A Front Row Seat to the Ballet

| 02 Mar 2015 | 05:03

New York City Ballet's Chase Finlay on The Nutcracker, fantasy football, and his company's new online series

The largest ballet company in the country is getting personal. Although the New York City Ballet captivates its audience night after night, not much is known about the dancers' individual journeys. This is where the new AOL On Original series city.ballet comes in. A camera crew spent this year's rehearsal season capturing the dancers' daily lives and conducting one-on-one interviews to get their first-hand perspectives. Principal dancer Chase Finlay finds the series, which premiers on November 4th, to be an honest portrayal. "They're really showing the dedication and the amount of work it takes to do what we do," he said. While the 23-year-old's typical day consists of 12 hours of ballet, he stills find time to play the drums, model, and cheer on the Giants. It's personalized information like this that the series will convey in the hopes of bridging the gap that exists between the stage and the audience. Finlay agrees, "It will get the audience to start relating to us and seeing us as people on stage, creating that much more of a bond."

You are currently recovering from breaking your foot on stage!

It was in the middle of Swan Lake in the third act. I was out there; it was the opening section. I did a jump and just landed wrong, on the side of my foot. I pretty much knew from the moment it happened that it was bad. I thought it was a sprain, but the ballet masters were already backstage because they heard it from the audience. It was pretty nasty.

Will you be able to dance in the The Nutcracker this year?

Umm, I'm keeping my fingers crossed 'til the end, but if it's not ready, I'm not gonna push it.

You've said that you knew you wanted to become a dancer after seeing that show.

I went to The Nutcracker because my sister was in it. It was the second act when the male dancer in the Chinese role comes out of the box and starts doing all these crazy jumps. I was playing sports at the time and saw the athleticism of it. I barely remember it, but my mom said I told her, "I have to do this."

I read that you quit your first ballet class because it was all girls.

I started in a pre-ballet class, the only guy in there. All they were doing was skipping around, throwing flowers. I was like, "What the hell did I get myself into?" [Laughs] It was just a few months later when the teacher grabbed me and put me in the boys' class.

What challenges do you face being a male ballet dancer?

It's pretty standard for every young, male dancer to get teased at school. That doesn't happen to me anymore, especially living in the area that I live in, ballet is becoming more and more common. Now, it's almost that people congratulate you for being a ballet dancer, which is kind of cool.

Why did you choose New York City Ballet over American Ballet Theatre?

I was actually auditioning for the School of American Ballet and American Ballet Theatre at the same time. I got into both, but my decision was based on my watching the two companies with a professional, as opposed to a kid's, point of view. I just started to see that New York City Ballet Corps dancers get so much experience on stage right off the bat. Whereas with the story ballets, sometimes when you first start off with them, there's a tendency to be in a costume in the back, waltzing. You train for 12 years to waltz in a big costume? [Laughs]

Being from Fairfield, Connecticut, you must have been commuting a lot into the city as a kid.

I trained at Ballet Academy East on the Upper East Side. I commuted from Connecticut to New York every day until I was old enough to take the train, or have friends in the city I could stay with. For the most part, all of those years it was my mom schlepping me back and forth every day.

Do you think the city.ballet series accurately depicts a professional dancer's life?

There was the Black Swan and other ballet series that are just all oriented on the gossip aspect of it. This series shows the heart and soul that you have to put into it, and focuses on getting to know us as people as opposed to the drama that's involved in how people get parts. Most of that is left out in this series.

In a preview clip, they ask dancers where they're from and what kind of music they listen to.

As an audience member, you see dancers on stage, but don't know who we are. This is a cool way to get to the backstage aspect of it all.

How was it taped? Did a crew come to your rehearsals?

Yeah, in the period before our season started, they were at almost all of my rehearsals. They were in class every morning. Every time we had a second, they grabbed us and pulled us aside to touch up on what they just filmed.

Sarah Jessica Parker narrates the docudrama. Did you have much interaction with her?

I've had interviews with her specifically; she's a really nice lady. Yeah, she was around a few times. She wasn't around as extensively as the camera people obviously, but yes, she was definitely a part of it.

What is the atmosphere like backstage before a show?

It's fairly hectic before a show, but it's that five minutes before the curtain goes up, when everybody is in their zone and comes together on stage right before the curtain comes up, that is a really cool experience. I hope that film crew got some of that footage, because that, to me, is almost like a spiritual kind of moment for a dancer.

Since you spend most of your time at the theater, what are your favorite restaurants in the vicinity of Lincoln Center?

The Smith opened up in Lincoln Center. Obviously, [Café] Fiorello's, Rosa Mexicano. Every month, me and a few buddies go down to the Old Homestead and get steaks. That's our guys'-night-out kind of place. For great food, I love going down to Barbuto, on 12th Street.

I heard you're a Giants fan. Where do you watch their games?

There's a sports bar on 56th and 9th called Lincoln Park. I, embarrassing enough, play fantasy football, [Laughs] so I usually just try to find a place that shows every game if possible so I can keep tabs on all the players.

You've also modeled for Abercrombie and Fitch and French Vogue. When do you find the time to fit that into your schedule?

[Laughs] The photo shoot I did for Vogue and Abercrombie was literally 24 hours in South Beach, Miami. On my day off, they flew me there. I finished a show on Sunday, and they flew me out that night. I did a photo shoot all day, and then they flew me back at midnight so I could get back to class the next morning.

What are your future plans?

I hope to dance as long as my body lets me. A male dancer's career goes until hopefully about 40. People always ask me this question, and it's good to think about, but right now I'm just so swamped and focused with my career as it is now. But, later in life, I would love to start my own company and run that. I think there's nothing cooler than breeding all of your own dancers, putting them to ballets you think they'd be good at, and then watching that product.

To learn more about the series, visit www.cityballet.com