Although she can move with the lightness of a dragonfly skimming a pond, a year ago American Ballet Theatre corps member Meaghan Hinkis scored a great success with ABT II by doing no dancing at all. Last spring, she performed the role of a mourning widow visiting the statue of her assassinated husband in Roger VanFleteren’s pas de deux Pavlovsk. From her entrance through her slow collapse and subsequent gestures of grief, Hinkis’ powerfully restrained command of mime permeated the theater with nobility and loss. Of course the statue (Alberto Velazquez) soon came to life, and the dancing began. By that point, however, we knew we were not watching just another pas for two attractive young people.
“I feel most comfortable when I’m onstage,” admits Hinkis, 19. A dancer since age 4, she grew up in Simsbury, Connecticut, and focused on ballet by the time she was 11, when she started at The Hartt School. Two years later, she began going to New York’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, the traditional springboard to ABT II, which she joined in 2007. She also studied with reknowned coach Fabrice Herrault on her own time.
Already an apprentice with the main company when she danced Pavlovsk, Hinkis’ expressive almond eyes and long limbs give her movement eloquence. Although she’s just 5’ 4”, she easily dominates the stage with space-defying speed.
Last October, when ABT accepted her into the corps, the company was gearing up to launch a new production of The Nutcracker, choreographed by artist in residence Alexei Ratmansky. By then, Hinkis was an old Nutcracker hand: “I seemed to be dancing it everywhere,” she says, noting that she performed Clara in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular for two seasons when she was younger and more recently danced the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Hague (thanks to ABT II contacts). Ratmansky not only recruited her for the Toy Soldier’s dance in the Act I party scene that he had turned into a pas de deux for the windup toys, he cast her in the December 23 premiere.
The honor came as no surprise to her teachers. “Meaghan is a joy to work with because she is hungry for a challenge,” recalls ABT II artistic director Wes Chapman. “She has no real limits. I used to make her mad by saying, ‘I don’t know if you can do this.’ She showed me she could.”
Her maturity was what initially impressed ABT ballet mistress Nancy Raffa. “She immediately adapted to working in the company,” she says. “Her commitment to her career is so serious that she has no time to be neurotic. Some young dancers always talk about what they are going to do. Meaghan always demonstrates she can do it.”
This commitment was amply illustrated at two Nutcracker rehearsals a few weeks before previews began, when Hinkis was alternating work in the corps for “Waltz of the Flowers” with the demanding pas de deux she had been awarded. Although the “Waltz” was still a work in progress at that stage, Hinkis stood out from the other 15 women who were being coached by ballet mistress Susan Jones. It was also obvious that she was already dancing the steps full out, with line and verve to spare and a special twist to the torso in leaps.
Then she was off down the hall to a rehearsal with Ratmansky for the rapid-fire pas de deux for her and Luis Ribagorda. “Alexei is a pleasure to work with,” she says. “He tells you what he wants, and you want to do it for him.” While other couples stood by to mark the choreography, Ratmansky patiently clarified the steps that went off like a string of firecrackers and tightened the jagged poses that abruptly ended each phrase.
Thanks to Hinkis, rehearsals with the other couples could now proceed smoothly through rough spots. When a woman’s footwork looked uncertain, Ratmansky would call upon Hinkis to demonstrate the correct steps, and she never failed to do so.
Did I mention her middle name is Grace?
At A Glance
Name: Meaghan Hinkis
Company: American Ballet Theatre
Training: The Hartt School in Hartford, CT, JKO, Fabrice Herrault
Dream Roles: Kitri, Aurora, Juliet
Idols: Gillian Murphy, Alina Cojocaru