Cupcakes & Conversation with Lydia Wellington, Corps de ballet, New York City Ballet
What motivates you at 8am on a Tuesday morning?
I can’t relax for more than one day (and I really take that Monday to veg out), so I practically jump out of bed on Tuesday morning. I think I get really excited for what the week will hold.
I’ve been exposed to many different art forms (I majored in Visual Art at LaGuardia High School, also known as the Fame school, and my mom is a children’s book illustrator). But ballet has always remained the thing I’m most passionate about and I never lose interest in it. I also sew, so I earn some extra pocket money on the side through that.
What are you looking forward to dancing next year?
I have no idea what our repertoire is going to be next year, so I can’t say anything specific. But I would love to try dancing more contemporary pieces – those have been so fun to dance in the past, and they’re always a great learning experience.
Who would you most like to dance with & what would you dance?
My best friends Shelby Elsbree at Royal Danish Ballet and Sylvie Volosov at San Francisco Ballet – I’ve known them for so long but we’ve never shared the stage in our professional careers. They both have amazing energies and you can really tell how much they love to dance. And I’ve always wanted to dance a Forsythe piece – probably the first one I saw: In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated.
If you could dance anywhere in the world (not only in a theatre), where would you dance?
I love ancient Greek art so I have to say the Acropolis in Athens.
How do you prepare your pointe shoes?
I should probably upload a video because a lot of my friends have asked me this recently… They come half-shanked, so after I sew them (with an X-elastic over the arches and ribbons); I step on the boxes until they’re really flat (I have very wide feet). Then I fold them at the ball of the foot both ways and at the arch. If I’m wearing them new for a show, I bang them on the cement wall to get all the noise out and to soften the boxes a little more.
What is your daily routine at the moment?
Get up at 8:45, brush teeth, wash face, breakfast while I do a crossword puzzle and listen to the radio, then off to class at 10:30. I usually have about 5 hours of rehearsal a day, but if it’s less, I try to go to the Gyrotonics studio or to the gym and swim. Then we have a performance at 8, and I always leave 2 hours to eat, do hair and make-up, and warm up. Then it’s home (usually the first time outside since my walk to work that morning) for a late snack and my favorite TV show, The Office.
You can ask six famous people to dinner – who would you invite?
Can they be fictional? I kind of want to meet Harry Potter, Hercule Poirot, and Georgia Nicolson from “Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging.” Then I would invite three of my best friends and I think I would be dying with laughter the whole night.
What would surprise people about you?
My father was an anonymous sperm donor, and recently I got in touch with some half-siblings. I just met my half-sister, who is 4 months older than me, last summer. I have a half-brother who I email with and probably more half- siblings out there that I don’t know about.
Who inspired you to dance?
No one in particular, but I remember watching a videotape of ABT’s Romeo and Juliet with Alessandra Ferri when I was younger. My mom had cut and pasted the scenes together to make a 30 minute version with a happy ending.
What is your best piece of advice?
When you’re going through a rough patch, remember what makes you happy and figure out what it will take to get you back there.
How do you prepare in the hours before a show?
Snack and a coffee, do my hair, make-up, and about 30 minutes before I go on, start warming up with a shortened barre and some ab exercises. Then it’s time for pointe shoes and costume and I usually run straight onstage (the dressers are always scolding me for being the last one ready).
Which role has tested you the most & how?
In my first year in the company, I got a call at 11am that I would have to do the matinee performance at 2pm as a Villager in Coppelia. It’s not technical at all (it’s folk dancing in character shoes), but this was my first throw-on part, and I didn’t know it that well. To say the least, I had a cry before the show, made a few mistakes with the choreography, and decided I would never take understudying lightly again. I learned my lesson.
If you were asked to design your own ballet costume, what would you create?
I love sewing so this is really hard for me… I can’t pick just one design! Right now I’m frustrated with all the stiff bodices we wear so I want to design something that has the same shape as a structured bodice, but has elastic on the sides to help the dancer breathe and less boning so bending doesn’t hurt as much.
What do you look for in a dance partner?
Someone who will laugh with me about our mistakes, but will take my suggestions seriously and give me constructive comments as well. Underneath it all, someone who I can trust and will make me feel comfortable being myself. I have listed all these qualities in my personal ad as well.
What is your favourite quote?
I’m no good at remembering quotes.
Do you have a ‘signature step’ – one that comes naturally to you?
It’s called the “hunchback”… my friends and I went to the Notre Dame in Paris during our tour there two years ago, and I couldn’t stop posing for pictures as the Hunchback of Notre Dame. As for ballet, I like turning – I’m not one to do four pirouettes every time, but I enjoy trying.
A phrase I use far too often is…?
What’s been your best on-stage moment so far?
In Robbins’ I’m Old Fashioned we wear halter dresses that snap at the neck. Before the final section, we do a quick change into a black version of the dress and run out with our partner… Two steps into the dance, my neck strap popped and my dress almost fell down. My partner and I couldn’t stop laughing, but I kept moving my feet while trying to snap it back on. What made it worse was that there was a film crew videotaping for a segment on one of the dancers in the performance, and they had the cameras set up in the wing I dance right in front of.
As a not-embarrassing moment: Right before the curtain went up on my first show of Serenade, I was so nervous that I felt like I was on a rollercoaster about to go down a big drop. There was no getting off the ride now! But when the curtain went up, the breeze from the audience blew on our skirts and made me so happy to be dancing the part.
Do you have a secret skill which no-one knows about?
This isn’t a secret, but I sew a lot. I’ve made leotards and leggings for a lot of my dancer friends, as well as street clothes. My most ambitious creation was two bridesmaids’ dresses for one of my very good friends and her sister’s dad’s wedding.
In terms of your ballet career, where would you like to be in a year from now?
I want to just continue what I’m doing now – dancing with NYCB and dancing a lot. I love performing a different ballet every night, and I’m most satisfied when I’m dancing in all three ballets. I would love to perform more solo parts, though. I want to feel what it’s like to be the only one on stage and be able to eat up the entire space.
If you could dance in front of anyone, who would it be and what makes them special to you?
I can’t think about who is in the audience because then I mess up the choreography.