And Now From the Men...

How do men deal with living in a world of ballerinas? Five leading male dancers divulge some details.
Published in the December 2013/January 2014 issue.

Andrew Veyette: Dancing with a different partner means dancing a different ballet. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Cory Stearns, American Ballet Theatre
Why partnering couldn’t start soon enough: I had a crush on this girl at my school. Did anything happen? [Laughs] No. I had no confidence, so I never told her. She probably knew.
Top mentors: My first partnering teacher, Dimitri Papadakos, was a former football player, never a dancer, and his advice was all about timing. Today, I go to Kevin McKenzie and Marcelo Gomes. There’s pride in good partnering at ABT. Do the women take advantage of that? Some do. [Laughs] They’re impatient with men who aren’t accomplished partners. But others are extremely easy to work with. I will say, when you work with someone who really makes you swallow your pride, it makes you a better partner.
When to talk onstage: Only if something is wrong. For me, if you’re really in the show, you are that character. It becomes dangerous if I’m out there switching back and forth between Cory and Basilio, or Cory and Siegfried.
When things go wrong, do you take the blame? Oh, totally. I come offstage and say, “Sorry, that won’t happen again,” even though I don’t feel like it was me. [Laughs]
Top choice for next partner: It’s hard to say. There are people who are so well-known and it feels like an honor to dance with them, but a lot of them have huge egos. Notable exception: Polina Semionova—when I finally got to dance with her, it was amazing.


Jonathan Porretta, Pacific Northwest Ballet
Partnering mantra: Keep her on her leg and don’t tick her off.
Partnering rule: Take the blame, no matter what. That’s what Jock Soto instilled in us, at the School of American Ballet: If something doesn’t work, it’s the boy’s fault. Now, I might not say that in the dressing room later on, but in public I’ll take full responsibility. It’s the gentlemanly thing to do.
How to talk onstage: Through big smiles, of course. In Act II of Nutcracker, principal Kaori Nakamura and I have it down to a science. What do you talk about? Shopping, dinners, the dancing, how many more Nutcrackers we have to do.
Top choice for next partner: Here at PNB? Leta Biasucci. She’s a corps member, gorgeous, has amazing technique, she’s fun—everything a ballerina should be. Everything she does comes from her heart.


Andrew Veyette, New York City Ballet

Rotating partners: I did Allegro Brillante a couple of seasons ago with my wife Megan Fairchild, Tiler Peck and Sara Mearns—all in the same week. They were three different ballets. I didn’t even pretend otherwise.
Trick of the trade: Sara Mearns goes for broke on everything. I started doing this thing in rehearsal where I beep at her progressively faster if we’re taking something too far. And if we have things under control, it’s just be a few slow beeps here and there. That’s our warning system. [Laughs]
The truth about partnering your spouse: Social niceties go out the window. Megan and I used to say, “You know I hate it when my partner does that, so why are you doing it?” We’d be short with each other sometimes, just because we felt like we could be. We had to get used to having a professional—as well as a personal—relationship. It took some practice, but we get along great now. We’re more polite.
Pet peeve: Megan would say that I hate it when the girl drives, when she starts leading. I’m not doing anything else, so if you’re doing all of the partnering and the dancing, then I’m just walking around. Let me do my job. 


Vito Mazzeo, Dutch National Ballet

Best advice: My teacher Leonid Nikonov told me, “Don’t forget you’re a human being, not a barre. Try to match the ballerina, her épaulement, not just think about where your hands are.”
Trouble in the bedroom: Once in the bedroom pas de deux of Helgi Tomasson’s Romeo & Juliet, Yuan Yuan Tan woke up 16 counts early, when Juliet is supposed to be sleeping and Romeo is supposed to just watch her. I didn’t know what to do! So we started to kiss, for 16 counts, which doesn’t even make sense with the story. We were talking and almost laughing, with Yuan Yuan saying, “I’m sorry, Vito!”
Diva ballerinas: The divas are usually the coaches at the front of the room. [Laughs] My coach for many years was Carla Fracci and she is a diva, you know? But she taught me so much, especially about Giselle.
Top choice for next partner: Sylvie Guillem. I have so much love for her, and it’s not because technically she’s amazing. She has something inside her heart and brain that is always working and she knows how to manage herself. She’s unbelievable, that woman.


Fabrice Calmels, Joffrey Ballet

Best way to approach a new partner: Do some homework first, and get to know what kind of a ballerina she is, whether athletic, someone who can really jump and turn, or more lyrical, flexible. The lyrical ballerinas, you have to maneuver them more—they are more work.
Hero: My very good friend, Marcelo Gomes. His eyes aren’t always glued to the woman. It’s a great partner who can just feel the ballerina, where she is, at any time.
Pet peeve: When a ballerina is insecure onstage and a mistake happens and she doesn’t know how to just absorb it and move on, so you hear these sounds of frustration about the performance.
Top mentor: Attilio Labis at the Paris Opéra Ballet School. He focused on teaching you how to do things the opposite way. For example, people use their right hands a lot, so he made us work using only the left hand.
Partnering mantra: Take care of her. She is your responsibility from the moment you walk onto that stage.