Thanks to both its vast and diverse repertory and the number of ballets it performs each season, New York City Ballet is regularly able to give its corps de ballet dancers the chance to take on featured roles. The dancers then have the opportunity to test their mettle early in their careers, and audiences have the opportunity keep an eye out for future stars. Of these corps dancers, there are usually a few who stand out. This year, there were more than a few‹in fact, there were nine‹and their dedication during their ballet boot-camp years was rewarded when Peter Martins promoted them to soloists in March.
For Ellen Bar, it was "City Ballet or bust." The tall, single-minded beauty received all her ballet training at the School of American Ballet (the official school of New York City Ballet) and joined NYCB's corps in 1998. Good roles came to her from the start, but she confesses to battling nerves during her corps years, though you would never know it from watching her as the spirited girl in the Russian pas de deux in Swan Lake, or her luminous performance in the 'Elegie' section of Tschaikovsky Suite No. 3, or her sharp-edged clarity in Agon. Ms. Bar says, "I definitely needed those corps years to make me feel confident." Among the roles on her wish list are the Siren in Prodigal Son and the jazzy soloist in the Rubies section of Jewels.
A charmer with an impish smile, Antonio Carmena has an articulate technique and natural brio on stage that make him a favorite with choreographers‹and with audiences. Born and trained in Madrid, the talented Mr. Carmena won the Prix de Lausanne which entitled him to a one-year scholarship to a school of his choosing. He opted for SAB. "I thought it was the school of American Ballet Theatre," Mr. Carmena sheepishly admits. When he realized his error he was chagrined but decided to stay: "I thought, I have to give this school a chance." It wasn't long before he fell in love with NYCB's repertory, and now with his promotion and a growing list of roles, including Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream, he believes it was destiny that brought him here.
Just like her name suggests, she is quicksilver on stage. In just three short years (Ms. Hyltin joined NYCB's corps in 2003), the native Texan, who trained at the Dallas Metropolitan Ballet before coming to SAB, has excelled with sparkling performances as the gossamer Dewdrop in George Balanchine's The Nutcrackertm and a feathery Butterfly in A Midsummer Night's Dream, as well as in ballets such as Divertimento No. 15 and Stars and Stripes. Cast this past winter in Peter Martins' Morgen, a ballet of intricate, daredevil partnering for six dancers, Ms. Hyltin came into her own, with a reckless abandon on stage that captivated audiences. "Suddenly I was out there doing three pas de deux, each with a different principal man, " Ms. Hyltin recalls. "It was certainly daunting, but I had a blast."
Jason Fowler is a tall, handsome Texan who has been dancing featured roles since joining the corps of NYCB in 1996. He is a good actor and an accomplished technician who appears to be comfortable in any style, and his career was on the fast track but was hampered by ill-timed injuries. Now he's back with a vengeance, and dancing more elegantly than ever. His repertory ranges from Mauro Bigonzetti's ultra-modern Diamond Project ballet, In Vento, which premiered in May, to Christopher Wheeldon's Polyphonia (which Mr. Fowler is staging for the Norwegian National Ballet), to a range of Balanchine works, including Divertimento No. 15, Episodes, and Symphony in C. Of his recent and well-deserved promotion, Mr. Fowler says, "To make the jump from corps to soloist is a huge deal."
After four years at SAB and a year's apprenticeship with NYCB, Rebecca Krohn joined the corps in 1999. A versatile performer with a lithe, fine-boned body, Ms. Krohn has a lyrical grace that helps her stand out as a Princess in Swan Lake. But she also undulates most seductively as Coffee in George Balanchine's The Nutcrackertm, and she can turn chillingly menacing as the deadly insect Queen in The Cage. This year, Ms. Krohn was thrilled to be coached by ballet mistress Susan Hendl in Balanchine's seminal dual ballets Monumentum pro Gesualdo and Movements for Piano and Orchestra. As a soloist, Ms. Krohn hopes to work more on the artistic aspects of her roles, and among the roles on her wish list are the Dark Angel in Balanchine's Serenade and any of the girls in Jerome Robbins' Dances at a Gathering.
South Carolina-born Sara Mearns, a long-limbed beauty with a strong technique and exceptional stage presence, was this winter season's Cinderella story. After less than a year and half in the corps, Ms. Mearns found herself cast in the dual role of Odette/Odile in Peter Martins' full-length Swan Lake. It's a role any ballerina would dream of, especially a ballerina so young, and Ms. Mearns was no exception. She was almost in shock at the news, but she wisely sought the advice of the NYCB dancers who had already performed the role. "They all helped me so much," Ms. Mearns says. "Wendy Whelan told me to take it entrance by entrance so as not to be overwhelmed by it all." Her success in Swan Lake brought her a lot of attention and more debuts, and her promotion has made her even more excited to be on stage.
Amar Ramasar, the boy from the Bronx with the magical stage presence, says, "I don't think I have found a role that I haven't enjoyed dancing." Audiences cheer his swivel-hipped Rumba Boy in Fancy Free, and children love him as the fiercely funny Mouse King in George Balanchine's The Nutcrackertm. An SAB student from age 14, Mr. Ramasar joined NYCB's corps in July 2001. Brimming with enthusiasm, he talks about working with choreographers Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, Jorma Elo, and Peter Martins on three of this season's Diamond Project ballets. Mr. Ramasar is overjoyed about his new status, and he is bent on perfecting his classical technique so that he can expand his repertory. "I would really love to do the Diamonds pas de deux from Jewels," he says.
Jonathan Stafford is a rare commodity in the world of dance: he's a superb natural partner, and partnering is what he loves. "There is no better feeling than to sense that connection on stage with your partner," he says. Even in his corps years, Mr. Stafford partnered some of NYCB's top ballerinas: Jenifer Ringer in Symphony in C, Jennie Somogyi's Sugarplum Fairy, and Sofiane Sylve's Firebird. Born in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, Mr. Stafford joined NYCB in 1999, and his long-limbed elegance and quiet self-confidence helped set him apart. He's the brother of NYCB dancer Abi Stafford, who was promoted to soloist in 2002. "It's always been that way," laughs Mr. Stafford. "Abi races ahead of me but I always catch up."
Andrew Veyette, a fluid mover with an elegant long line and a chiseled edge to his dancing, appears on stage so frequently that he has become the Zelig of NYCB and amassed an impressive repertory in a relatively brief span of time. "For a couple of years now it's been quite literally 'get the job done' no matter what I have to do," he says. Mr. Veyette, who joined the corps in 2000, has recently added several leading roles to his repertory, including Agon, Harlequin in Harlequinade, Zakouski, and the Cavalier in George Balanchine's The Nutcrackertm. This season, he also was in Eliot Feld's Backchat, an NYCB premiere, and In Vento, Mauro Bigonzetti's Diamond Project world premiere. With his new position as a soloist, Mr. Veyette says, "Now, my priorities are more about artistry and how I execute things."
Astrida Woods writes frequently about dance and is the dance editor of Show Business Weekly.