Robert Fairchild can easily rhapsodize about his inspirations.
There was Gene Kelly, his first: “He’s my idol.” And then there are Peter Boal and Jock Soto, whom he refers to as “unbelievable.”
But nowadays, aspiring dancers are looking to him.
The New York City Ballet dancer, whom audiences will delight in watching all this week at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, has made a name for himself not only as an excellent technician but also as a dramatic actor, a rarity in ballet. Yet the principal dancer considers himself as a humble artist simply striving to perform his best.
“I’m competitive, I do well but I’m not walking around like God’s gift,” said Fairchild, who will likely open NYCB’s week-long run at SPAC in Justin Peck’s “Year of the Rabbit.” “More than any other art form, ballet shows you your limitations. Every day, I try to come as close to perfection as possible but at the same keep it lighthearted. If I do four pirouettes, I try to figure out how I can do that consistently. I try to keep everything as long and beautiful as possible. It’s an experiment every day. It’s so stimulating.”
His striving for technical perfection is what led him to ballet in the first place.
Growing up in Utah, Fairchild dreamed of gliding off to Los Angeles to perform like his idol Kelly.
Seeking the silver screen and work in music videos, Fairchild committed himself to a regimen of performing arts classes with heavy emphasis on jazz dance. He took ballet, too, with his big sister Megan.
A brilliant technician, she coached her brother on how to improve. After critiquing a video of Fairchild in a jazz competition, she suggested that he enroll in the 2002 summer session at the School of American Ballet (SAB), the company’s official school, “to clean up his technique.” Besides, she was already a corps de ballet dancer with New York City Ballet and could keep an eye on him.
“I had no expectations,” recalled Fairchild. “The only ballet I ever saw was my sister dancing in local ‘The Nutcrackers.’ I didn’t know who Peter Martins was.”
Then, he saw Boal as a glowing golden Oberon in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
Seeing that performance changed everything. The 15-year-old decided to scrap his visions of movie magic and instead committed to return to SAB the following summer. He stayed on through the fall, convinced ballet was his destiny. And at age 18, thanks to his technical versatility and his natural theatrical talent, which included matinee idol good looks, he was invited to become an apprentice with the company. He quickly moved up the ranks, becoming a corps de ballet member in 2006 and a soloist the following year.
By October 2009, he joined his sister as a principal dancer.
Yet even before he became a principal, Fairchild stood out. In 2007, he was chosen by Martins for the title role for his new production of “Romeo + Juliet.” Martins, who choreographed the version, always rejected the idea of staging yet another “Romeo and Juliet.” But the young dancers like Fairchild, as well as his chosen Juliet, Sterling Hyltin, inspired Martins.
At the time, Martins said, “I was so thrilled with the dancers. They were exactly what I had in mind.”
But it wasn’t until spring of 2011 that Fairchild truly arrived, when he was selected to dance the venerable role of “Apollo.” Only a few dancers, Martins and Boal among them, have had the privilege of dancing the iconic role.
Even though it was his dream part, Fairchild said he “freaked out” because he had to learn the role in a short time. He also knew he was following in the acclaimed steps of NYCB giants who distinguished themselves playing the young Greek god.
Two years into it, however, Fairchild feels has he settled into the role.
“More and more, it becomes part of me,” he said. “It was a really challenging moment. But I have a respect and a confidence that gets me through. ‘Apollo’ is a lot of fun.”
Part of the fun of dancing “Apollo” and other roles is being partnered with his fiancée, fellow principal Tiler Peck. Since they became a couple, they have been dancing more often together. However, Fairchild is more often paired with Hyltin and Janie Taylor. At SPAC, for example, he will be dancing with both Hyltin and Taylor in Martins’ newest ballet, “Bal de Couture.”
“It’s an extravagant ballet,” said Fairchild of the ballet, set to music by Tchaikovsky. “It’s a fashion show with these beautiful gowns by Valentino. Peter did a great job showcasing the dresses. It is very elegant.”
That ballet will be shown only one night, for the Gala on Saturday, which is also the company’s closing night.
Happily, there will be more than one showing of NYCB’s latest hit, Justin Peck’s “Year of the Rabbit.” Fairchild thoroughly enjoyed its creation with choreographer Peck (no relation to Tiler). On Tuesday, it will appear as part of the opening night program.
“I love working with Justin because I feel like we grew up together — we went to SAB together. There is so much history between us,” said Fairchild. “He has so much enthusiasm for the movement quality, and he picks really good music.”
The ballet, set to a song cycle by Sufjan Stevens, has been dubbed a “triumph” by The New York Times’ persnickety dance critic Alastair Macaulay. Fairchild, who agrees that the ballet is compelling, said that his training in various styles helped him in “Year of the Rabbit.”
“That’s the thing, when you dance with New York City Ballet, there is Balanchine, Robbins, Martins, Wheeldon. You can’t be a one-trick pony,” said Fairchild. “The recipe for my success was dancing tap, hip-hop, jazz, modern — the gamut.”
Those qualities will also boost his showing in Balanchine’s jazzy “Stravinsky Violin Concerto,” also planned for the SPAC run.
No matter what he is dancing, he loves coming to SPAC. Though disappointed that the season is only one week, he said the company will show its devotion to the venue’s faithful by dancing its best and probably staying on in the city for a few extra days.
“It’s a tradition we want to keep alive,” Fairchild said of SPAC. “Balanchine built that theater. If we are not a part of it, it would be weird. But we will dance there as much as finances will allow. Even if it’s only one person who wants to see us, we’ll be in Saratoga.”
Reach Gazette dance writer Wendy Liberatore at firstname.lastname@example.org.