Reaching the rank of soloist is a crucial milestone in a dancer's career. It is at this point that anything is possible. No matter how many good roles may have been snared during the corps de ballet years, there can still be a feeling that these successes all are just random good luck. But achieving the rank of soloist inspires confidence and sparks incentive, as seen in NYCB's newest crop of soloists. Adam Hendrickson, Teresa Reichlen, and Daniel Ulbricht were all promoted to soloist on January 22, 2005 (George Balanchine's birthday), while Ask la Cour was promoted in May. But though all became soloists in the same year, each reached this new status in different ways.
Adam Hendrickson is a young dancer who defies categorization. He can jump and turn and do the speedy stuff with style to spare, but he also loves to act‹and is very good at it. For the past four years, Mr. Hendrickson has portrayed the mysterious Herr Drosselmeier in George Balanchine's The NutcrackerTM, a role usually performed by an older dancer. He plays the old magician with a twinkle in his eye and a sprightly gait. "I didn't want to limp around and make him too crotchety," says Mr. Hendrickson. He fell into character roles quite by accident (he also does the curmudgeonly Dr. Coppelius in Coppélia) when he broke his foot and was cast as the Grandfather, also in The Nutcracker, and he made an impression. He says, "I guess I did get a little wild in it, but they liked it."
Born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Mr. Hendrickson started ballet training at age six at the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet with Leslie Hench, and came to the School of American Ballet (NYCB's official school) in 1996. He joined the Company in 1998 and was in the corps de ballet for six years. While he paid his dues, he developed a widely varied repertory. He originated a featured role in Peter Martins' Harmonielehre, does Winter and Fall in Jerome Robbins' The Four Seasons, was in the original cast of Christopher Wheeldon's Carnival of the Animals and Shambards, and loves playing the Jester in Mr. Martins' Swan Lake.
Always a great admirer of Jerome Robbins, Mr. Hendrickson considers the highlight of his first year as a soloist to be when he was chosen for the ensemble cast of Robbins' N. Y. Export: Opus Jazz. Robbins had created the ballet for his touring company, Ballets: USA, in 1958, and it was first performed by NYCB only last year. Mr. Hendrickson says, "The process of putting that ballet together was the most enjoyable time I've ever had. Eddie Verso, who staged it, explained it to us so well, it was almost like working with Robbins himself."
Since his promotion, Mr. Hendrickson says he feels newly inspired and hopes to add more ballets to his repertory. At the top of his wish list of roles is the first sailor in Robbins' Fancy Free.
Outside of ballet, his passion is painting, and he has further ambitions in this direction. "I've always dreamt of designing a set for a ballet," he admits, proving yet again that he cannot be pigeon-holed.
Ask la Cour
When it comes to princely presence on stage, there is nothing like a Dane‹it must be in their genes. Born into an artistic family in Copenhagen, Ask la Cour was completely into soccer and skateboarding as a boy, with no interest in ballet. But when he overheard his mother, a former ballet dancer and teacher, tell a friend that the Royal Danish Ballet School needed boys, nine-year-old Ask, on a whim, auditioned and was accepted. That's when he was hit with second thoughts. "I didn't know if I wanted to do this," he says. But his father, an orchestra conductor, said to him, "Oh, come on, you should try this. It's a great opportunity."
Once Mr. la Cour joined the Royal Danish Ballet, he stood out in the corps de ballet (partly thanks to his height‹he's just shy of six-foot four) and began dancing featured roles. Peter Martins danced with the RDB at the start of his career and continues to have close ties to the company, so he was already familiar with Mr. la Cour's dancing when the young man approached him about joining NYCB. Mr. Martins agreed, and Mr. la Cour started with NYCB in November 2002.
Transitioning to NYCB proved easier than he thought. He already spoke English, and was familiar with the Balanchine style, having studied with Colleen Neary, formerly with NYCB, who brought Balanchine ballets to the Royal Danish. From his earliest days with City Ballet, Mr. la Cour has danced featured roles, including George Balanchine's Chaconne and The Four Temperaments and Mr. Martins' Barber Violin Concerto and Concerto for Two Solo Pianos.
Since his promotion to soloist, Mr. la Cour has focused his attention on becoming a better partner, citing former principal dancer Jock Soto as his role model. "Partnering is hard work," he says, "and I enjoy the challenge. But I should go to the gym more." The highlight of his first year as soloist came in December, when he and Teresa Reichlen performed their first grand pas de deux as the Sugarplum Fairy and her Cavalier in George Balanchine's The NutcrackerTM.
When asked, Mr. la Cour says he thinks that his best feature as a dancer is his stage presence. Jennifer Dunning, reviewing his Cavalier debut for The New York Times, agrees: "Mr. la Cour was the most gently empathic and anticipatory of squires.… He was the essence of classical nobility."
