25 to Watch 2014
SEO HYE HAN
There's no wonder why Seo Hye Han made second soloist after just a year in the Boston Ballet corps. Watching her in rehearsal, you can't miss her incredible lightness or her mischievous smile. After her performance in Wayne McGregor's Chroma and a turn as Gamzatti in La Bayadère, artistic director Mikko Nissinen declared, “She's my next ballerina."
Han started ballet with her dancer mom, later training at the prestigious National Academy of Arts, Seoul, and the Korea National University of Arts. In 2005, she won a 10-month stint at the Vaganova Ballet Academy in St. Petersburg through the Prix de Lausanne. After three years as soloist in Seoul's Universal Ballet Company, she entered the 2012 Boston International Ballet Competition, taking the gold and the BB contract. Since then, she's learned English on her own, plus “a lot of new ballets—all at once." The most recent ones are “Diamonds," from Jewels, and Cinderella, in which you can see her Autumn Fairy this spring. —Iris Fanger
Photo by Nathan Sayers
THE NEXUS PROJECT
Chicago's new Nexus Project is all men, all the time. True, there are only two of them: Benjamin Wardell and Michel Rodriguez Cintra. But watching these very different dancers, alone or together, is a treat. Where Rodriguez Cintra is soft and slippery as a fish, Wardell gives an impression of immutable strength. Where Rodriguez Cintra is curious and amused, Wardell is stern and focused.
Both trained first as competitive gymnasts. But eventually, in his native Cuba, Rodriguez Cintra studied what he calls “Cuban modern dance," while Wardell moved into ballet and later performed with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago.
Wardell initiated Nexus in 2012, with the thought that “male duet dancing doesn't happen very often. And when it does, it's either Brokeback Mountain melodrama or bulls locking horns." After recruiting Rodriguez Cintra, Wardell solicited choreography from 12 Chicago dancemakers (among them Julia Rhoads, head of Lucky Plush Productions, where both men are also members). By March 2013, the two men were mixing and remixing that material for a monthlong run of five “stories" last November. Next up: Audience Architects' Dance: A Moving Canvas series in April. —Laura Molzahn
Photo courtesy Nexus
If you saw the original cast of Newsies on Broadway, you know Ryan Steele. As Specs, Steele was the one doing dozens of flawless fouettés on top of a crumpled newspaper, the one whose legs extended far beyond anyone else's. Though technically “just" an ensemble member, Steele, now 23, stole the show night after night.
Steele grew up dancing at a competition studio in Walled Lake, MI—though he insists he “only started dancing so his mom didn't have to hire a babysitter"—and competed at Youth America Grand Prix and American Ballet Competition. While still in his teens, he turned down a contract with Ballet Austin to join the cast of Broadway's West Side Story as Baby John. From there, Steele enjoyed successful runs in Billy Elliot, Newsies and Matilda: The Musical, and eventually graduated to the big screen: Last fall he made his film debut as the lead in Five Dances. Now, Steele is getting back to his ballet roots as a member of the workshopping cast for Christopher Wheeldon's An American in Paris. —Alison Feller
Photo by Peter Ross, Courtesy Paladin
Clad in a dark gray suit, Heath Gill plants his feet onstage during the intermission before Ohad Naharin's Minus 16. His arms crossed, he scans the audience. But he can't stand still. Strange impulses start bubbling up from inside, sending him into unpredictable cha-cha steps, leaps and pirouettes. With suppleness and comic timing, Gill drops into a backward roll, then pops up to standing, looking as if he surprised himself.
The 25-year-old from Southern Illinois joined Atlanta Ballet in 2010. He couldn't have foreseen then his epic 15-minute Minus 16 solo. “Carrying off that solo for that length of time under those circumstances, it takes depth, gravitas, confidence, risk," says artistic director John McFall. “Heath folds into Naharin's work like he was born for it."
Gill has since performed lead roles in Michael Pink's Dracula and David Bintley's Carmina Burana. He's sure to make an impression this March in Atlanta Ballet's Modern Choreographic Voices. —Cynthia Bond Perry
Photo of Gill in Minus 16. By Charlie McCullers, Courtesy Atlanta Ballet
When Danielle Hammer began taking open modern classes at Pacific Northwest Ballet School at age 17, after only six months of dance training, she immediately stood out. “I remember her drive," says teacher and choreographer Sonia Dawkins, “how engaged she was in learning as much as she could."
