City ballet star bids farewell to 'crazy ballerina life'

New York City Ballet’s fall season came and went, and if Therese Reichlen was honest with herself, she didn’t feel it. It was worrying...


New York City Ballet’s fall season came and went, and if Therese Reichlen was honest with herself, she didn’t feel it. It was worrying. What kind of dancer didn’t want to perform after 18 months away from the stage?

“I had a few shows that were wonderful and I felt like they always felt,” she said, but “I was struggling a bit. Everyone was so, so, so excited to be back and I just wasn’t at that level.

An injury prevented her from playing in George Balanchine’s Nutcracker. One December evening as she was playing on the floor with her son, Ozzie, now 11 months oldshe said a thought crossed her mind: “I should be at the theater playing right now, but I wouldn’t want to not be here with Ozzie at night.”

At that point, she knew what to do. “I’ve had the crazy life of being a ballerina,” she said. “I have traveled all over the world. I had a crazy schedule, dancing until 11:30 every night. I liked it. I’ve never been a normal person before, so this is pretty exciting for me.

On February 19, Reichlen will dance her farewell performance in Balanchine’s “Swan Lake” in one act before moving on to her next career: director of Tomba Lower East Side gallery focused on foreign, self-taught artists that her husband, Scott Ogden, opened in 2016.

If Reichlen is down-to-earth off stage, the kind of person who does not suffer from fools, on stage she is mysterious, discreet, distant. Wendy Whelan, City Ballet’s associate artistic director and former director, said her husband, artist and photographer David Michalek, calls Reichlen one of the company’s Hitchcock blondes. This season, she even brought a touch of Grace Kelly to the stripper role in Balanchine’s “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” — elegant, scholarly and a little cunning as she cut her long legs in the air.

“She’s got this understated glamor coming out, and you’re just like, ‘wow: look at those legs, look at that body,” Whelan said. “She has an incredible ease, and she can shape it in so many different ways: angular, curvy, classic, contemporary.”

Russell Janzen, one of his partners and a friend, calls him selfless, the kind of dancer who puts ballet first. “There’s a bit of cool detachment to it,” he said. “It’s not a judgement. Sometimes it’s fun, which I think is really fun, especially when it’s one of those works where it’s so much in her wheelhouse – it lets you enjoy the choreography with her.

Reichlen, 37, has been dancing for as long as she can remember. She didn’t know much about Balanchine, one of the founders of City Ballet, when she was growing up in Virginia, but the City Ballet-affiliated School of American Ballet was on her radar because no one from her dance school was around. had never been accepted. “I was a little scared to try, then I did and walked in,” she said. “I was like, I should probably go – like I was the only person who got in.”

After this summer course, she was invited to stay for the year. In 2000, Reichlen became an apprentice and in 2001, a member of the corps de ballet, where even dancing in the last row, she stood out. She’s tall – around 5ft 9in – which led her to play many of Balanchine’s coveted roles: the tall girl in ‘Rubies’, the scintillating lead in ‘Diamonds’, as well as ‘Firebird’. Symphony in C” and “prodigal son”

But it is rare: despite its size, it can jump. “We’ve always said Tess has the best cat jump in the company,” City Ballet artistic director Jonathan Stafford said of the big jump. “She would fly through the air. I joked with her that I had no chance next to her.

One of his best memories of dancing with her is when she was thrown on stage in Balanchine’s “Firebird” at the last minute in 2007.

She had about an hour and a half to learn all the ballet. “She knew every sentence, she just didn’t know the order,” Stafford said. “She was watching me on stage during the performance, and I was saying the first step of the next line and she was just going there and nailing it perfectly.”

Stafford will also be missed as a person. As an officer of the American Guild of Musical Artists, or AGMA, she fought for the rights of dancers; When Stafford took over as artistic director of City Ballet in 2019, he relied on her as a sounding board. “Who am I going to call randomly at any time of day and be like, ‘I need your advice?'”

One of Reichlen’s most impressive moments on stage was talking, not dancing. It’s after a photo sharing scandal, which had come just after the resignation of longtime company executive Peter Martins, who left amid allegations of sexual harassment and verbal and physical abuse. (He denied the charges.) Reichlen gave a speech she had written with Adrian Danchig-Waring, another principal dancer. It began: “We will not put art before common decency or let talent sway our moral compass.”

Whelan, who compared Reichlen at that time to Lady Liberty, said the speech was seismic. It felt like she pushed back a cloud and signaled “the beginning of a new hope, a new path forward,” Whelan said. “It made everyone rethink the old one and how we have to move all these pieces that have been cemented in place for so long. She opened it up.

Reichlen said she had never been so nervous in her life. “I feel like it defines me more than my dancing in a weird way,” she said. “Like that’s more my personality than the ballerina.”

She wanted to be involved with AGMA because of frustration with a lot of things at City Ballet. “It was just the only way I could see to fix things or try to fix things,” she said. “When I arrived, we used to have our daily schedule at 7:30 p.m. the day before. Which is crazy. It’s foolish. So that’s one of the accomplishments I’m most proud of – we now have our schedule a day and a half ahead.

But despite the prominence of his career on and off stage, Reichlen nearly left the company during his time as a soloist. “I was doing the same things over and over again,” she said. “I was extraordinarily restless and really unhappy.”

She decided to stay for about a year and continue her studies – she was also a student at Barnard College, studying biology. “I was just like, OK, you better have fun, you’re only gonna do this for about a year,” she said. “I tried to let go a bit. And then there were also a lot of injuries, so all of a sudden I was dancing a lot, and then I was happy. In 2009, she was promoted to director; including her apprenticeship, she has been with the company for 22 years.

Now, as her performance days draw to a close, she said, “It feels weird to have a finite amount of dancing. I’ve been trying not to pressure myself and be kind to myself these last few weeks. I’m just trying to be like, you’re a good dancer. It fits you well.”

And she’s excited about her future at Shrine, which is opening a branch in Los Angeles this summer. During our video interview, she sat under a painting by Sanford Darling; later, she grabbed her laptop for a tour of some of the other works that fill their apartment: “Hawkins Bolden is actually my favourite,” she said of the blind, self-taught performer as she pointed the camera at “Untitled (Scarecrow),” consisting of a metal wheelbarrow, pipe watering and iron wire. “For inhabit with these parts? I used to think that was crazy. But when you live with them, they kind of take on this life that’s really joyful.

She also loved getting to know the artists and “watching the success happen and knowing that maybe you were a small part of the help that was happening,” she said. “My husband is like, ‘Wait until you have your first sale, you’re going to feel amazing. You get an adrenaline rush. I was like, ‘Ohso it’s a bit like playing.

But before she can begin her new life, her farewell performance looms.

It will be “typical Tess fashion: understated,” Stafford said. “During arcs, she doesn’t want bouquets. She just wants simple roses, and she doesn’t want it to be a parade of all the main dancers who feel they have to. She just wants anyone who wants to give her a rose to give her a rose. And she will gladly accept it.

He added: “She is quite popular. I imagine a group of dancers will want to do it.

Obviously, this stresses out Reichlen. “I really like to dance,” she said. “The recognition and praise I’ve been given makes me very uncomfortable. And in the retreats of the past, when I’m there, all the time I’m thinking, it’s my worst nightmare. Well , maybe not her worse nightmare – she stopped, clearly distressed.

“It’s not me,” she said. “I’m the dancer standing in the back corner of the studio. I like being on stage, of course, but it’s funny: I’d be happy if the curtain fell and we didn’t have to bow.

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Newsrust - US Top News: City ballet star bids farewell to 'crazy ballerina life'
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