Cupcakes & Conversation with Cory Stearns, Principal, American Ballet Theatre
What motivates you at 8am on a Monday morning ?
I don’t know what motivates me at 8 am on Mondays since I’m never up that early. Monday is a day off for ABT, but the earliest I get up for work (10:15 class) is 9am. It’s very difficult to get up at 9 on many days, but without class, the day becomes much harder and it’s unhealthy for my muscles. That thought is what motivates me to never skip class.
Why ballet ?
I think there are quite a few reasons why I chose ballet as a profession. I was always a very physically active child and was very passionate about sports. I didn’t become passionate about dance until I was 13, when I first saw the ballet video, “ABT NOW.” It was then that I realized the power of a professional dancer. I was awe-inspired by their ability to create such beautiful shapes by coordinating their arms and legs and how high and effortlessly they could jump through the air. It was the first time I understood how a body, through movement, could express so much. With the motivation to become an artist from seeing that video, and my established love of movement and physicality from sports, I made the decision at a young age to be a professional dancer. However, I was also influenced by my love of partnering and the friends I made at my ballet school. I loved performing in the winter and spring and I loved the chemistry I developed with the girls at my school. I felt completely comfortable in the world of dance, and with my parents support, it was a fairly easy decision.
Who would you most like to dance with & what would you dance ?
To be honest, the biggest dream I’ve had about dancing with someone has already been realized. When I first saw Julie Kent in Cruel World, I was blown away by the beauty of every aspect of that performance. I loved the music, the costumes, the lighting and especially the dancers. I wanted to be Robert Hill on that City Center stage performing with Julie and ABT. Cruel World became my favorite pas de deux. So, when during this past MET season, Julie Kent asked me if I’d like to partner her for a gala in Singapore, and that we’d perform Romeo and Juliet and Cruel World, I couldn’t believe it. When the performance day finally arrived, and I was standing out on stage in darkness while the musical introduction was playing, I looked out on the audience, closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and said “unbelievable.” That was a dream-come-true.
If you could dance anywhere in the world (not only in a theatre), where would you dance ?
The MET and the Royal Opera House are my two favorite stages in the world. I’ve performed on both of them and I’m not sure I’d rather dance anywhere else. Perhaps it’d be cool to perform at the White House….
What is your daily routine at the moment ?
Daily routine during a work week is I get up at 9am, take class at 10:15 – 11:45. Rehearse on average from 12-3, 4-7. 12-1 I’ll rehearse Duo Concertant, 1-2 Everything Doesn’t Happen at Once, 2-3 Jardin aux Lilas, 3-4 is sometimes a lunch break, sometimes rehearsal. 4-5 Theme and Variations/Grand Pas, 5-6 and 6-7 will be full calls of any of those ballets. When I get home at 7.30 pm, I unpack my back and take a seat on the couch where I switch on the tv to preferably a sporting event. Currently I’m constantly watching the Australian Open. I’ll order dinner at around 9, play a few video games on my computer or PlayStation, or clean up depending on the state of my apartment, and go to bed around 12 where I’ll lie in bed and talk to friends on Facebook or Skype for a half hour.
How do you prepare in the hours before a show ?
It depends what show I’m performing. If its Theme and Variations, then I’ll take class in the morning and rest ALL day. I’ll stay off my legs as much as possible, eat well, try and nap at some point, then get to the theater an hour and a half before show time. Once I’m in the theater, I’ll dress very warmly, put on some makeup, stretch and do a warm-up class, put on my costume, and then go to the stage to try some things.
What are you looking forward to dancing in 2011 ?
In 2011, I look forward to performing Lady of the Camellias. There’s also still an opening for Albrecht in a performance of Giselle at the MET… since Giselle is my favorite classic, I’d LOVE to be cast for that, but at the same time I don’t mind waiting patiently for the opportunity.
You can ask six famous people to dinner – who would you invite ?
