From Sugar Plum Fairy to Tackling Work by Pite and Forsythe, This PNB Corps Dancer Can Do It All
Sarah-Gabrielle Ryan (at right) sang and danced as Maria in Jerome Robbins' West Side Story Suite. Photo by Lindsay Thomas, Courtesy PNB
When Sarah-Gabrielle Ryan was 5 years old, her mother took her to a Pennsylvania Ballet production of Swan Lake. "One day, you'll be a ballerina," her mother said. Ryan replied, "I already am one." Even at that age, Ryan was confident about her future; with good reason, it turns out. Sixteen years later, she's starting her third season at Pacific Northwest Ballet. Though still a corps member, she's already danced Sugar Plum Fairy, featured roles in Crystal Pite's Emergence and William Forsythe's New Suite, and the pas de deux in Balanchine's "Rubies."
Training: The Rock School for Dance Education, School of Pennsylvania Ballet
What caught Peter Boal's eye: Unlike many PNB dancers, Ryan didn't come up through the company school. She was dancing with Pennsylvania Ballet II when she enrolled in a summer intensive at PNB. Artistic director Peter Boal noticed her immediately: "She was unleashed in her dancing, and relished every combination that was given," he says. "She had a wildness that I admired."
Sarah-Gabrielle Ryan in Christopher Wheeldon's Carousel (A Dance). Photo by Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB
Finding her voice: Ryan loved taking on Maria in Jerome Robbins' West Side Story Suite during her first season in Seattle. "I'd never done singing onstage before,"she says. "That was really fun."
Breakout moment: Last November, Ryan stepped in to replace principal Noelani Pantastico in the American premiere of Pite's Plot Point. "That was terrifying," Ryan says. "I was learning a different part, then at the last minute Noe got in a car accident and they said, 'Sarah, you're going to learn this!' I took a studio video home and I learned the heck out of that dance."
Beyond ballet: Ryan is enrolled part-time in a special college program offered at PNB through Seattle University. Instructors come to the studio after rehearsals." I have an interest in a double major that involves arts management but also wildlife rehabilitation," she says. "I'm looking into a program where I'd work rehabilitating rhinos in South Africa."
Biggest challenge: "In general, I'm probably my harshest critic. I'm still learning how to be self-critical without being self-destructive."
James Whiteside (Jayme Thornton for Dance Magazine)
Say you're perpetually impeccable designer Thom Browne. Say you're planning your Spring 2020 Paris menswear show along a "Versailles country club" theme. Say you want a world-class danseur to open the show with some kind of appropriately fabulous choreography.
Who do you call? James Whiteside, of course. On Saturday, the American Ballet Theatre principal—wearing pointe shoes and a glorious pinstriped tutu—kicked off Browne's presentation at the École des Beaux-Arts with a 15-minute, show-stealing solo. Whiteside choreographed the piece himself, with the help of detailed notes from the designer.
I'd been a professional dancer for five years when I realized the pain I'd been feeling in my hip and down my sciatic nerve was not going away. I had been treating it for two years as we dancers do—with regular visits to my masseuse, physical therapy, baths, ice and lots of Aleve—but I never stopped dancing. It finally dawned on me that if I kept going at the speed I was going (which was, well, speedy), the pain would only get more severe and unrelenting, and I might never dance again.
I told myself I'd take two months off, and all would be better.
That first morning when I woke up at 10 am, I had no idea what to do with myself. My life until that moment had been dictated by class and rehearsal, every hour accounted for. How should I fill the huge swath of time ahead of me?