What next for Askegard? Ballet Next
ROSLYN SULCAS NYT SYNDICATE WOMEN love Charles Askegard. Or at the very least, the women of New York City Ballet do. Since joining that company in 1997 he has performed with almost every ballerina in the company’s esteemed ranks.ButafternextSundaythosedancers are going to have to do without their tall, elegant partner, when Askegard retires from City Ballet at the last matinee of the season,inaprogrammethatfeaturessome of his favouriteroles.
He is not, however, leaving dancing.
Askegard,42, isformingacompany,Ballet Next, with Michele Wiles, a former American Ballet Theatre ballerina who left that troupe with surprising abruptness in June.
But first there’s the whole retirement thing to get through,andtwo weeks ago he sat on the stage of the David H Koch Theatre, surrounded by three of his most regular partners: Maria Kowroski, Wendy WhelanandSara Mearns. All were participating in a seminar focused on Askegard’s career,andthewomenlaughedandteased himbetweencompliments.Kowroskisaid, “He is completely in the moment as a performer.” Whelan said, “Incredible communication between us.” Mearns added, “He lets you be the dancer you want to be.” Askegard, his 6-foot-4-inch frame folded into a chair, blond hair neatly combed, looked amused. “I could tell some stories,” he said, laughing, when the topic of onstage mishaps came up.
He probably could, but you doubt he would. Askegard possesses an almost oldfashioned courteousness as well as what appears to be an unfailingly affable demeanour.
Askegard, who grew up in Minneapolis, knew what he wanted to do from a young age. After seeing The Nutcracker at 5, he joined a boys’ ballet class and later attended summer schools in San Francisco and in New York at the School of American Ballet and with American Ballet Theatre’s junior company.
However, when he finished high school at 16, he didn’t attend one of those company schools but chose to study with Maggie Black, a renowned teacher in New York whose style had no particular affiliation.
Two years later, in 1987, he joined Ballet Theatre, where Mikhail Baryshnikov was artistic director. Solo roles came quickly; Askegard was picked out of the corps de ballet by Glen Tetley for his interpretation of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, and by the venerable British dancer Michael Somes for Frederick Ashton’s Symphonic Variations. Askegard discovered he had a natural ability for more contemporary work.
“Tetleyaskedme,‘Howcomeyoucando the Graham contractions and high release in Rite,’” he recounted. “I said, ‘I’m from Minnesota.”’ But Ballet Theatre was mostly about the grand classics, and although Askegard went on to dance the male leads in Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, La Bayadere and Manon, he was never promoted to principal dancer.
After 10 years with Ballet Theatrehe left, plunging into the unknown. Whelan, whom he knew from Black’s classes, suggested he audition for City Ballet. And althoughAskegarddidn’t consider himself a Balanchine dancer, Peter Martins, the company’sballetmasterinchief,hiredhim immediately.
“He outlinedmy career for the next five years,” Askegard said. “‘You’ll come in as a soloist.You’lldancewithDarciKistler,Kyra Nichols. I’d like to put you with this young ballerina,MariaKowroski.Ifyouworkhard, you’ll be a principal.’ And it really was like that.” Learning the Balanchine and Robbins repertory was exhilarating but hard. Tall dancers tend to move more slowly than smaller ones, and speed may be the most importantelementoftheCityBalletstyle.
Partnering, always one of Askegard’s strengths, was also different, involving far morerisktaking,butithasbeenhisparticular assetatCityBallet,whereheandthe5-foot-9- inchKowroskiformedthekindofphysically attuned union balletomanes await. (City Ballet brought about another partnership offstage for Askegard; in 2002 he met the writer Candace Bushnell at a company gala, and they married two months later.) “What am I going to do?” said Kowroski, beginning to cry, when asked how she felt about Askegard’s departure.
Whelanreplied,“Thereareplenty of fish in the sea, honey,” drawing laughs.
Kowroski might well dance with Askegard again, because Ballet Next, which will have it’s debut performance on November21at the Joyce, will initiallybea pickup troupe, drawing on dancers he and Wiles know.
“It will be a vehicle for new work, although there’ll be a traditional element,” Askegard said, admitting to a desire to choreograph.But he disclaimed any change-the-world ambitions. “We don’t wanttowasteanyone’stimeormoney,”he said firmly. “It’s good not to promise too much.” That wouldn’t be his style anyway.
As Whelan succinctly put it, “Chuck never gets nervous, and he always gets the job done.” Charles Askegard is retiring from New York City Ballet, but he is not leaving dancing. He is forming Ballet Next and says that it is a vehicle for new work Charles Askegard (left) with wife Candace Bushnell.
Charles Askegard (right) with Maria Kowroski in the Diamonds section of Jewels.
Charles Askegard (left) with Sara Mearns in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker.
Charles Askegard (top) with his group from New York City Ballet.
Ballet Next A model presents a creation by Stella McCartney as part of her Spring/Summer 2012 fashion collection, in Paris, France.