The Wonder Women of NYCB
The astonishing thing about the women of New York City Ballet is that even with the retirement of two of the company' most magnificent dancers, the bench of remarkable women is still deep. The six-week winter season that just ended brought this home to me.
Needless to say, I will miss Jenifer Ringer and Janie Taylor enormously. They are both pure poetry, Jenifer in her warmth and joy, and Janie in her mysterious coolness and waiflike sexuality. In the case of Ringer, we can hold onto her a little longer through her terrific book, Dancing Through It. And Taylor will be designing costumes for Tom Gold Dance and for Justin Peck’s upcoming premiere in May.
(Left) Jenifer Ringer in Alexei Ratmansky's Namouna; photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy New York City Ballet. (Right) Janie Taylor in costume for Jerome Robbins' Afternoon of a Faun; photo by Matthew Karas for Dance Magazine.
But it takes only a few nights at the Koch Theater to realize the richness of the remaining top women. And these dancers are onstage a lot. Only the hardiest make it through a season without an injury.
Sara Mearns is a tour de force in Wheeldon’s DGV: Danse a Grande Vitesse. She has an intensity wherein her face and whole body bear down and you simply cannot turn away. But she can also be incredibly light in the floating lifts that Wheeldon has given this interesting ballet. In Balanchine's Union Jack she really does seem like she could command a whole fleet. In Balanchine’s Walpurgisnacht Ballet, she rips into her steps, especially in the finale when she (literally) lets her hair down. Whatever the role, Mearns charges the space around her with electricity.
Sara Mearns in costume for Wheeldon's DGV. Photo by Sarah Silver for Dance Magazine.
Ashley Bouder, another powerhouse, can rev up the heartbeat in Balanchine's Tarantella or Stars and Stripes. This season she seemed to take on a new luxuriousness in the premiere of Liam Scarlett’s Acheron (which I found more interesting on second viewing). In this clip of the Dance Magazine Awards from December, you can see her famously crisp ebullience in Square Dance.
Ashley Bouder in Tarantella. Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy New York City Ballet.
Sterling Hyltin is quickly expanding her range. As Spring in Robbins’ Four Seasons, partnered by the supremely classical Tyler Angle, she’s a warm breeze. And she brings a terrific kinetic edge to the zig-zag, stop-start rhythms in Peter Martins’ Calcium Light Night.
Sterling Hyltin in costume for Balanchine's Symphony in Three Movements. Photo by Nathan Sayers for Pointe magazine.
Maria Kowroski is super-strong and sharp in Mauro Bigonzetti’s Vespro, funny and goofy as the Girl in Green in Robbins' Dances at a Gathering. (I wish she had more opportunities to showcase her comedic prowess, which delighted audiences in Wheeldon’s Variations Sérieuses and Stroman’s Double Feature.) In the 2012 gala pieces that Peter Martins made in tribute to Valentino, she was the only dancer who looked naturally elegant in Valentino’s extravagant (and body-obscuring) gowns.
Maria Kowroski in Balanchine's Serenade. Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy New York City Ballet.
And Tiler Peck continues to be a paragon of virtues, both musically and dramatically. As the Pink Girl in Dances at a Gathering, she radiates humanity and tenderness. In Preljocaj’s premiere Spectral Evidence, she really made something of the questionable role of an accused witch. As Fall in The Four Seasons, she energizes the whole stage, ending the ballet on a high. And she made a stunning debut this season in the simple but celestial After the Rain duet by Wheeldon.
Tiler Peck in costume for Robbins' The Four Seasons. Photo by Matthew Karas for Dance Magazine.
The strength, power, and subtelty of NYCB’s women makes one eager for the next season—to begin April 29. And stay tuned for a blog on the up-and-coming women of NYCB from Margaret Fuhrer.
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.