Cassandra Trenary arrives for her interview in a T-shirt printed with a picture of Johnny Money, who’s wanting mightily ticked off. American Ballet Theatre’s summer season season on the Metropolitan Opera Home is in full swing; we’re assembly within the shade of a little bit copse of timber to the appropriate of the theater entrance. Cassie, as she’s recognized, has simply taken morning class, and continues to be a bit pink-cheeked from the trouble. For the previous few weeks, she’d been getting ready for her debut in Romeo and Juliet, which befell in mid-July. “I like Johnny Money,” she says, with a mischievous smile.
The T-shirt and the smile are an apt segue into the dialog that follows. Directness and lack of pretense appear to be a part of Trenary’s DNA, significantly at the moment in her life. In case you ask Trenary a query, she solutions it as straightforwardly and actually as she will be able to. And he or she’s open in regards to the issues that bug her about classical ballet, her chosen career: the unexamined conventions, the truth that so little of the repertory displays the lives of individuals at this time, and the custom of quiet obedience within the studio. However she’s additionally a welcoming interlocutor, partaking and engaged. Her ideas come from a spot of conviction and devotion.
Trenary loves ballet—“I find it irresistible very, very a lot,” she says—she simply desires it to indicate a little bit extra flexibility and openness to totally different views. She desires it to maneuver ahead. “I’m determined to carry extra humanity to it,” she says, “and I need to see one thing that feels common. I feel it’s time we begin speaking about how we are able to inform these tales, and about how we are able to inform new tales, and totally different tales. I would like this artwork kind to outlive.”
This previous yr was her eleventh with ABT, the place she turned an apprentice in April 2011 and a member of the corps earlier than the tip of that yr. She was named a principal dancer in 2020 and turned 29 in August of this yr. By any measure, she’s in her prime, armed with the bodily and psychological instruments to tackle nearly any function.
However regardless of the popularity, her emergence into the classical repertory has been gradual. She has but to chop her tooth on Odette/Odile in Swan Lake or Kitri in Don Quixote, although ABT carried out each ballets throughout its summer season season on the Met. As a substitute, she had one crucial debut throughout that season, as Juliet in Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet. It’s a job Trenary says she’s been pining for since she first noticed a video of it as a pupil. “It was the primary time I had been moved by a ballet in the best way I felt moved after I watched a film or a play. And I believed, Oh, my phrase, that’s it, that’s what I need to do.” Telling tales via motion is central to how she sees herself as a dancer. “I would like folks to really feel like they’re watching life taking place in entrance of them and that the dialogue occurs to be classical ballet.”
Throughout ABT’s fall 2021 season at Lincoln Middle’s David H. Koch Theater, she danced her first Giselle, a job that daunted her partially due to the character’s shyness within the first act. “I suppose I didn’t see myself in it,” she mentioned just a few weeks earlier than that efficiency. As along with her Juliet, she approached it by delving into the character and into the story and discovering photos and sensations she linked with. “She is such an attention-grabbing actress,” says Alexei Ratmansky, ABT’s choreographer in residence, who has forged her in all kinds of roles, starting from a magical chicken in The Golden Cockerel, to a hearty spirit of the harvest in The Seasons, to the breathless younger princess Aurora in The Sleeping Magnificence. For every, Trenary “dived into the function along with her complete coronary heart,” he says.
That complete funding in no matter function she’s creating is without doubt one of the issues that makes Trenary so compelling onstage. You’re much less conscious of every step and its execution, and extra conscious of the best way a scene or passage makes you are feeling, what it’s making an attempt to convey. Typically, her tackle acquainted roles is totally different from what you’re used to, infused with points of her personal spirit. Trenary places thought and energy into these interpretations. Along with working with an appearing coach, Joan Rosenfels, she does lots of outdoors analysis.
Within the case of Romeo and Juliet, this starvation for info took her to London in 2019, the place she met with Lynn Seymour, the ballerina on whom MacMillan created the function of Juliet in 1965. Seymour, who’s now 83, invited her into her residence. They mentioned the ballet over a number of days whereas watching movies and operating via the steps in an area they created in Seymour’s front room. Seymour shared what MacMillan had informed her and the way she had seen the ballet change over time. “One of many greatest takeaways,” says Trenary, “was that there was extra freedom within the function than the best way it’s danced now. She gave me permission to play.”
