When it comes to a ballet matching a dancer's special talents, choreographer Justin Peck's Year of the Rabbit fit Houston Ballet demi-soloist Tyler Donatelli to a T. Built for power, flash and precision, Donatelli crashed through Peck's driving rhythms with finesse and clarity in a lead role this past March. She's a speed demon, which worked well for Peck's breakneck pacing. "His movement came so naturally to me," says Donatelli. "I could just be myself."
Company: Houston Ballet
Hometown: Huntington Beach, California Training: Southland Ballet Academy, Houston Ballet II
Accolades: Youth America Grand Prix silver medal, first place in ballet at the Music Center's Spotlight Awards
Donatelli in Peck's Year of the Rabbit. Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet.
Breakout moment: With no rehearsal and while still a member of HB II, Donatelli was asked to slip in with the corps swans in artistic director Stanton Welch's Swan Lake when a dancer became injured. Welch saw that she was a quick study. "I showed that I was reliable," says Donatelli. "That got me noticed."
Learning curve: Dancing the role of Clara last season in Welch's lavish new Nutcracker proved to be eye-opening. "Stanton told me that I could find a way to make my performance more personal," she says. "I started to figure out how much artistic freedom I had to play with in my dancing."
"She's a vital force within the company." —Stanton Welch
Biggest challenges: Broadening her range is high on Donatelli's list of artistic and technical goals. "I want to learn to be more delicate, and I am doing that now rehearsing 'Shades' for La Bayadère," she says. "I've often gotten the correction that the power in my legs doesn't need to add stress to my upper body. I don't always have to be putting out 110 percent."
Dream role: "I have my eye on Kitri in Don Quixote," she says. "There's such great energy in that ballet."
What Stanton Welch is saying: "I first noticed her dynamic quality and her clarity," Welch says of seeing Donatelli at the 2012 Spotlight Awards. "She moves with remarkable power—it's unlike anything I've ever seen. She's so musical and has the ability to play with phrasing, which is such a gift to any choreographer."
Coming up: Donatelli can't wait to sink her teeth into the psychological drama of Sir Kenneth MacMillan's historical ballet, Mayerling, next month. "I want to work on my acting skills. I find something new about myself in every ballet."
Alongside photos of her dancing, Donatelli's Instagram feed features updates about her yellow parakeet, Lemon.