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By LAUREN KAY
For many premier dance companies, a junior troupe serves as a stylistic breeding ground, while also providing training for rising dancers and educational programs for the community. This month, the second companies of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, American Ballet Theatre and Paul Taylor Dance Company will perform in rotation in the 1.2.3 Festival at the Joyce Theater. TDF STAGES will profile a rising star from all three groups. Today, get to know Skylar Brandt of ABT II.
Though some teenagers live for the prom, seventeen-year-old Skylar Brandt is more interested in words like “prima” and “promotion.” This ballet phenom’s teenage years—and in fact, her entire childhood—have been focused on working toward a career at American Ballet Theatre.
Waiting nonchalantly during an ABT II rehearsal, the White Plains, NY native looks very much the normal teenager. But when the music starts, she flies onto the floor, a buzzing hummingbird. Her pirouettes are fierce, her arms etch crystalline shapes in space, and her feet step assuredly into each pose. When she is lifted by her steady partner Irlan Silva, she breathes an audible sigh of happiness. “She’s not only the kind of dancer, but the kind of kid, too, that you can’t help but watch,” says Wes Chapman, director of ABT II. “Her personality is so fun and she’s incredibly joyous. She sparkles.”
Nestled into a huge arm chair in an ABT conference room, the diminutive dancer says, “My parents always wanted me to be exposed to culture, so when I was six they took me to a performance of Don Quixote by American Ballet Theatre. Seeing that artistry, the costumes and story, I knew I wanted to be in the performers’ shoes.”
Brandt began training in jazz and ballet at the Scarsdale Ballet Studio. At just eight, she narrowed her focus from dance in general and decided “ballet was it.” Though her mother was initially skeptical, after speaking with Brandt’s enthusiastic teacher, the entire family got behind the dancer’s dream.
Along the way, she sacrificed a normal life at Rye Country Day school. “The kids at school didn’t understand when I’d leave early,” she says. “I was missing out on typical stuff, and I couldn’t connect with them on a deep level, but I didn’t care. I was so determined.”
At age twelve, Brandt auditioned for the then-new Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at ABT. She was accepted, and though she was also admitted into the School of American Ballet (the stalwart academy of New York City Ballet), she chose the former. “I had fallen in love with the repertoire of ABT, and I liked the variety there,” Brandt says. “Even though it wasn’t as well known yet, I was thrilled with my choice.”
She continues, “I made friends at JKO who understood and were the same way I was. We were always in the studio learning and playing—having pirouette competitions!”
Last year, when she was just sixteen, Brandt received a call from Chapman to join ABT II. “I freaked out,” she says. “It was a huge moment for me.”
Work began immediately: Brandt traveled to Spain last August, where she performed her first Le Corsaire. “It was a huge deal to be put in that piece, and it was a lot of pressure; there are thirty-two fouetté turns in it!” she laughs. “But I loved every second of it.”
Now familiar with her ABT II routine, Brandt focuses on being a principal with the American Ballet Theatre. “I’m determined to be here and express myself through the story ballets of ABT,” she says. “I’ve never thought of dancing anywhere else. Maybe some think that’s narrow-minded, but I just think it’s specific. I want to do Kitri, Juliet and interpret them in the Skylar way. And I hope when I do, my joy of dance distinguishes me—that the audience can sense my gratitude and happiness when I perform.”
Lauren Kay is a dancer and writer in NYC.