Local Arts

Belmont's Remy Young is a ballerina on the brink

Remy Young in Alexei Ratmansky's Bolero with the ABT Studio Company.
Remy Young in Alexei Ratmansky's Bolero with the ABT Studio Company.

This was the dream: To take a physically punishing class every day, live in a two-bedroom space with four other young women and five guys – plus a house mother in the third bedroom – and make almost enough money to pay your bills in one of the world’s most expensive cities.

This was the dreamer: Dedicated, single-minded Remy Young of Belmont. Or, rather, from Belmont, now of New York.

And this is the end of that dream and the beginning of a new one: After three years of training with American Ballet Theatre, including one year dancing for its Studio Company, the 18-year-old Remy graduated to apprentice status with the main company this winter. Now her body, her dedication and the gods of chance will determine how high she can rise.

“One thing that’s particular to American Ballet Theatre is that dancers have to be real human beings,” says Raymond Lukens, artistic director of ABT’s national training curriculum. “Our repertoire requires that they be fine actors and credible onstage. From Day One, Remy (had an) amazing natural way of moving and reacting and expressing herself. In that sense, she really is quite a standout – a total method actor-dancer.”

Says Lauren Post, the ABT corps de ballet dancer serving as Remy’s mentor, “Her strengths as a dancer set her apart. She seems smart and mature. A lot of girls who come up through Studio Company have been told their whole life that they’re prodigies and ... assume they’ll be a star immediately, but she has no sense of entitlement. She’s very respectful, always learning and watching senior dancers. She will do well.”

Did destiny come with her genes?

Remy’s the granddaughter of Gay Porter, who danced in the original London productions of “The King and I” and “Kismet” and has run Charlotte Youth Ballet for 36 years. Young’s mom, Bridget Porter Young, directs Belmont School of Ballet (where Gay Porter also teaches) and started training Remy there at 3.

“I always saw the performances Mom and Grandma put on, and I was so used to them that they never seemed like a big thing,” Remy said a year ago. “Then, at 9, I saw Gillian Murphy dance ‘Swan Lake’ at ABT. I remember sitting at the Metropolitan (Opera House), surrounded by people who loved ballet, and it just got me.

“And now Gillian Murphy’s dancing Aurora in ‘Sleeping Beauty’ – and I’m in the show.”

At the time, Remy was performing with the Studio Company. That meant endless training and educational performances, runouts to places such as Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Queens. It meant taking the lead in George Balanchine’s “Theme and Variations” for ABT’s Summer Intensive program and holding a flower garland in the mainstage production of “Beauty.” Last Christmas, she flew to California to be a snowflake and a flower in ABT’s “Nutcracker.” (New York City Ballet has sewn up the Manhattan market with Balanchine’s version.)

Studio Company grads have become some of the most celebrated principal dancers at ABT: Misty Copeland, Herman Cornejo, David Hallberg and many others. Such people take the first step on a long ladder from apprentice to corps to soloist to principal, if the artistic director thinks they have the chops.

“I cannot tell you a percentage of those who get into ABT and those who dance elsewhere, but currently there are 58 dancers (out of 88 total) who have gone through Studio Company,” says Kate Lydon, artistic director of that troupe.

“Every dancer we select has the potential to have a career with American Ballet Theatre. No matter what their rank, they will all have enriching artistic experiences. This is what we’re preparing them for: The life of a dancer.”

That life? Work and more work

Just before her elevation to apprentice, Remy was getting up at 7 to breakfast on oatmeal and Greek yogurt and take the subway to class. She’d put in an hour of yoga and two hours of classical training (pointe class or pas de deux class), take a 30-minute break for an energy bar or an apple, then go into rehearsals that lasted until 4:30 or even 6:30.

She might get home at 7:30 or 8 to cook dinner and repair pointe shoes – she goes through two pairs a week – before going to bed at 11:30. Weekends were for museums and jaunts to Central and Riverside parks.

Now, she says, “I’m no longer in training, so to speak. I rehearse and dance with the company all day. There’s much more responsibility, almost a bit of pressure, and I’m getting paid (more). You aren’t required to take class – you just have to be at your job when you’re called – but I still take it every day. I would never miss.”

Her work ethic showed up early and in full force.

