Taylor-Corbett’s Chiaroscuro at Jock Soto’s farewell performance. From the moment she stepped onstage, there was something different about Jennie Somogyi. She was dancing with a new freedom and effervescent joy.
But before coming back, Somogyi, 29, had a serious conversation with Martins about her repertoire and the caveats placed on her return. Having joined the company as a teenager, she had never really had an adult conversation with Martins until that day. For the first time she felt on equal footing.
Last spring, Peter Martins cast her in the lead in his new ballet, The Red Violin. “I admired her guts and courage to come back,” says Martins. “The first person that came into my mind when I heard The Red Violin music was Jennie. It was purely instinctual,” says Martins. “I loved her attitude and her willingness to experiment, and that got me going.”
Although Martins had previously originated roles on Somogyi, it was more collaborative this time. “I felt I was part of the process,” says Somogyi, “and it was so much fun.” Martins kept asking her if this or that step was OK for her foot. He recalls that she balked only once, saying, “Just give me a week or so.”
The Red Violin, which premiered in May as part of the Diamond Project, is a blend of classical and experimental movement, set to John Corigliano’s strikingly modern score of the eponymous movie. As a slender flash of red, Somogyi expresses the essence of the violin. Her feet dart to the pizzicato rhythms and her arms undulate like ribbons. In a series of slow promenades on pointe, ably partnered by Sébastien Marcovici, she carves with her body exquisite origami-like shapes with each revolution.
“A maturity has emerged,” says Martins. “She doesn’t fit easily into any category. She adapts so easily to any kind of movement. She is such a modern ballerina–a ballerina of our times.”
Martins proposed a unique deal to Somogyi. “Jennie has entered a new sphere,” he says. “From now, on I’m not going to cast Jennie in any ballets without her consent. That decision should be taken as a compliment. What I mean by that is, I see her in a whole slew of ballets coming up over the next two or three seasons, but I’m not going to take any chances unless she tells me it’s OK. I don’t want it to be over. I’m selfish.”
A former ballet dancer, Astrida Woods writes for many publications including Playbill, New York Sun, and Show Business.
Camille A. Brown is on an impressive streak: In October, the Ford Foundation named her an Art of Change fellow. In November, she won an AUDELCO ("Viv") Award for her choreography in the musical Bella: An American Tall Tale. On December 1, her Camille A. Brown & Dancers made its debut at the Kennedy Center, and two days later she was back in New York City to see her choreography in the opening of Broadway's Once on This Island. Weeks later, it was announced that she was choreographing NBC's live television musical Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert, to air on April 1.
An extraordinarily private person, few knew that during this time Brown was in the midst of a health crisis. It started with an upset stomach while performing with her company on tour last summer.
"I was drinking ginger ale, thinking that I would feel better," she says. Finally, the pain became so acute that she went to the emergency room in Mississippi. Her appendix had burst. "Until then, I didn't know it was serious," she says. "I'm a dancer—aches and pains don't keep you from work."
The encounter with man-eating female creatures in Jerome Robbins' The Cage never fails to shock audiences. As this tribe of insects initiates the newly-born Novice into their community and prepares her for the attack of the male Intruders, the ballet draws us into a world of survival and instinct.
This year celebrates the 100th anniversary of Jerome Robbins' birth, and a number of Robbins programs are celebrating his timeless repertoire. But it especially feels like a prime moment to experience The Cage again. Several companies are performing it: San Francisco Ballet begins performances on March 20, followed by the English National Ballet in April and New York City Ballet in May.
Why it matters: In this time of female empowerment—as women are supporting one another in vocalizing injustices, demanding fair treatment and pay, and advocating for future generations—The Cage's nest of dominant women have new significance.
Last week in a piece I wrote about the drama at English National Ballet, I pointed out that many of the accusations against artistic director Tamara Rojo—screaming at dancers, giving them the silent treatment, taking away roles without explanation—were, unfortunately, pretty standard practice in the ballet world:
If it's a conversation we're going to have, we can't only point the finger at ENB.
The line provoked a pretty strong response. Professional dancers, students and administrators reached out to me, making it clear that it's a conversation they want to have. Several shared their personal stories of experiencing abusive behavior.
Christopher Hampson, artistic director of the Scottish Ballet, wrote his thoughts about the issue on his company's website on Monday:
I always knew my ballet career would eventually end. It was implied from the very start that at some point I would be too old and decrepit to take morning ballet class, followed by six hours of intense rehearsals.