For Teresa Reichlen, dancing comes as naturally as breathing‹or so it appears. Born in Clifton, Virginia, she started taking dance classes when she was three. When her parents realized she was determined to become a dancer (and that she was good), they made every effort to find the best schools in the area, including the Russell School of Ballet, where Ms. Reichlen studied from the age of nine. And in 1999, she headed for New York City and was accepted at the School of American Ballet. Ms. Reichlen says, "I loved SAB from the start. At home, I was kind of an outsider because I was always at ballet class, which was the best part of my day. At SAB I was surrounded by people just like me."
Almost from the moment she joined the corps of NYCB in October 2001, Ms. Reichlen has performed featured roles in George Balanchine's leotard ballets, including Episodes, Agon, and the sharp-angled Choleric in The Four Temperaments. She delivered an explosive, audacious performance as the sexy second lead in Rubies from Jewels, and her expansive, fluid lyricism complements more traditional roles such as the Lilac Fairy in Peter Martins' The Sleeping Beauty. She has a fine musical ear and an ungarnished style, and her immaculate phrasing extends to her fingertips even in such simple movements as those in Jerome Robbins' The Goldberg Variations. It doesn't hurt that she's five-foot nine, with long, tapering limbs, a small head, and an elegant neck‹a born ballerina.
Ms. Reichlen projects a maturity, authority, and natural poise on stage, and yet she also takes risks, which adds excitement to her performances. But she says, "I don't feel that risk-taking comes naturally in the performances, and it's something I must work on." Always a diligent worker, Ms. Reichlen hones her big jump, her speed, and her natural turning ability in class every day.
In December 2005, Ms. Reichlen performed the Sugarplum Fairy, her first ballerina role. She rose to the occasion with a beautifully phrased solo that had the essence of spun sugar. Jennifer Dunning of The New York Times said of her performance, "Teresa Reichlen has a long, lyrical body that she uses with expressive delicacy and fluidity, particularly her upper torso… Her dancing was expansive and gracious."
Since becoming soloist, Ms. Reichlen has focused on refining her performances from an artistic perspective. With that goal in mind, her wish list of future roles includes the Second Movement of Symphony in C, Diamonds from Jewels, the duet in Stravinsky Violin Concerto, and Odette/Odile in Swan Lake. That's an ambitious list, but she says, "I feel like I'm more motivated now. I have to live up to people's expectations and raise my own standards."
Dancing in the spotlight comes naturally to Daniel Ulbricht. At age 16, while still a student at the School of American Ballet, he made his New York City Ballet debut when Peter Martins cast him in the virtuoso role of the Jester in The Sleeping Beauty. Mr. Ulbricht remembers that at the time, the experience was an emotional roller coaster. "I was at the School and then working in the Company, and always hoping to be hired."
During his apprenticeship in 2000 and then as a corps de ballet member starting in November 2001, the young man with the explosive jump and powerhouse technique earned his soloist stripes one bravura role at a time. His enthusiasm is contagious‹audiences invariably break into spontaneous applause in the middle of his performances. Mr. Ulbricht says, "I have to make the moment count when I have it."
His extensive repertory includes a fiery Highland fling in Christopher Wheeldon's Shambards, a mischievous Puck in George Balanchine's A Midsummer Night's Dream, a jubilant Jester in Mr. Martins' Swan Lake, and an impish Pan in Jerome Robbins' The Four Seasons. Of his debut in the Gigue in Balanchine's Mozartiana, Anna Kisselgoff of The New York Times wrote, "Mr. Ulbricht was very much the master, hearty and authoritative in his precise bravura."
As an energetic kid growing up in St. Petersburg, Florida, Mr. Ulbricht studied gymnastics and karate before switching to ballet at age 11. His first teacher, Leonard Holmes, inspired love for the ballet by making it fun and very inclusive. "Lenny let me take class in shorts and a baseball cap and taught me that dance is for everybody," says Mr. Ulbricht. And he credits the exacting Javier Dubrocq for teaching him discipline and technique. During his three summers at Chatauqua Ballet Camp, run by the husband-and-wife team of Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux and Patricia McBride (former City Ballet principal dancers), Mr. Ulbricht absorbed the Balanchine technique and became familiar with learning and performing ballets on a short rehearsal schedule.
As a soloist, Mr. Ulbricht hopes to broaden his horizons with more acting parts and more partnering. "Obviously," he says, "I enjoy the athletic roles. I love the tough first sailor in Fancy Free, but I would like to learn the second sailor who does the pas de deux." Also included on his wish list is Balanchine's Prodigal Son and the Harlequin in Harlequinade, and he hopes to be cast in one of the ballets in this spring's Diamond Project festival of new works. But whatever he dances, you can be sure his unbridled joy will be on display in full force, captivating the audience.
Astrida Woods writes frequently about dance and is the dance editor of Show Business Weekly.