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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."


Company: Pacific Northwest Ballet

Age: 21

Hometown: Philadelphia

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."

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