A company's corps de ballet is rarely the pool from which title roles are plucked. Yet New York City Ballet seems to buck convention, especially for its full-length production of Peter Martins' Romeo + Juliet. When it debuted back in 2007, the ballet featured a cast of untested corps members and apprentices as the eponymous stars. (A School of American Ballet student was originally tapped to dance Juliet, but she wasn't able to perform due to injury.) At the time Martins, who recently retired as NYCB's ballet master in chief, attributed his casting choices to the characters' ages in Shakespeare's play; Juliet and Romeo are 14 and 19, respectively. Also, he remarked, "Never underestimate youth."
This week, two young Romeos are stepping up from the company's corps. Harrison Coll made his debut on February 13, opening night, alongside principal Sterling Hyltin (the original Juliet in the production's opening night performance back in 2007). Peter Walker follows on Friday, February 16.
"I'm quitting dance." Freelance dancer Merritt Moore has said this twice: before a high school year abroad, and after a year away from Harvard University to dance with Zurich Ballet. Luckily, the statement didn't stick, and Moore has successfully forged her own path—combining physics and ballet.
At 15, Moore had only been dancing for two years, but already felt disillusioned. "This whole idea of perfection—it was a bit negative," she says. A Los Angeles native, Moore decided to spend her junior year of high school in Viterbo, Italy, a tiny town near Rome. Since she wasn't dancing, Moore went to a local gym, where she met former National Ballet of Romania dancer Irina Rosca. The two started an intensive training regimen, and Moore returned to the States with a renewed love of dance but no professional aspirations.
She began her freshman year at Harvard in 2006 with her major already in mind. "I always knew I wanted to do physics. It's a nonverbal activity, like dance. You have to use creativity and imagination to problem-solve." The school also had plenty of dance opportunities through its student-run club, allowing Moore to take technique classes from Damian Woetzel and Heather Watts while still performing.
In a polished cast of Sir Frederick Ashton's Symphonic Variations at an American Ballet Theatre performance last October, corps member Betsy McBride shone with a warmth that belied the piece's crystalline, cold precision. Dark-haired with large, light-catching eyes, McBride was more coiled spring than willowy sylph, evident in the way her pliant limbs shot rather than floated to Ashton's prescribed positions. While the choreography's measured steps and lowered legs may seem particularly limiting for someone with McBride's flexibility, she managed to find pockets of expansion in the restricted movement. She lunged a little deeper, sailed on pointe a little longer, her open face lingering in the spotlight until the very last moment.
Symphonic Variations marked McBride's debut in a principal role with ABT, yet it was not the 25-year-old's first taste of the spotlight. She began her career at Texas Ballet Theater at just 15, becoming a principal by 19. Under TBT artistic director Ben Stevenson, she performed roles that most dancers her age still covet—Juliet, Odette/Odile, Aurora—before leaving the company for an ABT corps contract in 2015.
McBride (far left) with Devon Teuscher and Cassandra Trenary in "Symphonic Variations." Photo by Erin Baiano, Courtesy ABT.
Ballet and baking have more in common than their first two letters. As in the studio, sometimes you attempt something new in the kitchen and it works out great.
And, sometimes, it fails spectacularly—an outcome that New York City Ballet corps member Jenelle Manzi is no stranger to in baking. "The first time I tried to make vanilla cupcakes with this strawberry rose frosting, I was using essential rose oil," she recalls, "I put two drops in an entire batch of icing and I realized I needed about a quarter of a drop. They tasted like perfume. They were completely inedible."
Bee pollen, cacao nibs, flower buds—you might expect to find these items in a gardener's hands, not a dancer's pantry. Yet if you knew New York City Ballet corps member Jenelle Manzi, you wouldn't be surprised by this odd ingredient assortment. She's become known among her NYCB peers for her baked goods; all homemade, dairy-free and gluten-free. What began as a critical health need has blossomed into a growing passion project that includes an Instagram feed full of yummy recipes.
Manzi in Balanchine's 'Symphony in C.' Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.
As a student in a pre-professional ballet school, one of the best parts of performing in company productions was getting to be in the midst of the action with the company dancers. In Nutcracker, for example—between my all-important moments of dancing glory (the two minute children's dance)—I'd eavesdrop on the party parents' conversations and (sometimes PG-13) jokes.
Even with the hazards of sweat flung from a pirouetting dancer's forehead, I often feel that audience members are missing out—watching a ballet from the front is rarely so intimate.
It seems I'm not alone in this thought. Two regional companies are looking to shake up the performance format with their immersive winter productions. With live music, cocktails, puppetry and up-close and personal party access, American Contemporary Ballet's The Nutcracker Suite and Wonderbound's Snow are sure to pique new interest.
American Contemporary Ballet's Sarah Bukowski as Marzipan. Photo by Art Lessman, Courtesy ACB.
American Contemporary Ballet's The Nutcracker Suite
American Contemporary Ballet, now in its seventh season, is premiering its unique Nutcracker production this year. Artistic director Lincoln Jones was initially reluctant to do a party scene. "For audiences today, especially audiences in Los Angeles where they don't really grow up with ballet," he says, party scene's "over-large acting" can be difficult to connect with.
New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck and Emmy-winning actress Elisabeth Moss (of Mad Men and Handmaid's Tale fame) may seem like unlikely friends, until you dig a little deeper into their backgrounds. Both attended Westside School of Ballet in Santa Monica and spent summers at the School of American Ballet in their youths. Moss and Peck's career paths diverged when the former fell in love with acting and Peck went on to study at SAB full time, eventually becoming the star we know today. Now, the pairs' artistic pursuits are uniting in an exciting new project.
According to Deadline.com, Moss will produce a documentary featuring Peck and her work curating BalletNOW, last summer's star-studded, critically acclaimed program at Los Angeles's Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Peck was the first woman to lead BalletNOW's programming, and she brought together dancers from companies including The Royal Ballet, Miami City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and the Paris Opéra Ballet, putting them on stage with tappers, clowns and break dancers (sometimes simultaneously).
Black Swan wasn't the film industry's first ballet-themed psychological drama. In The Red Shoes (1948), theater and life conflate, with tragic results for the dancer caught in the middle. Unlike Black Swan, however, The Red Shoes starred a real life ballerina. Moira Shearer, then a leading dancer with Sadler's Wells Ballet (now The Royal Ballet) plays Victoria Page, a young prodigy who catches a Russian impresario's eye, joins his company and stars in a new ballet based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, The Red Shoes.
In this clip from the dance sequences, the ballet character sees the infamous shoes at a carnival booth and immediately covets them. Shearer's skill as a dancer and actress are evident. Each twirl, reach and penché evokes her desperate longing. The shoemaker, danced with incredible precision by famous choreographer Léonide Massine, taunts the girl. When she finally leaps into the red shoes (with kitschy film effects), she forgets her partner completely. She dances with bounding energy, depicted by Shearer's crisp, light petit allégro. Later, it becomes clear that the shoes have a fatal sort of magic, both onstage and off.