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By Joseph Carman
A new generation of men reigns at New York City Ballet.
All five men featured here came through the ranks of the School of American Ballet. In a company built for choreography, they offer vivid individuality while serving the bigger picture. They possess complementary skills, artistry, and temperaments. Too young to have worked with Balanchine or Robbins, they are still instrumental in defining the new NYCB. Nearly all mentioned Peter Boal, Nikolaj Hübbe, and Jock Soto as role models or mentors. Three have siblings who dance professionally. And each one has a story.
Play Me the Music
In Altoona, Pennsylvania, classical music echoed throughout the Angle household. No surprise, then, that Angle’s dancing yields smoothly to any musical score. Standing 6' tall with supremely classical line, Angle’s chameleonlike abilities have placed him all over the map in the NYCB repertoire. He dances roles ranging from the gangster-stalked hoofer in Slaughter on Tenth Avenue to the elegant male lead in Diamonds.
When Angle was 9, he followed his older brother Jared (also now a principal dancer with NYCB) to ballet class out of boredom. The difficulty hooked him. “To my dismay, I was vastly less coordinated than the girls,” says Angle. “There was maybe one thing in each class I did well.” One of his teachers, Richard Cook, taught him partnering step-by-step. “He almost created his own syllabus,” says Angle, now 25. “I think my brother and I have an innate sense of when a partner is happy or not—if she is in that sweet spot where she wants to be or if she’s fidgeting to adjust.”
What sold him on NYCB was a performance of Opus 19/The Dreamer with Wendy Whelan and Peter Boal. “I love the Prokofiev Violin Concerto. It was one of those moments where I felt like the only one in the audience,” he says.
Initially, he was cast in noble parts (he became a principal in 2009) but quickly took on neoclassical ballets, like Agon, and contemporary works by choreographers Christopher Wheeldon and Mauro Bigonzetti. But dancing Prince Siegfried in Swan Lake (to Teresa Reichlen’s Odette/Odile) proved as rewarding as anything: “There is nothing like running onstage to that fourth-act music with a full orchestra. It’s absolutely transcendent.”
Craig Hall, muscular and regal, commands the stage and partners his ballerinas with a quiet but potent elegance. “I don’t really consider myself a classical dancer,” he says. “I do more of the roles where you really give your heart or something else—a mysterious side, a sexual side, some kind of intensity. I like looking into a dancer’s eyes and pulling something out of them that’s also pulling something out of me.” And that he does in ballets like Robbins’ steamy N.Y. Export: Opus Jazz and elusive Afternoon of a Faun; the tortured Melancholic variation in Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments; or Wheeldon’s neoclassical Polyphonia. And—a first for an African American dancer at NYCB—he danced Apollo on the “Dancers’ Choice” program the closing night of the season.
Although he had studied tap and jazz, Hall took his first ballet classes as a freshman at the Chicago Academy of the Arts. When he arrived at SAB, he says, “there was a major intimidation factor going on there,” with 35 other guys with formidable technique in class. Soon after joining the company in 2000, he was cast in Wheeldon’s After the Rain. Wendy Whelan helped him to calm down and relax. “One of the first things I do is embrace her on my chest and she could hear my heart beating. We laugh about it now. She said, ‘Oh, my little baby bird, he’s about to have a heart attack onstage.’ ”
Hall loves the working process with choreographers. About Wheeldon: “He knows what he wants but is not afraid to ask a dancer what feels better.” He says that Wayne McGregor, who choreographed Outlier, demonstrates as if he has no bones in his body and works at lightning speed. “He’s sort of like a mad scientist the way he came in with tons of experiments and exercises on how to move your body in ways we had never seen before,” says Hall.
When Hall disappears in his free time, his friends know where to find him: watching tennis tournaments. “I love tennis,” says the 32-year-old soloist. “If I weren’t a ballet dancer, I would have gone after pro tennis.”
If any ballet defines the essence of Andrew Veyette’s straightforward, no-nonsense style of dancing, it would be Balanchine’s Stars and Stripes. As a youngster in Visalia, California, Veyette took a 1993 tape of Damian Woetzel performing the ballet, got a key for the studio from his ballet teacher on weekends, and practiced the variation and coda of the pas de deux. With Ashley Bouder, a frequent partner, he danced the ballet in the SAB workshop in 2000; it was also one of his first major principal roles with NYCB. It would be safe to say that when Martins needs a solid male virtuoso, he calls on Veyette. (His brother Francis is a principal with Pennsylvania Ballet.)
But Veyette is no one-trick pony. He has danced a variety of roles, such as Riff in West Side Story Suite, the skirt-chasing husband in The Concert, and a principal part in Oltremare, a dramatic Mauro Bigonzetti ballet that features Veyette in a rough, wild, and powerful mode. In Robbins’ The Four Seasons, he and Bouder bring the house down with the bravura “Fall” section. With his droll, self-effacing humor, Veyette says of his partnership with Bouder: “I never felt too much pressure performing with her, because I figure everybody is there to see her anyway.”
