Robert Fairchild is Ready to Break The Rules
In his final bow at New York City Ballet, during what should have been a heroic conclusion to a celebrated ballet career, Robert Fairchild slipped and fell. His reaction? To lie down flat on his back like he meant to do it. Then start cracking up at himself.
"He's such a ham," says his sister Megan Fairchild, with a laugh. "He's really good at selling whatever his body is doing that day. He'll turn a moment that I would totally go home and cry about into something where the audience is like, 'That's the most amazing thing ever!' "
Fairchild admits that he kind of loves it when things go wrong onstage: "It's such a high!" Mistakes and slipups give him an excuse to come up with his own script in the moment. And, more often than not, they usually mean he was taking a risk. "I would rather try and fail than not try," he says.
He's applied that same philosophy to his career: Last fall, he decided to leave life as a ballet star behind to find out what possibilities might lie in musical theater, TV and film. In the course of our conversation, he repeats the same sentence over and over, like a mantra: "You never know how far you're gonna go if you don't jump." This is his jump.
His New Gig-To-Gig Career Has Changed Who He Is As An Artist
Fairchild is taking on any challenge that interests him. Photo by Jayme Thornton
Today, Fairchild is cobbling together a career built on whatever projects pique his interest: working on a one-man show; choreographing for Broadway Dance Lab; playing modern dance icon Ted Shawn in an upcoming film adaptation of The Chaperone, written by "Downton Abbey" creator Julian Fellowes. Over the holidays, Fairchild choreographed his own performance as the monster in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein off-Broadway. In February, he flew to Los Angeles to audition for TV pilots.
This new chapter in his career has puzzled some longtime fans. Only 30 years old, he still has several years of strong dancing left in him. But that's part of the point. "If you're dancing on film, that image lasts forever," he says. "You want to be at the top of your game."
Gigs outside of NYCB had been piling up ever since his Tony-nominated performance in Broadway's An American in Paris. After leaving the show in early 2016, he appeared in A Chorus Line at the Hollywood Bowl, Oklahoma! at London's Royal Albert Hall and Kiss Me, Kate for New York City's Roundabout Theatre Company. Fairchild felt simultaneously disconnected from NYCB and too restricted by it to say yes to all the projects he wanted to do.
What's more, he'd changed as a performer. Not only had he fallen in love with singing and acting, his Broadway experience had transformed his approach to dance. "I wanted to find a story in everything I was doing. I was thinking, Why am I doing these steps? What am I saying?" he recalls. "That's my favorite thing, to tell stories."
Yet in a company where Balanchine reportedly said, "Just go and do, and don't think so much about it," Fairchild's new strategy had mixed results. Eventually, he says, he felt like he didn't belong there anymore.
Getting Back To His Original Dreams: To Be Like Gene Kelly
What his fans at Lincoln Center might not realize is that this career change is simply getting Fairchild back on track to fulfill his original dreams. He explains by telling me about a fourth-grade assignment: "In it, I wrote, 'My special place is on Broadway because there's this guy named Gene Kelly and he's a dancer just like me. And I want to be just like him someday, and I also want to be in a movie.' "
Fairchild had fallen in love with Kelly through a VHS tape of Singin' in the Rain, and became the kind of kid who—despite school bullies—would find a way to turn book reports into tap presentations. "Robbie would spend four hours a day choreographing by himself in our living room every weekend," says Megan, who's three years older.
(Despite the siblings' dual success as NYCB principals, neither of their parents had a dance background—mom was a dietitian in a Salt Lake City hospital, dad was a habitat manager for Utah's wildlife resources.)
Fairchild was a jazz and tap kid growing up. Photo courtesy Fairchild
It was Megan who instigated Fairchild's detour to NYCB. When he was 15, she convinced him to attend a summer at the School of American Ballet to polish up his classical technique. To everyone's surprise, he fell in love with it, worked his "butt off" and joined the company.
What he lacked in ideal legs and feet he more than made up for in movement quality and presence. Christopher Wheeldon, who choreographed on him at NYCB and directed him in AAiP, says Fairchild's bold performance quality reminds him of dancers of a bygone generation, like Jacques d'Amboise and Edward Villella. "Not a refined, princely technique," he says, "but a raw, masculine theatricality, a real American male dancer style. Exciting, stage-devouring dancing."
