Every few years, a young dancer emerges to re-ignite the spirit of and passion for New York City Ballet. Chase Finlay is one such dancer.
The 20-year-old from Fairfield, Conn., became the darling of the ballet universe when he stepped onstage in the iconic title role of “Apollo.” While male principals in the company pray they will one day be chosen for the honor, it was Finlay, a corps de ballet dancer, who was bestowed the good fortune during the company’s spring season.
“When I saw my name up there [on the cast list], I was in complete shock and in complete horror,” said Finlay, the first winner of the Clive Barnes Award. “I got into the studio and started working my butt off. I’ve seen so many dancers in the role, but I wanted to make it my own.”
Indeed, he has. Alastair Macaulay of The New York Times wrote of his debut: “His youthfulness makes him right for the role. … His deportment has great dignity, with his head nobly placed on a beautifully long and firm neck, while his tapering limbs display no muscular strain. … Aspects of his interpretation are embyronic. He’s so young that he hardly yet knows how to be young onstage. But he keeps the ballet entirely fresh.”
Unfortunately, Finlay is not cast as “Apollo” this week during New York City Ballet’s stay at Saratoga Performing Arts Center. Rather, he takes his place back in the corps de ballet in George Balanchine’s “Diamonds” and Peter Martins’ “The Magic Flute.” Last week, he danced featured parts in Christopher Wheeldon’s “Polyphonia” and Martins’ “Fearful Symmetries.”
During a rehearsal break, he talked about his love for and his aspiration at New York City Ballet.
Q: What’s it been like to be the man of the hour?
A: It’s been a hell of a season. It was a weight on my shoulders, but I couldn’t ask for anything more. It was an honor and a pleasure to dance in feature roles, and it’s humbling to go back to the corps de ballet. I want to keep on going no matter what I’m dancing.
Q: How did you prepare for “Apollo”?
A: Ballet masters Richard Tanner and Sally Leland taught me the ballet. But Peter Martins came in and told me a lot of important things about the role. For instance, in my first solo, where I pirouette and then throw my body, he wanted me to look like I’m struggling because Apollo hasn’t found his body yet. He also gave me a lot of partnering tips, things to make my partners feel more comfortable.
Q: What other dancers have you admired in that role?
A: I understudied Robbie Fairchild. When I was at SAB [School of American Ballet], I saw Nikolaj Hubbe in “Apollo” and I was blown away. When I saw him, I knew I had to do that part. I also watch a lot of videos with Peter Martins in the role.
Q: What is it like to dance Balanchine’s ballets — does it come naturally to you?
A: They are a huge challenge, but I love them. I love the formations, the whole process of learning them. They are a challenge, but I’m attracted to them because they are so magical, so beautifully thought out. When I dance a Robbins ballet, I feel more like a normal person, like I’m in a real-life situation. So when I’m dancing in a Robbins ballet, I feel more freedom and can breathe through it.
Q: What attracted you to ballet?
A: My sister was a dancer. I remember going to see Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker” with her in Stamford [Conn.] That’s where SAB dances “The Nutcracker.” I thought it was OK, until I saw the Chinese and the Candy Cane. I just looked at my mom and told her that I had to do that. I was 8 years old, and from that point on, I knew it was what I wanted to do.
About a year later, my mom was taking me and my sister every day to New York City to study with [former New York City Ballet dancer] Darla Hoover at Ballet Academy East. I was thinking I’d like to dance with American Ballet Theatre, but after seeing Damian Woetzel, I knew I wanted to dance with New York City Ballet.
Q: Now that you are there, what roles do you aspire to?
A: Romeo. I want to dance Romeo. I’d also like to dance in “Theme and Variation” and “Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux.” I really like the classical ballets. But this past season, I also got to dance Tony in “West Side Story Suite.” That was great, too, because I got to do some acting, too. In a role like that, there’s a little more to do.