Jenifer Ringer talks about leaving New York City Ballet

New York City Ballet principal Jenifer Ringer talks about her new memoir, the sugarplum saga and her retirement from the company

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I’m so sorry about what happened to James and your son in the park. I found it haunting that you wrote so much about what that park has meant to you in your book. Have you gone back?
Yes. We did not go back for a while. And everybody’s fine—James is fine and my son is fine. They both have scars, but they’re totally fine, and we’re so grateful for that. We were all kind of scared to go back to the park, and we realized it had become a fear. It’s Riverside Park, and it’s beautiful down there, and we would go all the time and James would take Luke out every morning pretty much. That was our thing. So with a group of friends and their children, we went back to the place where it happened, and we brought pizzas and soda and all of our kids played right in that area. Even the guy that helped James—the man that pulled the attacker off of James—came as well. It was great. We wanted to put a happy memory in that place. An overlaying happy memory on top of the bad one.

I run there. I can’t believe I never saw James.
It was unbelievable. I’ve lived here for 25 years; I was mugged once, but nothing has happened. It’s also a very affluent neighborhood—it was 8am on a very sunny morning, and it was just a beautiful day. It was shocking to have that happen. Like one of the things that James said, it is a broken world and bad things do happen. It could have been so much worse. It could have been any other weapon than a pair of scissors.

I was so scared to go back there too. All of a sudden you just see all the nut jobs.
It’s true, and you feel isolated because it is a very empty park. Which is why I liked it! [Laughs]

Exactly. Are you going to stop dancing altogether? Do you have a plan?
My plan—you’re gonna very much laugh—is probably to take a break from ballet. I don’t want to say that I will never do ballet again, but I might let it rest for a while. I certainly will never perform again. This will be it.

Really?
Probably not. I don’t think so. I mean I’m 40. I guess you should never say never. Maybe I’ll dance at my church.

Tell me if you do.
I will tell you. But I want to take tap. I took one class this summer, and it’s a great challenge actually so that’s what I kind of want to do. I want to take tap, and then I want to just exercise to be healthy.

Will you miss anything about dancing?
I think the main thing I will miss is the dancers and that experience of working with the dancers, and that feeling of working with somebody for a couple of weeks on a piece and seeing it evolve and get richer and then performing it and finding that it has completely changed, and then coming to the end of the performance and knowing that you’ve had a unique experience that you’ll never have again. However it went, it was a moment in time and an experience that you had with somebody else where you weren’t speaking—you were communicating in other ways, and you get to know a deeper part of somebody. And I’ve known a lot of these dancers for so long. That’s a special thing. We may not know a lot of the details about each other’s lives, but we’ve danced together, we’ve rehearsed together, and we’ve performed together and that’s a very special relationship. I’ll miss them and that experience of dancing with them. That’s what I’ll miss the most.

Can you talk about what the finale of Dances is like? I’m starting to wish Union Jack would be performed first. 

Somebody else was saying that—I totally understand. I think it’ll be fun to finish just having fun. I could do it either way I guess. In one way, I’ll be doing the seriousness first and then just get to go out and have a blast and be silly at the end, and it’s the silliness that takes me back to why I started dancing in the first place, but there is a poetry to ending with Dances. I’m also afraid that I’ll be too caught up in the, This is the last time I’m going to do this, this is the last time I’m going to do that and stand in this wing.… I wasn’t even sure I wanted to have a final performance. I was thinking of slipping away, but that felt kind of not nice.

You have moved on though.
I feel really ready to go. And I say that being very grateful for my career. But I do feel really ready to move on. And the finale of Dances is special just because it’s a group of dancers kind of walking around a space and appreciating that space and having their memories of the time they spent in that space. It’s a perfect thing to do on my last show. 

I could have also seen you dance the two Ratmansky ballets—Russian Seasons and Namouna—that he choreographed for you.
The two Ratmansky ballets will always be really special memories for me. I loved them both, and I loved working with him. He’s incredible to work with. I felt like he had incredibly high standards, but that he also was very appreciative of the particular dancers’ unique qualities that he was working with. I felt very much like he got me, and he wanted me, and he was happy to have what I brought to the studio, yet he was always pushing me to be better; he hoped for better, and he could usually dance it better than I could, so that I could see and have something to strive for. It just felt incredibly inspiring and uplifting, because I felt like he appreciated me, but was also pushing me to be better. So I found myself working really hard, and I think most of the dancers in the company would say the same thing. That will always feel like a gift. When I got pregnant with Luke, I missed doing Russian Seasons when it came back into repertory, and I think that was the one ballet I really regretted missing. Not that I would change Luke for it.

Didn’t you coach it?
I did. It was great to be able to talk about it and experience it in that way. I do enjoy coaching. I’ve done some stuff for the Robbins Trust and I might do some in the future. I’m definitely open to it. It’s a lot of traveling, so again I would have to balance the demands of the family with that. We are doing something. James and I are actually moving to California.

What? I can’t believe that you just told me that.
Yeah. The bad thing is I can’t tell you what it is yet. James and I will be working together on something else. But James has already started working out there as the managing director for the Los Angeles Dance Project.

How do you feel about moving to L.A.?
I don’t know. We’re really excited about the opportunity. And we are kind of excited for the adventure and what we’ll be doing out there is kind of a cool thing, so we’re looking forward to it. It may be good to have a house and a yard; that being said, I do love New York, and I think a part of me will grieve for it. L.A. is so different. [She takes a deep breath.] But I’m going to embrace it and learn how to navigate the highways. My daughter wants to grow watermelons. So that will be my goal: to grow her some watermelons. I’m going to have to google that.
Jenifer Ringer’s farewell performance is Feb 9 at the David H. Koch Theater (at Lincoln Center). The New York City Ballet season continues through Mar 2.

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