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The Epiphany That Made Unity Phelan An NYCB Soloist

Nathan Sayers

Just before a Sleeping Beauty matinee this February, Peter Martins announced the promotion of eight dancers at New York City Ballet. For devoted Dance Magazine readers, one name jumped out: Unity Phelan, who appeared on the cover of our January "25 to Watch" issue.

For regular NYCB-goers, her promotion to soloist came as no surprise. She has exuded confidence and assurance in the past year's performances. And she has brought esprit and refinement to all her roles.


Phelan explains that, in the summer of 2015, while dancing at the Vail International Dance Festival and with a group of NYCB dancers in East Hampton, she had an epiphany.

"When I joined the company as a corps member in 2013, I wanted to emulate the turns of this dancer or the bourrées of that dancer," she says. "That summer [2015] I was persuaded by the ballet masters I worked with not to compare myself to anyone else. Or to compete with anyone else. Or even to compete with myself! Instead, I was encouraged to spread my own wings. So I discarded the mold and colored outside the lines. I said to myself 'Okay, let's see Unity.'"

Was that a bit scary?

"It was terrifying! But it was also liberating—and fun. And the timing was perfect. I feel it definitely contributed to my getting the promotion. It also made me realize that trying to find yourself in ballet is a lifelong goal."

See Phelan's upcoming performances as a soloist—including her debut in the role Wendy Whelan originated in Christopher Wheeldon's Polyphonia—during NYCB's spring season starting April 18.

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