When she dances Martha Graham’s 1929 work Heretic, Fanny Gombert stands out. Even though she’s in a line of eight women moving precisely in unison, Fanny’s stunning good looks catch your eye, and her serene and natural joy holds it. Her extensions are impressive and her articulated spine sculpts the contractions and releases of Graham’s technique. Beyond Fanny’s performing ability, what makes the 23-year-old Graham II company member so compelling is her confidence and drive, which allow her to take risks both onstage and off.
Born in the South of France, Fanny began studying ballet at age 6. After receiving her Baccalaureate—the French equivalent of a high school diploma—Fanny moved to Paris, where she continued her training in classical ballet and discovered jazz and modern dance at the Rick Odums Dance School. “I was immediately interested in the Graham technique,” Fanny says. “Like ballet, it requires a lot of lines and legs, but it’s more dramatic and uses a totally different dynamic.”
After receiving her diplômé (a Bachelor of Arts) from Rick Odums in 2008, Fanny moved to NYC to study full-time at the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance. Though she had studied some Graham technique in Paris, she needed a stronger foundation. “I had to perfect the basics,” she says. Her diligence paid off: Within a year, Fanny was understudying roles for Graham II, and in September 2009, she became a member of the prestigious second company. Virginie Mecene, director of the Graham School and Graham II, says Fanny’s strong work ethic accelerated her progression. “Fanny’s open and willing to assimilate new ideas and corrections into her work,” Mecene says.
Fanny’s bravery, Mecene adds, can be seen in the young dancer’s decision to move to the States on her own. Fanny knew it was a risk. “It was very exciting at first,” she says, “but after a few months I felt really far from home.” But she soon found camaraderie within Graham II. “Many of us are from different countries, and we understand each other’s occasional homesickness.”
Along with her strong technique, fearlessness gives Fanny an edge. “She has the potential to succeed in any major company,” Mecene says. Fanny hopes to dance with the Martha Graham Dance Company, but she’s not limiting her plans for the future. “Graham’s repertory was created a long time ago, and I need to experience what’s going on in dance today,” Fanny says. “I would also love to dance for other companies that are experimenting with new choreography and creating fresh work.”
Until then, she fulfills her creative urge by choreographing pieces for the Graham School’s student performances. “I love it,” she says. “It’s hard, but I get to put myself and my experiences into my work.”
Fave Dance Retailers: Yumiko and Repetto
Favorite non-MGDC companies: Ballet Preljocaj and Batsheva Dance Company
Can’t leave home without…: “A good pair of sneakers.”
Boyfriend? “He’s in Paris, but we talk almost every day.”
Fave thing to do in NYC: See a performance with friends, and spend all night discussing it at a Spanish restaurant.
Jenny Dalzell is a dancer in NYC and assistant editor at Dance Teacher and Dance Retailer News.
Photo by Ramon Estevanell