Charles Askegard

The NYCB principal moves on to the Next big thing.

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How did you get into ABT?
It was this time of year in 1987. I was 18, and Misha had had a big audition in the spring, which I was sick for and couldn't attend. It was a choreographer's workshop, and there was a ballet master, David Richardson, who would take class at Maggie's, and Maggie had talked to him and said, "Chuck's 18, he's looking good, and I think he's ready for the company." Basically, David talked to Misha and said, "I have somebody who can come and audition," and I went and took class and Misha was teaching class. Kind of stressful. [Laughs] He was a major star. It was ridiculous. But I took class and it was fine, and after four days, he walks by, swats me on the ass and says, "You got the job if you vant it" and walks on by. [Laughs] I was like, did that really just happen?

He remained the director for how long?
Two years. Then Jane Hermann became the director. She kept that company going, and I don't think she gets enough credit for that. It was in dire straights and deep in debt; she was there for three years. I had a good time when she was director. Glen Tetley had come back, and Michael Somes had come in to do Symphonic Variations and Vladimir Vasiliev was around for Don Q. Then Kevin [McKenzie] became the director, and that was when the company really pared back and I think we were working six months out of the year. It was really dismal. We were like, Is this going to survive? We had no idea.

When you're hired by one director and then there's another and you make it through that and then there's another—how did that go?
It's always hard. The new director comes in and it's like starting from scratch, because you can have a position or whatever but they may not honor it as much as the other person did because they don't know why...Jane promoted me. You have to go through that whole process again. Whatever. You just keep going. [Laughs] It's the way it is. You have to take class, work hard, do your job. And excel. That was the deal.

Why did you leave ABT?
A lot of reasons, both personal and professional. I was a soloist but doing mostly principal work, and it felt like I'd plateaued. It was hard because we were getting more and more guest artists coming in for spring season, and it just felt like the opportunity to get to a principal level was less and less. Also, I wanted to do more performances. I wanted more ballet. It's hard to build on a performance when you do a Swan Lake and get another four months later. It's very difficult as a young dancer. So I left ABT, and I didn't quite know what I was going to do.

Ah—you didn't have a job?
No. I didn't know what I was going to do. I was working with Valentina Kozlova and Margo Sappington and her group, and I had reached out to a couple of people I knew. Maina Gielgud was taking over the Royal Danish at that time, and I was thinking I was going to go to Europe or something. I did a little gig with Wendy Whelan, and she's like, "Hey, I hear you left ABT. Ever think about City Ballet?" I had only been to SAB one summer. I was viewed as more of a classical dancer and not so much of a Balanchine dancer at ABT, which was kind of funny. It was perfect timing. I went up to Saratoga and auditioned for Peter [Martins]. I took class. He kind of hired me on the spot.

Did you talk about it?
Yeah, we talked for like 45 minutes. What happened is that I went up one day and he said, "I hear you may be going to the Royal Danish." He didn't want to step on their toes. I didn't have any firm plans, and when I got back to New York, my agent said, "I can't let you take the Royal Danish—you're just going to go broke." And I was like, "Okay, great, because you know what? I think I'm going to join City Ballet." So I went back up a couple of days later, and that's when Peter and I talked after class and I said, "This is where I want to dance—it's beyond my wildest dreams." I always loved to do Balanchine. Robbins was still alive, and it was just incredible. He said, "I think it's best if you come as a soloist," and I agreed. I wanted to come in and pay my dues. He said, "You're going to dance with Kyra [Nichols], with Darci [Kistler], and there is Maria Kowroski, who is young"—and basically outlined my career for the next ten years in one meeting. It was based on a lot of hard work. I said, "Peter I want to do this."

How long did it take you to become a Balanchine dancer?
It took about two years. It was all so new, and there were a lot of things that had to be changed and learned, and it wasn't just the dancing technique: It was the partnering technique as well. I got here and Kyra Nichols was always like, "Don't touch me! Just, just catch me at the end of the turn!" Darci was like that too. Darci would piqu on eight when she was supposed to piqu on one, but just stay. Stay there. God. [Laughs] The first time I went onstage with them, I had a heart attack. It's not how ballerinas danced at ABT—or pretty much anywhere else. And I had danced with a lot of people. They were big risk-takers. It was just so exciting. I had never danced with Kyra Nichols before and I think Philip Neal had hurt his hip. I hadn't done Nutcracker yet, and Peter came up to me and said, "Can you dance Nutcracker tonight with Kyra?" I said, "Sure." He was like, "You'll probably need a rehearsal, right?" We did a 15-minute rehearsal in the main hall, and she's like, "Okay, that's great. I'll see you out there." [Laughs] I remember it going really well.

For a little comparison, how long would you have rehearsed at ABT?
Well, it's different though. It was full-length versions. It's hard to compare, but I'll tell you this: Nina Ananiashvili didn't like to rehearse so much. She liked to keep it fresh. I did Manon with her, and she came in four days before. She barely knew it, but she went out there and did an amazing performance.

It's ridiculous, but I didn't consider how such risk-taking would affect the partner.
Massively. And that took a long time. The tendency is to want to hold the girl and make sure that everything is okay, but to back off from all of that and give her a little bit of what she needs—that took a long time.

And then save her.
If she needs it.

Well, I've seen a lot of saves by you.
[Laughs] I don't know. Only if they need it, and they don't need it that often. It keeps you on your toes.

What have been some of your favorite ballets to dance here?
Diamonds is one. I've been doing it since I joined the company. I performed that with Darci when I first joined, so I'm doing the pas de deux from that. In Memory of..., which I did pretty much from the beginning. I worked on that a lot with Jerome Robbins. It's grown on me more and more over the years; it's one of my favorite things to dance.

Who are you dancing with?
Wendy Whelan.

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