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NEW YORK — Beneath the green-tinged fluorescent lights of a New York City Ballet studio, 26-year-old guest artist Sofiane Sylve stretches her powerful catlike limbs as she waits for her cue during a rehearsal of George Balanchine’s “Serenade.” With a lilting sweep of her hand, she’s off, exploding into a series of pirouettes until she hits her final position, dangling gracefully by one arm from her partner’s neck.
“Stop, stop, stop,” clucks assistant ballet master Sara Leland, who heads for Sylve, grabs her head and tweaks it 90 degrees. “I want it here. Again!” Sylve, who soaks up every criticism Leland offers during the hour-long practice, repeats the section and nails the position.
Since her New York debut in Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker” just three weeks ago, the winsome French ballerina has garnered nothing but glowing reviews. Even the New York Times fawned over her speed, spirit and “amazing verve and projection.”
“I had never seen or heard of her before,” says principal Charles Askegard, who was the first to dance with her. “She’s very commanding on stage.”
Nestled in the tiny dressing room she shares with soloist Alexandra Ansanelli until her final performance here on Feb. 9, Sylve sits at her vanity table, piled with pink satin ribbons and makeup, and removes her toe shoes to reveal a pair of crumpled, reddened feet. An auburn hair extension is tacked to the bulletin board beside her. After a decade with the Dutch National Ballet — the past four as its star principal — what does she think of all these American kudos? “My greatest strength is that I pick up very fast,” she smiles.
Make that rapidement. Last November, she flew to New York for two weeks to learn NYCB’s repertoire, returned home to Amsterdam to perform “The Nutcracker” (a different version from the American one), headed to Helsinki for a holiday performance on New Year’s, flew back to New York Jan. 2 and performed as the Sugar Plum Fairy in “The Nutcracker” the next night to rave reviews. “I was totally jet-lagged,” she sighs.
Currently, she has six ballets on her mind. “I’m amazed at how much this company works,” she says. In Amsterdam, her company performs one ballet for several weeks, rather than mixing the repertoire every night the way NYCB does. “For them it’s like a second skin — Balanchine, Jerome Robbins — but I am used to doing the classics, which is a much purer technique.” She describes her technique as very French. “At home, my teacher is Hungarian and she always yells, ‘Don’t stand en face!’ Here everything is en face. It’s very American.”
But Sylve is enjoying everything American these days. She loves walking the streets of New York, taking the subway and seeing the landmarks, although she misses the museums because Monday is her day off. Would she move to the city and join NYCB if the opportunity presented itself?
“I would,” she says. “I’ve been treated so well. When you’re happy with your work and your personal life, it doesn’t matter where you are.”
Peter Martins, what are you waiting for?