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A Quiet Presence

When Jared Angle retired from New York City Ballet this past January after a twenty-five year career with the company, he did so in a characteristically understated manner. He danced in only one of the three ballets on the program, playing Prince Ivan in Balanchine’s “Firebird.” Afterward, he received only a modest number of bouquets, having requested that the money be spent, instead, on New York City Ballet’s Education and Public Programs. He then said a few words, thanking the audience for coming to the ballet, his colleagues for their years of friendship, and the orchestra for their music. There has always been a touch of selflessness about Angle’s persona. He is known above all as the most elegant and quietly assured of partners, someone who makes partnering look like the most natural and fluid thing in the world, and who helps his partners to feel as free and daring as they want to be. An impeccable dancer, he has never stolen the limelight, as if guided by an instinctive sense of measure and good taste. He has looked particularly in his element in George Balanchine’s “Liebeslieder Walzer” and the Rosenkavalier waltz in “Vienna Waltzes,” two ballets that require both style and sensitivity. In “Vienna Waltzes” he was both there and not there, a man and his aura. In “Liebeslieder,” as he oh-so-gently touched his partner with gloved hands, he seemed to sense what she was feeling. Subtlety, quietness, and refinement—all rare qualities, and ones he had in abundance.

Jared Angle and Megan Fairchild in Peter Martins’ "Barber Violin Concerto." Photograph byPaul Kolnik

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Shortly after his final performance, he left New York for Copenhagen to take up his new role, as a ballet master with the Royal Danish Ballet. We spoke a few days after his retirement. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Principal dancer Jared Angle takes a bow at his farewell performance of "Firebird" by George Balanchine. Photograph by Erin Baiano

So, what did you do after your final performance?

I didn't end up sleeping much at all. I was on a high, not necessarily from the performance, which I totally enjoyed. I had a party, and practically everyone I’ve ever met was there. That was a bit overwhelming. Then, the next day, I stayed in Brooklyn and went to my brother’s [Tyler Angle’s] apartment because we had bagels and lox for the family members who were in town. And then I took a nap.

You’ve been with the company since 1998. Why did you decide that it was time to move on?

Honestly, I would have retired sooner, but the pandemic got in the way. In November of 2019, I had long overdue foot surgery, and I was really pushing to come back for a gig. And then the world came crashing down [with the pandemic]. But this was going to be my last year regardless. My body doesn't really feel like doing it anymore, and there are so many young guys who should be doing the parts that I would do.

It feels like since the pandemic there has been this real generational shift in the company. Does it feel that way to you?

Yeah, there is definitely a lot of talent in the company. I was never someone who fought for parts or asked for parts, so I wasn't too interested in trying to claim my territory.

Jared Angle and Janie Taylor in George Balanchine’s "Symphony in Three Movements." Photograph by Paul Kolnik

And your partners have been retiring.

Yeah, it feels a little lonely. First Tess, and then Sterling. It’s such a different place than the one where I spent most of my life working, so I was feeling a little disconnected. And most of the ballet masters I worked with closely passed away in the last five years: Albert Evans and Susan Hendl, and Karin von Aroldingen. So I was already thinking that this would be my last year, but I had no distinct plan. And then somebody sent me the application for a ballet master position at the Royal Danish ballet. And I thought, why not?

What made you decide to move to Denmark and become a ballet master at the Royal Danish Ballet?

Mainly, I wanted to stay in the ballet world and work with people that I find really inspiring. Like New York City ballet, it’s a place with a history and a real voice.

Jared Angle and Sterling Hyltin in Jerome Robbins’ "Dances at a Gathering." Photograph by Paul Kolnik

What do you feel have been your touchstone roles with the company?

The one that made me feel that I had kind of arrived was the purple boy in “Dances at a Gathering,” because I had loved the ballet since I was a student. I danced it with Yvonne Borrée, and the people we were rehearsing with were Kyra Nichols and Jock Soto and Jeni Ringer, people who had worked with Jerry. And I’ve loved dancing “Symphony in Three.” Of the black and white ballets, that was always my favorite. I only danced the pas de deux in Agon twice, on tour in Japan. I remember it got me out of doing “Tchai Pas” [Tchaikovsky pas de deux].

Not a fan of“Tchai Pas”?

I loved having done it. I did it twice, years apart. But I found it very hard to transition from lifting and hoisting, as I do in so many my ballets, which means going deep into your legs, and then having to straighten up and be light and airy. It’s hard to bridge those two worlds.

You did a lot of difficult partnering in Peter Martins’ ballets as well. Did you enjoy doing his works?

Some of them are really rewarding, and some were just really hard. Sometimes I felt like I just wanted to dance by myself and not be lifting somebody. I remember, sometimes after a long rehearsal day, when I was blow drying my hair for performance, I couldn’t lift my arms.

Did you have a good experience under the leadership of Peter Martins?

It was good. I mean, when you work with someone from the age of 17 to 30 obviously the relationship has its highs and lows, and we weren’t particularly close.

Did you feel like he was a good boss?

I do. Maybe the fault was expecting too much of this one person. It has been interesting to have some distance from Peter since he left. A lot of us have been able to process what it was like to work for him. There were bad moments, but that was also because you’re a person living your life and life has bad moments. I feel like it’s easy to put so much on him and so much on the organization.

Was it hard when he left?

I felt confused. It was a very confusing time. It was all shrouded in mystery, and we were finding things out in The New York Times with the rest of the world, and reporters were calling you on your home phone asking for an interview. Then there was a transition period, and things felt more hopeful, and I thought, well, maybe it was time for a new start. Love him or hate him the organization survived and did well and had lots of amazing dancers over the years.

And now you’ll be working in Europe, where the structure of ballet companies is so different.

