Robert Fairchild

The dashing NYCB principal talks ballet.

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At least it was using some lighting that wasn't too corny and Forsythe-y.
Yes. Whenever you have a new piece on the rehearsal schedule, it's always so up in the air. You never have any idea what the end result is going to be like, and I think that's what I love about dancing here. There are so many opportunities to just be in the rehearsal room and go, I have no idea what the first step is going to be.

You can get something out of it, unlike me.
Sometimes I love rehearsals more than an actual performance. Sometimes I second-guess myself, but in rehearsal, you can let it go. I'm trying to get those moments out onstage more and more, where you can just be yourself.

But you got to dance the lead in Alexei Ratmansky's Namouna, which is my favorite ballet in forever! Holy cow.
[Smiles and sighs] Every day the energy in the studio was, What's next; What's next? Even here, I'm getting the chills. I love that ballet. And I asked him, "Should I be thinking about something? Is there a story? Obviously I'm coming into contact with these people and does that mean anything to me?" You know—my story thing. And he said, "Well, I guess we should have a story."

I love him.
Isn't that funny? I was like, "Oh! There's not a story." He said, "I think it's like Alice in Wonderland. You meet different characters, and they start to make sense to you, and all of sudden, they're out of it." And I'm like, "Okay, it's kind of like a trip." I hope that ballet comes back again soon. I got to dance with Wendy and Jeni Ringer. It was like a dream.

Can you elaborate about working with Ratmansky? Namouna is a major ballet of our time.
Yeah. That pushed me past any limits I've ever been pushed before. My solo used to be longer. He cut about 20 seconds of it, and it's still long. During one rehearsal, we broke it down: "This is your rest step. Take your moments. Find your moments." So we found them together, and the night of—right before the curtain's coming up—he came up to me and said, "Remember how we talked about those moments? Forget it. Just dance it." Oh, my God. Here I am. It's a gala, I'm stressing out and wondering how I'm going to get through it and to have that thrown on me? [Laughs] I don't know. I have such respect for that man. When all of our teachers talk about Balanchine, I feel that same way. I get it because I feel the same way. It's just so cool to have a man like that around. He wasn't afraid to tell me to point my foot or to jump higher. He wasn't afraid to talk about technical things, and I feel like so many choreographers feel like they're going to offend someone by saying these things. He was respecting me by saying them. I don't even know what it is about him that makes him so admirable. But he always treated us with such respect, and I think that comes into play: He can give you corrections, and you can absorb it and be like, More, more, more. What else do you have to say?

You trust him.
You do. You see what comes out of his brain and onto bodies, and you're like, How? You know that part [when] they're on the floor rocking? And they get up and do all the formations?

With the woman?
Yeah. It's so mesmerizing. It's so cool that someone can do that for the human body. We were in love with the ballet, and then when we saw the costumes, all the girls were like... We got freaked out. We were like, Oh, my God. What is this? I loved mine. But everyone else had these weird hats on.

Which I love.
Yeah. I mean only he could do something like that and pull it off. It's so genius and so unique, and it's so refreshing to have that. The costumes embody something really special. I'll never forget my first rehearsal with him. I never worked with him before, and I'm eager to please and all this stuff, and he just did something really fast, and I was like, What? He does something so unique when he dances. It's so folky. And I was really challenged to figure out how to make this look like that. It was an endless race to catch the littlest things that he had to say or do. It makes me wonder what Balanchine was like when he would choreograph things—like what it looked like on his body, or how he would explain things.

I wonder if being around Ratmansky creates less of a degree of separation about Balanchine for you.
I haven't really thought about it, but it makes sense. I think what makes sense to me in feeling that way is, like I said before, I get it. I get that kind of fuel that's so hard to reproduce. When people go on and on about Balanchine, I think, That's so awesome; I wish I could have been there. To finally feel like you are there? I don't compare Balanchine or Ratmansky, but I know what that feels like.

When were you injured, and what happened?
Right before the fall season, I bruised my femur head—so the inside of my knee. It was just a big bone bruise that radiated and made tendons feel like they were hurt when they weren't. Waiting for a bone bruise to heal takes kind of a long time. It was so frustrating to be out for that season. And it always is. But Ratmansky was going; Duo was going; Opus was going, Violin and Who Cares? And I probably wouldn't have done all of them in that four-week span, but if you name those ballets, they're on the top of my list. Then you learn what it feels like to not be in control. It's so funny as a dancer: You analyze every step you do, how it looks in the mirror, your relationship to your partner, but then when that goes away, you can't control when you're going to come back or how you're going to heal.

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