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Principal Beginnings

By Marina Harss
20 Jun 2013

Tiler Peck and Adrian Danchig-Waring in Wheeldon’s Mercurial Manoeuvres
photo by Paul Kolnik

The twenty-first of February was a big day at New York City Ballet. For those who happened to catch the performance of The Sleeping Beauty that evening, it was clear that something was up.

Every dancer onstage, from the fairies to Princess Florine, seemed to be dancing with a radiant expansiveness that flowed from the stage and into the house. It goes without saying that Tschaikovsky’s music was the main reason for this joyful effusion, but, as it became clear the following day, there was another, more immediate cause as well. Eleven dancers had been promoted just before the show.

Eight of those—Lauren King, Ashley Laracey, Megan LeCrone, Lauren Lovette, Georgina Pazcoguin, Justin Peck, Brittany Pollack, and Taylor Stanley—became soloists. And three—Adrian Danchig- Waring, Chase Finlay, and Ask la Cour —were elevated to the highest rank, principal. It is a recognition that every dancer hopes for, but comes to only a few. And as these three men illustrate, it can happen at any point in a dancer’s career, even when he or she is least expecting it. With promotion comes added responsibility, but also increased opportunity: access to an array of plum roles that stretch a dancers’ interpretive and technical palette. A new beginning of sorts. A few weeks ago, I sat down with each of these new principals to talk to them about how they came to this point, and what they hope to accomplish from here on out.

Adrian Danchig-Waring
Growing up in the Bay Area, Adrian Danchig-Waring took part in many different kinds of dance and movement before turning to ballet. “Like a lot of dancers, I used to put on performances in the living room and force the family to help make costumes.” His parents, a psychotherapist and scientist specializing in sustainable development, encouraged him to explore different ways of expressing himself. At six, he took up Russian folk dance—his mother is of Russian descent—soon followed by Chinese Acrobatics with the Pickle Family Circus, a beloved San Francisco institution. It wasn’t until later, as an adolescent, that Danchig-Waring began to embrace the rigor and focus of ballet. After studying with a local teacher, David Roxander (a former dancer with the National Ballet of Canada), he came to the School of American Ballet, where he felt an instant affinity for the musicality and logic of the Balanchine style. Since joining the Company in 2002, he has developed a strong bond with the choreographer Christopher Wheeldon: “Chris has been a huge mentor,” he says, “he saw qualities in me that I hadn’t yet learned to cultivate.” (Danchig-Waring has danced featured roles in numerous Wheeldon works and created a featured role in his Rococo Variations.) This immersion in the creative process has helped him to develop his own unique way of moving, infused with a kind of subtle intelligence, sensuality, and vivid sense of style. These qualities were particularly noticeable, recently, when Danchig-Waring performed the sultry pas de deux in Robbins’ In G Major for the first time. In addition to allowing him to delve into its subtle narrative undercurrents, Robbins’ ballet revealed his instinctual responsiveness as a partner. “I love partnering,” he says, “you learn to cultivate such empathy and compassion. Some of the most fruitful friendships I have in the Company are with the women I partner.”

Chase Finlay
Chase Finlay has been noticeable from his very first steps with the Company, which he joined in 2008, at the age of seventeen. In part, it was a simple question of physique: tall and broad-shouldered, he already looked the part of the danseur noble. But it wasn’t only that. His weighted movements, musicality, and intensity onstage make him instantly compelling. Finlay, who grew up in Connecticut, comes from an artistic family. His great-aunt was Ruth Page, the first American ballerina to dance for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. His father, an architect, plays the drums; his older sister Paige had a career as a professional ballerina. The first inklings that he, too, might want to dance came at a performance of The Nutcracker, during the Chinese Tea dance in the second act. Watching the male dancer do one split jump after another, he thought, “I could do that.” His greatest challenge early on in his training at Ballet Academy East in New York was his diminutive size—hard to believe, now that he is six foot one. His rise in the Company has been swift; from corps to principal in five years. A key moment came in 2011, when Peter Martins entrusted him with the role of Apollo in Balanchine’s first extant ballet, a part created for the charismatic Serge Lifar in 1928. “I made it my life for a while,” Finlay says. With his clarity of intention, big jumps, and confident stage presence, the role fits him like a glove, but he admits it is still a touch overwhelming. He recently danced Apollo at the Mariinsky, the theatre where Balanchine first appeared as a ballet student: “I felt this extra power over me,” he says, “I remember every moment of that performance.”

Ask la Cour
When Ask la Cour was promoted to soloist in 2003, he told an interviewer that his highest goal was to become a better partner. Since then, and especially after the retirement of several prominent men in the Company (Jock Soto, Nikolaj Hübbe, and Charles Askegard to name just three) he has become one of the troupe’s go-to cavaliers, especially for taller dancers like Maria Kowroski, Sara Mearns, and Teresa Reichlen. In addition to his height—he is six foot four— and gentlemanly demeanor (he’s a Dane, after all), la Cour offers something more intangible – a groundedness, and the ability to be swept up in the story onstage, even when there is no actual story. This is partly the product of his Danish training, in which the ability to create a character is a valued skill. “That’s how we’re brought up with the Bournonville ballets, where 75% is mime.” The son of a Royal Danish Ballet dancer (and later choreographer) Lise la Cour and a conductor Frans Rasmussen, he has spent his entire life surrounded by music and dance, even if, as a kid, he was more drawn to skateboarding than ballet. La Cour is especially suited to ballets that require a compelling dramatic presence, like Balanchine’s Slaughter on Tenth Avenue and Orpheus, and the Élegie movement of Tschaikovsky Suite No. 3. He also acts as an anchor in big story ballets, playing strictly character roles such as Friar Lawrence in Peter Martins’ Romeo + Juliet. “The Friar was actually a challenge,” he says, “because there’s so little to do, but you’re such an important character. So you have to project so much in such a short amount of time. But, I didn’t have to warm up, which was great,” he says, with a big, friendly laugh.




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