What's propelled Fairchild through any new challenge, from ballet to Broadway, is his intense drive. "He just wants to keep on digging deeper and deeper and deeper," says acting coach Joan Rosenfels.
When he was in full rehearsals for AAiP while also performing with NYCB, instead of taking his Monday nights off, he'd book semiprivate lessons with Rosenfels. He continued to take her open class throughout the AAiP run. "There he was, starring on Broadway, and he'd cheer everybody else on," says Rosenfels. "He'd stand up and scream 'Bravo!' like we were at the ballet!"
Life Outside The Ballet Studio Has Its Benefits
Robert Fairchild performs Gene Kelly's Ballin' the Jack in the Dance TV program of the 2014 Vail Dance Festival. Photo by Erin Baiano
Fairchild's retirement was announced less than three months after word broke that he was ending his high-profile marriage to fellow NYCB star Tiler Peck. But Fairchild maintains that the two life changes aren't related. "We are constantly changing variables in a constantly changing world," he explains, adding that his years with Peck were "incredibly special." But he needed to make a career change, and the timing, he says, was coincidence.
Today, he is exploring life outside of ballet. Now that his body isn't constantly fighting off injury, he can spend hours at museums without his back aching. He can walk around New York City without worrying about overworking his calves. He goes to the theater most nights of the week—plays, musicals, dance ("I've realized I love going to see the ballet!")—and has particularly devoted himself to friendships now that he has the time.
Yet he stays ready for whenever the right casting call comes his way by keeping up with singing and acting classes, and giving himself barre in his apartment building's yoga studio (sometimes with his sister, who lives nearby).
Although he's focused on performing opportunities, he's full of ideas for creative projects, including an animated movie. With endearing enthusiasm, he pronounces: "You gotta cast a wide net. Maybe you'll catch something." Then he catches himself dreaming out loud, and sort of apologizes for his optimism, adding, "Who knows? Maybe it won't happen. It's just an idea."
The thing is, however, he's got that special something that makes him succeed more often than not. "You cheer for him," says Rosenfels. Through a combination of his charm, his graciousness and, yes, his natural good looks and of course his talent, he has a way of getting people on his side, rooting for him.
"The game for me right now," he says, "is just to be ready at any point for when the right opportunity comes along. It's kind of really thrilling."
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These days, you don't have to be in the circus to learn how to fly. Aerial dance has grown in popularity in recent years, blending modern dance and circus traditions and enlisting the help of trapeze, silks, hammocks, lyra and cube for shows that push both viewers and performers past their comfort zones.
More dancers are learning aerial than ever before. Besides adding new skills to your resumé, becoming an aerialist opens up a new realm of possibilities.
Alicia Alonso's famed ballet company in Cuba has a new leader: the beloved hometown prima ballerina Viengsay Valdés.
Ballet Nacional of Cuba just named Valdés deputy artistic director, which means she will immediately assume the daily responsibilities of running the company. Alonso, 98, will retain the title of general director, but in practice, Valdés will be the one making all the artistic decisions.
I'm terrified of performing choreography that changes directions. I messed up last year when the stage lights caused me to become disoriented. What can I do to prevent this from happening again? I can perform the combination just fine in the studio with the mirror.
—Scared, San Francisco, CA
From the angles of your feet to the size of your head, it can sometimes seem like there is no part of a dancer's body that is not under scrutiny. It's easy to get obsessed when you are constantly in front of a mirror, trying to fit a mold.
Yet the traditional ideals seem to be exploding every day. "The days of carbon-copy dancers are over," says BalletX dancer Caili Quan. "Only when you're confident in your own body can you start truly working with what you have."
While the striving may never end, there can be unexpected benefits to what you may think of as your "imperfections."
It's the second week of Miami City Ballet School's Choreographic Intensive, and the students stand in a light-drenched studio watching as choreographer Durante Verzola sets a pas de trois. "Don't be afraid to look at the ceiling—look that high," Verzola shows one student as she holds an arabesque. "That gives so much more dimension to your dancing." Other students try the same movement from the sidelines.