Now 24 and steadily engaged in Chicago's freelance scene, Hammer's appetite for dance knowledge is no less voracious. Choreographer Michael Rioux recently tapped her for filthy/mockingbird, a work whose demands, both physical and mental, were massive; she moved through its labyrinthine improvisation structures with cool confidence.
So far, Hammer has also tried ballet, gymnastics, Cunningham, tango, swing, Lindy, bachata, merengue, Gaga and kathak. “Dreamy Danielle wants to be in a super-structured company," she says. “Like Forsythe's, where you're building one complete language. But I've also thought about going back to school for dance therapy." This February, Hammer makes her debut with contemporary Chicago troupe Khecari in cresset: vibrant, rusting at the Dance Center of Columbia College. —Zachary Whittenburg
Photo by Matthew Gregory Hollis, Courtesy Hammer
Small, soft-spoken Tomomi Morimoto packs a punch onstage. Her explorations of stillness and transformation pulse with ferocious intensity. Tokyo-born and Montreal-based since 2004, she skillfully blends her backgrounds in ballet, physical theater, contemporary dance and figure skating with elements inspired by butoh, creating work that is at once meticulous, primal and physically demanding. Currently, Morimoto is creating a dance triptych inspired by the traditional Japanese ghost folk tales featuring yokai, haunting supernatural apparitions. “I believe these spirits represent a reflection of what we are (that is, our true natures)," she says, “rather than who we think we are." —Philip Szporer
Photo by Sandra Lynn Bélanger, Courtesy Morimoto
MEGAN ZIMNY KAFTIRA
She may be from Texas, but there is an old-world refinement to Megan Zimny Kaftira. With her angular jawline and soulful eyes, she projects the calm poise often associated with Russian ballerinas: There's a legato beauty in her steps. Her breakthrough was a long time coming, however, and it took a move to Dutch National Ballet for her to blossom.
Kaftira (formerly Gray) trained at the Harid Conservatory in Florida. After four years in the corps at Boston Ballet, she turned to Europe for a fresh start. Dutch National Ballet saw untapped potential, and since joining in 2010, Kaftira has been climbing the ranks fast. In 2012, Alexei Ratmansky created a harrowing part for her in his whirlwind Souvenir d'un lieu cher; last season, she debuted as Juliet and danced tailor-made roles as the mean stepsister in Wheeldon's Cinderella and in David Dawson's Overture. Now a second soloist, 26-year-old Kaftira is an unmistakably mature presence in every DNB program. The icing on her Amsterdam cake? She was married last summer to filmmaker and former DNB principal Altin Kaftira. Look for her in the string of premieres DNB has scheduled this spring. —Laura Cappelle
Photo by Angela Sterling, Courtesy Dutch National Ballet
Vogue dancers have been flirting with the concert dance world for years—Doug Elkins' Scott, Queen of Marys, starring “grandfather of vogue" Willi Ninja, premiered in 1994—but few voguers are as at home in so many different venues as Javier Ninja. The decorated new-way-vogue dancer, who has been named House Dance International Champion of the Year multiple times, mixes seemingly boneless hyperextensions with serpentine hand and arm gestures. It's an unearthly combination, made all the more enticing by Javier's deliciously tongue-in-cheek theatricality. And somehow it looks right in every context—whether he's performing at street dance competition Juste Debout, dancing with Madonna at the 2012 Super Bowl or reprising his late mentor Willi's role in last year's revival of Scott, Queen of Marys.
Javier (born Javier Madrid) trained in ballet, contemporary and modern for several years before discovering voguing at age 15, “in a club I definitely was not supposed to be in," he says. “I'd always been fascinated by rhythmic gymnastics, and I loved the idea of being grotesque when I danced—enough to make people squirm—but also very precise." The club scene introduced him to Willi Ninja, who brought Javier into the voguing House of Ninja and was a close friend until his death in 2006. “To keep Willi's legacy going," Javier says, “is one of my greatest goals." —Margaret Fuhrer
Photo by Erin Baiano, Courtesy Dance Spirit
Tap dancer Demi Remick can attack the most complicated combinations without losing her soulful, full-bodied approach. She has taught and performed alongside superstars like Jason Samuels Smith and Michelle Dorrance. All at only 17.
