Jared Angle remembers the anticipation before his first ballet lesson.
Or, as much anticipation as a 5-year-old can possibly feel.
“We had to, on your stomach, try to touch your toes to your head, with your hands against the floor — and I was able to do that, at that young supple age. And I was very stoked with myself,” he said with a laugh. “That’s so funny, I haven’t thought about that in years and years.”
He had just finished rehearsal with the New York City Ballet, where he has held the title of principal dancer for the last 12 years — a senior position that has never been lost on him, not for a moment.
“Getting promoted to soloist was cool, like ‘Wow, this is going well.’ But principal was like, ‘Oh, crap. This is for real. You have to deliver,’” he said. “I felt it was more pressure, and I still sort of feel that way. There’s more of a responsibility at this level — not only on stage, but also in the studio and the class, as senior person. Yeah, you definitely feel the weight of it.”
There is a legacy of greats who came before him, in the company George Balanchine co-founded, and made famous with Jerome Robbins, the focus behind Angle’s upcoming behind-the-scenes program, “New York City Ballet On and Offstage,” a fusion of dance and discussion on Friday, August 24, at Guild Hall in East Hampton.
“It’s the Jerome Robbins centennial this year, so we just started a festival celebration of him and his work,” Angle said. “His ballets are some of my absolute favorites to do, so I’m excited to explore his work and explain it to an audience in a way they haven’t experienced before — to bring them inside the work in a fun way.”
Together with eight dancers, they will explore Robbins’s repertory, from Balanchine’s “The Prodigal Son” — giving a nod to his early dancing days — to his own “Fancy Free,” which he choreographed for American Ballet Theatre when he was a dancer there in 1944, before joining the New York City Ballet four years later.
“It’s the first ballet he ever choreographed,” Angle said. “It’s a perfect story ballet in 30 minutes, and it’s about three sailors on shore leave and the women they meet at a bar. He choreographed this, Leonard Bernstein did the music, and the ballet was such a success that they took that and made it into ‘On the Town,’ the Broadway musical.”
Arguably, “Dances at a Gathering” is Robbins’s most famous ballet work, which marked his return to New York City Ballet in 1969 after a long hiatus “directing every major show on Broadway you ever heard of,” Angle explained.
“It’s one of the most special things that I’ve ever danced. I love it,” he said. “It’s an hour-long ballet set to Chopin piano music, and it’s this perfect little world that he creates. It’s a really great example of him creating a community on stage, and there are elements of a nostalgic past — to a folk-y European history of his family — but at the same time, even now, it feels completely in the present. It’s just a beautiful work.”
When Angle speaks about dance, fervor radiates out of him as his tempo quickens. There is an undeniable passion there, a yearning to learn and discover — whether it’s technically, or about a certain ballet passage, or even about his body in ballet class every day, he said.
“I’m always having these moments where I’m like, ‘Ah, finally. I finally figured out how to do this. This is how I’m gonna do it forever,’ and next week, that doesn’t work anymore and you have to find a new way,” he said. “You’re always navigating your body, which changes anyway over time.”
With more than 80 featured roles in his biography — and at just age 37 — Angle catches himself thinking about his next step, on and off the stage. Typically, the professional career of a ballet dancer is not a long one, he said, and he needs to be realistic.
“I have a million ideas, and no idea,” he said. “That’s the question in this career. I love dance, and I love performing arts and music and the non-profit world, so I imagine I would want to stay somehow involved — whether in a studio or not in a studio. I’ve been in the company 20 years, which is insane to me, so maybe I could just retire on the East End. I don’t know if I have the money for that. That could be the best-case scenario, if the lottery numbers finally pan out.”
Nearly every voyage Angle makes to the East End involves a visit to the Oakland Cemetery. In a way, it is part of the principal dancer’s own history.
“George Balanchine had a house out there — many, many years ago — and is in fact buried in Sag Harbor,” he said. “I went to his grave the first time three years ago, and it was so special. So every time I go out there, I try and make a pilgrimage. It’s a very special, serene place.”
Principal Dancer Jared Angle will host “New York City Ballet On and Offstage” on Friday, August 24, at 8 p.m. at Guild Hall, located at 158 Main Street in East Hampton. Tickets range from $45 to $100, or $43 to $95 for members. For more information, please call (631) 324-0806 or visit guildhall.org.