Meet the Newest Dancers in NYCB's Corps de Ballet
By Sarah Bellman
This season, we welcome five new corps de ballet members to the NYCB family. Get to know a little bit more about this diverse group of young dancers — who join us from Sicily, Italy (Davide Riccardo); Malibu, California (Naomi Corti); Chattanooga, Tennessee (LaJeromeny Brown); West Palm Beach, Florida (Jules Mabie); and the Company’s hometown of New York City (Victor Abreu) — with a collection of exclusive Q&As.
Interviews have been condensed and edited for clarity.
What did you do when you first found out you’d be part of the Company?
It was really funny because it was Halloween, and so I was in a costume and a wig, and I walked into the office, and I had just taken the wig off. I was with [fellow new corps de ballet member Jules Mabie]. I was about to cry, like are you kidding? This isn't real. But it was a very surreal moment. Then I went upstairs and just started screaming. We were playing Ariana Grande and it was a really good moment. We were so excited when we got our apprenticeships, because it was a really big moment. You work so hard for all those years, and then it finally happens.
So, your first performance in the Company was The Nutcracker?
Yeah, so our first thing onstage was The Nutcracker. I was a mouse and a party parent, and I did Hot Chocolate. It was just really fun to do all of those things, but I also think being a mouse was way more stressful than I thought it would be. [Laughs] Because there's kids, there's props, you're in this costume and you can barely see anything, and you're just trying not to fall off the stage. And I was the most downstage mouse for all of the running, and I was like, “Oh my God, if I trip and fall off the stage right now that would just be terrible.” Before every show I'd be like, “I hope I don't fall into the orchestra pit today!” Yeah, but it was really fun to do.
Can you talk about when you performed the Agon pas de deux with apprentice Savannah Duham?
Yes, it was for the School of American Ballet’s workshop in tribute to Arthur Mitchell. I didn't even think I was going to get to dance that role that early. It was so challenging, but the fact that I got to perform it was so rewarding, because I worked so hard on it. I was rehearsing during the period while I was trying to balance company life and also maintain rehearsals at SAB, which was extremely hard on the body. Knowing that I was tired and I was trying to make all of these things happen, it felt good after I danced it.
Who did you rehearse it with?
Maria Kowroski and Tyler Angle. They're like the OG Agon pas de deux — for my generation, at least — so it was amazing to work with them. They're both really nice people. I loved to be in the space with good people, good energy, and just work.
What do you do when you're having an off day, or an off week, to get back in the right headspace?
I meditate. Literally every day. At the beginning it was much, much harder, but now, most of the time I'm in a meditative state. So, if I'm having an off day, it's very much “so I'm having a negative thought, but I'm not going to react to it, I'm just going to continue to bring positive light to the situation that I'm in.” I saw this thing that said if you had fifty thousand dollars, and somebody took five dollars, would you give them the rest of the fifty thousand? So, if I have a whole day, why would I let one moment reflect the whole day? You know? So that's one thing, with meditating, it keeps me very level-headed, and keeps everything in perspective. And I feel very grounded. I would say meditation is my key.
What was your experience going from student to apprentice to corps member all within a year?
It was crazy. I thought that I had done everything to prepare, and I had gotten myself ready, but it's always a shock to your system to be in that environment where you're being paid to dance [for the first time]. Also, people are paying to see you, so you feel like you have this responsibility to be your best all the time. Which can be hard; things happen, and it can be kind of difficult, but I think I also was so afraid of meeting everyone in the company because I'd been looking up to them since I was 10 years old. So, to finally get to dance next to them, and be onstage or be at barre and standing next to someone that you've looked up to for your entire life is hard. But it was one of those surreal moments. As an apprentice, you're always kind of afraid: "Am I doing everything right? Am I doing enough? Is it going well? I don't know." Once you get your corps contract, you kind of feel like, “Okay, now I can really trust that the work I'm putting in is good, and I just need to keep doing what I'm doing and keep working hard.”
What was it like being a featured dancer in Herman Schmerman as an apprentice?
I still don't believe that it happened sometimes. Someone will remind me, and I'm like, "Oh my goodness, that wasn't a dream.” I feel so lucky that they trusted me enough with it and allowed me to go on stage and perform that. I think that was also kind of a switch for me where I was like, "No, I can go on stage and be the only person onstage and that's okay." But I can also be with a bunch of amazing dancers and add to that. That was a fun experience.
What do you think is special about NYCB?
The repertory. You can go to the ballet every night for a week and see something different. There's a part for everyone. You can be that tall, strong, empowered, I don't need a man to help partner me dancer. Or you can be this beautiful sylph, and you anything in between, too. I can't go to the ballet and not feel happy or inspired when I leave.
