The Boys of Ballet: Meet 8 Up-and-Coming Danseurs

February 28, 2017

There’s a new generation of danseurs on the rise—and they’re more than just technical standouts (though, yes, they’re seriously talented). Forget feeling defensive or self-conscious about wearing tights: These men are unabashedly embracing their artistry. Onstage and online, they’re celebrating the power and allure of the male dancer. Here are eight young phenoms redefining what it means to be a ballet boy. —Margaret Fuhrer

Aran Bell

Apprentice, American Ballet Theatre

The last time most of the world saw Aran Bell, on screen in the 2011 film First Position, he was a pint-sized 11-year-old with larger-than-life stage presence (and an enthusiasm for pogo sticks and BB guns). These days, he moves with the same princely sweep—but at 6′ 3″, with beautifully polished technique, he’s traded “aww” factor for awe factor. “People barely recognize me from the film now, because I’ve literally grown two feet!” he says. “But I couldn’t have asked for better publicity.”

Growing up, Bell traveled with his family as his father’s military assignments changed, so his training resumé is unusually diverse: He studied for three years at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, worked with Denys Ganio in Rome, Italy, and trained with Fabrice Herrault in NYC. After spending several summers at American Ballet Theatre’s intensive, he joined the ABT Studio Company at age 15 and scored an apprenticeship with ABT two years later. He got to perform with the company at the Metropolitan Opera House last spring—a dream come true—and will earn his corps contract on March 6. “I’ve always been inspired by so many of the amazing male dancers in ABT,” he says. Now, at just 18, he’s one of them. —MF

Dammiel Cruz

Corps de ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet

With his regal stage presence and razor-sharp technique, 19-year-old Dammiel Cruz radiates quiet authority onstage. Born and raised in Queens, NYC, Cruz comes from a dance family. “Both my grandmother and mother were professional dancers in the Dominican Republic,” he says. “They inspired me to carry on my family’s tradition.” He enrolled at the School of American Ballet in 2005, and was a recipient of the school’s Mae L. Wien Award in 2015. He then joined Pacific Northwest Ballet School’s Professional Division program for six months—but at that point he was already living the life of a company member, performing corps roles in company performances of George Balanchine’s Prodigal Son and Crystal Pite’s Emergence. To nobody’s surprise, he was made an apprentice in 2016 and a corps de ballet member a few short months later. —Olivia Manno

Peter Weil

Corps de ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet

Not many guys can say they’ve danced a leading role while just an apprentice. But Pennsylvania Ballet’s Peter Weil can. Last year, PAB artistic director (and former American Ballet Theatre star) Angel Corella cast him as Basilio in Don Quixote—a huge vote of confidence from someone whose own Basilio is world-famous.

Weil, now 20, started his dance training at the Metropolitan Ballet Academy in Jenkintown, PA, as part of its unique boys’ scholarship program. “I grew up in a class of 25 boys,” Weil says, “so I never felt uncomfortable or embarrassed about being a dancer.” He spent two years as a trainee with Boston Ballet before heading to Next Generation Ballet in Tampa, FL, to work with acclaimed teacher Peter Stark. Since joining Pennsylvania Ballet II in 2015, Weil has had a whirlwind career—Corella promoted him to apprentice, then corps, within one year, and in addition to his big Basilio break he’s danced plum roles, including Melancholic in The Four Temperaments and the Jester in Cinderella. “Angel has really worked with me on dancing big, since I’m a smaller guy, and he’s really helped my acting, too,” Weil says. “Having him in the front of the room every day is pretty remarkable—it’s still shocking for me.” —Amy Brandt

Christopher Grant

Corps de ballet, New York City Ballet

Since he’s an NYC native, Christopher Grant’s local Nutcracker was New York City Ballet’s production—a pretty impressive introduction to ballet. “My mother took me, and the level of talent was incredible,” he says. “As soon as I saw Chinese, I turned to her and said, ‘This is what I want to do.’ A guy comes out of a box and immediately starts doing split jumps? Sign me up.” He enrolled at The School of American Ballet (NYCB’s affiliate school), and spent the next decade soaking up Balanchine technique, developing impressive speed and attack.