Growing up in New Hampshire, Remick convinced her parents to drive her two hours each way to take tap and modern classes in Boston. When she met Dorrance at age 11 at the Beantown Tap Fest, she made it her mission to work alongside her. Now she's the youngest member of Dorrance Dance. “A lot of kids are born with exceptional talent," Dorrance says, “but Demi pushes in every direction she has potential in."
This month, Remick will premiere a work at YoungArts in Miami (she won gold in the competition last year) and is continuing to work with Dorrance Dance and Samuels Smith. Meanwhile, Remick is also training with ballet master Peter Brandenhoff and applying to college dance programs. “My goal is to someday fuse tap and modern," she says. “I want to incorporate the full body movements of modern in my tap, and I want rhythm to be the driving force in my modern." —Emily Macel Theys
Photo by Matthew Murphy, Courtesy Dorrance
One of the most captivating new faces on Houston's dance scene, Laura Gutierrez offers a fresh take on grace. Using her long limbs with a studied precision, she is not afraid to let stillness, tension and the quieter part of dance have a role in her work. This tendency toward minimalism has attracted a variety of artists, including rising filmmaker Lydia Hance. Gutierrez has also taken multiple forays into the visual arts world, including a work by Jonah Bokaer at the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia.
After earning her BFA in contemporary dance from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, the Houston native received a 2009–2010 William R. Kenan, Jr., Performing Arts Fellowship at the Lincoln Center Institute and performed works by Brenda Daniels, Lar Lubovitch and Sarah Skaggs. Today, she is carving her own path as a choreographer, independent dancer and guest artist: Gutierrez presents the first evening-length show of her work in Houston this spring. —Nancy Wozny
Photo by Simon Gentry, Courtesy Gutierrez
With his clean ease of technique, Travis Walker can suspend in air, twist or turn in any direction. But what sets the Trey McIntyre Project dancer apart is his willingness to open himself emotionally to creative experiences onstage. “There is an ocean of sensitivity in him," McIntyre says. That sensitivity lights a fire under pieces such as Bad Winter, a raw depiction of a dysfunctional relationship, and Killer Queen, part of McIntyre's Mercury Half-Life.
Walker, 29, started tap and jazz at age 4 in Vestal, NY, but by 6 felt the pull to ballet. His classical career took him to Ballet San Jose, Alberta Ballet and Smuin Ballet in San Francisco, where McIntyre created Oh, Inverted World in 2010. The two connected, and for Walker, the experience unlocked something. “It changed the way I think about dance," he says. “Trey was so efficient in getting me to move in a new way. That process called on something in me that I didn't know I was capable of." He joined Trey McIntyre Project in 2011. See Walker and TMP on Jan. 31 at Denver's Newman Center, March 15 at Boise's Morrison Center and March 21–22 at UC Berkeley's Zellerbach Auditorium. —Dana Oland
Photo by DavidAllenStudio.com, Courtesy TMP
Working in the solo form can be a lonely endeavor—and one that offers no place to hide. It's also a perilous challenge, since the artist needs to look simultaneously at what she does from the inside as well as the outside. Yet Christy Funsch has mastered the genre impressively. Her pieces—some 30 solos—are at once intensely private yet accessible, casual yet elegant. Onstage, she mesmerizes with impeccably crafted movement packed with rich details. Her 2012 production One on One, a full evening of solos set on a group of exceedingly diverse Bay Area dancers, showed the potential of the genre and the promise of this artist. Funsch Dance Experience opens its San Francisco home season on the last weekend in May with Funsch's latest solo Impose Upon Me. —Rita Felciano
Photo by Kegan Marling, Courtesy Funsch
DA' VON DOANE
It's rare to find a beautifully classical dancer who can also, well, get down. Throughout Dance Theatre of Harlem's triumphant return to the stage last spring, 25-year-old Da' Von Doane impressed with his crisp, elegant lines. But when it came time for Robert Garland's Return—a work set to James Brown and Aretha Franklin classics that's equal parts ballet and “Soul Train"—we saw a very different, and equally irresistible, dancer toggling between the Roger Rabbit and ronds de jambe.
