By LAUREN KAY
This past October, Kathryn Morgan graduated from the corps de ballet to soloist with the New York City Ballet. Her unusually mature sense of drama, lithe legs and breathtaking use of her upper body made her a clear (if young) choice for promotion. Having shot through the ranks in just three years, she’s quickly becoming a company standout, and audiences can see her perform Juliet in Romeo and Juliet and Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty in NYCB’s current winter season.
For the doe-eyed dancer, the new title of “soloist” is a welcome validation of the nonstop work she began as a young girl.
“I started dancing at age two in a class where we did jazz, tap and ballet,” explains the 21-year-old Alabama native. “I always wanted to get to ballet. I loved the classical music and I could express myself to it best through dance.”
Later, while training at the Mobile Ballet, Morgan visited New York City and saw NYCB perform George Balanchine’s Nutcracker. The experience solidified her aspirations. “I left the theatre and told my parents I would be up there dancing with that company one day,” she says.
The self-proclaimed workaholic and perfectionist practiced tirelessly to achieve her goal. She earned two scholarships to the NYCB’s feeder school, School of American Ballet, at ages 13 and 15. Morgan found her home—and voice—there. “Growing up I was shy and was always teased at school,” she says. “At SAB I was finally in ballet school all day and around people who understood what I did.”
As her comfort grew, so did her talent and technique, and in 2006 Morgan became an apprentice with the company. Four days after joining the ranks, at performances in Saratoga, NY, Morgan was asked to fill the shoes of an injured dancer in an excerpt from Romeo and Juliet. The unexpected casting shoved Morgan into her longtime dream role. “I tend to be shy in real life, so dancing a role with so much emotion onstage is sheer joy for me,” she says. “I don’t always communicate well with words, but when I dance it comes naturally.”
Morgan’s commitment and ability in the role didn’t go unnoticed. That fall, she was promoted to the corps de ballet and soon donned Juliet’s gown again, this time in the full-length ballet. While Morgan thinks she was cast simply because “I had Juliet’s innocence,” her portrayal was lauded for luxurious technique and a weighted tenderness rare in such a young artist. During the famous balcony scene, while her legs traced gentle arcs in the air, her face reflected a new lover’s passion—at one moment soft, the next magical and mysterious.
Now, after recovering from a slight foot injury, Morgan is looking forward to performing as an officially named soloist for the first time. The diverse range of roles and styles afforded by the troupe is one of her favorite aspects of the company. She says, “What attracted me most to NYCB was the amount of dancing we do—even in the corps. It’s so diverse and exciting—from George Balanchine choreography, which is all speed and intricacy, to Jerome Robbins, who is natural and fun. You’re not doing the same ballet for a long time and that keeps it interesting—and helps you improve.
Lauren Kay is a dancer and writer in NYC.