I know, they mentioned ‘quality of life,’ in the interview process, and I thought, ‘what? What are you talking about?’ (laughs) Maybe I’ll start painting or writing.

Jared Angle and Sterling Hyltin in George Balanchine’s "Liebeslieder Walzer." Photograph by Paul Kolnik

I remember you so well in “Liebeslieder Walzer,” most recently with Lauren Lovette and Sterling Hyltin.

Divine. When I first got into that ballet, in about 2004, I was so taken aback by the singers, the stage, the 19th century ballroom. There I was, sitting onstage watching Kyra Nichols and Darci Kistler. I was dancing with Miranda Weese. That first part of the ballet feels like utter enjoyment, the music is amazing, everyone looks gorgeous, and you get to sit onstage and watch these finely nuanced pas de deux. You can lose yourself for those first 45 minutes.

You’re such a prized partner, as is your brother. How did you both become so adept at partnering?

People act like it’s some kind of alchemy, but I don’t know, I was the only boy in my school [Allegheny Ballet Academy], and I had to partner everybody, with all their different body types. And our school held performances all the time. In my last “Nutcracker” back home, I was doing Snow Pas, Arabian Pas, and Sugarplum Pas. I also give a lot of the credit to Richard Cook, one of the teachers at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, where I went in the summer. He was the most sensitive teacher, and really taught you how to partner. He knew how to teach the basics.

You’ve had great partnerships as well.

Jenifer Ringer and Sara Mearns were the ones I worked with the most. Jeni was the easiest person to partner with. Her personality is also so warm, and so non-judgmental. If something went wrong onstage, she saw it as a chance to fix it, or not, and then laugh about it afterwards. That’s the most fun—sometimes if something goes wrong it’s even more fun to be able to fix it.

Jared Angle and Sara Mearns in George Balanchine’s "Serenade." Photograph by Paul Kolnik

What about Sara Mearns? What has it been like dancing with her?

Like fire and ice. She’s very present and impulsive and physical. We clicked right away. We started doing “Spring” together [from Jerome Robbins’s “The Four Seasons”], and “Swan Lake,” and it just worked. I’m five years older and had a little more experience. We definitely had some amazing, electric moments onstage. Sara loves to rehearse and try to control everything. She wants to know what she plans to do, but once she’s onstage, whatever happens, happens.

You were partnering Jenifer Ringer in “Nutcracker” when the whole “Sugarplum-gate” thing happened, after a review in which the Times critic, Alastair Macaulay, criticized both of your weight. What was that like?

And she got a whole book deal out of it! (Laughs.) It was super embarrassing. The language was sort of salacious, flippant. It felt like it was not judging the performance but about the morality of it—like this person is a slovenly person. It was terrible. I felt even worse for Jeni.

Did it make you stop reading reviews?

I learned early on not to read my reviews. If I’m in it, I don’t read the review, but I do read reviews of other people’s performances. And as someone who goes to the opera a lot, I always read the reviews because it's interesting. Some of them are very informative. I can agree or not agree.

How did you get into opera?

I went occasionally when I was younger. There was this man called Aidan Mooney, a great friend of Jerome Robbins. He was super generous with dancers. We became friends and he would take me to the opera to see things he thought I should see. One summer he said, you and Tyler need to go to Salzburg. That's your place, those are your people. So we went for a week and saw three operas, and somehow it all coalesced and I was obsessed.

Are there ballets you wish you’d had an opportunity to dance, even beyond the New York City Ballet repertory?

I kind of love “Manon.” It’s the opposite of what I’ve danced. But that ending, with that pas de deux in the swamp, is so over the top, it looks like it would be a lot of fun. Maybe at one time I thought, I’ll dance until I’m 30 and then go and be a Pina Bausch dancer. I’ve always been struck by the worlds she creates, and how vivid all her dancers seem. I find the movement very beautiful too.

Have you read Mr. B, the new biography of Balanchine by Jennifer Homans? Did it change the way you thought about Balanchine?

Yes! I am obsessed. I thought it was super interesting and nuanced. It made me less judgmental about things, because of what he went through to get here and almost dying so many times, and his commitment. And that period in the 1940s when he was reading Spinoza and thinking about spirituality, mixed with listening to a lot of Bach, I found that so interesting.

Jared Angle in Alexei Ratmansky’s "Russian Seasons." Photograph by Paul Kolnik

Are there choreographers you would have liked to work with?

I wasn't in that many new things. I always felt a little sad about that. I always wanted to get a breath of fresh air and new perspectives. I’m obsessed with Ratmansky, but I was never in one of his new creations, though I did get to dance Albert [Evans’] role in “Russian Seasons.” I loved dancing it.

Do you think it was because you didn’t push yourself forward enough?

Maybe. I never asked to do anything. It’s the one one piece of advice I always give young dancers that are similarly reserved. I regret not asking. Don’t just sit on the side and wait for them to ask.

Do you feel like the company is in a good place?

Absolutely. There’s so much talent. Oh my god, everyone is so good. And they seem so balanced. The company went through so much, the pandemic, and Peter Martins leaving, and everything. I think that there’s more of a sense of personal ownership. We were more ancien régime.

What are you looking forward to in this next chapter of your career?

Well, first, not having to worry about my fifth position or turnout. I’m excited to have a renewed artistic experience with dance, and to be reinspired. Being a dancer is amazing and profound. Dancing “Serenade” is the best thing in the world. But the day leading up to “Serenade” . . . But the day to day gets kind of stale. A day filled with a new perspective on the form will be interesting.

Marina Harss

Marina Harss is a dance writer in New York, a frequent contributor to the New York Times and the New Yorker Magazine, as well as to Dance Magazine and Fjord Review. She is the author of a book about the choreographer Alexei Ratmansky, scheduled for publication by Farrar Straus and Giroux in 2023.



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