“Mom and Grandma didn’t demand that I dance,” she recalls. “Mom said, ‘Play school sports if you want. Be on the cheerleading team. But you’ll have to make a choice. Do you want to be serious about being a dancer? If you do, I’m going to work you hard.’

“Once I had to make that choice, it was a no-brainer. I was the one who pushed for it.”

And pushed again at 12 to study in the Summer Intensive program of New York City Ballet, ABT’s great rival. Her parents checked her into the dorm at Lincoln Center, where she lived for the summer of 2010.

“It was intimidating,” she remembers. “I started to get nervous when I realized there would be better dancers than I was, all there to work hard and grow.”

The scariest decision

She went back for three years, then told her parents the big news: She wanted to drop out of South Point High School in Belmont to go full-time to ballet school in New York, finishing high school online.

She chose ABT’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School over NYCB’s School of American Ballet, because ABT favored Cecchetti training methods she’d learned since childhood from her mother and grandmother. She knew immediately, at 15, that she’d found a home.

“It was extreme,” she says. “It’s a harsh lifestyle: I didn’t have much life outside of ballet. But it was also a ball. I got to dance in Russia!” (The school sent students to Moscow for the Premio Roma Jia Ruskaja, an international exhibition for young dancers.)

“I feel like everyone experiences doubt at some point. You ask yourself, ‘Can I find a place for myself?’ But when you’re immersed in dance, you always come down from your highs and up from your lows. You know you’re doing what you’re meant to do.”

Though she’s had dancer-type injuries, including a dislocated shoulder last March that required physical therapy, she has been doubly blessed – first with good health and second with a good frame.

“Physically, she has a great body,” says Lauren Post, now in her ninth year with ABT’s corps. “I’m talking about shapes of legs and feet and in general. The way ballet works is so weird – everyone’s expected to look slim and long-legged, with arched feet – and she just fits that bill. Body type is nothing she’ll ever have to worry about.”

Raymond Lukens says four things determine dancers’ potential success with ABT.

The path to dance triumphs

First, “whether they make consistent progress as they go up the ranks. Another is that their bodies don’t change dramatically; they have to have the look of the dancer, athletic and strong. The third is whether they can take the mental distress that is sometimes (part of) this profession. And (fourth), sometimes they have an unlucky injury that cuts a career short.

“Yet even if they’re perfect, the thing that’s most frustrating for us is when the company has no available contract, because there’s no spot open. But we have a tremendous track record, a rate of 100 percent employment for our graduates; they go on to Royal Ballet, Paris Opera, Houston, Boston, San Francisco if we don’t have space for them.”

Remy will know her future by July. The company offers 21-week, nonrenewable contracts to apprentices; when those end, artistic director Kevin Mackenzie will decide how many spots he needs to fill in the corps next season.

Last year, she says, “A lot of people retired, so they’ve been in need of girls. Some move up to soloists; some move to other companies; some go out for pregnancy or health reasons. These 21 weeks that I’m an apprentice are basically one long audition to be in the corps. I always behave as if someone is watching me, even if someone isn’t.”

When you ask Kate Lydon whether Remy can move up in the company, she says, “Remy is talented, beautiful, graceful, respectful and has a strong, clean technique. Perhaps more importantly, she is a hard worker who is also consistent. You can trust her to get the job done.

“I cannot predict the future. However, Remy is already living her dream of being a professional dancer. She's having experiences daily that are shaping the artist she is and the artist she will become.”

Toppman: 704-358-5232

Remy Young

Age: 18.

Family: Father Blair, a web designer. Mother Bridget, artistic director of Belmont School of Ballet; younger brother Thomas, 13, an actor.

Only job she’s ever wanted: The one she has.

Next big gig: “Sleeping Beauty” on tour with ABT in Detroit, March 31-April 3. Alexei Ratmansky’s new production was inspired by Léon Bakst’s designs for Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes; you could see Remy in the garland dance and as a nymph in the mazurka.

Her goal as a dancer: “To find out who I am and share that with everyone.”

What might surprise you: “She has a wicked sense of humor,” says ABT’s Raynond Lukens. “She seems quiet and reserved, but she’s incredibly funny; with her peers, she’s the center of the party. She doesn’t show that in front of (senior staff), but everyone else tells us how much fun she is.”