Doane first began dancing at his church in Salisbury, MD. He went on to train in ballet, jazz and tap at the Salisbury Studio of Dance. He joined the DTH Ensemble at 19, and when the main company was reestablished in 2012, he became a full-fledged member. “Those initial performances, it really hit me," he says. “You realize the full force of this organization's history, the importance of its legacy. And now I'm a part of it." Doane will be touring to New Jersey and Texas with DTH this month. —Margaret Fuhrer
Photo by Rachel Neville, Courtesy DTH
Pacific Northwest Ballet's Chelsea Adomaitis is flying high this season—not only onstage in Twyla Tharp's Waiting at the Station, but also on the company's season-opener poster in a grand jeté. PNB artistic director Peter Boal picked Adomaitis out of a crowd of 80 hopefuls at the Harid Conservatory in 2007 for a spot in PNB's summer program. Five years later, the 23-year-old Boston native is dancing featured roles, and not because of her high kicks (which you might expect from a 5' 9" dancer), but because of her thrilling jumps, speed and stamina. Even when she was an apprentice, she showed an unusual intensity and maturity in pieces by Victor Quijada and Ulysses Dove. As Boal puts it, “She holds nothing back—her personality always is onstage." Look for her this spring in A Midsummer Night's Dream and Giselle in Seattle. —Gigi Berardi
Photo by Lindsay Thomas, Courtesy PNB
Tall and lanky, Dylan Gutierrez has a bit of a hipster vibe. (Case in point: He has his own Tumblr and vlog, and “makes beats" on his computer.) Although the leading Joffrey Ballet dancer has excelled in standard “prince and cavalier" material, artistic director Ashley Wheater also has cast the Los Angeles–born Gutierrez in more adventurous ways. He was just 21 when he captivated in the title role of the addled old dreamer in Yuri Possokhov's Don Quixote. He made a strong dramatic impression as the Moor in Lar Lubovitch's Othello. And he left an especially memorable imprint as the strange gentleman who strides across the stage in mysterious slow-motion in Alexander Ekman's stunning Episode 31.
“Dylan is a bit of a joker, but has an amazing ear and is a wonderful impersonator," says Wheater, who most recently cast Gutierrez as Solor in Stanton Welch's La Bayadère. Gutierrez, 24 this month, attacked the role with impressive panache. Audiences can see Gutierrez in the Joffrey's Contemporary Choreographers program Feb. 12–23, at Chicago's Auditorium Theatre. —Hedy Weiss
Photo by Cheryl Mann, Courtesy Joffrey
If you saw Pam Tanowitz's The Spectators at New York Live Arts last spring, you probably haven't forgotten the opening image: Melissa Toogood, in formfitting red, cutting vertically through centerstage, her brisk, ballet-inflected steps slicing the space in half. The Sydney, Australia–born dancer, who performed with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company for five years, brings razor-sharp clarity and stunning facility to everything she does. “Having done Cunningham for so long, I didn't feel locked into one thing," says Toogood, 32, describing how she felt when the troupe closed. “If anything, it's given me the tools to do more." Much more: Since going freelance in 2012, she's been in serious demand, working with Rosie Herrera, Stephen Petronio, Kyle Abraham and others. Her austere role in The Spectators and her thrashing solo in Rashaun Mitchell's Interface landed her a 2013 Bessie nomination for outstanding performer. Catch her in Tanowitz's new work at the Joyce, Feb. 4–6, and Mitchell's work-in-progress at New York Live Arts, May 9–10. —Siobhan Burke
Photo by Elyssa Goodman, Courtesy Tanowitz
A Miami City Ballet soloist with vibrant lyricism, Jennifer Lauren blossoms in the first pas de deux of Jerome Robbins' In the Night. Her thrill of love leaves an indelible impression. The Tuscaloosa native began her professional career at Alabama Ballet. “Wes Chapman really taught me to dance there," Lauren says. Since joining MCB in 2007, she's sped up from her classical base to the tempo of Balanchine. This season, she's keyed up to conquer the second violin part in Concerto Barocco and will repeat her fluid rendering of Ratmansky's arduously physical Symphonic Dances. Attuned to her partners and peers, Lauren has become that most valuable of dancers: a standout who elevates her whole company. —Guillermo Perez
Photo of Lauren with Reyneris Reyes in La Sonnambula. By Leigh-Ann Esty, Courtesy Miami City Ballet
Nic Lincoln is voracious for roles to play, styles to conquer. In his recent solo concert Yes!, five female choreographers created five disparate worlds for him—and he plunged in fearlessly. There were iconic dance movements from 1930s musical numbers mixed in with postmodern gestures and even some high-camp posturing. A gay activist who walks the walk, he donated 20 percent of the proceeds to OutFront MN in support of LGBT equality.