I assume you mean famous people that are still alive? There are quite a few that aren’t that I’d really like to ask to dinner…. but I’d enjoy a meal with Mikhail Baryshnikov, Aurélie Dupont (she’s beautiful), Barack Obama, Zang Toi, who I have dinner with tonight, he’s always good company; Morgan Freeman (so I could listen to him talk), and the 6th could be a surprise, that’d be exciting.
What would surprise people about you ?
Who inspired you to dance ?
Everyone in the ABT Now video, David Holliday, the director from Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre summer program 99′, and Hagop Kharatian, who opened my eyes to world-class dancers at a young age and was always supportive of a possible ballet career.
How would someone else describe you ?
It would depend who you asked…
What is your best piece of advice ?
Everyone should ski at least once in their life. My second best piece of advice is to always try and develop yourself into the best person you can be, with every decision you make.
Which role has tested you the most & how ?
Theme and Variations and Romeo and Juliet have tested me the most. I think those are two of the hardest roles a male can dance. In Theme and Variations, it tests my stamina and focus. The ballet gets harder with every entrance and it’s difficult for me to focus on one entrance at a time when I know how tired I will be for the next one. By the end of the finale, every cell in my body hurts and its pure determination that gets me through till the last shoulder-sit. Romeo and Juliet was the second full-length ballet I learned in my career and it’s also a stamina-tester, but the reason it’s been such an important role in my career is because of the movement-quality required in the choreography. It’s not about any kind of bravura dancing, there are very few dynamic turns or jumps, the expression instead comes from flowing port de bras, strong use of the back and pliant plié… all qualities that have changed my perspective of dance and what kind of dancer I want to be.
What is the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you ?
My roommate when I first moved to London to join The Royal Ballet School is the funniest thing that’s ever happened to me. His name is Barnaby Meredith and he’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever met.
If you designed your own stage costume, what would you create ?
I’d create the perfect partnering jacket. For ABT’s brand new Nutcracker this year, a Nutcracker Prince jacket was created that was pretty close to perfect. It had separate pieces for the arms and the chest, elastic over the lats, strong support of the lower back, and it was a handsome jacket. It was just a little too tight. There aren’t many things worse than rehearsing a role in the studio until you feel comfortable, then getting to the dress rehearsal and feeling unable to lift your arms, to breathe, or to look decent.
A phrase I use far too often is …
My hip hurts.
Who would play you in the film of your life ?
What is your favourite quote?
“Nothing is worth doing unless you’re going to try and do it right.” -My grandfather
What’s on your iPod ?
Everything, besides country music.
Who would you most like to dance for, and why?
I enjoy dancing for my family, my past teachers and my friends.
What makes you a good dance partner ?
I love partnering and I love when my partners enjoy themselves in rehearsal and onstage. I think anyone can become a great partner if they have a passionate interest in it. One of my favorite aspects of dance is developing great chemistry with a partner; I also enjoy watching it between two partners onstage.
Do you have a secret skill which no one knows about ?
Most people don’t know that I can play the saxophone.
Describe yourself in just three words.
Passionate, adventurous, driven.
In terms of your ballet career, where would you like to be this time next year ?
I would like to be a better artist. I’m content with the company I’m in, the city I live in and the stages I perform on. I would just like to keep developing to become stronger, cleaner and more expressive.
What does your recent promotion mean to you ?
It’s tough to explain what it means to me… I guess it means that my mother was right when she wouldn’t let me give up dance until she felt I was properly educated on it. It means the hour-long drive each way to dance for 10 years was worth it. It means that my first-year teacher in The Royal Ballet School, David Peden, was right to pick me apart and rebuild me into a cleaner dancer. It means that I have a ton MORE work to do but I’m heading in the right direction. Most of all it means that all my hard, hard work has paid off and the dream I’ve had since I was 13 has come true. I’m still in disbelief.
Here is a video of Cory dancing/modelling and on video with Kylie Minogue
A room (ballet – male solo/dancer: Hagop Kharatian)