From Sugar Plum Fairy to Tackling Work by Pite and Forsythe, This PNB Corps Dancer Can Do It All
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
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."
In the middle of one of New York City Center's cavernous studios, Misty Copeland takes a measured step backwards. The suggestion of a swan arm ripples before she turns downstage, chest and shoulders unfurling as her legs stretch into an open lunge. She piqués onto pointe, arms echoing the sinuous curve of her back attitude, then walks out of it, pausing to warily look over her shoulder. As the droning of Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto's mysterious "Attack/Transition" grows more insistent, her feet start to fly with a rapidity that seems to almost startle her.
And then she stops mid-phrase. Copeland's hands fall to her hips as she apologizes. Choreographer Kyle Abraham slides to the sound system to pause the music, giving Copeland a moment to remind herself of a recent change to the sequence.
"It's different when the sound's on!" he reassures her. "And it's a lot of changes."
The day before was the first time Abraham had seen Copeland dance the solo in its entirety, and the first moment they were in the studio together in a month. This is their last rehearsal, save for tech, before the premiere of Ash exactly one week later, as part of the opening night of City Center's Fall for Dance festival.
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:
Dancers are understandably obsessed with food. In both an aesthetic and athletic profession, you know you're judged on your body shape, but you need proper fuel to perform your best. Meanwhile, you're inundated with questionable diet advice.
"My 'favorite' was the ABC diet," says registered dietitian nutritionist Kristin Koskinen, who trained in dance seriously but was convinced her body type wouldn't allow her to pursue it professionally. "On the first day you eat only foods starting with the letter A, on the second day only B, and so on."
"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.