They're Major Names Now, But We Spotted These 9 Dancers When They Were "On the Rise"

December 25, 2018

Each month at Dance Magazine, we zero in on budding talent in our “On the Rise” department. Our writers across the country and beyond are continually on the lookout for the dancers and choreographers who are bound to be majors names in the years to come.

With 2018 coming to a close, what better time to check in with some of our former “On the Rise” artists? We hate to say we told you so, but these dancers—like Michelle Dorrance and Sara Mearns—have since hit it big.

Sara Mearns

Back in 2006, Mearns was a New York City Ballet soloist. She told writer Dena Abergel:

“…my goal right now is to grow into my own way of dancing and not to copy anyone else. I want to continue working on articulation and control and make the most of each opportunity.”

Currently a principal, Mearns is a true original, and her talents aren’t just limited to NYCB. She’s also become quite the crossover queen, sharing programs with postmodern choreographer Jodi Melnick and hip-hop duo Company Wang Ramirez. She’s even danced the work of Isadora Duncan, and this spring, she’ll star in New York City Center’s reboot of the musical I Married an Angel, directed and choreographed by Mearns’ husband Joshua Bergasse.

Michelle Dorrance

In 2005, Dorrance was a sought-after tapper, hoofing it in works by giants like Savion Glover and Barbara Duffy. Though her choreography wasn’t quite in the picture yet, Jane Goldberg wrote about Dorrance saying,

…the classes Dorrance teaches at Broadway Dance Center in New York City are filled to the max. As she works out her complex rhythms and phrases to Ani DiFranco or Thelonius Monk, “referencing” her mentors like Glover, Walker, and Medler, Dorrance is showing a new generation of dancers how to hit the floor and carry on the traditions of tap…”My ultimate dream is to give as much as I’ve been given to.”

It’s safe to say that Dorrance has accomplished that mission—and that she’s continuing it. The genre-bending tap choreographer graced our 90th-anniversary cover and was named one of DM‘s Most Influential People in Dance Today in 2017. She also received a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship and even created work on American Ballet Theatre.

Sara Esty

In 2011, Esty, was turning heads as a Miami City Ballet corps member, dancing under then-director Edward Villella with her twin sister Leigh-Ann. Gullermo Perez wrote:

Her twin believes Sara could shine on Broadway as well. It’s no surprise, then, that on Sara’s dream list are the lead in Rubies and a chance to light up Robbins’ West Side Story Suite. “Anything jazzy is right up my alley,” she says.

Esty has fulfilled her Broadway dreams. She danced in the ensemble of Christopher Wheeldon’s An American in Paris before starring as Lise Dassin in the touring production. More recently, she was Maggie in New York City Center’s reboot of A Chorus Line. You can even spot her on Amazon Prime as an extra in Season 2, Episode 7 of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”

Francesca Hayward

In 2015, we praised Hayward, then a Royal Ballet soloist. Laura Cappelle wrote:

…Francesca Hayward is fast and fleet, her dainty lines bending with expressive ease…[She’s] on the fast track to leading classical roles in London.

Hayward is a beloved principal at The Royal, where she’s danced leads such as Juliet, Manon, Titania, and Aurora. She’ll soon make the leap to the big screen, where she’s reportedly playing Victoria in the new CATS movie. (She has temporarily stepped away from performances at The Royal during filming.)

Sarah Lane

In 2005, Lane was a promising corps dancer at American Ballet Theatre. Kate Lydon wrote:

Even in corps roles—like the peasants in Swan Lake or the wilis in Giselle—her intensity, stage presence, full ports de bras, and uplift make her stand out.

: After 10 years as a soloist, Lane became a principal at ABT in September 2017. Along the way, she was named a Princess Grace Award winner, served as Natalie Portman’s dance double in Black Swan and has charmed audiences in numerous lead roles, like Giselle and Princess Praline in Alexei Ratmansky’s Whipped Cream.

Parisa Khobdeh

In 2007, Khobdeh had been with the Paul Taylor Dance Company for less than five seasons. Taylor, however, had already singled her out for a role in his new Lines of Loss. Hanna Rubin wrote:

There’s a hint of abandon in the way Parisa Khobdeh dances. Her movement has a free and easy quality. The steps seem to flow effortlessly, as though she’d heard the music for the first time and couldn’t stop dancing…”She makes it fun,” says Taylor, “which is the way it’s supposed to look.”

By the end of 2012, Khobdeh was featured on DM‘s cover.

A senior Taylor dancer, Khobdeh remains an enchanting presence in Taylor’s work. Earlier this month, she performed with Michael Trusnovec at the Dance Magazine Awards, where Trusnovec was being honored.

Alejandro Cerrudo

In 2007, Cerrudo was a notable dancer with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. His first work for the company had only premiered a year prior. Hedy Weiss wrote:

When describing the way Alejandro Cerrudo moves onstage, “loose” is the operative word. He’s like a silky paintbrush that has been dipped in black ink and then swept, free-form, across a white page… And this lovely looseness carries over to Cerrudo’s own work as a choreographer—an area of endeavor in which he also has begun to enjoy success.

The well-known choreographer has created and set contemporary works at numerous companies, and has become a favorite of troupes like Aspen Santa Fe Ballet and Pacific Northwest Ballet.

Jacqueline Green

In 2013, Green was one of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s newer company members and already a standout onstage. Lauren Phoenix Kay wrote:

…in Ailey’s trademark Revelations, her unabashed joy, attention to detail, and regal steadiness carried her through with a maturity rare in a relative newcomer.

By August 2015, she was on our cover. Green continues to command the stage in everything from the prominent “umbrella” role in Revelations to Rennie Harris’ new full-length Exodus.

Matthew Neenan

In 2005, Matthew Neenan was a dancer at Pennsylania Ballet whose choreographic career was quickly gaining ground at PAB and with commissions elsewhere. One year prior, he’d co-founded BalletX. Brenda Dixon Gottschild wrote:

Choreographically, Neenan creates bilingual works for a multicultural world. His classical grammar is filled with contemporary vocabulary…Roy Kaiser, [then-artistic director of PAB], says that sometimes he has to remind himself “that Matt’s a dancer first with PAB. As a choreographer he’s kept my attention because of his fertile imagination.”

Neenan’s name is now known far beyond Pennsylvania. He sets and create works at ballet companies across the country, while remaining choreographer in residence at Pennsylvania Ballet. This year, NYCB commissioned him to create a work for their Fall Fashion Gala.