Often, Erez Ben-Zion Milatin seems to dance for himself, lost in a world of his imagination. With a juicy plié and a wonderful jump, his rich musicality fills all the nooks and crannies in whatever music he is dancing to. For the last three years, Milatin has found a home at New York Theatre Ballet, a chamber company that specializes in less-performed ballets by Sir Frederick Ashton, Sir Antony Tudor, Jerome Robbins and others, along with new creations. While there, he's had the chance to work closely with Richard Alston and Gemma Bond. Both have unleashed a new expansiveness and intensity in him.
Company: New York Theatre Ballet
Hometown: Mishmar HaShiv'a, Israel
Training: Thelma Yellin High School of the Arts, Ellison Ballet, Boston Ballet School trainee
Accolades: 2019 Clive Barnes Award finalist
Body image: At 5' 6", Milatin has struggled with being perceived as too short. "Ballet is so full of archetypes—the prince, the warrior—so the way your body looks becomes even more important," he says. "I remember seeing Herman Cornejo in La Bayadère when I was a student. The guy behind him was twice his size. It didn't matter. Herman overshadowed them all."
Learning not to push: Before joining NYTB, Milatin was dancing with the Gelsey Kirkland Ballet when he suffered a serious neck injury and spent about a year recovering. "I learned that sometimes it's best to do something once or twice, but not to keep going over it again and again. I didn't know how to rest."
Responding to the score: Music is what motivates Milatin when he dances. "One hundred percent, it's all I care about, and sometimes it can get me into trouble, when it's a choice between a choreographer's steps and the music I hear in my head."
Pandemic pastimes: Milatin stayed at his in-laws' in Florida into June, kayaking and doing about 200 push-ups a day, but he didn't stress out about staying in shape. "I had this pile of books and music I wanted to listen to. There are so many things I had to put on hold. So I'm quite cherishing this time."
Standing out: "There is an intensity and curiosity about Erez that makes him special," says NYTB artistic director Diana Byer. "He doesn't just use his technical skills to show off his virtuosity but invests in every aspect of a role. He never stops exploring."
Dreaming of home: "If you ask an Israeli, 'What is your culture?' it's complicated, because people there come from different places," he says. "I do feel like it's my responsibility at some point to go back and fight for that cultural identity. To make sure we have good educational programs that equip kids to express themselves."