On the Rise: Natasha Sheehan
With her delicate movement quality and a silken jump, at age 17 Natasha Sheehan became the youngest winner of the International Competition for the Erik Bruhn Prize this past November. The rookie San Francisco Ballet corps dancer flawlessly embodied the ghostly Giselle, and her emotional performance stood out in an arena typically showcasing athletic prowess. The spellbound audience and judges agreed: Sheehan's profound artistry and self-assurance belie her years.
Company: San Francisco Ballet
Hometown: San Francisco
Training: SFB School since age 11, nine months after her first dance lesson
Accolades: 2016 female winner of the Erik Bruhn Prize, Dizzy Feet Foundation's Angelina Ballerina scholarship recipient
Here and above: Sheehan with Angelo Greco at the Erik Bruhn Competition. Photo by Aleksandar Antonijevic, Courtesy SFB.
Breakout moment: Last season, while still an SFB trainee, Sheehan danced one of the Four Little Swans in Swan Lake. "After that, I felt I could accomplish anything," she says, "because it required so much precision, focus and strength to dance as one." Soon after, artistic director Helgi Tomasson hired her full-time. He later chose her to be the company's female representative at the Erik Bruhn Prize, despite her not meeting the competition's usual minimum age requirement of 18.
"She really does seem born to dance. I am
completely fascinated by her." —Helgi Tomasson
A budding artist: "She's not just focused on the technique but the meaning behind it," says SFB School associate director Patrick Armand. "She's a very sensitive person and what you see is the emotion she can put through her dancing. You can't teach that."
Juggling high school with a company job: Presently in 12th grade, Sheehan takes online courses, often studying before class and between rehearsals. "With the kind of family I've got, not doing school is not an option." (Her mom is a writer, her dad is a content tech strategist and both paternal grandparents are history professors.)
Embracing her roles: Sheehan confesses that she sometimes overintellectualizes her dancing. "Getting my head around the storyline or concept of the choreography without overthinking is my biggest artistic challenge," she says.
Photo by Karolina Kuras, Courtesy SFB
Fueling her dancing: Sheehan plans to become a nutritionist once she finishes dancing. She steers clear of processed foods and snacks on fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, probiotic yogurt, hummus and avocados. Each morning, she sips kombucha and a cup of green tea with lemon.
What Tomasson says: "I watched her doing Snowflakes during Nutcracker, serene and confident onstage despite the chaos around her. She's the calm at the middle of the storm. A dancer like this comes along only so rarely. I think she's a major talent."
In the middle of one of New York City Center's cavernous studios, Misty Copeland takes a measured step backwards. The suggestion of a swan arm ripples before she turns downstage, chest and shoulders unfurling as her legs stretch into an open lunge. She piqués onto pointe, arms echoing the sinuous curve of her back attitude, then walks out of it, pausing to warily look over her shoulder. As the droning of Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto's mysterious "Attack/Transition" grows more insistent, her feet start to fly with a rapidity that seems to almost startle her.
And then she stops mid-phrase. Copeland's hands fall to her hips as she apologizes. Choreographer Kyle Abraham slides to the sound system to pause the music, giving Copeland a moment to remind herself of a recent change to the sequence.
"It's different when the sound's on!" he reassures her. "And it's a lot of changes."
The day before was the first time Abraham had seen Copeland dance the solo in its entirety, and the first moment they were in the studio together in a month. This is their last rehearsal, save for tech, before the premiere of Ash exactly one week later, as part of the opening night of City Center's Fall for Dance festival.
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
Dancers are understandably obsessed with food. In both an aesthetic and athletic profession, you know you're judged on your body shape, but you need proper fuel to perform your best. Meanwhile, you're inundated with questionable diet advice.
"My 'favorite' was the ABC diet," says registered dietitian nutritionist Kristin Koskinen, who trained in dance seriously but was convinced her body type wouldn't allow her to pursue it professionally. "On the first day you eat only foods starting with the letter A, on the second day only B, and so on."
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.