On the evening of Saturday, October 7, principal dancer Rebecca Krohn will slip into a favorite costume of leotard, tights, and pointe shoes, and unleash her silky arabesque in George Balanchine’s Stravinsky Violin Concerto for one last time, an experience she expects will be bittersweet. And the following week? She’ll report to work at the Company she has called home for 19 years with the new title of ballet master.
“It’s the end of something, but an exciting beginning to something else,” she says. “Because I’m so looking forward to the next chapter and to working with the dancers, it makes it less sad to stop dancing, even though I still love it.”
As seasoned New York City Ballet audiences can attest, Krohn exits the stage at the top of her game. A consummate NYCB ballerina with long, supple limbs and an elegant, meticulous, unaffected style of dancing, Krohn mastered a wide-ranging repertory. She moved seamlessly from the sweeping romanticism of Balanchine’s Emeralds to the by-the-book classicism of the Lilac Fairy in Peter Martins’ The Sleeping Beauty to the urban cool of Jerome Robbins’ N.Y. Export: Opus Jazz, which she also danced in the 2010 film of the ballet. In addition to featured parts in more than 30 Balanchine ballets and 14 ballets by Robbins, she originated roles in NYCB ballets for more than a dozen choreographers, including Robert Binet, Martins, Benjamin Millepied, Justin Peck, and Liam Scarlett.
This past spring season was like a distillation of her NYCB career, as Krohn performed ballets by seven choreographers, including Peck’s angular new ballet The Decalogue. Anyone who watched her edgy acrobatics in Ulysses Dove’s Red Angels or lush, rapid-fire footwork in Alexei Ratmansky’s Russian Seasons last season would never have guessed it was her penultimate season on the NYCB stage.
But unlike audiences, Krohn knew a year ago that her dance life was set to change course. Well aware of a ballet career’s limited longevity, Krohn started thinking about her next act several years ago. “I’ve always loved working with this company,” she says about the NYCB family (Krohn is married to former NYCB soloist Adam Hendrickson). “And I thought of ballet master as something I’d be good at and would really love.”
Martins agreed and Krohn will begin her new job this fall. As Krohn explains, “It was a hard decision. But this is something that feels like an important part of what I can give back to the Company. So I decided to enjoy performing as much as I can, every second of it, and then start the next chapter.”
An accomplished cook, Krohn once told an interviewer that she might consider culinary school when her dancing was done. Yet it’s no surprise that she’s continuing with the art form she was smitten with at the age of four after seeing The Nutcracker. Growing up in Vestal, New York, she studied ballet locally and at age ten, had the good fortune to attend a summer program at the Chautauqua Ballet led by former NYCB dancers Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux and Patricia McBride. After three summers, they suggested she audition for the School of American Ballet. At 14, Krohn landed a scholarship to SAB. At 17, she became a NYCB apprentice and a year later, she joined the Company.
What followed was a slow but steady ascent through the ranks, a path that gifted her with a deep understanding of essential ballets like Balanchine’s Serenade, Tschaikovsky Suite No. 3, and Monumentum pro Gesualdo/Movements for Piano and Orchestra, by dancing multiple roles in each. In Serenade, for example, she performed corps de ballet parts as well as the featured roles of the Dark Angel and Waltz Girl.
“I really worked my way up,” Krohn says.
As a ballet master, she will teach the ballets she danced to members of the Company. Was her multifaceted knowledge of so many ballets a reason she thought her new job would be a good fit?
In part, but she says her decision was inspired by her mentors, in particular Karin von Aroldingen, the former NYCB principal dancer and ballet master who coached Krohn in signature ballets Balanchine choreographed in the 1960s and ’70s like Vienna Waltzes, Liebeslieder Walzer, and Kammermusik No. 2. “None of us [in the current company] got to meet Mr. Balanchine,” says Krohn. “But we’ve received first-hand knowledge of these ballets from Karin and other NYCB ballet masters. I’d love to share that with a new generation. Stravinsky Violin Concerto, the ballet I’m retiring with, was made on Karin, so it seems the perfect way for me to end my dancing.”
Looking back at the ballets that stand out most for her, Krohn mentions Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering—“It’s just one of the most fulfilling pieces that I’ve done”—and all of the Black and White Balanchine ballets she has danced. “I just felt they are really natural for me. I don’t know if I can explain it. It’s like asking why do you love who you love?
“You never know what’s going to happen when you’re out onstage—with any ballet,” she continues. “There are moments of discovery and freedom that you can’t plan for. It’s a freedom you can’t find in a studio. There’s no one there to stop you or correct you. The space and time is yours to just create. That’s one thing I’ll miss.”