Photographed by Kathryn Rummel for Pointe.
Courtney Henry knew she wanted to dance for Alonzo King LINES Ballet while she was still a student in the Ailey/Fordham BFA Program. “I saw LINES perform at The Joyce Theater, and I was blown away, particularly by the women," she remembers. “They were commanding and strong, even scary in how powerful they were. I was like, 'I want to dance like that.' "
She did a 2009 summer program with LINES in San Francisco, then auditioned in 2011. In Henry, King saw an ideal artist for his contemporary ballet company. A lithe six feet tall, the 27-year-old dancer brings the intense physicality and sky-high extensions that King's abstract choreography requires, but also the musicality and technical mastery that make his ballets so mesmerizing.
“Courtney's palette is filled with myriad textures, surprise innovation and rhythmic manipulation," says King, who choreographs to music ranging from Middle Eastern tabla to free jazz to Tchaikovsky. “She is hard to define outside of the word 'brilliant.' " Yet, he says, in her fifth season “she has not even hit the turning point of her career in dance. She is traveling at mercuric speed, ascending toward what will be an astonishing career."
For now, Henry is laser-focused on the demanding LINES schedule, with fall and spring home seasons bookending an average of 20 weeks of national and international touring every year. Her daily routine is designed to keep her relaxed, focused and physically ready. “Because I travel so much, it gets really hard on my system," she says. “I've had to be more aware of my body and my health." Whether she's journaling or rolling out or sipping custom wellness teas, she tunes in to what she needs to feel healthy and creative.
On a picture-perfect Bay Area day, Pointe followed Henry to the LINES Dance Center, where the company rehearsed for its recent fall season in San Francisco and four months of touring from Moscow to Atlanta to La Rochelle, France.
"It's nice to have a little morning ritual," says Henry. "I wake up, I try and do some affirmations for the day. I like to check my emails before I get out the door. I don't like being on the train like a zombie on my phone."
Henry rides a bike from her studio apartment in Oakland to the train station for a 15-minute ride into San Francisco. "I like to read on the train. A former company member gave me this book, What I Know Now: Letters to My Younger Self. It's all these professional women writing to themselves."
She takes a food-based approach to wellness, buying fresh produce at the weekly farmers' market near the studio.
"I've been getting really into smoothies. They're filling ,easy and tasty. I can have one in the studio with me and sip on it all day." Henry used to sleep in, but "I've been waking up earlier because of all the smoothie prep!"
Henry starts her 45-minute warm-up with yoga, and then moves on to rolling out, Thera-Band exercises and abdominal work. "I have a basic routine, but depending on what is bothering me that day, I'll spend more time on one than the other." Henry has been doing exercises from Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way. "There's something wonderful about practicing the tools to go deeper and broaden your awareness of your journey, and harnessing the creative power that we have."
In rehearsals with Kara Wilkes and Jeffrey Van Sciver. "Alonzo gives us freedom to be," says Henry, who trained in classical ballet from the age of 9. "In being, you can be fearless and open and generous. LINES is the ultimate fertile ground."
"Affirmations are a really powerful and useful tool," says Henry. "If you don't believe in your awesomeness, who will? Ballet can be good at tearing you down, so it's a personal responsibility to lift yourself up."
"It is evident that early in her training, Courtney decided that she was going to be herself. She has remained true to that challenging quest."—Alonzo King
In rehearsal, King asks dancers for "more, more more"—deeper flexion, greater expansion, more intense emotion. Rising to the challenge, Henry says, "is really rich for growth. You can't help but evolve and change."
Henry cherishes the uniqueness of LINES dancers. "Seeing them shine individually onstage ups the ante for the next thing," she says. "Sometimes the stage is literally hot with this intensity."