Roman Mejia in Robbins' Dances at a Gathering. Photo by Erin Baiano, Courtesy NYCB

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.

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Brandt in Giselle. Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy ABT

Skylar Brandt's Taste in Music Is as Delightful as Her Dancing

American Ballet Theatre soloist Skylar Brandt's dancing is clean, precise and streamlined. It's surprising, then, to learn that her taste in music is "all over the place," she says. (Even more surprising is that Brandt, who has an Instagram following of over 80k, is "in the dark ages" when it comes to her music, and was buying individual songs on iTunes up until a year ago, when her family intervened with an Apple Music plan.)

Though what she's listening to at any given time can vary dramatically, the through-line for Brandt is nostalgia: songs that take her back, whether to childhood, a favorite movie or a piece she's recently performed. Brandt told us about her eclectic taste, and made us a playlist that will keep you guessing:

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Ailey II artistic director Troy Powell teaching an Ailey Workshop at NYCDA. Courtesy NYCDA

NYCDA Is Redefining the Convention Scene Through Life-Changing Opportunities

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:

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Courtesy The Joyce

Dance Magazine Chairman's Award Honoree: Linda Shelton

In an industry that has been clamoring for more female leadership, Linda Shelton, executive director of New York City's The Joyce Theater Foundation since 1993, has been setting an example for decades. As a former general manager of The Joffrey Ballet, U.S. tour manager for the Bolshoi Ballet, National Endowment for the Arts panelist, Dance/NYC board member and Benois de la Danse judge, as well as a current Dance/USA board member, Shelton has served as a global leader in dance. In her tenure at The Joyce, she has not only increased the venue's commissioned programming, but also started presenting beyond The Joyce's walls in locations such as Lincoln Center.

What brought you to The Joyce?

That was many years ago, but it's still the same today: It's a belief in and passion for the mission of the theater, which is to support dance in all of its forms and varieties—every kind of dance that you could imagine.

Diversity is so important in dance leadership today. How do you approach this at The Joyce?

Darren Walker said something interesting at a Dance/NYC Symposium, which was that The Joyce is a disruptor. It was nice to hear in that context, because we don't think of it as something new. We didn't have to change our mission statement to be more diverse. We've been doing this since day one.

Is drawing in new audiences and maintaining longtime supporters ever in conflict?

Of course. I call it the blessing and the curse of our mission. We do present more experimental companies that may attract a younger audience. But it's very tricky. You're not going to tell your long-term audience, "Don't come and see this because you're not going to like the music." We've had people walk out of the theater before, but it's a response. It's important to spark those conversations.

What experimenting have you done?

We've tried a "pay what you decide" ticket the past couple of seasons with some of our more adventurous programming. You would reserve your seat for a dollar and after seeing the show pay what you decide is right for you.

Do you have advice for other dance presenters?

Find opportunities to sit with colleagues from around the country. At Dance/USA there's a presenters' council where we come together and talk about what we're putting in our seasons and what we're passionate about. Maybe there are enough presenters to collaborate and make it possible to bring a company to New York or to do a tour around the country.

Also, remember what it's all about: making that connection between what's onstage and the audience. If we can do that, despite every visa issue and missed flight and injury and changed program and whatever else comes our way, then we should feel good about the job we're doing.

To purchase tickets to the Dance Magazine Awards or become a sponsor, visit dancemediafoundation.org.

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