Cassandra Trenary’s Mission: ‘Being as Human as Possible’

I had a point. Cassandra TrenaryWhen she made her debut as Juliet at the American Ballet Theater last summer, it was almost forgotten that she was even playing the role.she just was Juliet: Furious, discouraged and confused.

It was very raw and human. And she died a shocking sudden death after stabbing herself in the final moments of the ballet. generally, “Romeo and Juliet” produced by Kenneth MacMillan. The moment is depicted as Juliette arching her back deeply in a cambrederiere over her tomb. Trenary simply fell, her body shriveled and broken. It was gorgeous rather than graceful.

Trenary, 29, a principal dancer at the Ballet Theater, believes in being authentic, or, as she put it, “making life seem like it’s unfolding in front of you through your impersonal language.” ‘ is the mission. “

That approach gives her roles a modern feel, many of which have been passed down through the generations. Of the first “Romeo and Juliet,” set to rerun during the Metropolitan Opera House’s season at the Ballet Theater this month, she imagined: What if it wasn’t a ballet but a movie?

“Perhaps it—I mean, I don’t know, I haven’t seen it—was a bit simplified,” Trenary said. “Now I’m trying to find a balance between being the most human and the most stripped.” and Keep it like classical ballet. It’s an interesting struggle for me. “

Trenary was appointed principal dancer in 2020 when the theater was still closed. Her return to the stage was a process. She said she became a more fully formed person during the pandemic. But when it came to her classical ballet, “a lot of fear and self-doubt started creeping in, mostly in my technical abilities.”

“And I felt like I had a big fire inside me,” Trenery said. “How can I make these stories resonate? Believe and personalize the stories I tell on stage, and see the cultural appropriation sprinkled throughout this art form and the lack of representation. How can I recognize the

Trenery, who grew up learning dance in Lawrenceville, Georgia, found a way to be creative during the shutdown. She choreographed herself and has also performed in projects outside the ballet world, including Morissa Fenley’s State of Darkness, a digital project at Manhattan’s Joyce Theater. Meanwhile, in 2020, Trenary and her husband Gray Davies, a former ballet theater dancer, ended their marriage. “He was ready to move on and I had just arrived,” she said of their art path.

She found herself questioning everything. “Who am I without my ABT identity?” Trenery said. “And what do I want from my life? What else do I have to offer?”

Through the pandemic and the breakup, she said: “I found myself into really different creative projects that introduced me to different types of artists and made me want to ask more questions when I came back to ballet.”

This season she feels more confident as a dancer. Her ballet theater also focuses on her appeal. She graced the opening of her ballet’s engagement at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in June by dancing Tita, the starring role in Christopher Wheeldon’s Like Water for Chocolate, and she’s calling the season “Romeo and Juliet.” concluded with July 22, opposite Hermann Cornejo.

Susan Jaffe, the ballet’s artistic director and longtime principal, said she admired Trenary’s intelligence.

“She approaches her characters in an analytical way,” added Jaffe. “Don’t be so analytical that you get stuck. She has to really connect the dots and feel it’s real to her. But what’s so great about it is when she goes all out. , when she’s working on something or dancing in rehearsal, it’s in every pore of her body.She can embody the character’s emotions with all her limbs.It’s just her face. No, it’s all over the body.”

Trenary feels stronger this season, partly thanks to her experience working with choreographer Twyla Tharpe at the New York City Center last fall, with a stellar group of companies and dance backgrounds. .

“She had faith in all of us and it helped us believe in ourselves,” Trenery said of Tharp. “When you are encouraged to let it all go, you feel free and you don’t make any wrong decisions. The goal was to keep exploring. I think it made us all stronger. I miss the group.”

To accommodate the dancers’ varying schedules, rehearsals included a run-through of the 10:00 am program to improve Trenary’s technique and stamina. Shortly after these performances, she made her debut in Frederick Ashton’s “The Dream” at the Ballet Theatre. She was dancing a lot, so she felt she was in control of the situation. Her liveliness and prosperity were like a phantom.

Trenary joined the Ballet Theater in 2011 and was promoted to soloist four years later. Today, she is pursuing a career as a principal in a company undergoing major changes. Jaffe took over as artistic director last year and was recently announced as interim executive director following the sudden resignation of Janet Lorre, the ballet theater’s chief executive officer and executive director. rice field.

And former artist-in-residence Alexei Ratmansky, who helped shape Trenary’s career, moved to the New York City Ballet. “He’s my champion, someone who really inspired my desire to do ballet really intentionally,” she said. “I’m also really excited to see what he does with City Ballet because they do his moves so well. so good. I think it’s going to be a really great series of works. “

Regarding the change in ballet theater’s artistic leadership, Trenary said it’s too early to say what it will bring, but so far he’s enjoying his time in the studio with Jaffe. “Just kidding, I appreciate that she literally knows what it’s like to be in my shoes,” Trenery said. She “didn’t know how much it would be needed for ABT’s top position.”

Earlier this year, while dancing the first act of “Giselle” at the Ballet Theater in Lincoln, Nebraska, Trenary was fumbling for hops on pointe. In her dressing room she was distraught. “It was so embarrassing and she was disappointed in herself,” she said. Then she heard a knock on the door. Jaffe was there with Irina Kolpakova, the famous head repetitioner of the Ballet Theatre, and told her how great her performance was.

“I was like, ‘What?'” Trenery recalls. “I was like, ‘No, no, no, no, no, no,’ and tears filled my eyes and I said, ‘I’m sorry.’ I couldn’t get in.” And she said, hop? It’s just a matter of adjustment. I will work on it. It’s not a big deal. ‘”

Instead, she recalled Jaffe telling her, “If you play a perfect variation and don’t give a good interpretation, I’ll feel sorry for you,” Trenary said. added. He is both human and director. That’s why I’m excited. “

Trenary prepares to dance Juliet again at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but her mind is filled with memories of another ballerina. Lynne Seymour is the dramatic star of the Royal Ballet in England, for whom McMillan has made a role. She passed away in March. In 2019, when Trenary heard that she was being cast for the role of Juliet, she traveled to London to work with the Royal Ballet and she wanted to meet Seymour.

In an email exchange, Seymour told Trenary he didn’t know how much he could help. She had poor eyesight and she rarely left the house. However, they spent two weeks together after Seymour invited her over for coffee.

“Some days it was 85% like Romeo and Juliet and she was standing in her bedroom demonstrating the potion scene moment,” Trenary said. “At the end of the trip, she said, ‘Okay, I think she has to go into the studio. I think she’s ready. “

While planning the various scenes for the ballet, Trenary learned that there was a difference between how roles were taught in ballet theater and how Seymour experienced them in Macmillan. “Of course, things change as time goes on and with Kenneth coming to ABT and re-directing,” Trenery said.

Seymour was embarrassed by Juliet’s death at a ballet theater performance. She told Trenary that it was too beautiful, that as long as death landed on the right count, every dancer back then was doing something different for each performance.

Now Trenary is exploring as usual, trying to find a way to convey spontaneity and sincerity while taking the final arch pose. That’s part of what Seymour instilled in her about her artistic freedom—the ability to be exactly where she is.

“I really felt that she was watching over me,” Trenary said. She wrote, “She wrote down what she told me it’s okay to care embarrassingly. Because I’m doing it.”

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