In 2015, Grant became an apprentice with the company, and quickly got a major break: a lead role in Mothership, by choreographer Nicolas Blanc, which premiered at the company’s 2016 spring gala. In a cast of young standouts, Grant shone especially bright, gliding through the high-intensity choreography with a feline fluidity. “To do that piece on a Lincoln Center stage was such a wake-up call—I was shaking,” he says. “But it also helped me realize that performing isn’t just about me, which helped my nerves. I perform for my partner, for the audience. My job is to give as much as I can.” Now a corps member, Grant is bringing that generosity to a wide range of repertoire, including an original role in principal Lauren Lovette’s first work for the company, For Clara. —MF

Esteban Hernández

Corps de ballet, San Francisco Ballet

Esteban Hernández’s ballet career began in an unusual place: the backyard of his home in Guadalajara, Mexico. That’s where his father, a former professional dancer who danced with Dance Theatre of Harlem, Houston Ballet and Harkness Ballet, taught class for Hernández and his siblings. Hernández was serious from the start, and after four years training at home, he moved to Philadelphia to study at The Rock School for Dance Education on scholarship. In 2010, a Youth America Grand Prix scholarship had him traveling the globe again, this time to the Royal Ballet School in London. He auditioned for San Francisco Ballet during his final year at RBS. “I had the chance to visit my brother”—former SFB dancer and current English National Ballet lead principal Isaac Hernández—”a few times while I was still in school,” Hernández says. “That gave me a great feeling about San Francisco. The people here are so kind.”

Since joining SFB, Hernández, now 22, has danced dozens of roles, with a rep that includes everything from George Balanchine’s Theme and Variations to Liam Scarlett’s Fearful Symmetries. In addition to his onstage accomplishments, Hernández participates in his brother’s outreach efforts to improve ballet education in Mexico. “I think it’s important for me as a dancer, as well as a human being, to give something back to the people of my country,” he says. —Nicole Loeffler-Gladstone

Alexander Maryianowski

Artist, Boston Ballet

Dance is in Alexander Maryianowski’s blood: His parents are professional ballroom dancers. Though Maryianowski did a typical range of sports and activities growing up in Abilene, TX, it was ballet that stuck. He trained at Ballet Abilene and at the Houston Ballet Ben Stevenson Academy, and at 17 he decided to follow in his parents’ footsteps and pursue dance professionally.

After a year with Houston Ballet II, Maryianowski joined Boston Ballet II in 2014. Halfway through his second season with BBII, he was handpicked to dance the principal role of Lensky in John Cranko’s Onegin. Now he’s a full-fledged artist with the company, learning featured parts in The Nutcracker and William Forsythe’s Artifact—but the 22-year-old isn’t resting on his laurels. “I stay at the studio every night to work on technique or on roles I’m dancing,” he says. “Security is always coming to kick me out, like, ‘We have to close. Go home!’ I’m just so focused on my dream of becoming a principal dancer.” —Helen Rolfe

Hansol Jeong

The Joffrey Ballet

Hansol Jeong hurtled through the air in a giant rivoltade, and the audience let out a gasp. It was the final round

of the 2014 USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson, MS, and Jeong was nailing the difficult Diana and Actaeon solo, tossing off split leaps and à la seconde turns. His impressive performance earned him the gold medal. “I was the first Korean to win it, and got a lot of recognition back home,” Jeong says. He also caught the eye of Joffrey Ballet artistic director Ashley Wheater, who offered him a job. In 2015, Jeong moved to the U.S. to join the company.

Chicago is half a world away from Seoul, where Jeong, now 24, trained at the Sunhwa Arts School and Sejong University. He’s still getting used to the cultural and language differences, but he loves all Chicago has to offer, and admits he’s now a proud Cubs fan. “It’s part of being a Chicagoan.”

He’s also made an impression on his new city. Shortly after joining The Joffrey, Jeong was cast as Fritz and the Snow Prince in Robert Joffrey’s Nutcracker, and he performed the Chinese divertissement in Christopher Wheeldon’s production last December. “I want to make Korea proud as a dancer here in America.” —AB

Harper Watters

Demi-soloist, Houston Ballet

Harper Watters has the kind of powerful charisma that projects both onstage, when he’s performing with Houston Ballet, and online, in his hilariously entertaining YouTube series “The Pre Show.” He started developing that magnetic presence as a young kid in Dover, NH, dreaming of joining Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater as he studied at Portsmouth School of Ballet and the Walnut Hill School for the Performing Arts. But after a transformational summer at the Houston Ballet Academy Summer Intensive, he realized his path lay in the ballet world.

He joined Houston Ballet as an apprentice in 2011—a major moment. “Do you remember when Beyoncé dropped her album at midnight without telling a soul?” he says. “There was no press, but you had to buy it, because it was Beyoncé? That’s why I wanted to join Houston Ballet—their reputation is incomparable.” Watters became a corps member in 2012 and was promoted to demi-soloist in 2016. Now 25, he’s showcased his talents in everything from George Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments to Ben Stevenson’s Giselle to Aszure Barton’s Angular Momentum. He’s also amassed a loyal social media following, thanks in large part to the “The Pre Show,” which is a refreshingly honest look at a ballet dancer’s day-to-day life. —OM