NYCB Principals: Not Quite the Glamorous Life

Sara Mearns gets the star treatment.

If you’ve been keeping up with DT’s weekly “city.ballet.” posts, you know that this week we tackle Episode 5: Principals. Despite the pill-bottle-lined windowsill of Ashley Bouder (she takes B-12 vitamins, Vitamin D, Magnesium, Advil and a host of other supplements to keep herself in tip-top shape), I still can’t help but think of these prima ballerinas (and danseurs) as glamorous. I mean, there were shots of Sara Mearns getting her makeup done for Swan Lake! Ashley Bouder also has a super cute apartment, from the glimpses we’ve seen—not to mention an adorable dog who apparently loves her unreservedly. (I guess this means I equate a nice accent wall, fancy makeup and pets who will deliver slobbery kisses at a moment’s notice with glamour. What have you done to me, New York?)

But in keeping with the behind-the-scenes element of this web series, we learn that being a principal dancer with New York City Ballet is fraught with mind games and an inability to really let go. When Bouder laments that she can’t be human and have an off day because all eyes will be glued to her when she’s onstage, my mind immediately flicked to a spill I saw her take in The Four Temperaments this fall. She recovered quickly—and even the fall itself was exciting, because she was whipping out a series of chaînés turns at record speed—but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that her tumble was the most memorable part of the evening for me. As a viewing public, we do have the tendency to be unforgiving.

It’s also fascinating to see the principals’ individual timelines, from apprentices to premier dancers, compared so starkly. Amar Ramasar’s journey was a good seven to eight years, whereas Bouder spent only 11 months as a soloist before ascending to principal. Mearns’ pathway was pretty direct, too: After one and a half years with the company, she found herself dancing the lead in Swan Lake. It’s a nice reminder to laypeople like myself that even the most talented ballerinas and danseurs in the country have to toil away for years and years to get to the top—it takes all kinds to make a successful ballet company.

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Despite worldwide theater closures, the Universal Ballet Competition is keeping The Nutcracker tradition alive in 2020 with an online international competition. The event culminates in a streamed, full-length video of The Virtual Nutcracker consisting of winning entries on December 19. The competition is calling on studios, as well as dancers of all ages and levels, to submit videos by November 29 to be considered.

"Nutcracker is a tradition that is ingrained in our hearts," says UBC co-founder Lissette Salgado-Lucas, a former dancer with Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Joffrey Ballet. "We danced it for so long as professionals, we can't wait to pass it along to dancers through this competition."

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Robbie Sweeny, courtesy Funsch

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Originally from central New York State, Funsch spent 20 years performing in the Bay Area, where she also started her own company, Funsch Dance Experience. "My choreographic work from that time is in the dance-theater experiential, fantasy realm of performance," she says. "I also started blending genres and a lot of urban styles found their way into my choreography."

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Movement was more than a metaphor for the fight for women's suffrage—dancers played a real role, most notably Florence Fleming Noyes, who performed her riveting solo Dance of Freedom in 1914 to embody the struggle for women's rights.

This fall, Middle Tennessee State University director of dance Meg Brooker is reconstructing Dance of Freedom on 11 of her students. A Noyes Rhythm teacher and an Isadora Duncan scholar, Brooker is passionate about bringing historic dance practices into a contemporary context.

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