Ask most ballet guys about their dream roles and they’ll list bravura, wham-boom-pow parts, like Basilio in Don Quixote or the Slave in Le Corsaire. But not shy, serious New York City Ballet apprentice Taylor Stanley. Instead, the 19-year-old hopes to someday dance in George Balanchine’s courtly, mysterious, thinking-man’s ballet “Emeralds,” from Jewels. “It’s beautiful and magical,” Taylor says.
While Taylor has certainly mastered the virtuoso “tricks”—he has a buoyant jump, clean, crisp pirouettes and jaw-dropping extensions—the first thing you notice about him is the regal elegance of his bearing, his inherent “princeliness.” He’s an old-school danseur noble: a gallant, selfless performer with an understated charm. “Taylor has a quiet strength,” says School of American Ballet faculty member Jock Soto. “He manages to be graceful and manly at the same time, and his love for dance projects through his body.”
Taylor says he’s had that love nearly all his life. “I grew up having fun dancing, ever since I was 3,” he remembers. That was the age at which he began studying jazz, tap and ballet at a local studio in his hometown of West Chester, PA. “I was really into jazz, and actually thought I’d end up as a jazz dancer,” he says. But by the time he was 12, his teachers and parents, noticing his natural talents, were urging him to think more seriously about ballet. “Eventually I realized that ballet was the foundation that everything else was built on.”
Taylor transferred to The Rock School in Philadelphia as a teenager, where he focused on ballet and first encountered the Balanchine style. “Balanchine technique is extremely specific about placement, but there’s also a free, jazzy quality to it, and I was able to incorporate what I’d learned in my jazz classes over the years,” Taylor says. He spent a summer at SAB, the home of Balanchine technique, when he was 17, and was asked to stay for the school’s year-round program. “When we see a student like Taylor, we snap him up,” Soto says. “Immediately we were struck by his great facility. He’s such a natural dancer.”
Taylor accepted the offer, and after a year at SAB, he wowed audiences as El Capitan in Balanchine’s Stars and Stripes at the school’s workshop performances, breezing through the taxing solo and proving to be a considerate, assured partner to his leading lady. He was awarded the 2009 Mae L. Wien Award for Outstanding Promise, and was asked to return in the fall as an NYCB apprentice. “I couldn’t stop smiling,” he says.
The highlights of his apprentice year so far? Dancing in the corps of “Diamonds” from Jewels—which inched him closer to his “Emeralds” dream—and originating a role in NYCB principal Benjamin Millepied’s premiere Why am I not where you are. But Taylor, who hopes to someday be a principal dancer, says he’s thrilled by any opportunity to be onstage. “That’s where I can let my heart out, where I can give it my all and be free.”
Taylor had a typically terrifying apprentice experience this May, when at the last minute he was thrown into a performance of Jerome Robbins’ Opus Jazz. But he didn’t betray any nervousness. Instead, he burst onto the stage in orange sneakers, adding a dash of jazzy spice to his classically noble stage presence and creating a delicious hybrid of fluid and funky. Taylor, the ballet prince, transformed into Taylor, the prince of jazz—and he looked like a star.
Birthday: May 30, 1991
Most-played song on his iPod: “Campus,” by Vampire Weekend
Favorite TV show: “I was a big fan of ‘The O.C.’ back in the day.”
Favorite movie: Coraline
New York City Ballet star he admires: Sara Mearns. “She’s always fierce and amazing onstage.”
Hidden talent: He plays the piano. “Not like a Juilliard student, but I like to sit down and play some Mozart every now and then.”
Favorite foods: “Sweets, cookies, brownies, ice cream…all that stuff that’s bad for you!”
Photos top to bottom: Taylor Stanley by Erin Baiano; Taylor (center right) and NYCB in Jerome Robbins’ Opus Jazz by Paul Kolnik.