On his days off, Veyette likes to ride one of his road or track bikes. “Having to push yourself through exhaustion and muscle failure on a bicycle reminds me of the second entrance in a coda or a set of à la seconde turns,” says the 29-year-old principal.
Veyette claims that he often gets stopped by the security guards at the Rose Building (home of NYCB’s studios). “Nobody ever thinks I look like a ballet dancer. That makes me giggle a little bit,” he says in his deadpan, nasal monotone. “I was once mistaken for a caterer on the fifth floor of SAB.” On July 24, Veyette married his fiancée and Square Dance partner, NYCB principal Megan Fairchild. “I thought she was cute,” he says, “so I hit on her in an inappropriate fashion in the workplace.”
Few dancers at NYCB give audiences a blast of joy the way Amar Ramasar does. But he constantly seeks to improve (i.e. always in the video room “finding things I’m not happy with”), and his performances in recent seasons have reflected that. Ramasar’s knack for learning choreographic styles ranging from Susan Stroman’s Broadway brass to Balanchine’s spare Stravinsky ballets, partially stems from his background (his father is Trinidadian of East Indian ancestry, his mother is Puerto Rican), which includes hip hop, salsa, and merengue.
Ramasar’s uncle, Daniel Catanach (artistic director of Urban Ballet Theater) showed his 11-year-old nephew a tape of Heather Watts and Mel Tomlinson in Agon. Smitten, Ramasar auditioned for SAB in what would be his first ballet class. The Bronx-born kid was accepted into the Boys I class with students as young as 6 and had to catch up. From the beginning, he says, Peter Martins has been a hugely influential teacher. “After ballet class, he gives 10 minutes of partnering,” says Ramasar. “I’m still learning how to make things easier.” Becoming a principal dancer in 2009 brought more responsibility than he anticipated. “As a soloist, there is an allowance for making mistakes. As a principal dancer, you have to really be in charge of what you do,” he says.
Among his favorite ballets to dance are Stravinsky Violin Concerto, Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering, Jorma Elo’s Slice to Sharp, and Bigonzetti’s Oltremare. “Bigonzetti taught me to stop trying to be a dancer. He said, ‘Be a person.’ It opened my eyes to every role I’m in. I found myself trying to be a little more Amar,” he says.
The die-hard Yankees fan has a wedding planned for October with Elysia Dawn Fridkin, a former dancer with Complexions Contemporary Ballet who is attending Columbia University and is artistic director of Columbia Ballet Collaborative.
As for his own fantasy casting, Ramasar would love one day to dance the lead in Diamonds. “Peter thinks I am a wonderful contemporary dancer, but I need to work on my technique,” he says. “Diamonds is so regal, so classically based—with that Balanchine touch.”
When Peter Martins called a rehearsal of company men in 2006, Robert Fairchild had no idea he would be dancing the romantic lead in NYCB’s premiere of Romeo + Juliet. But with his natural dramatic know-how, his long, expressive limbs, and an ability to move fleetly across a huge stage, Fairchild was a sensation dancing opposite Sterling Hyltin. Charismatic and musically precise, he somehow blends an old-fashioned soul (he resembles a 1930s silver-screen star) with 21st-century physicality.
Fairchild, 24, has shot through the NYCB repertoire, dancing Apollo and Fancy Free and becoming the favorite of choreographers like Alexei Ratmansky. In Namouna, a Grand Divertissement, Ratmansky’s surrealistic ballet, Fairchild plays the love-seeking protagonist with wit and valor. “I went up to him and said, ‘Is there a story?’ ” says Fairchild. “He was like, ‘Aahhh...a story. We should probably have one, right?’ And I started laughing. He basically explained it to me as Alice in Wonderland. You are going through this world and there are a bunch of characters you don’t understand.”
Fairchild came to SAB full-time at 16, after his sister Megan critiqued his jazz competition video (Fairchild cackles at the thought) and urged him to study ballet seriously. But that jazz training has served him well in the jagged rhythms of the Balanchine Stravinsky ballets. His performance of Duo Concertant can make you forget Peter Martins created the role.
Recently some minor injuries have sidelined him for short periods, making him rethink his movement. “I have been given so many things so quickly,” says Fairchild, a principal since 2009. “I had to play catchup. Now I am thinking about my alignment when I am dancing and not sacrificing that to get into a position.” He’s constantly looking for new challenges. “I’m not diagnosed with ADD, but I feel like I lose my attention fairly quickly. There’s always something new to work on and learn.”
Joseph Carman is a senior contributing editor for Dance Magazine.
From top: (Clockwise from top): Tyler Angle, Robert Fairchild, Craig Hall, Amar Ramasar, and Andrew Veyette; Tyler Angle in costume for Balanchine’s Diamonds; Craig Hall in costume for Wheeldon’s After the Rain; Andrew Veyette in costume for Balanchine’s Stars and Stripes; Amar Ramasar in costume for Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering; Robert Fairchild in Balanchine’s La Sonnambula. All photos by Matthew Karas.