The Creative Process

18-Year-Old NYCB Apprentice Naomi Corti Talks About Her Big Break in Forsythe's "Herman Schmerman"

Naomi Corti in William Forsythe's "Herman Schmerman." Erin Baiano, Courtesy NYCB.

When audience members opened their programs at New York City Ballet's revival of Herman Schmerman a few weeks ago, one name had everyone buzzing: Naomi Corti. Just an apprentice, she was dancing a featured role alongside principals and soloists in William Forsythe's challenging, go-for-broke choreography. How was this going to go down?

Quite well, actually. Despite a nasty fall at the beginning of the ballet, 18-year-old Corti held her own next to castmates Sara Mearns and Unity Phelan—and didn't hold back during her solos and partnering sections. When she stepped forward to take her bow, the audience cheered wildly; her reaction was a mix of shock and utter joy. Still, we couldn't help but wonder what kind of pressure she must have been under.

NYCB has a history of giving young apprentices big breaks. Current corps members Miriam Miller (as Titania in Balanchine's A Midsummer Night's Dream) and Alston Macgill (in a featured role in Symphony in C) both had opportunities to shine during their apprentice years. So how does it feel to take on a big role so young? We talked to Corti to find out.


What has your life as an NYCB apprentice been like so far?

It's been a stressful year, of course, but the company is so encouraging. We have mentors, NYCB dancers who help us get used to company life and answer any questions we have. It's a new thing they've done for the past two or three years now, but it's so helpful.

You had first learned excerpts from Herman Schmerman while you were a student at the School of American Ballet. What was that like?

Last year, Forsythe stager Noah Gelber came to the school for a few days and taught us the same solo that I just performed. As soon as we left that class I remember telling my friend that Herman Schmerman was one of my bucket list ballets. I kept it in the back of my head.

How did you find out that you would be learning it with the company?

Noah came and watched company class with ballet master Rebecca Krohn. When we got the schedule, my name was on the list, along with dancers I had been looking up to since I was little! I texted my parents and they were so excited and scared for me. It was just a two-hour call to learn some excerpts, including that solo I had learned at SAB. Then they said they'd email us and let us know if we needed to keep coming to rehearsals. They kept whittling the dancers down into smaller and smaller groups until there were about three or four working casts.

Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.

As an apprentice, I'm sure that was nerve wracking. Did it help that you were familiar with the choreography?

I was in the room with principal dancers and felt very out of place, so knowing the steps beforehand helped me feel a little more comfortable. Right before that first rehearsal one of my mentors, corps member Kristen Segin, grabbed me and said, "You belong here. Do not feel like you are not supposed to be in this rehearsal—you deserve this." That really helped me relax.

When did you learn that you would be performing the ballet, and in the first cast?

I found out the Thursday before the first show. I was shocked! I had been staying in the back of the studio, just trying to rehearse as full out as possible and learn as much as I could from the company members. It had been a whirlwind of a season, and a few dancers started to feel some small injuries coming on. They wanted to save their bodies so they wouldn't be out the entire season, which is how I got to perform it. I was definitely a little nervous, but also really excited to dance alongside my idols.

Did your fellow cast members make you feel welcome?

They really did! They were so kind and encouraging. If I was having trouble with a step they would try to help me find the best way to do it.

What was it like to work with William Forsythe?

He came in the last two weeks and re-choreographed the opening section. It was amazing to see his choreographic process. He was so kind and really wanted us to have fun with the ballet. I had been really focused on hitting all the steps and making sure it was perfect, and he wanted me to relax and let go of all of that. He really helped me find what kind of dancer I want to be.

What was going through your mind on opening night?

Right before the performance there was so much nervous energy and excitement backstage. When the curtain came up, it was silent for a second, and everything felt super calm. Then once the music started it felt, not comfortable, but like it was the right place to be. And then I fell. But it was actually a great way of letting go of some of those nerves. I thought, it can't get worse, so I might as well throw it all out there and enjoy it. I was dancing next to Sara and Unity, these powerhouse dancers who command attention. I was trying to bring myself up to their level, which is so impossible but it was an amazing challenge!

The other apprentices and corps members were backstage encouraging me. I could see them smiling in the wings and cheering me on, and they'd high five me whenever I came offstage. It gave me the energy to keep going.

How did you grow from the experience?

In school you're so focused on your technique and trying to make everything perfect. Once you come here, it's more about finding what type of a dancer you are. By having the opportunity to dance what feels natural to me, I found my weaknesses but I also found my strengths. It also made me realize that there's a lot more work to be done—you look around and see that every single person in the company is working on becoming better, so it kind of reminds you that even though you think you've made it, there's so much more work to do.

What advice would you give someone about to start an apprenticeship?

Hard work pays off. Even if you see other people taking it easy, it doesn't always mean that you can, especially as an apprentice. You're being tested, so it's your time to work hard and show that you deserve to be there. But you also need to take care of your body and your mind, and take moments to appreciate the accomplishments you've made, however big or small. They all add up and help you enjoy the hard stuff.


The Conversation
Dance History
A still from the documentary American Tap

Thirty years ago, U.S. Joint Resolution 131, introduced by congressman John Conyers (D-MI) and Senator Alphonse D'Amato (R-NY), and signed into law by President G. W. Bush declared:

"Whereas the multifaceted art form of tap dancing is a manifestation of the cultural heritage of our Nation...