When Arantxa Ochoa took over as MCB School's director of faculty and curriculum two years ago, she decided to add a second part to the summer intensive: five weeks focused on technique would be followed by a new two-week choreography session. The technique intensive is not a requirement, but students audition for both at the same time and many attend the two back-to-back.
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On a summer afternoon at The Ailey School's studios, a group of students go through a sequence of Horton exercises, radiating concentration and strength as they tilt to one side, arms outstretched and leg parallel to the ground. Later, in a studio down the hall, a theater dance class rehearses a lively medley of Broadway show tunes. With giant smiles and bouncy energy, students run through steps to "The Nicest Kids in Town" from Hairspray.
"You gotta really scream!" teacher Judine Somerville calls out as they mime their excitement. "This is live theater!" They segue into the audition number from A Chorus Line, "I Hope I Get It," their expressions becoming purposeful and slightly nervous. "Center stage is wherever I am," Somerville tells them when the music stops, making them repeat the words back to her. "Take that wherever you go."
Dance artists, as a rule, are a resilient bunch. But working in a studio in New York City without heat or electricity in the middle of winter? That's not just crazy; it's unhealthy, and too much to ask of anyone.
Unfortunately, Brooklyn Studios for Dance hasn't had heat since mid-November, making it impossible for classes or performances to take place in the community-oriented center.
So what's a studio to do? Throw a massive dance party, of course.
As winter sets in, your muscles may feel tighter than they did in warmer weather. You're not imagining it: Cold weather can cause muscles to lose heat and contract, resulting in a more limited range of motion and muscle soreness or stiffness.
But dancers need their muscles to be supple and fresh, no matter the weather outside. Here's how to maintain your mobility during the colder months so your dancing isn't affected:
A newly launched initiative hopes to change the face of ballet, both onstage and behind the scenes. Called "The Equity Project: Increasing the Presence of Blacks in Ballet," the three-year initiative, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, is a partnership between Dance Theatre of Harlem, the International Association of Blacks in Dance and Dance/USA.
"We've seen huge amounts of change in the years since 1969, when Dance Theatre of Harlem was founded," says Virginia Johnson, artistic director of DTH. "But change is happening much too slowly, and it will continue to be too slow until we come to a little bit more of an awareness of what the underlying issues are and what needs to be done to address them."
From the outside, it seemed like the worst of New York City Ballet's problems were behind them last winter, when ballet master in chief Peter Martins retired amid accusations of abuse and sexual harassment, and an internal investigation did not substantiate those claims.
But further troubles were revealed in August when a scandal broke that led to dancer Chase Finlay's abrupt resignation and the firing of fellow principals Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro. All three were accused of "inappropriate communications" and violating "norms of conduct."
The artistic director sets the tone for a dance company and leads by example. But regardless of whether Martins, and George Balanchine before him, established a healthy organization, the issues at NYCB bespeak an industry-wide problem, says Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, founding artistic director of Urban Bush Women. "From New York City Ballet to emerging artists, we've just done what's been handed down," she observes. "That has not necessarily led to great practices."
If you've ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes at Dance Magazine, now's your chance to find out. Dance Magazine is seeking an editorial intern who's equally passionate about dance and journalism.
Through March 1, we are accepting applications for a summer intern to assist our staff onsite in New York City from June to August. The internship includes an hourly stipend and requires a minimum two-day-a-week commitment. (We do not provide assistance securing housing.)
For the past few months, the dance world has been holding its collective breath, waiting for New York City Ballet to announce who will take over the helm as artistic director.
Though former ballet master in chief Peter Martins retired over a year ago after accusations of sexual harassment and abuse (an internal investigation did not corroborate the accusations), the search for a new leader didn't begin until last May.
Nine months later, the new director's name could be released any day now. And we have some theories about who it might be:
Some people take this profession as just a chapter of their life. They feel like dance is a job—a fun job, but a job. Other people live their life through dance. I never considered being a ballerina a profession. It's a lifestyle.
