On the Rise: Russell Janzen

September 30, 2014

At last, New York City Ballet corps member Russell Janzen has found the success that had seemed inevitable when he joined the company in 2008. Though a stretch of injuries sidelined him at first, major roles are now regularly coming his way at age 25.

The 6′ 3″ dancer, who trained at The Rock School for Dance Education and then the School of American Ballet, got through recuperation from a late 2008 ankle sprain by telling himself it was a “growing experience.” He returned to action, only to have a herniated disc a year later take him out for eight months. “That was pretty devastating,” Janzen sighs. “But it made me realize how much I wanted to dance. Then I sprained my other ankle.”

Janzen’s career finally took off in 2014 after he got the plum solo that opens the finale of Jerome Robbins’ Glass Pieces and Peter Martins cast him with Teresa Reichlen in his Barber Violin Concerto. Dressed entirely in white, they looked so well matched they could have been mistaken for twins.

“I’d been waiting for years to get a tall guy. With Russell, I got someone who also brought me cookies for our first rehearsal of ‘Diamonds,’ “ says Reichlen.

They’ve since been paired several times in the Balanchine repertoire. As Titania’s Cavalier in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Janzen flawlessly supported Reichlen as she was coolly presiding over her leafy bower. In Concerto Barocco, he lifted her seven times in quick succession, making each ascent equally high, every descent similarly soft. Then on his own as the tormented Schumann in Robert Schumann’s “Davidsbündlertänze,” he ranged from the numbness of the emotionally drained composer to the agony expressed by a wrenching backbend.

Principal Daniel Ulbricht added Janzen to his group Stars of American Ballet for its Jacob’s Pillow debut in July. “He has an unselfish, princely, refined presentation of his partner,” says Ulbricht. “Even in the corps he makes a pas de deux into a regal performance.” And as principal Sterling Hyltin points out, “He looks fab in white tights.”