Juliet Capulet was a mere 13 years old when she fell passionately in love with Romeo Montague and met her tragic end. Though considerably older, at 21, New York City Ballet soloist Sterling Hyltin is still an ingenue in modern terms, so it’s appropriate she’ll dance the famed lead in the world premiere of Peter Martins’ production of “Romeo + Juliet” Tuesday evening at the company’s Spring Gala. With her waist-length blonde ringlets and delicate build, the rising star is sure to infuse the doomed lover with the same mixture of youth and poise she herself exhibits. As Hyltin says, “I think there’s a little bit of Juliet in everybody.”

FAST TRACK: After attending the School of American Ballet’s summer program for two years, Hyltin was asked to stay on for the winter session and moved to New York when she was 15. At 16, she became an NYCB apprentice and less than a year later was asked to join the corps. With “Romeo + Juliet,” she marks her third season as a soloist. Last fall, she danced Aurora in “Sleeping Beauty” and the Sugar Plum Fairy in “The Nutcracker.” “I think that Sugar Plum sort of got my foot in the door and let people see that it is possible for me to do a role like that….It was sort of my big breakout.”

PROVENANCE: Born in Amarillo, Tex., Hyltin grew up in Dallas. She began dancing at six to help her figure skating and soon found she loved and excelled at ballet. And while she was always a self-described “tomboy,” the graceful Hyltin had her priorities straight. “I would always be very adamant that I had to go to ballet. I would stop riding my go-cart or my motorcycle and say, ‘OK, I gotta go to ballet now.'”

DOG DAYS: Although Hyltin has never taken any acting classes, dancing parts like Juliet requires a certain amount of theatrical projection. And Hyltin has found an unlikely coach. “I learn a lot of my facial expressions from my dog because they can’t talk to you,” she laughs. “I have a nine-month-old terrier and he’s just so expressive that he’s actually taught me a lot through his own face.”

This story first appeared in the April 30, 2007 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

DEATH BECOMES HER: If Hyltin is feeling any jitters about premiering as Juliet, you wouldn’t know it from her calm demeanor. But ask her what she finds most challenging about the part and she’s candid: “I would say dying, because it might be one of the only emotions I haven’t quite experienced….And then you have to die in tempo, too, not in stages, but you have to have stabbed yourself by a certain point. And there’s a whole lot to do before then.”

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