NYCB's New Beauties

The New Beauties
New York City Ballet Seminar
New York State Theater
January 22, 2007

by Dale Brauner
copyright 2007, Dale Brauner

Ever since Carlotta Brianza created the leading role in “The Sleeping Beauty” at 23, young dancers have attempted to surmount the treacherous, but classical, demands of Aurora in the Marius Petipa-choreographed classic. This January, two young dancers of the New York City Ballet made their debuts as the young princess in artistic director Peter Martins’ production, while another was the understudy. The trio, principal dancer Megan Fairchild and soloists Sterling Hyltin and Ana Sophia Scheller (the understudy), were joined by soloist Daniel Ulbricht in a panel discussion which explored the challenges of taking on one of the most famous and significant ballerina roles in the classical ballet tradition for the first time. Joan Quatrano, director of volunteers and program resources, moderated the seminar.

Meet Our Beauties:

Ana Sophia Scheller: I’m from Argentina. I started dancing when I was six years old. It was just a local school in Buenos Ares.  When I was nine years old I auditioned for the ballet school at the Teatro Colon. When I was 12 I went to New York and auditioned for the School of American Ballet and I was there for 3 ½ years. I went to American Ballet Theatre’s Studio Company in 2003, but joined the New York City Ballet in 2004. I’ve been here for three years.

Suki Schorer was the most influential teacher I had at SAB. She taught us more than technique but how to present ourselves, things like turning your head to receive a kiss and to smile and enjoy yourself on stage. Not everybody is like that. They are interested in technique only.

Sterling Hyltin: I grew up in Amarillo, Texas. I started ballet was I was six years old at the Dallas Metropolitan Ballet with Ann Etgen and Bill Atkinson. I did it to help my ice skating and then I ended up getting better at ballet than ice skating, so I stopped ice skating. I did competitions in ice skating and done fairly well, but I just didn’t like it as much as ballet. By the time I was 13, I decided that I wanted to make it more than just an extracurricular activity; I would like to have a career in it. So I auditioned for the School of American Ballet summer program. The first year I didn’t get accepted. I worked very hard and then got accepted. I went to the summer course for two years and in the year 2000 I stayed for the winter course. I spent two years in school and now four years in the company. It makes me feel really good to dance — it makes my mind happy and my body happy. Once I saw the performances here I was truly inspired. That’s when I knew it was a sealed deal. I think I was a little hesitant to come to New York, something which I still have never told my parents, but once I saw NYCB I knew for sure.

Megan Fairchild: I’m from Sandy, Utah. I went to a little dance studio off of the freeway when I was 4 ½. I started with tap and jazz and ballet. I really got into the ballet when I saw “The Nutcracker” for the first time. I saw little girls come out in their dresses and I thought that was so cool. I thought it was great they were on stage and they were my age. I had never seen any ballet before that. We’d go to see musicals as a family. When I was 12 I started doing ballet more, going to the Ballet West Conservatory in Salt Lake City. I started doing dinky competitions. When I was 15, which is kind of late, I auditioned for SAB. But I didn’t know which schools were best. I didn’t know anything about New York. We auditioned for everything! I had no clue that this was such a special company. At SAB, they bring the school kids up from New York to Saratoga once during the summer — I saw “Interplay” and “Stars and Stripes.” The biggest thing that made me want to be here was the dancing and the classes. It’s the different style of dancing at SAB. I got so strong taking classes after just three weeks.

First Glimpse of Beauty:

Daniel Ulbricht: The Royal Ballet — it was on television. I’m from St. Petersburg, Florida. When I say that I’m from St. Petersburg, they think I’m from Russia. So what you see on TV is what you get on TV. You see the prince and you think “this is what I want to do.”

Hyltin:  Here, actually, was my first “Sleeping Beauty.” And the first time I saw “Sleeping Beauty” was this year. The previous times, when I was in New York, we had done “Sleeping Beauty” I was in it. So this was the first time I got a chance to see it. I was not really familiar with many different ballet companies. I’m embarrassed to say this, but even now I’m a little naïve about other companies. Once I came to New York, they had tickets for SAB students to see NYCB every night so I started coming here every night. So I educated myself on this company. I think that’s an area of growth for me, to go to other dance performances.

Scheller: The first time I saw it was a video but not the whole thing, just the Wedding pas de deux. I think I saw the whole “Sleeping Beauty” was probably here. I had seen grand pas de deux or variations. In my SAB workshop, I performed Aurora [SAB staged the last act]. But still, not the whole ballet.

Fairchild: Ballet West did it. That’s all I saw in Utah. And when they did it I danced in it, when I was 14 or 15. I was Aurora’s friend and in the vision scene. When I was 12, Ballet West had a program in which we’d go out to different elementary schools and we’d do assemblies, doing a mini “Sleeping Beauty.” So I’ve heard the music a lot. Even when I came out for my first entrance in my debut, I heard that music and felt comfortable. That was a great moment.

The Weight of Aurora:

Hyltin: I think the legacy of Aurora looms large. I had never danced a full-length ballet before. I wondered if I had the stamina to get through it all. Even the costume changes and headpiece changes. You’re just going through so much for such a long time. The other Auroras like Jenifer Ringer and Wendy Whelan really guided me through things like costume changes. They’d say, “At this exit you really have to hurry because it’s a very quick change. You don’t have to have this headpiece on too long, so only put in a couple of pins but know where they are.” They break it down to a science, but they’re so helpful. There are parts of the ballet that catch you off guard but you don’t know that until you actually do it during the performance.

