Audiences at New York City Ballet could not help noticing Taylor Stanley when he joined the corps last year. Ruggedly handsome and classically proportioned, his supple authority was clear as soon as he began to dance. He made every lift seem deceptively easy and his leaps possessed an airy, unfailingly musical clarity. Stanley watchers weren’t surprised to find him dancing the lead in Balanchine’s Square Dance opposite principal ballerina Ashley Bouder at the end of the 2011 winter season, three months before his 20th birthday.
Stanley’s parents took him to a Pennsylvania Ballet performance when he was 3, and he loved it. “All those people in costumes running around! I wanted to start dance class right away,” he says. He soon began what became 14 years of study at The Rock School West in West Chester, Pennsylvania. “I was nervous at first, being the only boy,” he says, “but I welcomed the challenge as an energy outlet.”
Spotting something special in him, his teacher Jennifer Wheat began to discuss the career paths available in dance. Stanley attended Miami City Ballet’s summer program in 2006 and 2007, where he got a heady dose of Balanchine corps work in Who Cares? and Square Dance. Attending the School of American Ballet in the summer of 2008 led to an NYCB apprenticeship in 2009 and a slot in the corps in September 2010. “My folks were with me all the way,” he says. “They traveled with me. They helped me move. I am so incredibly fortunate to have parents who love what I do as much as I do.”
His colleagues at NYCB felt themselves lucky to have so finished a product in their ranks. Principal dancer Daniel Ulbricht, who has a dual career as a teacher, says, “I couldn’t take my eyes off Taylor when he was at SAB. Some days I thought I was teaching a gymnastics class, the guys were tumbling around so wildly, but not Taylor. He already had the maturity and the appetite of a seasoned dancer, and when he joined the company he didn’t take it easy. He was always working on his basics or whatever he was rehearsing. He’s a natural mover who’s comfortable dancing outside the box. And he’s genuinely modest. How often does that happen?”
Sean Lavery, NYCB’s assistant to the ballet master in chief, recalls how quickly Stanley could learn a difficult solo in his variations class: “It was a total pleasure to teach a student who listened to what he was told, then made the dance visible when he repeated it the first time.”
Soon after joining the company, Stanley was singled out for roles that made major demands, such as Christopher Wheeldon’s Polyphonia. As a corps member of “Diamonds” in Balanchine’s Jewels, he displayed such presence that he could have been mistaken for a soloist.
The lead of Square Dance, a ballet that requires six corps couples to regularly repeat the two principals’ challenging steps, quickly came his way. It was not Stanley’s familiarity with the principal’s steps but his echoing those steps with the authority of a principal that impressed the ballet masters. All he needed to work on was the man’s somber, introspective solo, a passage of stately continuity, which Lavery taught him.
Bouder had no complaints about working with a novice. “If Taylor was nervous coming in,” she says, “he did a great job of hiding it. I don’t think I’ve ever danced with someone so calm and confident during a debut—certainly not with someone his age dancing his first principal role.”
Stanley was asked what it was like to dictate the steps the six corps men perform together with such uncanny unity. Anyone who expects an ego-trip response doesn’t know Taylor Stanley. His answer? “You feel like you’re part of a brotherhood.”