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By Nancy Wozny
Dancers often think of their fellow performers as family, but in some cases, they literally are family. As Fred and Adele Astaire found out more than a century ago, the sibling bond in dance is special. In a field where emotional support is a necessity, a sister or brother can make all the difference. Dance Magazine spoke with three sets of siblings to find out how they navigate sharing the stage, the workplace, and the profession with a family member.
Megan and Robert Fairchild in Eliot Feld’s Intermezzo No. 1 in 2006. Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.
Megan & Robert Fairchild
New York City Ballet
Megan and Robert Fairchild are three years apart, which means big sis had an influence.
“When he was younger, he always followed my lead. I did gymnastics and violin, and he followed me around,” says Megan. “It was cute.”
Robert was heading for a career on Broadway, mostly studying jazz and tap with ballet only once a week, when Megan suggested he do a summer at the School of American Ballet to clean up his ballet technique. “His audition tape was really funny, then he saw Peter Boal dance onstage and he was hooked,” remembers Megan. It was a piece of advice that lasted a lifetime. “If she had not, I wouldn’t be in NYCB today, for sure,” admits Robert.
Being the younger sib comes with some perks. “Megan was incredible to me. I remember being in pain from all the rehearsals for our final show at SAB and her bringing me a little spa kit she made for me,” says Robert. “She has such a big heart and always looks out for me.”
Robert was there for his sister too, even as a student. “When he was in the school and I was in the company he would always come see me perform and was so supportive,” says Megan. “If it was a frustrating show, he would assure me that it looked good.”
As their careers developed, they grew into very different types of dancers, minimizing the possibility of competing in the process. The way casting works at NYCB, they rarely overlap. “I am always in a tutu in fifth position, while Robert is always doing new ballets,” Megan quips. “Things would have been different if we were the same gender.”
Early on, while Robert was in the corps and Megan already a principal, they danced Eliot Feld’s Intermezzo No. 1 together. “I had to talk him through it,” recalls Megan. “He was dry heaving; I had to hold his hand a bit. I was so glad to be there for his first scary thing.”
Robert remembers the event as well. “It was complicated partnering, but we had the same impetus for the movement, so it came together easily. We heard the music the same and moved to it at the same time,” he says. “It was weird, actually.”
Robert feels their relationship has evolved. “I think it’s grown from watching each other’s performances to becoming real colleagues. We really toss advice back and forth to each other and enjoy our outside lives together more,” he says. “There was a period where we had to get used to sharing the same friends and being in the same social scene.”
Megan is relieved that they are past that stage. “Now we are adults and I look up to him as a peer. Sometimes, when I’m in a piece that is not my cup of tea, he talks me through it, and I do the same for him. Usually, I don’t get nervous when he performs—he is so steady. But I really freaked out when he was dancing Romeo + Juliet at ‘Live From Lincoln Center.’ ”
Above: Megan and Robbie, ready to step out in Liebeslieder Walzer. Photo courtesy Megan Fairchild.
Ronald and Rex Tilton. Photo by Beau Pearson, Courtesy BW.
Rex & Ronald Tilton
Last summer Rex and Ronald Tilton revealed the intricacies of their brotherly lives on the CW show Breaking Pointe for the nation to see. The television audience witnessed firsthand how these two manage the sometimes tricky ballet world, complete with career and girlfriend problems. Their support structure was also in full evidence. “I like that they focused on us as brothers,” says Ronald.
It’s easy to see why they were selected for the show. Besides being tall and TV-star handsome, they hark from a close-knit dance family, where five out of the seven Tilton siblings are still dancing. The middle brother, Raymond, dances with San Francisco Ballet (SFB), and their twin sisters are in SFB’s school. With Rex four years older, he’s not shy about playing older brother. He’s the reason that Ronald is at Ballet West. “He wasn’t going anywhere at SFB,” Rex insists. “I told Ronald that they love tall guys here. He fits in so well.”
Ronald appreciates the support. “Competition with someone you love is the best kind.” From time to time, Rex gives him feedback. “He can be brutally honest,” says Ronald. “Once he told me I had chicken arms. I watched the video, and I did, but not nearly as bad as when he imitated me.”
Rex sees his feedback as a big plus. “I do give him tips that he is not getting from other people. He’s not afraid to tell me things too,” he says. “There’s no holding back with us. We both want to do well. And if my brother surpasses me, it’s Go, Ronald! That would be awesome. He works so hard. We are on the same path anyway.”
Rex looks to Ronald and Raymond for advice in love. If you tuned in to the last episode of Breaking Pointe then you know that it was after conferring with his two brothers that he decided he had to change things with Allison, the dancer he was involved with. And that action led to the final intriguing scene of possible rapprochement that had viewers craving more.
Above: Rex in the Spanish variation of Ballet West’s Nutcracker. Photo by Luke Isley, Courtesy BW.
April Ball in Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Romeo and Juliet. Photo by ML Briane, Courtesy LBMC; Simon Ball in rehearsal at Houston Ballet. Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy HB.
Simon & April Ball
Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo
When Simon Ball peeked in on his sister’s ballet class during a family day, he noticed there was only one boy in the class. “I liked that ratio,” jokes Simon. Eventually he joined the class, and the brother-sister team studied together for a number of years. His steel-mill worker grandfather paid for their lessons in Western Pennsylvania, or, as Simon calls it, “football country.”
“Simon was the most physical of us, and I used to follow him around the farm and try to mimic him when he’d swing from a tree limb or climb onto a rooftop,” says April. “I was so proud that he enjoyed me showing him my ballet steps, and I was thrilled that we could follow what quickly became our common passion together.”
Simon and April cleaned up at the USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson in 1994. He won the gold and she won the silver dancing the Grand Pas Classique, a pas they danced for years afterward at galas and other competitions. “That was my favorite pas to dance with her,” says Simon. “It freaked people out how we could be so together. We were the perfect heights for each other, too. When I look at the video, it’s eerie how similar our lines were. We also have the same attack.”
April agrees. “So much of us is the same—from our bodies to our upbringing. When we would dance together, we would try to warm up next to each other to start to feel in sync. By the time we hit the stage, it was like we were linked and breathing and moving together without even having to think first. There is no partner who I could ever trust more.”
At two years older, Simon was very much the protective older brother during April’s early career. “I was a typical big brother, keeping any men interested in her at arm’s length.”
The Jackson win landed them both jobs at Boston Ballet, where they ended up as principals. Simon remembers that when they were cast in Cranko’s Onegin, Jane Bourne, who staged the ballet at BB, knew only that they had the same last name. “Thinking we were husband and wife, she noticed we weren’t feeling the passion,” remembers Simon. “Casting quickly changed.”
Competition was never an issue. “We had different niches,” says April. “Once, when visiting me in Monaco, he even came backstage at the intermission and told me to add some makeup and make my character come on stronger in the second act. I trust him completely, so it was great to get advice like that and I never forgot it.”
There did come a time when they were ready to go their separate ways. April wanted to do more contemporary work. Simon left Boston for Houston Ballet, while April spent a year with Suzanne Farrell before landing a job at Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo.
Today, Simon and April Skype often, and travel to visit when they can. April offers, “We even managed to cross paths for a day on tour once in Vigo, Spain.”
Living so far from each other has had its ups and downs, but allows both to fulfill their very different dancing dreams. “April is more of an adventurer. I’m a homebody, she’s a roamer,” admits Simon. “She was always the one with the drive to push beyond her boundaries. I thought dance was hard enough. She wanted it to be harder.”
Nancy Wozny rarely makes a move without consulting her three siblings, who share her love for dance and the shape of her nose.