The dashing NYCB principal talks ballet.
Mon Apr 25 2011
I think that gets to the essence of why it's so hard: Doing the movement is one thing, partnering is another, but it's really having that stillness without being dull.
Exactly! I've heard so many of my teachers say, "The hardest thing to do is stand onstage," and I was always like, But that's got to be so much fun—to take the audience on this journey with you? I thought I would feel so comfortable, and then when I got there, I was like, I've got to do something with it; I've got to do something with it. And I didn't think that would be my reaction—to be too eager or too fussy with it.
How was Apollo described to you? Or was he ever?
That's the thing: At the beginning, they didn't say anything, and that's why I went overboard with my own studying. Had I not put this ballet on such a pedestal, that process would have been fine. They would have taught me the steps, and I probably would have done it without thinking so much, but I'm obviously on a different road, and I just have to see where it ends up. I can see why they did it. I just went the wrong way. [Laughs]
Sometimes I think they allow you to make the biggest mistake that you could possibly make just to get it out of the way. Do you know what I mean? You're going to go your own way, even if they guide you. This way is extreme: You learn quickly and then move on.
Yeah. Kind of scrape it all out so they just get the essence of it.
Were you ready for it?
I wanted it so badly that I didn't really think whether or not I was. It's one of those moments where you see your name on the casting, and you're like, Yes! [He pulls down a fist.] I've been so grateful for the things I've done, but I've never had that moment of yes—like when someone scores a touchdown. I wasn't even close to the end zone.
How close are you now?
To the end zone? [Grins] We're still scratching the surface. But I feel like if I keep that mentality—of always scratching the surface—then no matter how many times I do a certain role, I'll always find something in it personally. And I think that's a scary place too because here I am being told, "Let the choreography do it," and then I'm fighting this urge to find where my place is in it with my artistry. Finding that balance is going to be fun. I talked with Peter Boal about it for a second, and he said the coolest things. He described the relationship with Terpsichore—how it's not when a man loves a woman, but when a boy loves his teacher. He talked about how the whole pas de deux is about that. And also, that when you're sitting on the stool; you never lose focus for one second. You're captivated by these women, and each of them has something to offer you, but they don't have that It thing that you need to become this god. What he said about Apollo in the very beginning of the ballet was cool, too: It's about the colt, the ruffian, the infallible man. This is the guy I watched do it. He was my teacher in the school. He's the reason why I wanted to be a ballet dancer, so to hear his input was so exciting. He boiled it down and said, "A lot of people want to be the god at the beginning, but wait and save it till the end. It will be so much more powerful."
Who else did you turn to for advice?
I love anything and everything that Wendy Whelan does and says, so I asked her if she'd keep an eye on me. I was walking down the street, and it was rainy, and I saw her, and she said, "So, Apollo." I asked her who I should watch tapes of, and she mentioned everybody, and then she said, "Watch Ib." I wouldn't have thought to do that. She said, "He was just so clean, and he really got it." I asked her to tell me if I was doing anything funky.
So what did she say?
We haven't talked yet. I never want to fish for something, so if it happens, it happens, but if it doesn't, I trust that she's not letting me go out there doing something stupid.
Do you ever study at Steps with Willy Burmann, who is Whelan's teacher?
I take class with him all the time. He was really excited for me during this and just talked about cutting it down and doing steps, and it was interesting to hear this from him and then reiterated with Peter [Martins]. I get it. The road I need to go down is clear.
You have said that you love those dancing parts. What do you get out of this physically?
I'm still at that overwhelmed place. One thing is the music: To have that stunning music, but not doing the usual twirlies and hooplas, it's just so different and challenging. I love those moments when you get to play with the music, but in Apollo, you don't really do that. In Violin Concerto or Duo, I feel the music is there to run with. This is learning how to run with the music in another way.
You're dancing with an entirely new cast.
Yes. Sterling Hyltin, Tiler Peck and Ana Sophia Scheller. It's my Who Cares? girls. [Laughs] It's Who Cares? does Apollo. I think we feel so comfortable with one another. We all went out to dinner the first night, and none of us felt very good about [the performance], but to be able to be with each other and to have that camaraderie with them? I have such different relationships with each one, which is how it is in the ballet, too. We can all say our two cents, and no one gets offended. It's fun to get to explore different things with the same people and to see each other grow. These are special moments. We took pictures [after the first show], and we all just look awful: The lighting was funny, and we look like ghosts with ghoulish eyes. So that will be our memory of it, but it's pretty fitting.