Lincoln started his career with Dayton Ballet, Cleveland San Jose Ballet and Grand Rapids Ballet. Since moving to St. Paul, his wit and style have graced his performances with the James Sewell Ballet and other Twin Cities choreographers. You can see him perform with JSB at the Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts in Minneapolis Jan. 24–Feb. 9 and April 26–May 4. —Linda Shapiro
Photo by V. P. Virtuccio, Courtesy Lincoln
The first thing you notice about Kristina Kretova is her radiant confidence. She whips out multiple fearless turns and springs high into the air with leaps that seem to fly. She is spunky and spirited in contemporary works. But it is in classical roles that this leading soloist—who came to the Bolshoi in 2011 by way of Moscow's Kremlin Ballet and Stanislavsky Ballet—gets to show off her greatest strengths: impressive dramatic skills and refined classicism.
Coached by Nina Semizorova, a pupil of the legendary Galina Ulanova, Kretova has been hailed for her recent portrayal of Olga in Onegin, her flitting Firebird, her quivering white and scheming black swans and her gracious Giselle. But this is a dancer of true versatility: In sharp contrast, she partnered Olympic figure skater Alexei Yagudin in a popular nationwide TV dance competition in 2012, performing with a slick humor that won her a whole new group of fans. —Margaret Willis
Photo by E. Fetisova, Courtesy Bolshoi
New York City Ballet's dancers share a singular clarity of purpose onstage, united by Balanchine's urgent musicality. Indiana Woodward is one of the few who pair that with a harmonious clarity of line. As a capering jazz baby in Jerome Robbins' Interplay, or in a sweeping soloist role in Christopher Wheeldon's Soirée Musicale, Woodward embodies both the spirited drive of the Balanchine style and the refined classicism of Russian technique.
Just 20, the corps de ballet member, who joined the company in December 2012, trained with Yuri Grigoriev in California and at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy summer intensive in New York before arriving at the School of American Ballet at age 15. “I didn't even know about New York City Ballet until I was 12," she says. “But I went to the SAB summer program and was immediately drawn to the over-the-top feel of Balanchine technique. I'm thankful for the solid base my Russian training gave me, but it's more rigid—my old teachers used to tell me not to smile in class. Here, they want you to be completely free." Look for her onstage with NYCB at Lincoln Center this month. —Margaret Fuhrer
Photo above: Woodward with Ralph Ippolito in Soirée Musicale. By Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB
Yoshiaki Nakano's got all the tricks: the lingering jumps, the endless turns, the brilliant batterie. But he's a careful marksman, and only releases them once you've been dazzled by all the patiently executed movements in between. In Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's performance of Mark Morris' Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes, Nakano proved he doesn't need a coda to captivate the crowd. The ballet's deceptively minimalist choreography allowed him to showcase his best tricks yet: remarkable technique and control.
Nakano was trained by his mother in Osaka, Japan, before attending the San Francisco Ballet School and Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School. He won a silver medal at the World Ballet Competition in Orlando in 2010, the same year he joined PBT, and took home gold at the Beijing International Ballet Competition in 2013. Now, as a newly appointed soloist, he's continued to coolly differentiate himself from the crowd. Catch him in PBT's production of Swan Lake at the Benedum Center, Feb. 13–16. —Kathleen McGuire
Photo by Rich Sofranko, Courtesy PBT
In a company full of established stars, it's not easy for an up-and-comer to grab the audience's focus. But Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's Demetia Hopkins does just that. Whether she's showing off luscious extensions in Kylián's Petite Mort or a powerful lyricism in Ailey's Revelations, Hopkins' ability to embody a work seems second nature.