If I don't have a performance, I feel like a tiger trapped in a cage. I have so many emotions, I feel I need to give them to somebody, to exhaust myself—I need to cry or laugh, or else it's suffocating. Other people might scream or throw bottles into the wall. We dancers scream onstage through our movement. For me, it's like sweeping off the dust in my soul.
What's next for the dance world? Our annual list of the dancers, choreographers and companies that are on the verge of skyrocketing has a pretty excellent track record of answering that question.
Here they are: the 25 up-and-coming artists we believe represent the future of our field.
Though Polunin has long had a reputation for behaving inappropriately, in the last month his posts have been somewhat unhinged. In one, Polunin, who is Ukrainian, shows off his new tattoo of Vladimir Putin:
Just before retiring in 2015, Sylvie Guillem appeared on "HARDtalk with Zeinab Badawi," the BBC's hard-hitting interview program. Badawi told Guillem,
"Clement Crisp of the Financial Times, 14 years ago, described your dancing as vulgar."
"Yeah, well, he said that. But at the same time, when they asked Margot Fonteyn what she thought about lifting the leg like this she said, 'Well, if I could have done it, I would have done it.' "
They were discussing Guillem's signature stroke—her 180-degree leg extension à la seconde. Ballet legs had often flashed about in the higher zones between 135 and 160 degrees before. But it wasn't until the virtuoso French ballerina regularly
extended her leg beside her ear with immaculate poise in the 1980s that leg extensions for ballet dancers in classical roles reached their zenith. Traditionalists like Clement Crisp were not taken with it.
Back in 2011, Yale University's dean of science was thinking about refreshing the program's offerings for non-majors when he happened upon a Pilobolus performance. A light bulb went off: Dance is full of physics.
That realization led to what has become an eight-year collaboration between particle physicist Sarah Demers and former New York City Ballet dancer Emily Coates, both professors at Yale who were brought together to co-teach a course called The Physics of Dance. Their partnership has involved everything from directing a short film to presenting a TedX Talk and performing a piece that Coates created, commissioned by Danspace Project. This month, they're publishing a book about what they've discovered by dialoging across two seemingly disparate disciplines.
Sebastian Abarbanell remembers being asked as an undergrad at Trinity Laban in London to perform wearing only a dance belt. "I said no," he says, "because I felt uncomfortable." Now a performer with Sidra Bell Dance New York, he's performed partially nude several times, without reservation. The difference? "It comes with more experience and maturing as a dancer," he says. "When you see a dancer living in their skin, you don't need to put anything else on them. When I said no in college, I wasn't in my skin yet."
Getting in your skin—and getting comfortable wearing only your skin onstage—requires a particular alchemy of vulnerability, agency, preparation and practice.
Birmingham Royal Ballet announced today that international star Carlos Acosta will be taking over as director in January of 2020. Current BRB director David Bintley will be stepping down this summer, at the end of the company's 2019 season, after a 24-year tenure. "It is a tremendous honor and privilege to have been appointed to lead Birmingham Royal Ballet," Acosta said in a statement.
Since retiring from The Royal Ballet in 2015, Acosta has focused much of his attention on his native Cuba, where he's proven his directorial abilities at the helm of Acosta Danza, the contemporary company that he founded in 2016. In 2017 Acosta also opened his first Dance Academy through his foundation, which provides free training to students. We don't yet know how Acosta will balance his time between his projects in Cuba and his new role at BRB.
My personal life has taken a nosedive since I broke up with my boyfriend. He's in the same show and is now dating one of my colleagues. It's heartbreaking to see them together, and I'm determined never to date a fellow dancer again. But it's challenging to find someone outside, as I practically live in the theater. Do you have any advice?
—Loveless, New York, NY
The inimitable Carol Channing, best known for her role as the titular Hello, Dolly!, passed away today at 97.
Though she became a three-time Tony winner, Channing was born in Seattle, far from the Great White Way, in 1921. After growing up in San Francisco, she attended the famed Bennington College, studying dance and drama. She later told the university, "What Bennington allows you to do is develop the thing you're going to do anyway, over everybody's dead body." For Channing, that meant decades of fiery, comical performances, bursting with energy.