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It started out like any other Saturday at New York City Ballet: company class followed by a day of rehearsals. But for seven dancers, it ended better than usual. Preston Chamblee, Ashley Hod, Emily Kikta, Isabella LaFreniere, Miriam Miller, Mira Nadon and Emma Von Enck, all members of the corps de ballet, were promoted to soloist.
It was a surprise: Each had been sent an email that morning to report to Jonathan Stafford, City Ballet’s artistic director, at the end of the day. They received the news as a group. “We met outside the door, and we were like, well, hopefully this is good news that we’re all here,” LaFreniere said, with a laugh.
The promotions come at a time of some uncertainty. The dancers are back in the studio rehearsing for the winter season, which begins on Thursday, delayed 10 days because of the disruptions caused by the spread of the Omicron variant, which forced the company to take a pause and cancel performances of “George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker” in late December.
“The shutdown after Nutcracker was really devastating,” Hod said. “I missed my three shows of Sugarplum that I was supposed to have, and that kind of freaked me out career wise. As a corps member, you take every opportunity really seriously.”
A soloist is one rank below the coveted level of principal. Of the women, all are on the tall side, except for Von Enck, a sparkling dancer who has continually delivered dynamic performances. Nadon, too, is consistently jaw-dropping, including in her debut performance of Dewdrop in “The Nutcracker.” And during the fall season, LaFreniere, 25, made a remarkable debut as the female lead in Balanchine’s “Chaconne.”
Since she joined the company in 2014, LaFreniere’s career has been curtailed by injury. To get herself through the hard times, she focused on staying present. “I just tried to keep my chin up every day,” LaFreniere said. “Small steps were big victories.”
Hod, 26, has also been in the company for nearly 10 years having joined the corps de ballet in 2013 after 10 years as a student at the City Ballet-affiliated School of American Ballet. “I wasn’t expecting this to happen in this moment before the season and the way it did,” she said. “I thought that being promoted in a really big group would feel not as special, but it was completely the opposite: These are all dancers that I’ve looked up to — many of them I grew up with. They’re my friends. I mean, you spend 12 hours a day with these people!”
Hod said that they were composed in the meeting, but as soon as they made it to the dressing room, they let loose. “We were all screaming and hugging and crying, and it was just this over-explosion of emotion that poured out from all of us,” Hod said. “You could just feel the journey that we’ve been on individually and the journey we’ve been on collectively. It’s a moment I’ll never forget.”