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From left: Peter Walker, Harrison Coll. Photos by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.

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.

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Mark your calendars: "city.ballet.," the popular AOL Originals web series that took us behind the scenes at New York City Ballet last year, is about to launch its second season. The show, executive-produced by Emmy winner (and ballet lover) Sarah Jessica Parker, returns to the AOL On channel on Tuesday, November 4.

 

Last year’s series opened a window into life as an NYCB dancer both inside and outside the studio—the challenges faced by each rank, the huge sacrifices a ballet career requires, inter-company romances, injuries and the big “what’s next” question. This season promises to continue in the same vein, following select dancers (including Sara Mearns, Chase Finlay and ballet master in chief Peter Martins) through their day-to-day highs and lows over 12 episodes. Check out the sneak peek trailer, which shows behind-the-scenes footage from some of NYCB’s recent world premieres, and all future episodes here.

Admirers of New York City Ballet’s Kathryn Morgan probably asked themselves the same question when the company promoted her to soloist last October: “What took them so long?”

 

Morgan had made an indelible impression two years earlier when she was one of the four dancers sharing the role of Juliet in the two-week premiere run of Ballet Master in Chief Peter Martins’ Romeo + Juliet. This streamlined adaptation of the Prokofiev classic tests its heroine’s technique the moment she enters. In the popular Kenneth MacMillan version, Juliet scampers on and teases The Nurse. Martins’ teenager immediately fires off a grand jeté, and Morgan’s is particularly stunning. It comes out of nowhere to hit 180 degrees with unerring musicality. When Romeo + Juliet returned last May, Juliet was cast with only two dancers: principal Sterling Hyltin and Morgan.

 

In the interim, Morgan’s acting had acquired more expressive authority. “I read the play,” she says. “I saw the Zeffirelli movie, I saw Alessandra Ferri at ABT, but I didn’t stop there. Peter gave us specific counts for picking up the dagger, but you have some leeway in timing. You can grab it, say, or wait till the very last minute to reach for it. I’m always looking for those moments when a new gesture can highlight my character, like a slight pause before I rush down the steps before the balcony scene. Peter hasn’t complained.”


Morgan has rarely received complaints. While a student at the School of American Ballet, she attracted the attention of a particularly astute judge of talent. Christopher Wheeldon, NYCB’s resident choreographer at the time, hesitates to say it was Morgan’s sweetness that caught his eye. “That sounds saccharine and her dancing is anything but,” he says. “Let’s say she had an aura of quiet authority. Equally important, it was coupled with a rare devotion to hard work. I sometimes had to rein in her energy.” 

 

First, Wheeldon cast her in the pas de deux of his Scènes de Ballet for SAB’s 2006 Spring Workshop. Later, after she moved from NYCB apprentice to corps member, he cast her in Carousel (A Dance). Originally, this charming abridgement of the central love story in the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical was a showcase for Alexandra Ansanelli, requiring her to go from Innocence to First Love to Tremulous Ambivalence in a marvel-
ously impassioned pas de deux. Whether Morgan had ever run such a gamut of emotions offstage, she convincingly did so in the course of 20 minutes.

 

For most of the next two years, Morgan remained in the corps, gaining strength and stamina as dewy freshness morphed into sophistication. Although only 5’ 4”, she never disappeared into the corps’ anonymity. Gradually, she danced solos she had watched others perform.

 

After seeing her first Nutcracker while still a toddler, Morgan let her parents know that dance lessons were in order when she emerged from her bedroom wearing one of her dolls’ tutus. She began studying an hour a week. And she found time for seven years of piano lessons. “My mother was always urging me not to spend so much time in my room playing classical records,” she says.“ I’d always say, ‘I want to listen to ballet, Mom.’ ”

 

Morgan never studied with any teacher for long. Her father was a dentist in the U.S. Navy, and the Morgans moved four times before he left the service to practice endodontics (root canal surgery) in Mobile, Alabama. Winthrop Corey, artistic director of Mobile Ballet, became Morgan’s first mentor after she enrolled in the company school. Like everyone who recalls her, he was as impressed by her dedication to work as he was by her natural ability. “You can’t teach what she already had,” Corey says. “You just fine-tune it. Her instincts were like a third eye within herself that sees what needs to be done. Happy as I was for her when she won her scholarship to SAB in 2004, I regretted I’d no longer be working with such a gifted student.”

 

Since she became a New Yorker, Morgan has adjusted rapidly to city life. Initially her mother moved into an apartment with her, but now both parents are only frequent visitors. Her cat Princess has stayed behind in Mobile, though.

 

Sean Lavery, Martins’ assistant and a teacher at SAB, lost no time in working with Morgan once she began her apprenticeship with the company. While a student, she had already earned his highest possible praise: “She reminded me of Suzanne”—Farrell, that is, Balanchine’s ultimate muse—“because she’s very musical, very focused on whatever she does. And fearless.” Ironically, what Lavery offered Morgan was the pas de deux he had made for the balcony scene from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, which would be performed at Saratoga, the company’s summer home.

