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Megan Fairchild, the Swan With the Screwball Spark

With her sparkling footwork, musicality and lustrous phrasing, Ms. Fairchild, 33, who makes her Odette-Odile debut on Sept. 26, is used to commanding the stage in effortless displays of virtuosity, especially in ballets by the company’s founding choreographer, George Balanchine, like “Donizetti Variations,” “Rubies” and “Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux.”

But her roles in full-length ballets have veered more toward “Sleeping Beauty” and “Coppélia” — parts, traditionally, for smaller dancers. (Ms. Fairchild is 5 feet 4 inches.) “One tends to typecast people,” Mr. Martins said in an interview. “You have your soubrettes, your tall dancers and so forth — you wouldn’t put her in ‘Diamonds,’ you would put her in ‘Rubies.’ That’s sort of historic here. Balanchine set the pace in that regard. On the other hand, every once in a while there are people who defy any category, and I think she’s one of those.”

Ms. Fairchild took a leave of absence from City Ballet in 2014 to perform as Ivy Smith in “On the Town” and returned to the company with her crisp technique intact — impressive and rare — while dancing with more exhilaration and daring than ever before. She’s even grown a half-inch. (She credits it to Pilates and Gyrotonics.)


Ms. Fairchild as the Sugarplum Fairy in “George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker” in 2013.

Andrea Mohin/The New York Times

That growth — in body and spirit — was apparent in the studio. At a recent “Swan Lake” rehearsal, Gonzalo Garcia, her Prince Siegfried, watched in fascination as she followed the suggestion of the ballet master Susan Hendl to think of her relevé — rising on her toes — as coming from her hip in arabesque.

“Wow,” Mr. Garcia said.

Ms. Fairchild shot him a look. “Really?”

“It’s not little Megan anymore,” he said. “It’s big Megan.”

But her groans, which gave way to bursts of dismayed laughter, also revealed what a challenge “Swan Lake” is. At one point, she announced, “I have to say this is my most unfavorite start to a variation.”

Watching and listening to Ms. Fairchild, 33, who strings sentences together as rapidly as an actress in a screwball comedy, was a window into her dancing as much as into her agile mind. (After 15 years, she earned a degree in mathematics and economics from Fordham University in May.) She remained silent for a rare moment as she looked at the wall in disbelief. “Did that clock move at all?”

It had been a long rehearsal. Yet as she progressed through it, she increasingly let go of her inhibitions and began to discover the dangerous sparkle of Odile, and you could sense that Ms. Fairchild was coming around to “Swan Lake.”

“There is a sense of freedom about it,” she said later. “Instead of feeling like I have to be what other people look like, I’m going to be my own little swan.”

Born in Salt Lake City, Ms. Fairchild started dancing at 4. (Her brother, Robert Fairchild, is also a principal with the company, but will leave it next month to pursue musical-theater projects.) For much of her career, despite her seeming confidence onstage, Ms. Fairchild said she felt out of her depth at City Ballet. Part of it was because of her brisk rise through the ranks: She joined the corps de ballet in 2002 and by 2005 she was a principal and dancing with the more mature Joaquin De Luz. He was short; he needed a partner.

“I felt like, well if he’s gone am I really crucial?” she said. “I started feeling like I was serving someone else’s career.”

She and Mr. De Luz, she said, are good friends. But she’s not sure if he realized how difficult it was for her. “He was already an established artist,” she said. “I didn’t know what I was doing.”

The “Great Lover” Ballet | On The Town on Broadway Video by On The Town on Broadway

“On the Town,” for which she received a Tony nomination, transformed her. “It ended up informing my ballet career, which is so cool,” she said. “I don’t think that Peter would ever think that would be great for one of his dancers and thank God he let me go. It’s made me a better dancer for him, and I think that’s why I’m doing ‘Swan Lake.’ ”


Megan Fairchild and Joaquin De Luz in “Rubies.”

Ruby Washington/The New York Times

Mr. Martins said he had always been impressed with Ms. Fairchild. “She seems so spontaneous when she dances, and yet it’s very carefully calibrated,” he said. “It’s very intelligent. Plus the fact that she can dance like nobody.” He laughed with pleasure. “You know what? The other thing I love about her is her spirit. It’s just so pleasing.”

And “Swan Lake”?

“She will make something of it,” he said. “I can guarantee you that.”

Before “On the Town,” Ms. Fairchild said, she had been “an anxiety stress ball” and plagued by fainting spells. They haven’t returned since she started practicing Transcendental Meditation, which turned out to be an even more necessary coping mechanism when she and her then-husband, Andrew Veyette, a principal with City Ballet, separated two years ago.

Now divorced, they were a couple from the time Ms. Fairchild was 18 until she was 31. After they danced together during the winter season, she announced their split on Instagram. They still don’t speak.

Ms. Fairchild now lives with her French boyfriend, whom she met online, in an apartment in Union City, N.J. — it’s spectacular as her Instagram account attests — with floor-to-ceiling windows. “A really great friend of mine on Broadway was on OkCupid, and I would swipe for her throughout the year,” Ms. Fairchild said. “Then when I was single, I was like, I am going to go find my own.”

And while her divorce was incredibly painful, she said, it was also “the best thing that ever happened to me.”

She continued: “Going into ‘On the Town’ was this wonderful moment for me of breaking out of this bubble of the company, but I would say the grind of all of those shows broke up my marriage. And it needed to be broken up.”

It’s been two years and she has clearly moved on. But there’s one problem: proximity. She faces her ex-husband at work every day. “It’s the worst thing ever,” she said. “I highly recommend no one ever dating at work. And we all do it in the company. I get why we do it! We have weird hours, we have weird breaks. Now I’m with someone who has a totally regular job. Hallelujah! I’m happier than ever.”

And, she said, Broadway taught her where she belonged: at City Ballet.

“Thank God I said yes to it!” she said of her decision to play Ivy Smith. “I felt like I was always trying to be something else.”

Now? “Just me is enough,” Ms. Fairchild said. “And I’m a ballerina really at heart.”

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