Meet 18-Year-Old Gianna Reisen, New York City Ballet's Youngest Choreographer
After most dancers graduate from The School of American Ballet they have lots of "firsts": first company contract, first performance with that company, and maybe even first solo role. But 2017 SAB grad Gianna Reisen is experiencing a different kind of "first" during her inaugural year in the professional ballet world: She's making her first choreographic debut at Lincoln Center. At just 18, Gianna Reisen is the youngest person ever to create a piece for the renowned New York City Ballet (NBD!). Her new work, Composer's Holiday, set to music by Lukas Foss, will premiere at the company's fall gala on September 28th.
Reisen impressed NYCB ballet master in chief Peter Martins with the ballets she made for SAB's Student Choreography Workshop and The New York Choreographic Institute, prompting Martins to invite her to create a piece for the main company. And though the pressure of such a proposal would intimidate even the most seasoned choreographer, Reisen's pragmatic poise about the whole thing assures us that she's up to the task.
Between juggling an apprenticeship at Dresden Semperoper Ballett in Germany and rehearsing dancers in NYC, Reisen's had a busy summer. And though the role of choreographer wasn't a path she expected to pursue professionally, Reisen's eager to make her mark. Check out our interview with Reisen to find out what inspires this dance-making prodigy.
What do you enjoy most about choreographing?
My favorite part is definitely being able to create something that's completely yours. Being a dancer, you create art with your body, but as a choreographer, you can translate your thoughts and emotions on other bodies. When you're a dancer, you're told what to do, but when you become a choreographer you're the boss. I think that's also the hardest part—being in control of other people, rather than other people being in control of you.
Reisen rehearsing NYCB corps de ballet dancer Ghaleb Kayali (photo by Baiano, courtesy NYCB)
How does it feel to be the youngest choreographer to create something for NYCB?
It's a lot of pressure to be the youngest. There are a lot of eyes on me and interest in my work because I'm so young. It's hard being young, too, because there's that fear that you're not going to be taken as seriously as the more seasoned choreographers. This is the third ballet I've choreographed, so I don't have as much experience as most. But I'm grateful for the experience, and that NYCB has given me the opportunity to pursue this path.
What inspires your choreography?
My inspiration comes immediately from the music. When I hear a piece of music, I feel it. I can't choreograph to music I don't enjoy or don't find interesting. After that, I'm in my head conceptualizing the movement. Converting the concept to real life is the fun part.
For this ballet in particular, my inspiration comes from human movements. I'm trying to achieve a human quality within the dancing. It'll be interesting to see it come to life onstage.
Reisen rehearsing Kayali (photo by Baiano, courtesy NYCB)
What advice would you give younger dancers who are interested in choreography?
I think that any dancer who has an interest in choreography should try it. I find that dancers avoid choreographing because they're afraid they aren't going to be able to think of anything new or be good enough. Bite the bullet, and find a place where you can choreograph. See if you like it.
Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
I'm hoping to pursue a career as a ballet dancer and a choreographer. I know it will be challenging, but it's doable. Honestly, two years ago I would never have thought I'd be choreographing for NYCB, so anything is possible.
Some might say Charlize Glass' fame kicked off with a single three-letter word. In 2014, Beyoncé shared a video of the then–12-year-old dancer performing to "Yoncé" on Instagram, along with a simple caption: "WOW!"
But by that point, the hip-hop mini had already performed at the MTV Video Music Awards and on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," and won first runner-up with her crew, 8 Flavahz, on "America's Best Dance Crew." And her Queen Bey Insta shout-out wasn't even the pinnacle of her tween career: She earned a spot on The PULSE On Tour as an Elite Protégé for the 2014–2015 season, and performed with Missy Elliott at the Super Bowl XLIX Halftime Show in 2015.
These days, the 16-year-old spends her time touring the country as Brian Friedman's assistant at Radix Dance Convention and blowing up YouTube and Instagram with her class-video cameos. And while the Char Char we fell in love with was a hip-hop cutie pie, the more mature artist we see today is sure to rock the dance world for years to come.
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Take a look at Dance Spirit's exclusive interview where they dish on everything from their favorite dates to the dance moves that give them all the feels.
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But at what point does the phenomenon go from being a good thing to a bad thing for dancers and the dance world? Is the focus on filming distracting from the work dancers are supposed to be doing in class? Are overproduced videos presenting a dangerously misleading picture of the dance world? Is the pressure to be a class video star becoming too much for dancers to handle? These are some of the questions A-list dancer and choreographer Ian Eastwood—no stranger to the class video himself—has been asking on Twitter. And they've sparked a lively, important debate.
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Behold, National Ballet of Canada principal Svetlana Lunkina's oh-so-casual pre-class exercise:
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Dance Spirit caught up with Chloe, Kalani, and Kendall to find out what they love about tour life and where they see themselves five years from now.