Jennie Somogyi talks about her return to New York City Ballet

Principal dancer Jennie Somogyi talks about returning to New York City Ballet after tearing her Achilles tendon

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Time Out New York: At that point, did you increase everything you were doing?
Jennie Somogyi:
I just started to give myself smaller goals: I want to be doing this in a month. I started to think, What do I need to do from here to get to Red Angels? I’d be in physical therapy for hours. I was also using it to get my cardio going. I’d be running around the clinic doing grand jetés in my sneakers. It was actually therapeutic to be able to feel that I had some control over my own rehab. During that time, I thought, Do I go back? Do I throw in the towel? For my daughter, I wanted to try. Mariano Rivera got hurt right around that time, and he made a statement: “I’m not going out like this.” I liked that. I thought, I’m not going out like that either. I’m going to at least give this a shot.

Time Out New York: Has your daughter seen you dance?
Jennie Somogyi:
Yes. We recently went to see Momix, and she loved it. She told me the other day, “Mommy, when I’m older I’m going to be in a real ballet company like Momix.” I was like, “Okay.” But I’m not putting her in dance, so that’s not going to happen.

Time Out New York: Really? Why not?
Jennie Somogyi:
Unless she’s crying about it. I feel like I’ve lived this life, and I don’t know how that would be.… My family knew nothing about dance. I just feel like I want her to fly and do something totally different. [Pauses] She has my exact body. It’s actually really funny.

Time Out New York: Well, you know where I stand on this. Was it traumatic for you to grow up in the ballet world?
Jennie Somogyi:
No. I wouldn’t change it. I just feel like I’ve spent my whole life devoted to this, and to have to take her to classes and sit there…and for her to have that hanging above her, too, I would prefer her not to. If she’s begging me, then we’ll discuss. I just told her that they don’t have classes for kids her age. [Laughs] I’m getting away with that for now. She’s four.

Time Out New York: For your debut with Moves, where did you perform?
Jennie Somogyi:
We went to Vegas and then St. Louis. I danced with Jared Angle. I was really nervous for the first show, and the lights in Vegas were so bright that we couldn’t see each other. I could not see his face. The lights in that piece are really difficult to dance in, but when you’re on tour sometimes they change things. After the first show, I was like, Wow—what just happened? Then we got to St. Louis, and the lights were really bright again, and I was walking off the stage like this [Covers her eyes] into the wings. I couldn’t even lift my head up, it was so bright. They fixed it, and then I had so much fun because I could see him and there was a connection, and we had a blast. It was like, Ah! I remember why I like doing this.

Time Out New York: Are you performing that here?
Jennie Somogyi:
Yes. And I’m going to debut in “Purple” from Ecstatic Orange. I had never seen it, so when Peter [Martins] asked me if I wanted to do it—if it was okay for my foot—I watched the video, and I was like, I really like this. We just started rehearsing it. I’m not far in the process. That’s with Jared again. It’s interesting partnering, and I think it’ll be a good first thing just to get out on the stage, because I haven’t been out on this stage yet.

Time Out New York: Are you nervous about that?
Jennie Somogyi:
I don’t know. That’s a good question. I think it’ll feel more official. When you’re on tour, it doesn’t seem as official. This audience here obviously knows what it’s looking at, so it will have a different feeling to it.

Time Out New York: What else do you want to dance?
Jennie Somogyi:
[Pauses] In general? There are things that I already do that I love. I love Brahms [-Schoenberg Quartet]. I love Liebeslieder [Walzer]. I’d like to do Serenade again, but I used to do “Russian girl,” which is a lot of jumping. I’d love to do “waltz girl.” It’s interesting now that as I get older, dancing something that I used to feels new. And then there are other things that I’ve done that I don’t really want to do again; sometimes you feel like you’ve said all you can say for that. I was doing Four Ts [The Four Temperaments] before I got hurt, and I used to be petrified of it; this time, I was having so much fun. My approach was totally different, so that seemed like I was doing something new. I miss doing Serenade. That’s what I miss the most, of what I used to do.

Time Out New York: How do you change your approach as you become more experienced?
Jennie Somogyi:
As artists, whatever’s going on in our lives comes to the stage, and I was always so nervous for it. I felt very exposed. Because I felt so exposed, it would make me want to apologize and hide, and I just always felt very shy when I would go onstage, which is not the approach you want. As I got older and watched other people do [The Four Temperaments], I thought, Oh! I love this moment—I wish they would do more of this there.… And I started to figure out what I really wanted it to be instead of just getting through it and feeling like, I hope they liked that. I started to visualize what I thought that part should look like, and then I was able to bring that to it. It felt so much more comfortable, and I had a clearer idea in my head of what I wanted in the shapes. I always thought of the movements as crisp and angular, and then I thought, no—I want it to be more open and round and lush. I changed my whole approach, and then it felt much more like myself and what I’m comfortable doing instead of trying to change myself into what I thought they wanted to see in it. Before, I had seen Merrill [Ashley] do it, and people that didn’t dance like I did. I was trying to fit that mold.

Time Out New York: NYCB is such a different company from the one that you joined. Are there dancers you enjoy watching?
Jennie Somogyi:
Oh, yeah. Everybody’s dancing well. But I don’t know half of them! I come in every day and am like, Wait—there’s somebody new. [Laughs] It’s just hard sometimes. You dance with people for so long, and you have this rapport with them and a comfort level, so I don’t always know when somebody’s kidding or when they’re being serious. But there’s a different energy. It used to be that everybody had their thing that they were good at. We all had our little niche. Now everything’s moving very quickly, and there’s an excitement, an energy. Everybody’s really ambitious. It’s hard because I come in with the old mentality: I’m here—what am I going to work on today? 

Time Out New York: And everyone else seems to be doing everything at once?
Jennie Somogyi:
Yeah! It’s great, though. Change is good. It’s just different. It helps that I have a daughter, and I don’t get caught up in all that. 

Time Out New York: How has your daughter affected your desire to dance?
Jennie Somogyi:
In a way, it’s been great. Ballet has always been my passion, and then it was my passion and my job. After I had her, I could have just said, “Okay, I’m going to be a mom.” Now, it’s very much my decision; it’s more of a conscious decision. I want to see it through. I feel like it’s very much my choice, and that changes the way I approach things, too: That I’m not trying as hard to fit into what I think my superiors want me to do. I feel more comfortable being an artist and not an athlete. This is my choice to be here, so I feel like I don’t have to answer to [others] as much. I feel a freedom. 

Time Out New York: Do you enjoy it more?
Jennie Somogyi:
I think so. [Before the injuries] I worked so much, which kind of makes me sad, because I should have been enjoying things more. But I had three, four ballets a night, and I was rehearsing all day, and I never had nights off. Sometimes it was about pacing: I’m in the middle of dancing something, thinking, These shoes are not going to make it through the next two ballets, what do I have in my dressing room? Do I need to sew during intermission? There was definitely a different mind-set that I was in. Kind of survival mode. So I look back, and I was dancing these amazing things, but not really enjoying them. I did, but not as I should have. Not like I would now.

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