A former comp kid from Virginia, Hopkins started performing with Ailey II while still in the Ailey/Fordham BFA program. Just a year after graduating, she became a member of the first company. “I'm finding a love for musical theater and the characters of Mr. Ailey's ballets, like in Blues Suite," she says. Look for Hopkins this upcoming season during AAADT's 23-city tour, including stops in Washington, DC, next month, Houston in March and Seattle in April. —Jenny Dalzell
Photo by Francette Levieux, Courtesy Ailey
CALVIN ROYAL III
Even when he was a young member of ABT II, Calvin Royal III had a gravity about his dancing that quietly captured the audience's attention. He has natural lyricism and nobility; his demeanor toward his partners is warm and relaxed. Since joining American Ballet Theatre as an apprentice in 2010, he's done the usual small roles (peasants, courtiers, warriors), always with distinction. None of these, however, could prepare the low-key Floridian—who didn't start formal training until age 14—for the rigors of taking on a leading role in Alexei Ratmansky's ultra-virtuosic Piano Concerto #1, the closing ballet of his new Shostakovich Trilogy last year. Revealing a heretofore untapped intensity and a vivid, richly hued musicality, Royal, who is still in the corps de ballet, seemed to mature before our eyes. He claimed the stage. He was handed another trial by fire in the company's fall season: a principal role in Twyla Tharp's intricate, high-speed Bach Partita, dancing alongside such impressive technicians as Polina Semionova and Marcelo Gomes. Who knows what more is in store? —Marina Harss
Photo by Nathan Sayers, Courtesy Pointe
MARY ANN BRADLEY
Mary Ann Bradley gives Zenon Dance Company's eclectic repertory both elegance and pizzazz: Her innate musicality can transform ballroom dance moves into kinetic storytelling, while her goofy, off-kilter glamour inspires choreographers like Andrea Miller and Danny Buraczeski. In a recent solo created for her by Jennifer Arave for Walker Art Center's Momentum series, Bradley ricocheted around a small raised platform, sawing an electric guitar in two like a woman possessed.
A native of Dayton, OH, Bradley began her training at the Dayton Ballet School, and performed with local pre-professional companies Dance Theatre Dayton and Dayton Contemporary Dance II. Since moving to Minnesota she has danced with numerous Twin Cities–based companies and choreographers and is currently in her ninth season with Zenon. She'll be performing at the Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts in Minneapolis, May 9–18. —Linda Shapiro
Photo by Bill Cameron, Courtesy Bradley
Houston Ballet's Derek Dunn has all the pyrotechnics of a competition kid. But he never lets the “wow" factor of his jumps get in the way of a good story. Last season, he created enough fireworks as Garuda, god of dreams, in La Bayadère to have everyone asking how the young dancer was still an apprentice.
The Maryland native trained at Edna Lee Dance Studio and The Rock School, taking senior gold at Youth America Grand Prix and junior bronze at the USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson before joining Houston Ballet in 2012. Now a full-fledged corps member, Dunn has maintained his momentum with a stunning, emotional performance of Christopher Bruce's Intimate Pages. The rookie can look forward to dancing in Aladdin and Swan Lake in the upcoming months. It's been a while since Houston has seen quite this much virtuosity with such substance. —Nancy Wozny
Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet
Jennifer Kahn knew the theater industry could do better. As a professional stage manager for 17 years she worked on regional, off-Broadway and Broadway shows. Nearly each time a show closed, something unsettling happened: "I would watch them throw away our shows. All of the beautiful artwork by my friends in the paint shop would go in the trash." The elaborate backdrops? Gone.
But she had an idea: What if the material used in the backdrops and legs could be upcycled into something new? And what if theater lovers could literally keep a piece of a beloved show?
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.
For decades the name Alicia Alonso has been virtually synonymous with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the company she co-founded in Havana in 1948. Alonso died on October 17, just shy of what would have been her 99th birthday. In recent years, she had stepped back from day-to-day decision-making in the company. As if preparing for the future, in January, the company's leading ballerina, 42-year-old Viengsay Valdés, was named deputy director, a job that seems to encompass most of the responsibilities of a traditional director. Now, presumably, she will step into her new role as director of the company. Her debut as curator of the repertory comes in November, when the troupe will perform three mixed bills selected by her at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso. The following has been translated from a conversation conducted in Spanish, Valdés' native tongue.
New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns wasn't sure she was strong enough. A ballerina who has danced many demanding full-length and contemporary roles, she was about to push herself physically more than she thought was possible.
"I said, 'I can't. My body won't,' " she says. "He told me, 'Yes, it will.' "
She wasn't working with a ballet coach, but with personal trainer Joel Prouty, who was asking her to do squats with a heavier barbell than she'd ever used.