New York City Ballet principal Robbie Fairchild will join dance luminaries from all over the world in the 8th annual “Evening with the Stars,” presented by Indianapolis City Ballet at 6:30 p.m. on November 12, 2016 at the Murat Theatre at Old National Center in downtown Indianapolis. The ballet extravaganza will showcase more than a dozen dancers from the world’s most prestigious companies in a diverse program ranging from classical to edgy contemporary.
Fairchild who is dancing in the EWTS gala with Tiler Peck, his wife and fellow NYCB principal, has been with the company since 2005. He made his Broadway debut starring in Tony Award-winning production of “An American in Paris.” For his role as World War II American soldier Jerry Mulligan, he received the 2015 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actor in a Musical and a 2015 Theatre World Award. He was also nominated for a Tony Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical.
Recently, I spoke by phone with Fairchild from his home in Manhattan about EWTS, his “An American in Paris” run and the rigors of performing on Broadway vs. ballet.
What are you and Tiler dancing?
We are dancing “This Bitter Earth,” a pas de deux by Christopher Wheeldon. He was the director/choreographer of “American in Paris.” The music is from the well-known song by Dinah Washington and Max Richter. We are also dancing “Acheron,” a pas de deux by Liam Scarlett who is one of the choreographers-in-residence at The Royal Ballet. He created this piece on Tiler and me for New York City Ballet.
How do you know Kevin Hesse (EWTS producer) and Jolinda Menendez (EWTS performance director)?
Through the Indianapolis gala (Fairchild and Peck danced together in the 2013 EWTS). They know everyone. I see them all the time walking around Lincoln Center and try to imagine who they are meeting at the time. They are great performing arts curators and they are doing so much for a great city and I feel Indianapolis is so lucky to have them.
What is the value of these galas?
Well for us, it is really exciting to be on programs with dancers from other companies. You learn so much from watching and getting inspired from things you are not surrounded by all the time, so for us that is something really awesome and to perform with people you don’t normally get to perform for. That’s the joy I find.
How often do you participate in these kinds of events?
Last year I was on lock down but this year I have gotten to experience a lot of these galas. We are going to Naples, Italy to perform soon, which will be fun because we with a whole group of dancers that we don’t normally get to see, like in Indianapolis. We get to do it quite frequently which is really nice.
Anybody you are looking forward to seeing?
I have no idea who is going to be there. That’s kind of how these things go. You show up there the day of or the day before and you meet people that you are going to be in a performance with, then you bond and then you leave.
How was it returning to the company after “An American in Paris?”
You know it was a transition. They are such different worlds and they are both beautiful and amazing worlds. You become a machine for whatever one you are in at the moment. It’s just adjusting the gears and figuring it all out.
What is the difference between a Broadway and a ballet company schedule?
We do three shows a week. On Broadway it is eight shows. There is really nothing like it—the kind of mental state that takes to do something over and over again and to keep challenging yourself to make it new as you can. It’s fantastic and it’s crazy and insane, all at the same time. But you are also doing the same thing over and over again so your body really gets used to it. Here at NYCB you’ve got all these different ballets that are kind of like a pumice stone. You don’t get to dive in deep to the role but you stay more versatile. I feel like the luckiest guy.
How does it feel playing a role in a full-length musical as opposed to dancing a role in a ballet?
You have more opportunities to ask yourself questions in the moment as opposed to doing a five minute pas de deux. It’s a challenge when you don’t have a lot of time. So it is trying to take what I’ve learned about being on stage and developing a character and using all of that knowledge to step on stage and just be whatever I am at that moment. Not really a character per se. But you are onstage and you are saying something and the audience is watching.
When did you leave “An American in Paris”?
I left a year to the day that the previews started. So it was March 13. (the show closed in Oct.) That was set in stone. If I wanted to have a life in the NYCB, I couldn’t say “I am going to stay a little while longer.”
I see that you are going to London to open in the West End in March of 2017?
Yes, which I am so excited about but a little frustrated that it happens to coincide with the NYCB season I will miss out on. If there is one thing I can contribute to the company, it’s new choreography. I am always in a new piece and it’s all of the ballets we have done in the last ten years. That is like my bread and butter and what I do. But you can’t have everything. Somebody is going to take my part but hopefully when I come back they will be nice enough to do it again.
Is it your West End debut?
It is. I feel extremely lucky.
Did you grieve over leaving the “American in Paris?” Or was it lessened, knowing you were going to reprise the role?
Yes, that was kind of the saving grace about it. I worked on this role for nearly three years. Yes, there was that bond I had with my cast members. I don’t think there is anything in show business like Broadway because you are in the trenches eight shows a week, just exhausted, having the time of your life. It’s everything all rolled into one.
Was it something you aspired to early on?
Yes, growing up I loved musical theater. I always wanted to do Broadway I just didn’t think it would ever happen now. I thought it would happen after my ballet career was over. So it’s making it a little more complicated having to balance both of these worlds. But again, I feel lucky.
Have you had offers for other Broadway shows?
Yes, I have had a bunch of offers but I know it is important to be at the ballet while I can. I just have to be smart about my career choices.
Do you want to teach or choreograph after your career as a dancer is over?
You know, I would love to. At the moment, I just love performing and try to do that in any capacity that I can. Then once I feel it’s time to turn the chapter I want to give back as much as I can because this world has given me so much.
How do dancers determine when it’s time to stop performing?
I think it is all personal. It’s a truly personal choice. Wendy Whelan is still dancing. Mikhail Baryshnikov is still dancing. There are people I was in school with who have stopped dancing so it is whatever kinds of opportunities come along—if you are still able to physically and it is also what your heart wants too.
Was there a concern about performing eight shows a week on Broadway?
Yes, that is why I went down to six shows. I bought an inversion table so that I could hang upside down afterwards to let gravity kind of reverse the shows effect on my back. I worked with a Pilates teacher and I got an amazing physical therapist and had therapy every day before the show. It was a constant process of keeping healthy.
Which is harder on the body—Broadway or ballet?
Both. They are both, just beasts. There is just no getting around having to use the same muscles every single day and there is nothing like waking up and having something hurt. Something different hurts every single day.
I presume you’ve learned how to push through pain?
Well, I know what pain I can push through. And that is the real conversation you have to have with yourself because you are never going to feel perfect.
You dancers truly are athletes.
Thank you. I think so.
What may ballet devotees expect from EWTS?
I can only speak to what I have experienced in the past but Kevin and Jolinda do an amazing job at finding the most diverse groups of people, artists, and kinds of dancers to showcase what is happening in ballet today. Ballet is all about the tradition so there is always a nod to the classics and they also show what is current, including the two pas de deuxs by two of my favorite choreographers, that Tiler and I are performing.
How about those who have never been exposed to ballet?
I think this is the perfect venue because you see a snapshot of what is happening all around the world in this art form and you get to see the variety of whatever of what the art form is. It is kind of the best way to introduce yourself to ballet if you have never been before.
Tickets for “Evening with the Stars” 2016 range from $35 to $75 for General Reserved Seating. Tickets can be purchased by visiting indianapoliscityballet.org. Discounts are available for schools, studios, and groups. Tickets are available directly from LiveNation.com, 800-745-3000 or at Murat Theatre Box Office at 502 N. New Jersey St. | Indianapolis, IN 46204.
Special VIP Tickets, ranging from $250 to $1,500 for Patrons including a post-performance event with dinner, live music and dancing with the dancers, are available directly from ICB and more information is available at IndianapolisCityBallet.org.