What do you love about New York City?
I think that there's just endless possibilities of what you could do. You could have a day off and not know where you want to go and what to do, and you can just end up anywhere in the city and have an adventure. But you can also come to Lincoln Center and sit and people watch. You can do anything here.
What do you like about New York?
What don't I like about New York? It's just so different from any other city there is. So much to do. Plus, I love all the food. They don't have as much good food in Florida. And I love that you can step out of your house looking crazy and not a lot of people will bat an eyelash.
What would you say are your biggest strengths as a dancer?
I would say control. I think that's definitely my biggest strength, but I've been trying to work on being more expansive. And probably just technical stuff. I think I'm a very technical dancer.
What do you think is special about NYCB and its repertory?
I mean, obviously, Balanchine. In my opinion, you can't beat it. I think it's just the perfect encapsulation of what ballet should be. But I also love that their new works are always ... there's always something new. I think it's very special too, because the Company feels a lot like a family. Everybody's very supportive of each other and they're all here to get a collective thing done.
What are you most proud of outside of ballet?
I would say just opening up, because naturally I'm a very timid person. Talking to people used to be really hard for me. I'm proud of that. I find it easier now to talk to people.
Do you have a hero or someone who inspires you the most?
I have a few, but I think my biggest one right now would be Rihanna. Because she has nothing to do with ballet, which I love, but she's also just such an amazing person. She needs to come out with an album soon.
What were your first thoughts when you got into the Company?
“I did it!” It was definitely a dream come true.
What have been some of the highlights so far?
Definitely doing Kammermusik No. 2 [at the Kennedy Center] in D.C. That was probably one of my favorite experiences with the Company. It was really fun because Andrew Scordato, who teaches at the School of American Ballet and is dancing it with me now, taught it to me for the last Balanchine Variations class that we had at SAB — and then a couple of months after that, we were rehearsing to perform it together. It was really nice.
What was it like moving across the world at such a young age to study at SAB?
It was definitely really hard adjusting to the new culture and language and everything. The first year was really tough, but I wanted to be here more than anything. I was like, “I can do this if I just wait a bit and try.”
Did you study any Balanchine technique before attending SAB?
Not at all. We completely had to retrain everything – forget all that I was taught my whole life and then start from zero basically. They had no idea what Balanchine style is [at my old studio in Italy].
If you’re having a tough week, what do you do to make yourself get back in the zone?
Honestly, I just wait for a show. I know that once I'm onstage everything is going to be fine. Once I put my costume on and my makeup on, I know that it's just going to get better once I'm onstage.
What would you say are your strengths as a dancer?
I think I have a more European approach, which at first wasn't really a good thing. But I feel like now, since not many people have it here, since I'm one of the few Europeans, it's a plus I think.
Are there any ballets you’re excited to perform or love performing?
Well, I'm definitely excited for Swan Lake. Swan Lake is my favorite ballet, so I'm really, really excited to perform that in the winter. But [we recently performed] Jewels. Obviously, Jewels is such an iconic triple bill for City Ballet. It’s really, really amazing performing the ending of Diamonds – the polonaise, you get that rush of like, "This is the most amazing feeling I think anyone has ever gotten." On opening night, as soon as we changed out of our costumes and were taking off our makeup, literally all we could talk about is how amazing that just felt. That's literally what we were saying. We were like, "Honestly, I can't believe we actually get paid for this. Like this is insane." It's just so thrilling.
Did you do anything to celebrate when you found out you got your corps de ballet contract? You had to dance that night, right?
Yeah, I did dance. I really performed. I was really happy. Especially performing such great fun ballets. I did Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet that night and I did Theme and Variations in Tschaikovsky Suite No. 3. They're both equally as amazing and exhilarating.
If you’re having a tough week, what do you do to make yourself get back in the zone?
I just need to relax and not get into my head too much. Just do the dance. And then as soon as I get on stage, there isn’t that pressure in your head, because you're dancing. A person who loves dancing, they can say that everything just escapes when you're on that stage. Honestly, it's so much fun.
What’s your favorite movie?
I definitely like sci-fi movies, so I love Ender’s Game and Ready Player One. There are other ones, like emotional, or dramatic, or suspenseful ones — children's movies. I love children's movies. Like I love Bee Movie and The Cat in The Hat. I can watch those movies every single day. I am always watching Bee Movie and The Cat in the Hat.
See the newest corps de ballet dancers perform throughout the 19-20 Season and during this year’s run of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker® at Lincoln Center. Check out our calendar listings for tickets and information about all our upcoming performances.