Margaret Tracey and Ben Huys are part of the new generation of New York City Ballet dancers who never knew company founder and choreographer George Balanchine in any personal way and are now entrusted with his ballets.
But despite lacking the benefits of a personal connection with the seminal choreographer, these two talents have flowered in recent seasons, as each took on demanding assignments with aplomb.
Tracey and Huys, both 23, come to Orange County as soloists who have accumulated a considerable repertory of important roles. While a one-week season (performances continue through Sunday, Sept. 30) can give only a sampling, each has some plum assignments.
Tracey danced Balanchine's "Tarantella" on opening night and will perform the featured role that Peter Martins created for her in his most recent ballet, "Fearful Symmetries," on Friday, Sept. 28, and Saturday, Sept. 29, at the Performing Arts Center. Huys was in the First Theme of Balanchine's "The Four Temperaments" on opening night and will be seen as the Man in Green in Jerome Robbins' "Dances at a Gathering" on Thursday, Sept. 27, and at the matinee on Saturday, Sept. 29.
During breaks between recent rehearsals at the New York State Theater, Tracey and Huys each took time to look back on the route that led them to NYCB.
Both had to travel a considerable distance--albeit in opposite directions--to get to New York, and overcome initial discomfort at finding themselves alone in the city at a very young age.
Tracey, one of four children of a talented family in Pueblo, Colo. (her younger sister, Kathleen, is also in the company), came to the NYCB-affiliated School of American Ballet at 15 after auditioning in Colorado, and studied there for four years.
"I was dying to get out of Pueblo," recalled Tracey, who received the bulk of her early training from her mother. "I knew that if I wanted to be a professional, Colorado had nothing to offer me."
Huys, a native of Ghent, Belgium, who received his ballet training in Antwerp, had longed to join the company but had been frustrated that NYCB does not hold auditions. His success at the Prix de Lausanne competition won him a scholarship to the School of American Ballet in 1985, and after a year of study there, he achieved his long-held goal.
However, Huys' first months at the school were frustrating. His Soviet-based early training was at odds with the speed and attack emphasized there. He was ready to head back to Europe but was persuaded to stick it out.
While both dancers seem to recognize the significance and uniqueness of the Balanchine legacy and of the extensive challenges that NYCB repertory holds for them, each is also out to break some molds.
Huys is concerned that he not be "stereotyped. . . . I would like to do as many different kinds of roles as I can. Otherwise, you don't develop into a complete dancer."
He has his eye on several of Balanchine's knottier Stravinsky ballets, such as "Agon" and "Duo Concertante."
Tracey mentions "Stravinsky Violin Concerto" as a Balanchine ballet that others might not picture her in but that she hopes to try.
Tracey has acquired one of the primary traits associated with Balanchine's dancers: a boldness and energy on stage, a willingness to take chances and give a little extra. "I don't know how to hold back on stage," she said. "If I did, I'd feel I was cheating not only myself but also the audience, and I wouldn't have as much fun."
What: The New York City Ballet.
When: Through Sunday, Sept. 30.
Where: Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.
Whereabouts: One block east of South Coast Plaza shopping center.
Wherewithal: $14 to $49.
Where to Call: (714) 740-2000.