Robert Fairchild

The dashing NYCB principal talks ballet.

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How long were you out?
It was the beginning of August to the third week of Nutcracker performances. I couldn't understand what was wrong with it. They were like, "It shouldn't be hurting still."

Don't you just love that?
I'm like, "Cool. But I do hurt!" Yeah. I had an MRI that said I'd be fine in seven to ten days, and then two months later, I was still hurting. Every time I tried to go to fifth position, my knee would swell up. So I got another MRI, and it wasn't torn. I tried a few techniques and found this shock-therapy thing, which is just intense ultrasound. And it just radiated through the joint, and after that the swelling stopped. That was pretty cool, and it doesn't work for everything, but it really worked for that. So I'm keeping that in my back pocket.

What did you do during that time off? Did you read Proust? Did you watch The Wire?
I went fly-fishing in the Catskills. My dad's a wildlife biologist for the state of Utah, and we were always big outdoors people, and I never explored that here. I went to a six-mile private stretch of river; the president at SAB has property up there, and she lives on a stream that was where American dry fly-fishing started. It was fascinating. I was up at 5:30am, and there was so much fog, and the leaves had just turned colors, and I saw 40 deer on my way to the river. My friends backed out at the last minute, so I went alone. Other than that, I don't know. I got to hang out with friends. And watch a lot of TV. And lots of physical therapy.

It's must be so easy to get lost in that depression.
A week feels like a year. You want every physical-therapy appointment to be good news, and it's always "We're just going to keep trying." You're like, Get me out of here. But good lessons to learn. You can't control everything. I wanted to get back, but maybe I hadn't learned what I needed to learn—even the way you treat people. I never treated people rudely, but it made me so grateful for everyone's talent because your dancing days are so limited, and you want people to be excited and happy for you when you do something. So it was really learning how to put myself second and appreciate what others have to offer. When you look at Wendy Whelan and Jeni Ringer, they are so excited for other people. And that kind of energy brews creativity and success, and I want to be the next generation that brings that positive energy in. It's really not about how well you do. It's about the network of people you have around you, supporting you and how you can support them. I really learned to embrace the family that I have. You go into a rehearsal and learn a part with somebody, and there's tension because you want it. It's like living in the dorms at the school. You know that there are only a certain amount of spots for the company, and how do you maintain friendships with those people? Now you're here, and it's similar, but you need to learn that you're in a company; you're in this together. It is competition, but it should be a healthy one. Let it bring out the best in you and not break you down. I learned to fully understand that and to fully embrace the frailty of our bodies and how foolish it is to put so much into just yourself; you're only as good as your whole company. I learned gratitude.

Are you still just as close with your sister, Megan?
Yeah. I'm her man of honor! [Megan is engaged to NYCB principal Andrew Veyette.] I'm planning her bridal shower at the moment. What an honor, you know? We've shared so much together. I'm so sappy at weddings. Even if it's someone I don't know: My mom took me to a wedding of one of her coworkers when I was at home once, and I never met them in my life, but when they were saying their vows, I was like, Waaah! She was like, "You have no ties to these people! What's going on?" It's like a Sally Field movie. You put it in, and I'm bawling.

I'm curious: Did you start studying with Willy Burmann because of Wendy? Or Megan?
My sister had gone to him when she was a soloist in the company. You look at Wendy, and you see her body and the amazing things she's able to do with it and how she's never injured. I think that Peter Martins said that she is the most reliable person in the company: You can always count on her. She's always going to come to her show; she's always going to act professional. And so one great thing about going there is that you get to see her dance more and how she responds to correction. The class just makes a lot of sense for my body. I'm constantly trying to perfect my line. For the longest time, I tried to ignore it; sometimes you don't want to face your flaws, but it got to a point where I needed to work on some stuff. I never got lazy. I never felt like I wasn't trying, but you can work in a different way and approach things differently. In going to him, you get so much attention. There's not as many people in class, and he cares about the things I'm trying to work on. He'll go home and come back the next day and have something for you. It's awesome to take class with the company and to feel that camaraderie, but it's so nice to have a place away from that. Sometimes when I do a combination, I think about who's watching. It's inevitable, but when you're at Steps, there's that freedom to just try it and fall. There's that alone time that you need to be able to work on stuff and face those things without worrying about who's watching.

Is that how you take risks? Or how do you?
I guess risk for me is just whenever that curtain comes up; never let fear be the reason why you don't go for it. You're given an opportunity, and it's going to happen whether you like it or not, so you might as well go for it. I know I'm not going to be dancing forever, so every time I pack out my theater case at the end of a season, it's kind of a bittersweet moment. I think about what I got to do, but it's one less season. Just as long as I never take any performance for granted... That's really all I can do. No regrets.

performs at the David H. Koch Theater May 5-June 12.

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