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
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
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."