 

For all his admiration, Lavery wondered if the responsibility of dancing and acting would be too much for an apprentice: “Peter said I should see how rehearsals went. I couldn’t find time to work with Katie in New York, so Igave her a tape and asked her to study it. A week later, she knew the role perfectly.”

 

 

Principals Darci Kistler, Wendy Whelan and Jenifer Ringer have been Morgan’s role models at NYCB. Actresses who influenced her characterizations include Audrey Hepburn and Vivien Leigh. Of course, movie stars look so unshakably cool because they have the luxury of retakes and are never plagued by stage fright onscreen.

 

Morgan, now 21, says she was nervous only once, at a debut in Nutcracker, and just for a moment. What role could she have been dreading? Sugar Plum, with its incessant pointework that can drain a ballerina of all charm? Dewdrop, with its panoply of technical demands? “Marzipan,” she says. The leader of those panpipe-playing shepherdesses in stiff, ungainly skirts who tosses off a couple of gargouillades! (Go ahead and laugh; everybody else does.)

 

Morgan’s eagerly eyeing Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty, which return to NYCB this winter. Although each contains a major pas de deux, she knows a partnership is a collaboration, not a ballerina ego trip. She and fellow corps member David Prottas earned an ovation for their performance of Bournonville’s Flower Festival at Genzano at the farewell performance of principal Nikolaj Hübbe in 2008. Although he had little time to coach them, their sunny openness, buoyant elevation and modest mastery of every deceptively simple detail was the Danish style at its purest.

 

At last June’s Dancer’s Choice program, she and principal Tyler Angle triumphed in the Grand Pas de Deux from Sleeping Beauty. “The first time we rehearsed the fish dive, we nailed it,” Angle says. “Katie’s an ideal partner: She meets you halfway; she’s attuned to the ebb and flow of partnering and she is totally calm.” Whether Morgan is cast as Aurora at NYCB this winter, she is definitely dancing a complete Sleeping Beauty in 2010. With Angle as her Prince Désiré, Winthrop Corey’s prize pupil is triumphantly returning to perform it at Mobile Ballet.

Harris Green writes frequently for Pointe.

It was just announced yesterday that New York City Ballet will be starring in its own reality show, developed, produced and narrated by Sarah Jessica Parker. The docuseries, called "city.ballet," will air on AOL On this September, as AOL ventures into original programming for the first time. Catch the trailer here. The shots are so intimate you can almost feel the pressure to perform, and you can almost smell the dancers' sweat.

 

"It's not about the drama and the backstabbing and hysteria and catfights that people tend to think exists in that world," Parker told E! Online. "The Ballet is at its finest point in years. It's a company that arguably has the greatest dancers in the world, and I wondered, 'How can I introduce this company to a larger audience so that when people come to New York, they not only see a Broadway show, but they go 20 blocks north and buy a ticket to the ballet?"'

 

Parker, who studied at the School of American Ballet, is a frequent guest at NYCB galas and has been on the board for the past three years. She said the series will begin shooting in five weeks. Consider us incredibly excited.

 

 



The premiere date for "city.ballet," New York City Ballet's documentary web series, has been announced: It'll air on AOL On beginning November 4th.

 

The more we hear about this new show, the more interesting it sounds. NYCB will retain artistic control of the project, for example. They want to distance it from the high-drama capers of reality shows like "Breaking Pointe." Footage was shot by Zero Point Zero, the group behind the slick aesthetic of Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations."

 

While we're waiting to see how it all turns out, AOL On has released another teaser video, "The Shoes," which goes inside NYCB's famous pointe shoe room (and includes some beautiful slo-mo shots of the dancers' feet in action). Take a look—and stay tuned: Pointe will have more insider coverage of "city.ballet" as the premiere date nears.


Most long-running dance shows—"So You Think You Can Dance," "Dance Moms"—are high on drama. AOL On's city.ballet., though, didn't need shock value to get viewers to tune in. That's one reason I'm excited to report that Sarah Jessica Parker's project is getting a second season. The web series proves that the everyday lives of New York City Ballet dancers are fascinating enough to get all of us—dancers and non-dancers alike—to binge through a whole season in one sitting.

My hopes for Season 2? I would love to see longer episodes, so we can really dive deep into the topic at hand. Andy maybe now that we've gotten over all the introductory "a ballet company has these rankings" information, we can get a closer look at the physical and mental work it takes to prepare for specific ballets, or hear more about what separates NYCB from other presitigous companies—specifically, its Balanchine roots.

AOL hasn't yet announced a premiere date for the next season. But you can catch Season 1 here.
Sarah Jessica Parker has a few identities: Little Orphan Annie, Carrie Bradshaw, and more recently, #1 celebrity ballet advocate. Today from 12–2 pm EST, she will guest host WNYC's Leonard Lopate Show to talk all things ballet. Gelsey Kirkland and Michael Chernov will chat about their Gelsey Kirkland Academy of Ballet. Then, she'll interview New York City Ballet principals Ashley Bouder and Sara Mearns.
It's good timing for SJP and NYCB, as their AOL On web series city.ballet. was recently renewed for another season.

Locals can tune in to the show on 93.9 FM or AM 820. It's also being streamed live online and through the WNYC radio app.

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