To make a career as a dancer with the prestigious New York City Ballet, the largest dance organization in America, is a high honor for a young man or woman.
Once in a while, dancers from the same family share that dream. Among the former NYCB dancers in recent years, there have been the Tracey sisters, Kathleen and Margaret; the Roy sisters, Leslie and Melinda; and brothers David and William Otto.
But this year, as the 62-year-old New York City Ballet celebrates its 45th summer season in Saratoga Springs, the company has three sets of siblings who share not only their passion and talent for the ballet, but have all risen to the highest rank in the company.
In 2009, Tyler Angle and Robert Fairchild were promoted to principal dancers, joining their siblings Jared Angle and Megan Fairchild. The Stafford siblings, Abi and Jonathan, have both been principals since 2007.
“There have been siblings over the years. The thing that’s unique now is that there are three sets of siblings that are all principal dancers. That’s a first,” says Robert Daniels, New York City Ballet’s managing director for communications and special projects.
But what’s it like to have the same demanding occupation as your brother or sister, to work side by side in the competitive world of professional dance?
Last week, the Angles, Fairchilds and Staffords took time out from their hectic Saratoga schedule of rehearsals and performances to talk to the Gazette.
Jared Angle & Tyler Angle
Tyler Angle was still a baby when his 6-year-old brother started dance lessons at the Allegheny Ballet Company in Altoona, Pa.
“I was always dancing around as a child,” Jared recalls. “I ended up seeing ‘The Nutcracker’ in a local production, and I started lessons in kindergarten shortly after. It just kind of happened.”
When Tyler was 10, Jared’s dance dreams came true and he moved to New York City — at age 15 — to study with New York City Ballet’s School of American Ballet.
Tyler hadn’t initially been interested in dance, but at age 9, he ended up following his brother to dance class, just for something to do.
“It was our summer break from school … I was dying of boredom,” says Tyler.
So their dad drove him over to Jared’s dance school to try dancing.
“I was the only boy in the class but I was not as coordinated as the girls. That upset me … and piqued my interest.”
As Jared had, Tyler trained with Allegheny Ballet Company and then at SAB before being invited to join the New York City Ballet. Jared joined the corps de ballet in 1998, was promoted to soloist in 2001, and promoted to principal dancer in 2005. Tyler was accepted into the corps in 2004, promoted to soloist in 2007, and promoted to principal dancer last year.
Now 24 and 29, the two brothers totally support each other and enjoy spending time together when they aren’t dancing. In Saratoga, they are roommates, living with other dancers.
“By the time that I was coming up through the City Ballet ranks, he was already established,” Tyler says of Jared. “And by the time I was established, he was already very established. So there was never any time that we were fighting for the same parts.”
Even though he’s the big brother, Jared says he values his younger brother’s input.
“We don’t have an agenda,” Jared says. “I know where he’s coming from. We also have similar aesthetics. I know and trust his point of view.”
Jared describes Tyler as “confident” and “stylish,” while Tyler calls his big brother “cultivated” and “contemplative.”
The ballet brothers love traveling and classical music.
“We’re both huge opera fans,” says Tyler. “Last year, we went to the Salzburg Festival for eight days.”
The Angles have an older brother and a younger brother who don’t dance.
“Two is enough, I think,” says Jared.
Megan Fairchild & Robert Fairchild
Megan, 26, and Robert, 23, love to hang out with each other. They have no other siblings, and because of ballet they didn’t spend much time together as teenagers.
“It’s crazy because we’ve really grown up apart from each other. When she was in New York City at age 16, I was 13,” says Robert.
Robert, who lives in New York City, likes to visit Megan at her place in Dobbs Ferry.
“She’s got two adorable basset hounds that are such a hoot,” he says.
“We really enjoy each other’s company,” says Megan.
While their relationship as dancers is supportive and non-competitive, it would probably be different if they were both female, says Megan, who joined the company in 2002. She was promoted to soloist in 2005 and became a principal in 2005.
“We’re different genders and we do different types of dancing. We don’t have the same repertoire.”
Robert joined the corps in 2006, was promoted to soloist in 2007 and became a principal last year.
“It’s been fun, her being the older one, supporting me, always being there for me and giving me advice,” he says. “Now that we’re both in the same position, it’s fun to be able to reciprocate.”
Megan and Robert are Utah natives and both trained at Ballet West Conservatory in Salt Lake City before becoming students at the SAB.
“My mom took me to tap class when I was 4. And I was always dancing around the house,” says Megan.
Robert says their music-loving parents were a big influence in their careers. Their father was a flutist and played soccer in college.
“The musicality and physicality come from him, the athleticism. But my mom has very long limbs and she’s flexible. So I think the combination of the two of them created a good dancing instrument. My mom always wanted to dance, but she was never given the opportunity.”
Robert got interested in dance by watching his big sister. Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire movies were another inspiration.
“She would come home and practice and do her dances in the living room. She’d teach me her steps … I just loved watching her dance and trying to mimic, doing my own thing.”
Megan says her little brother is a “fun-loving” guy who is “eternally optimistic.”
Robert calls her “dedicated” and “spunky.”
Abi Stafford & Jonathan Stafford
Abi Stafford is 28 and Jonathan Stafford is 29, with a birthday coming up in August.
With such close ages and similar dance histories — Jonathan entered the corps de ballet in 1999, Abi followed a year later and both became principals three years ago — do they encourage and support each other or are they more independent and competitive?
“It’s a little bit of both,” says Abi, who picks the adjectives “easygoing,” “reliable” and “friendly” when describing her brother.
“We have separate lives outside of New York City Ballet,” she says. “But at the same time, we dance together sometimes here in the company, and when we actually dance together, it’s a very comfortable dynamic. He’s a great partner, so I trust him and I trust that he will partner me well. And at the same time, we also support each other in giving pointers, some corrections … I think we have similar body structures, so that something that might work for me, might work for him.”
Jonathan calls Abi “talented and driven” but says they don’t compete with each other.
“Maybe at some point when you are a teenager, when you are growing up, that might have come into play a little bit, but since we’ve become adults and made it to this point, to City Ballet, it’s all support. … We both know how hard it is here. We just want to help each other get through it all.”
The Stafford siblings grew up in Carlisle, Pa., and both trained at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet before attending the School of American Ballet in New York City.
“No one in my family ever danced,” says Abi. “When I was 6, my mom put me in ballet, and I went home and talked about how much fun it was and how I loved it. About six months later, my brother started taking classes. And our sister started taking ballet.” (Melissa, their older sister, is a ballet teacher in Florida).
“I was playing sports and I wasn't very good at it,” Jonathan says. “I watched performances of ‘The Nutcracker’ and it all intrigued me. I thought I would at least give it a try. It got to me right away.”
Abi is married and lives in Westchester County. Jonathan lives in New York City, and his girlfriend, Brittany Pollack, is in the NYCB corps.
“We don’t hang out socially that often, except for maybe family gatherings,” says Abi.
“I see her every day at work,” says Jonathan.