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: Just tense.
Jennie Somogyi:
I was an animal trying to get out of a cage.

Time Out New York: Did you pick up any outside interests? Any hobbies?
Jennie Somogyi:
The first time I was injured, we were building a house, so I had lots of things to do. This time was hard because I had a three-year-old. People were bringing me DVDs and books, and I never watched any of them or read any of them because I was with her. She was a great helper. While my husband was at work, I was stranded: “Could you get Mommy a cup?” She could carry things for me because of my crutches. This time there was not much else but her going on.

Time Out New York: Did you become closer?
Jennie Somogyi:
I said everything happens for a reason, and I think it was a really great age for us to be one-on-one. They say their personalities are formed by the time they’re three. I felt it was a crucial year that I was around for. That was the blessing in disguise.

Time Out New York: Did you change your mind about wanting to come back at any point?
Jennie Somogyi:
In the beginning, until I got the cast off, I was still weighing the pros and cons. When that came off, there was a little light at the end of the tunnel. And like I said, Mariano Rivera said that. I thought, Do I really want that to be my last moment? After all those years and all that work? At least with PC2 [Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2], with my first injury, that ballet you dance. But this was toward the beginning of Polyphonia, and I was like, I don’t want it to be my last. It’s a very dark piece. From that point, I was going that way and then all of the signs started to point in that direction—I was ahead of where I should be, and the ball just started to roll. Once I got the cast off, my mind was there. My body just needs to move. I laugh even at barre—I look in the mirror sometimes and think, Oops, I’m overdancing something. It feels so good to move. I look around the room, and everybody’s just waking up.

Time Out New York: But that’s because you’ve been up since dawn, and they just rolled out of bed.
Jennie Somogyi:
That’s true. [Laughs]

Time Out New York: What do you want out of the rest of your career?
Jennie Somogyi:
If I should get injured again, I’ll pack up my bag. Now, I just want to have fun. I paid my dues. I’ve worked really hard, and I just want to enjoy what I’m doing. That’s the most important thing for me. There’s nothing for me to prove. I’m not looking for a promotion. When it stops being enjoyable, I’ll know I’m done.

Time Out New York: Where do you draw the line between athlete and artist?
Jennie Somogyi:
I feel it’s 50-50 for what we do here. Most of our stuff is pretty challenging. Or the tempo that we do it in is challenging. The fact that we do so many pieces, and we don’t have the rehearsal time that maybe other companies get, I think it has to be 50-50. I’m able to consciously focus on what I want to do as an artist, where before it was more of a spontaneous artistry because I was just in the moment. Now I can sit with something and think, How do I want this to look? We were in rehearsal yesterday, and I thought, Where does this arm movement come from? Even if it’s an abstract piece, there has to be something that you did before that would make you do the next movement. Now I have the time to think, Oh, I need to start getting into that from this so it makes sense for me, and I can feel this motion. Before I’d be like, Okay, I have eight more rehearsals. I know the steps, let’s see what happens onstage. [Laughs] Meet you in the wing and let’s just see what magic we make. Now I can figure out why I’m doing it. I’ve just been able to internalize things more instead of it being a free-flowing whatever-comes-out-of-me-tonight. I don’t want to say it’s preconceived. That drives me insane. It’s not that. It’s that I can think about the choreography; I can think about what it looks like as far as shapes, the things that I didn’t really have time before to see in a piece.

Time Out New York: How do you approach Red Angels?
Jennie Somogyi:
It’s an older piece now. You don’t want to make it seem dated. I do the part that Wendy Whelan did, so I don’t want to look like I’m trying to look like her. That’s another thing. You learn something—and I try not to look at videos—but in a piece like that, where the steps are not actual classical ballet steps, you kind of need the video to figure it out. I got the steps down, and now I’m stuck with this visual of her. I’d catch myself doing a step in a certain way; I’m like, That’s not really resonating with me. I’m not even consciously doing it. My body saw something and now it’s mimicking that. So it was actually kind of cool coming back and having this be the first thing, because I really had to personalize it, and so I started to play more.

Time Out New York: You’re 35, and you got into the company when you were 15. Who is still here?
Jennie Somogyi:
It’s so weird: When I got in at 15, the dancers were all older than me. After my first injury, it flip-flopped. I’m always in the minority! I look around, and it’s so great—all these young people are with their peers. I was such a nervous wreck. Here I am, a sophomore in high school and people are like, “What are you doing? You don’t know how to put on eyeliner?” It would have been nice to have a lot of people with me. These kids must think I’m ancient. And, When is she leaving? [Laughs] 

Time Out New York: Are you close to any of them?
Jennie Somogyi:
Oh, yeah. It’s just funny. I had a rehearsal the other day, and I knew every single person in there. I was so excited. And I knew them well. It felt like a reunion.

New York City Ballet is at the David H. Koch Theater (at Lincoln Center) through June 9.

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