36 MAY 2017
even embrace this type of branching out, citing artistic growth for the
dancers and marketing benefits for the company as their dancers grow
But the question remains: How much can one dancer juggle while
maintaining both health and sanity—and still satisfying their commit-
ments as a company dancer?
Dancers didn’t always operate this way. “There was a different culture
when George Balanchine was alive,” says former New York City Ballet soloist and BalletMet artistic director Edwaard Liang. “People were
extremely focused on their main job and work with Mr. B and Jerome
Robbins.” Even though big stars were able to guest, there weren’t
many opportunities for rank-and-file company dancers.
Today, there are more guestings, galas, pickup troupes and other
side jobs available all over the country and abroad. And the thinking
inside many companies has evolved to encourage this outreach. “This
career goes so quickly; as much experience as you can get is good,” says
Liang, who took leave from NYCB to do Fosse on Broadway and dance
with Nederlands Dans Theater during his own career. Today, he tries to
hook up his dancers with outside projects, like the National Choreog-
raphers Initiative, whenever he can. “When they come back they are
richer, deeper, more creative, even more engaged in the company.”
Anthony Randazzo, ballet master at Boston Ballet, where several
dancers like Lia Cirio participate in and manage side projects, agrees.
“It is a chance to grow,” he says, “and that helps strengthen the company, which is a win for everyone.” He admits that there are challenges
when a dancer asks for a day off during the season, but is quick to
point out that if it can be accommodated, the benefits of the opportunity usually outweigh the extra work required to manage scheduling
and rehearsal flow.
For some dancers, performing outside work just makes financial
sense. Since few contracts are year-round, summer and side projects
can keep up their technique as well as cushion their bank accounts.
But physical therapists warn that taking on too many projects
can come at the expense of rest. Dancers have to be careful not to
overwhelm their bodies if they already have a demanding rehearsal,
performance and touring schedule. However, Simkin feels that the
variety of styles his guestings generate has actually kept him healthier
and less prone to injury.
Not all dancers go after this extra work. For instance, New York City
Ballet principal Sterling Hyltin turns down such offers during the season
in order to help preserve her work-life balance. “I can’t physically do
any more,” she says. “I have had seasons where on Mondays I would be
doing a photo shoot, or once I flew off to Russia for a weekend gala, but
then I wound up without a day off. Some people can operate that way,
but it hasn’t been good for my body or my mind.” Instead, Hyltin finds
ways to further her artistic growth and recharge herself by doing things
“When dancers come
back they are richer,
more creative, even more
engaged in the company.”
Los Angeles Ballet’s Zachary
Guthier and Smuin Ballet’s
Erica Felsch danced at National
during their summer layoff.