Roman Mejia, NYCB's Resident Adrenaline Junkie, Is Taking on a Woman's Solo at Vail
Roman Mejia is only 19, and he has the energy to prove it; in the studio and onstage at New York City Ballet, this standout corps member bursts with a kind of uncontainable ebullience. Like his idol, Edward Villella, he specializes in extroverted, allegro roles: Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Candy Cane in The Nutcracker, one of the sailors in Jerome Robbins' Fancy Free.
More recently, he has caught the eye of several big-name choreographers: In the last few months he understudied William Forsythe's Hermann Schmermann, and strutted his stuff to Kanye West in Kyle Abraham's The Runaway. Alexei Ratmansky, who prepared him for his debut in Pictures at an Exhibition in the spring, is also a fan: "He's like a reincarnation of Eddie Villella," the choreographer said recently. "Great energy and attack, and fantastic technique."
Dovetailing on this momentum, Damian Woetzel asked Mejia and Ratmansky to work together on something for the Vail Dance Festival, where Mejia is in residence for two weeks. Thus was born the idea of adapting Fandango, a high-energy, Spanish-flavored solo the choreographer created for Wendy Whelan in 2010, and later danced by Sara Mearns. This marks the first time the solo has been performed by a male dancer.
While at Vail, Mejia will also be dancing the pas de deux from Le Corsaire with Lauren Lovette, a new ballet by Alonzo King, Tiler Peck's new ballet, and probably one or more last-minute collaborations that emerge in the everything-is-possible atmosphere of the festival.
Recently, Dance Magazine caught up with Mejia between Fandango rehearsals. He was tired—the seven-minute solo is a killer—but undaunted.
This solo has always been danced by women. I hear Ratmansky asked whether you'd be willing to dance it on pointe?
Yeah. At first I thought he was kidding, but then he kind of looked at me like he was serious and I was like, oooh. I considered it for a second, but then I decided maybe not this time. I'm doing a lot more at Vail than I did the last two years.
How did Ratmansky adapt Fandango for you?
He added a lot of jumps, including a series of sauts de basque. That wasn't in the original! And all those turns at the end. I'm planning to end up on the floor, with a blackout. I just tried a move from Le Corsaire, but I don't know if I'm going to do that in performance. I'll figure something out.
What's the hardest thing about the solo?
Just getting through it. The stamina. It's seven minutes, and I have to pace myself. I tend to hold my breath a lot. And up at Vail, you have to learn how to dance in high altitude, where to take breaks, where to rest.
The stage at Vail is outdoors. How do you like dancing so close to nature?
Honestly I love it. It creates a different atmosphere. The first year, I did Tarantella and it was raining and I felt like I was in the middle of a thunderstorm. I kind of used it—it gave me energy.
What do you feel you've learned from working with Ratmansky?
I'm learning about presentation, but also about style. It's about learning to show a style. Fandango is super Spanish-flavored, and I'm finding ways to show that.
Did you watch videos of Sara Mearns and Wendy Whelan, who did the role before you?
The first time I saw it was with Sara dancing. She did it at a gig in South Carolina. It was amazing. And I watched videos of both of them. They were pretty different. The steps were the same, but Sara had a little more attack, and Wendy was more subtle. Wendy was really flirtatious. I'm trying to incorporate both.
Last year you got to work with Kyle Abraham on his Runaway, which was such a hit. What was that like?
It was eye-opening. I don't usually get to move like that. It was like working with Alonzo King on this new piece, just a completely different movement style for me. And it felt so great to dance to Kanye West. Letting go felt really good.
What was the process like?
Kyle would experiment with different steps, some of which didn't make it into the final ballet, and we even experimented with contact improvisation. That was really strange for me. It took me a while, but eventually I felt like I almost got to that place where I was comfortable trying things and not feeling like the people around me were judging. I felt that working with Alonzo too.
What excites you about dancing?
Definitely the adrenaline rush and the feeling of flying. I'm an adrenaline junkie. I try not to hold anything back. And I love how it makes me feel afterwards.
We knew that Ivo van Hove and Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker's production of West Side Story would challenge our preconceived notions about the show.
But a recent Vogue story gives us a taste of just how nontraditional the Broadway revival will be. Most notably, van Hove is cutting "I Feel Pretty" and the "Somewhere" ballet, condensing the show into one act to better reflect the urgency of the 48-hour plot. (The choice has been approved by the West Side Story estate, including Sondheim, who has "long been uncomfortable" with some of the "I Feel Pretty" lyrics.)
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:
It's a much-repeated part of Francesca Hayward's origin story that she discovered ballet at age 3, when her grandparents bought a video of The Nutcracker to keep her occupied and she immediately started dancing around the room. What's less well-known is that there was another video lined up next to The Nutcracker that Hayward liked to dance along to: Cats. "I really just did the White Cat bit and fast-forwarded the rest," she remembers. "I'd make my friends who came around be the other cats."
Twenty-four years later, she's not only become a Royal Ballet principal, but has been cast as Victoria the White Cat in Tom Hooper's new movie adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, out in theaters on December 20. "I remember the director telling me I'd got the part: 'Just to let you know you're the lead in a Hollywood film,' he said." Hayward laughs. "This is crazy!"
"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.