Naomi Corti in William Forsythe's Herman Schmerman. Photo by Erin Baiano, Courtesy New York City Ballet

Naomi Corti on Sharing the Stage with New York City Ballet Stars—as an Apprentice

One night last February, the New York City Ballet audience was all aflutter: Naomi Corti, a coltish teenage apprentice, was about to take the stage for William Forsythe's Herman Schmerman, flanked by soloists and principals. Even in a company famous for sink-or-swim casting, it was a remarkable moment. And Corti immediately made an impression—by falling, hard, right after her first entrance. Spill behind her, she relaxed into the daredevilish choreography, which suited her jungle-cat athleticism. The crowd—and Forsythe, who witnessed it all—approved. Now a member of the corps, Corti is eager to tackle more of NYCB's tall-girl repertoire.


Company: New York City Ballet

Age: 19

Hometown: Agoura Hills, California, by way of Luxembourg and France

Training: California Dance Theatre and the School of American Ballet

Accolades: 2018 Mae L. Wien Award

Corti, in a black leotard, bare legs and pointe shoes, in a pass\u00e9 relev\u00e9

Naomi Corti in William Forsythe's Herman Schmerman. Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy New York City Ballet

Ballet beginnings: "My grandmother always wanted a dancer in the family, so she pushed to get me into classes," Corti says. "It made sense, anyway: I tried to play soccer, but my dad joked that it looked like I was saut-de-chat-ing over the ball."

Balanchine appeal: Corti's first exposure to the Balanchine style came via NYCB principal Tiler Peck, who guested as the Sugarplum Fairy in Corti's studio's production of The Nutcracker. "Immediately, I knew the way Tiler was moving was the way I wanted to dance," Corti says. "Balanchine ballets make you feel so empowered. I'm always chasing that feeling."

Her big break: Corti, who'd learned the same solo from Herman Schmerman as a student at SAB, was originally fourth cast for the company's performances, but ended up dancing on opening night. "When they told me to go for a costume fitting, I thought they were joking," she says. "Obviously, it was scary, but eventually I was like, 'You know what? Nobody knows who I am! What do I have to lose?' "

On getting Forsythe's stamp of approval: "He was so sweet after the performance," Corti says. "He told me to fall again in the next show. He loved it—he said it made the audience sit up straight."

Tall-girl pride: Corti is a striking 5' 9". "I want to be even taller," she says, giggling. She dreams of dancing NYCB's classic tall-girl rep—roles like the soloist in "Rubies," the Queen in The Cage and the fourth-movement principal in Western Symphony. And she's found a mentor in similarly Amazonian corps member Emily Kikta. "Emily talked me through a foot injury recently, because she'd had the exact same problem," Corti says.

What NYCB artistic director Jonathan Stafford is saying: "Naomi has incredible strength and technical prowess," he says, which is why the artistic team was confident she could hold her own next to Sara Mearns and Unity Phelan in Herman Schmerman.

Life outside of dance: In her downtime, Corti takes courses at Columbia University. "I'm definitely a math/science person," she says. "I'm also interested in physical therapy, since dancers are directly impacted by that work."

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Courtesy Harlequin

What Does It Take to Make a Safe Outdoor Stage for Dance?

Warmer weather is just around the corner, and with it comes a light at the end of a hibernation tunnel for many dance organizations: a chance to perform again. While social distancing and mask-wearing remain essential to gathering safely, the great outdoors has become an often-preferred performance venue.

But, of course, nature likes to throw its curveballs. What does it take to successfully pull off an alfresco show?

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Dwight Rhodens "Ave Maria," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Keeping dancers safe outside requires the same intentional flooring as you have in the studio—but it also needs to be hearty enough to withstand the weather. With so many factors to consider, two ballet companies consulted with Harlequin Floors to find the perfect floor for their unique circumstances.

Last fall, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre invested in a mobile stage that allowed the dancers to perform live for socially distanced audiences. "But we didn't have an outdoor resilient floor, so we quickly realized that if we had any rain, we were going to be in big trouble—it would have rotted," says artistic director Susan Jaffe.

The company purchased the lightweight, waterproof Harlequin's AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and the heavy-duty Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl, which is manufactured with BioCote® Antimicrobial Protection to help with the prevention of bacteria and mold. After an indoor test run while filming Nutcracker ("It felt exactly like our regular floor," says Jaffe), the company will debut the new setup this May in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park during a two-week series of performances shared with other local arts organizations.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Open Air Series last fall. The company plans to roll out their new Harlequin AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl floor for more outdoor performances this spring.

Harris Ferris, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

In addition to the possibility of rain, a range of temperatures also has to be taken into account. When the State Ballet of Rhode Island received a grant from the state to upgrade its 15-year-old stage, executive director Ana Fox chose the Harlequin Cascade vinyl floor in the lighter gray color "so that it would be cooler if it's reflecting sunlight during daytime performances," she says.

However, for the civic ballet company's first performance on its new 24-by-48–foot stage on November 22, heat was less of a concern than the Northeastern cold. Fortunately, Fox says the surface never got icy or too stiff. "It felt warm to the feel," she says. "You could see the dancers didn't hesitate to run or step into arabesque." (The Harlequin Cascade floor is known for providing a good grip.)

"To have a safe floor for dancers not to worry about shin splints or something of that nature, that's everything," she says. "The dancers have to feel secure."

State Ballet of Rhode Island first rolled out their new Harlequin Cascade™ flooring for an outdoor performance last November.

Courtesy of Harlequin

Of course, the elements need to be considered even when dancers aren't actively performing. Although Harlequin's AeroDeck is waterproof, both PBT and SBRI have tarps to cover their stages to keep any water out. SBRI also does damp mopping before performances to get pollen off the surface. Additionally, the company is building a shed to safely store the floor long-term when it's not in use. "Of course, it's heavy, but laying down the floor and putting it away was not an issue at all," says Fox, adding that both were easy to accomplish with a crew of four people.

Since the Harlequin Cascade surface is versatile enough to support a wide range of dance styles—and even opera and theater sets—both PBT and SBRI are partnering with other local arts organizations to put their outdoor stages to use as much as possible. Because audiences are hungry for art right now.

"In September, I made our outdoor performance shorter so we wouldn't have to worry about intermission or bathrooms, but when it was over, they just sat there," says Jaffe, with a laugh. "People were so grateful and so happy to see us perform. We just got an overwhelming response of love and gratitude."

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Susan Jaffes "Carmina Terra," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

February 2021