Ballet dancer switches genres for Broadway debut
Sep. 25, 2014
NEW YORK (AP) — One of the most exciting people making her Broadway debut this season is a powerful and skilled dancer, but not used to doing it in heels.
Megan Fairchild, a principal dancer at the prestigious New York City Ballet, has traded in her delicate pointe shoes for more clunky T-strap pumps for a new revival of "On the Town."
"The heels are something to get used to," she said good-naturedly backstage while wolfing down chicken teriyaki during a rare break in her 12-hour-a-day rehearsals at the Lyric Theatre. "It's a learning curve."
Performing on Broadway was never really on the 30-year-old's radar, though she likes to see shows, her mom is mad about musical theater and she grew up watching Gene Kelly movies.
"It fell out of the sky, I wasn't looking for it, and I felt like I would be stupid to not take this opportunity," said the Utah-raised dancer. "What a fun world to be a part of."
"On the Town," which was made into a 1949 film starring Kelly and Frank Sinatra, centers on three sailors on shore leave in the city looking for love. One finds it with Fairchild's character, a model crowned Miss Subways.
The part requires her to do things she never does at the ballet: speak lines and sing a little, which makes her laugh. "It's scary to hear myself even talk on a microphone, so singing is like ridiculous," she said.
Choreographer Joshua Bergasse credits Fairchild for being brave to try a different genre and said he didn't have to do much with her artistry, only add a little bit of smolder, sensuality and seductiveness to her repertoire.
"It's wonderful for Broadway to get a dancer of Megan's caliber because this isn't necessarily the same audience that goes to the ballet. They don't know this powerhouse of a dancer and I think they'll fall in love with a big dance musical. And, hopefully, they'll then say, 'Let's go to the ballet.'"
Fairchild will be the first of several New York City Ballet dancers making the leap to musical theater. The list includes her younger brother, Robert Fairchild, and her sister-in-law Tiler Peck.
Her brother will be tackling his own Gene Kelly film adaptation — "An American in Paris" — heading to Broadway next April, while Peck has the title role in "Little Dancer," a musical debuting next month at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
Fairchild, who has taken a leave from the 90-dancer New York City Ballet but plans to moonlight in February by dancing in two of their ballets, said she finds Broadway dancers inspiring.
"There's not as much job security on Broadway so everyone's incredibly professional and has their stuff together," she said. "I have another job to go back to. It's just interesting seeing the different worlds. And it's fun to be around people that don't take it for granted."
Fairchild, who stands 5-foot-3 with big, expressive eyes, may not have danced on Broadway before, but she certainly knows about performance anxiety. One of her biggest roles was playing the Sugar Plum Fairy in a 2011 live Lincoln Center telecast of George Balanchine's "The Nutcracker," which was screened in movie theaters around the world.
"That was the most stressful thing I've ever done in my life," she said, recalling that she tried to calm herself during one section by singing the Eagle's "Hotel California" in her head. "I totally zoned out and just did autopilot."
Fairchild first heard about her new Broadway gig when her brother texted, saying the casting director of "On the Town" was auditioning ballet dancers. Was she interested?
"I was like, 'Broadway?' I laughed about it for a whole day. I was very flattered and sat on it for 24 hours and didn't even respond," she said. "I think I was thinking no for a while. And then, all of a sudden, I was like, 'What am I doing? How often does someone like that ask you to come audition? Go for it.'"
Two days later — after cramming with an acting coach and a friend who is a Broadway singer — she auditioned in jeans. She was offered the job immediately. (She texted her mom in capital letters, "I GOT THE PART!")
The experience has taken her out of her comfort zone in more ways than one — it turns out her quads now hurt a lot. Mixing it up is important for a performer who admits, "I make lists. I don't take risks."
"I think it's good for my personality. I can get easily very overly disciplined and very strict with how I do things. At this point in my career, I'm trying to grow as an artist," she said. "Maybe I will fall more, but I'll try to take a couple more risks."