Whereas tap dancing is a joyful and powerful aesthetic force providing a source of enjoyment and an outlet for creativity and self-expression...

Whereas it is in the best interest of the people of our Nation to preserve, promote, and celebrate this uniquely American art form...

Whereas May 25, as the anniversary of the birth of Bill "Bojangles" Robinson is an appropriate day on which to refocus the attention of the Nation on American tap dancing: Now therefore, be it resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress that May 25, 1989, be designated "National Tap Dance Day."

Happy National Tap Dance Day!

Keep reading... Show less
Hive by Boston Conservatory student Alyssa Markowitz. Photo by Jim Coleman

The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.

Keep reading... Show less
The Creative Process
James Fosberg, courtesy Mason

Over the past 15 years, Gesel Mason has asked 11 choreographers—including legends like Donald McKayle, David Roussève, Bebe Miller, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Rennie Harris and Kyle Abraham—to teach her a solo. She's performed up to seven of them in one evening for her project No Boundaries: Dancing the Visions of Contemporary Black Choreographers.

Now, Mason is repackaging the essence of this work into a digital archive. This online offering shares the knowledge of a few with many, and considers how dance can live on as those who create it get older.

Keep reading... Show less
News
Fox produced a live broadcast of Rent in January—but could an original musical be next? Photo by Kevin Estrada, Courtesy Fox

When a musical prepares to make the transfer from a smaller, lesser-known venue to Broadway (where theaters hold 500-plus seats), often there's a collective intake of breath from all involved. After all, a bigger house means more tickets to sell in order to stay in the black, and sometimes shows with even the most tenacious fan bases can't quite navigate such a jump. But what about the transfer from stage…to screen? Is Broadway ready to be consumed from the comfort of your couch?

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by McCallum Theatre
Last year's winner: Manuel Vignoulle's EARTH. Jack Hartin Photography, Courtesy McCallum Theatre

It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.

Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.

Keep reading... Show less
Breaking Stereotypes
Courtesy Lee

Daphne Lee was dancing with Collage Dance Collective in Memphis, Tennessee, when she received two difficult pieces of news: Her mother had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma cancer, and her father had Parkinson's disease, affecting his mobility and mental faculties.

The New Jersey native's reaction: "I really need to move home."

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body
Bruce Mars via Unsplash

Summer is almost upon us, and whether you're a student about to go on break or a pro counting the days till layoff, don't forget that with warm weather comes a very serious responsibility: To maintain your cross-training routine on your own.

Those of us who've tried to craft our own cross-training routine know it's easier said than done. So we consulted the stars, and rounded up the best options for every zodiac sign. (TBH, you should probably consult an expert, too—we'd recommend a physical therapist, a personal trainer or your teacher.)

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body

It's become second nature in dance studios: The instant anyone gets hurt, our immediate reaction is to run to the freezer to grab some ice (or, more realistically, a package of frozen peas).

But as routine as icing our injuries might be, the benefits are not actually backed up by scientific studies. And some experts now believe icing could even disrupt the healing process.

Keep reading... Show less
Advice for Dancers
Getty Images

I'm a contemporary dancer, and I'm nervous about trying to get pregnant since I can't predict if it might happen during the middle of the season. We have a union contract that is supposed to protect us. But I'm scared because several of my colleagues' contracts weren't renewed for no particular reason. Having a big belly could be a big reason to get rid of me!

—Andrea, New York, NY

Keep reading... Show less
Dance As Activism
From Dance of Urgency. © Ekvidi

When the going gets tough, the tough start dancing: That's the premise behind "Dance of Urgency," a recently opened exhibit at MuseumsQuartier Vienna that features photos, video and other documentary material relating to the use of dance as political protest or social uprising.

The groups featured in the show, largely based around clubs and electronic dance music scenes, span the globe and respond to a variety of issues—from inequality and social stratification to racial divides to crackdowns on club culture itself.

Keep reading... Show less
News

Last night, longtime theater legends (including Chita Rivera herself!) as well as rising stars gathered to celebrate one of Broadway's danciest events: the third annual Chita Rivera Awards.

The evening paid tribute to this season's dancer standouts, fabulous ensembles, and jaw-dropping choreography—on- and off-Broadway and on film.

As usual, several of our faves made it into the mix. (With such a fabulous talent pool of nominees to choose from, we're glad that ties were allowed.) Here are the highlights from the winner's list:

Keep reading... Show less
Career Advice
Lorenzo Di Cristina/Unsplash

When you're a foreign dancer, gaining legal rights to work in the U.S. is a challenging process. It's especially difficult if you're petitioning to work as a freelance dancer without an agent or company sponsorship.

The process requires professional muscle along with plenty of resources and heart. "There's a real misnomer that it's super easy," says Neena Dutta, immigration attorney and president of Dutta Law Firm. "People need to educate themselves and talk to a professional."

Here are four things every foreign dancer who wants to work in the U.S. needs to know to build a freelance dance career here.

Keep reading... Show less
Career Advice
Quinn Wharton

What does it take to "make it" in dance? It's no secret that turning this passion into a profession can be a struggle. In such a competitive field, talent alone isn't enough to get you where you want to be.

So what kinds of steps can you take to become successful? Dance Magazine spoke to 33 people from all corners of the industry to get their advice on the lessons that could help us all, no matter where we are in our careers.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get Dance Magazine in your inbox