What I never imagined was that I would experience a time when I couldn't walk at all.
In rehearsal for Nutcracker in 2013, I slipped while pushing off for a fouetté sauté, instantly rupturing the ACL in my right knee. In that moment my dance life flashed before my eyes.
Stephen Petronio brings a bracing season to New York City's Joyce Theater, where he has performed almost every year for 24 years . His work is exciting to the subscription audience as well as to many dance artists. He delves into movement invention at the same time as creating complex postmodern forms. The new work, Hardness 10, is his third collaboration with composer Nico Muhly. The costumes are by Patricia Field ARTFASHION, hand-painted by Iris Bonner/These Pink Lips. Petronio's work still practically defines the word contemporary.
Stephen Petronio Company also continues with its Bloodlines series. That's where he pays homage to landmark works of the past that have influenced his own edgy aesthetics. This season he's chosen Merce Cunningham's playful trio Signals (1970), which will be performed with live music from Composers Inside Electronics.
Completing the program is an excerpt from Petronio's Underland (2003), with music by Nick Cave. Video footage courtesy of Stephen Petronio Company, filmed by Blake Martin.
Never did I think I'd see the day when I'd outgrow dance. Sure, I knew my life would have to evolve. In fact, my dance career had already taken me through seasons of being a performer, a choreographer, a business owner and even a dance professor. Evolution was a given. Evolving past dancing for a living, however, was not.
Transitioning from a dance career involved just as much of a process as building one did. But after I overcame the initial identity crisis, I realized that my dance career had helped me develop strengths that could be put to use in other careers. For instance, my work as a dance professor allowed me to discover my knack for connecting with students and helping them with their careers, skills that ultimately opened the door for a pivot into college career services.
Here's how five dance skills can land you a new job—and help you thrive in it:
When you spend as much time on the road as The Royal Ballet's Steven McRae, getting access to a proper gym can be a hassle. To stay fit, the Australian-born principal turns to calisthenics—the old-school art of developing aerobic ability and strength with little to no equipment.
"It's basically just using your own body weight," McRae explains. "In terms of partnering, I'm not going to dance with a ballerina who is bigger than me, so if I can sustain my own body weight, then in my head I should be fine."
We all know that companies too often take dancers for granted. When I wrote last week about a few common ways in which dancers are mistreated—routine screaming, humiliation, being pressured to perform injured and be stick-thin—I knew I was only scratching the surface.
So I put out a call to readers asking for your perspective on the most pressing issues that need to be addressed first, and what positive changes we might be able to make to achieve those goals.
The bottom line: Readers agree it's time to hold directors accountable, particularly to make sure that dancers are being paid fairly. But the good news is that change is already happening. Here are some of the most intriguing ideas you shared via comments, email and social media:
With dancer and choreographer credits that cover everything from touring with Beyoncé to music videos and even feature films, Tricia Miranda knows more than a thing or two about what it takes to make it. And aspiring dancers are well aware. We caught up with the commercial dance queen last weekend at the Brooklyn Funk convention, where she taught a ballroom full of dancers classes in hip-hop and dancing for film and video.
How To Land An Agency
"At times with the agencies, they already have someone that looks like you or you're just not ready to work. Look has to do with a lot of it, work ethic and also just the type of person you are. Do you have personality? Do people want to work with you? Because you can be the greatest dancer, but if you're not someone that gives off this energy of wanting to get to know you, then it doesn't matter how dope you are because people want to work with who they want to be around. I learned that by later transitioning into a choreographer because now that I'm hiring people, I want to hire the people that I want to be around for 12 or 14 hours a day.
You also have to understand that class dancers are different from working commercial dancers. A lot of class dancers and what you see in these YouTube videos are people who stand out because they're doing what they want and remixing choreography. They're kind of stars in their own right, which is great for class, but when it comes to a job, you have to do the choreography how it's taught."
Houston's METdance and the Dallas-based Bruce Wood Dance have teamed up to commission a new work from Dallas native (and former Dallas Black Dance Theatre artistic director) Bridget L. Moore. The two contemporary companies will take the stage together in Dallas at Moody Performance Hall on March 16 and at Houston's Hobby Center for the Performing Arts on April 13–15. Visit brucewooddance.org and metdance.org for details on the respective engagements.