Fairchild: To have so many entrances with stairs, that was really scary. You can really picture yourself Biffing (falling) it down the stairs, so it’s really frightening. And your tutu is keeping you from actually seeing the stairs. But thinking about something as being hard, I’ve done that with other roles. As you get more and more years in the company, you try to psych yourself out of hard parts by saying to yourself, “Well, at least it’s not “Theme and Variations.” And then I had to perform “Theme and Variations” one season! I couldn’t sleep for at least two weeks coming up to the performance. That’s not the way to prepare for a ballet. So now I try to tell myself that it’s just a job, one that’s really personal and important to you. If you forget all the hard parts and just concentrate on the music and the people on stage with you then you forget that you just performed a three-act ballet.

Bluebird Dreams:

Ulbricht: Bluebird is a very interesting role because you think, “Wow, I can’t wait to do Bluebird. This is going to be great.” And then you run through it and think, “God, what was I thinking?” I’ve been lucky enough to do “Tarantella” and I always think of it as an aerobics routing in six minutes. But Bluebird has a different weight to it. For one, I’m a bird, so I’m portraying a character. And then the solo is all jumps, so halfway through the solo there’s a burning sensation all through your legs. You can’t go off stage. Your lip has dried to your teeth. It’s amazing that it was choreographed in 1890 and 100-plus years later it still is giving dancers trouble. It’s a very charming role but a very difficult role. Every guy who performs it comes off stage and lies on his back huffing and puffing. But it’s a blast.

Scheller: I danced it with Vincent Paradiso, a corps dancer who hasn’t had much experience with partnering in pas de deuxs. I was trying to help him. Each dancer is different. One dancer turns more (in supported turns), some turn less. If the person doesn’t turn as much, he needs to help you. Or if she turns more, he needs to do less. We had to talk a lot.

Hyltin: When you’re partnered by somebody, it’s really easy to feed off their energy. You really have a connection. If something doesn’t go quite as smoothly as it did in rehearsal, we feel it, even though we don’t let it show to the audience. When that happens, you sometimes go in a bit of a freak-out mode a little bit internally.  If your partner starts feeling freaked out, you can feel it too. As the girl, sometimes you have to tell your partner “OK, breath. Calm down.” But Daniel is a fabulous partner and fun to dance with.

 Megan Found Her Prince:

Fairchild: Joaquin De Luz and I dance a lot together. I prefer to dance with him now because we dance so often together that we’re so used to each other now. It’s harder now for me to switch to another partner. We’re similar in height and we work really well together now. We had a really good time in rehearsals.

Princesses Rehearse with Their Fairy God Mother:

Fairchild: With some ballets, I’ll dread rehearsal. Sometimes if you have a bad rehearsal you’ll take it home with you. But with this ballet I enjoyed the whole process and looked forward to rehearsal. I always started with the vision scene. That would calm me down. I would motivate myself by starting there, and then do the third act and then the first act. I worked with Merrill Ashley.  Sean Lavery would stay for a little bit.

Hyltin: Merrill Ashley taught me the role, too. There’s rehearsals for just, say me alone, but then also for all of us.

Fairchild: It was a lot of fun. With a full-length, you can’t let anything go by without working on it. Merrill is always very thorough, but you couldn’t escape anything…you couldn’t hide. Everything was taken care of. Sometimes it’s stressful because you feel like its so overwhelming but it really was a wonderful experience. I feel like I improved and learned so many things because we were working (with Ashley) everyday for 2-3 hours. She would not let me do certain things. She had no problem repeating things over and over again until you got it. It can be frustrating at first but you have to break yourself down a little bit to get better. For me, my arms and upper body are something like I’ve neglected a little bit. The whole thing about being a principal is your upper body is what everybody is looking at. It makes you look different. You look like a ballerina. When you enter the stage, everybody can see that you are the lead girl. You can talk about all the technical things to make that happen, like keeping your shoulders down. It just takes trial and error. Merrill would say “That’s right. You found it.”

Fairchild: Merrill performed Aurora with the Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet in London. That’s what makes working with her so wonderful because she knows what it feels like, she knows what these steps feel like, she knows which steps are particularly hard, and she knows how you feel at the end of each section. Because of that, she was so open with things I had to say. Sometimes with people who coach you, they said this is how you do your head for this, this is how you do that…sometimes you feel like a cookie cutout.  A lot of choreography is very set, but when it comes to dancing a full-length ballet you have a little bit more freedom because you are dancing for so long. And because this role is so old, pretty much everything has been done with it [changes and adjustments]. So I could ask, “It doesn’t really feel comfortable for me to put my head like this. Can I do it this way?” And she would say yes or no. We’d figure something else out. She gave me options because every person is different and our bodies are different. Things read differently on different bodies. I enjoyed working with her so much because she gave me that freedom. I look at her as my mentor but now I can also look towards her on an equal level. There were some rehearsals where I was on my butt and she would look at me and say, “OK, I think we’re done for now.” That connection was so fulfilling.

Fairchild: Another great thing about working with Merrill is her acting abilities. I was watching her do Carabosse in rehearsal, I learn so much. Even in rehearsal where Aurora pricks her finger, she acted out the whole thing. I was watching and thinking, “Yeah, that’s how it should be.” In the vision scene, she would show Joaquin some things. She’s very smart with acting. You can see it comes naturally to her.

Photos (both by Paul Kolnik):
Sterling Hyltin (Aurora) and Tyler Angle (her suitor from Europe) in the Rose Adagio.
Megan Fairchild and Joaquin de Luz as Aurora and Prince Désiré in the grand pas de deux (Act III).

Volume 5, No. 6
January 29, 2007

copyright ©2007 Dale Brauner

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