As along with her Giselle, Trenary needed her Juliet to be extra forceful, to face her floor extra and to keep away from the prettiness that creeps into some performances and takes the viewer out of the story. However when she returned to the rehearsal studio prepared to use what she had discovered, she encountered pushback from the folks staging the ballet for ABT. When a sure interpretation takes maintain, it turns into troublesome to alter. “At first the response was, ‘Um, that’s one solution to do it, however we do it this different method.’ And I might say, ‘Can I ask why?’ ”
“It took lots of braveness for her to take these roles and bend them,” Amanda McKerrow, a former ABT ballerina who just lately started teaching on the firm, mentioned after a rehearsal of Romeo and Juliet. In a method, Trenary has made issues more durable for herself by not merely placing her head down and following a well-known path. “She has to work exhausting with a view to persuade the decision-makers that her interpretations might be legitimate,” says Ratmansky, who admires her tenacity. “I feel she will be able to get there.”
That drive, which was clear early on in her profession—you could possibly sense it even when she was merely main a protracted line of Shades in La Bayadère—has blossomed extra just lately, significantly because the begin of the pandemic. The early months had been troublesome. She moved again residence to Florida, and skilled a serious private relationship change. “I had a lot time alone,” she remembers. “I used to be writing, taking pictures, difficult myself to do choreographic improvisation workouts every single day. And I discovered that I used to be actually, actually completely satisfied doing that.”
Over the following months, she made two quick dance movies, dove deeper into her curiosity in images, and interviewed her grandmother for hours about her experiences rising up and, later, dwelling on a farm in Colorado. “I dove down right into a rabbit gap of household tales, informing myself in regards to the ladies in my household, and why they’re the best way they’re, and why I’m the best way I’m.” At an April residency sponsored by Works & Course of LaunchPAD at Chautauqua, she used a few of that materials as the idea for motion explorations that led to about 25 minutes of solo choreography and a sequence of self-portraits with a Nikon F digital camera (movie, not digital).
Trenary is an keen collaborator, with a specific affinity for up to date dance, which she describes as “my completely satisfied place.” Again in 2020, throughout The Joyce Theater’s digital seasons, she labored with the postmodern choreographer Molissa Fenley, performing her arduous 1988 solo State of Darkness. Right here, her dancing revealed a tough edge, an aggressive, even punk, sensibility. It was the Johnny Money popping out. Trenary didn’t have a look at all like a ballerina. Extra just lately, beneath the auspices of Works & Course of on the Guggenheim, she collaborated with Sonya Tayeh on a bit referred to as Unveiling, stuffed with muscular, fluid choreography and partnering. In it she shared a pas de deux with one other feminine dancer, Ida Saki, one thing that seldom occurs in her day-to-day observe at ABT. (Unveiling was carried out as a part of Restart Levels at Lincoln Middle in June 2021.) “It was so exhausting at first for me to share my weight along with her,” says Trenary. “I needed to learn to use my complete physique to companion, not simply my arms, like we do in classical ballet.” This summer season and fall introduced collaborations with choreographers Jenn Freeman and Twyla Tharp, together with performing in Tharp’s firm at New York Metropolis Middle in October.
The extra Trenary learns in outdoors tasks, the extra she brings again to her work with ABT. And the extra her thoughts opens to new potentialities. She jokes that she would love to bounce the function of Espada, the swashbuckling toreador in Don Quixote. “It’s one saut de basque and the remaining is like jazz dance. I feel I might accomplish that,” she says along with her mischievous smile.
The previous few years—the isolation of COVID-19, her promotion to principal and the immersion in a number of inventive tasks—have fueled a way of urgency about her career, and her place inside it. She finds that she questions lots of issues. These questions have helped her emerge as an artist with not solely a powerful viewpoint, but in addition the willingness to do the work required to make attention-grabbing, knowledgeable inventive selections.
That work bore fruit in her Juliet debut. Her efficiency was intimate, susceptible and unadorned. As an viewers member, you virtually forgot that these had been choreographed ballet steps, and as an alternative had been caught up within the story because it unfolded. No fairly poses, no mendacity on the mattress along with her ft pointed or arching her again over the tomb within the Capulet crypt. “We weren’t making an attempt to venture or inform the viewers to take a look at us,” says Calvin Royal III, her companion for the efficiency and an in depth good friend. “It was virtually like we had been in a film.” For Trenary, that’s a step in the appropriate course.