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20-Year-Old UWS Ballerina Leaps Into the Spotlight with Prestigious Prize

By Emily Frost | October 24, 2013 10:01am
 Sylar Brandt has been cast in lead roles for the American Ballet Theater and received a Princess Grace Award this fall. 
Local Ballerina Soars with Prestigious Prize and Lead Roles
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UPPER WEST SIDE — Skylar Brandt's parents supported her dance career so much, they were willing to give up their bedroom and sleep in their living room for a year. 

In 2005, the family left behind a house in Westchester and moved to the Upper West Side, where they rented a one-bedroom apartment. They traded the suburban space for cramped city living with the hope their 12-year-old daughter's ballet career would take off once she was exposed to the right teachers.

It was a sacrifice that paid off, helping propel Brandt into the professional ballet world as a member of the American Ballet Theatre and a recipient, among five dancers across the nation, of the 2013 award from the Princess Grace Foundation. The grants support emerging artists and was created in honor of the late Princess of Monaco.

Looking back, Brandt recalls that her parents, Barbara and Gary Brandt, who moved into a two bedroom apartment on the Upper West Side with her in 2006, followed by her moving into her own place nearby last year, took all the upheaval in stride.

As a pre-teen, she persuaded her parents to move their king-size bed into the living room so they could watch TV at night and move in and out of the kitchen without disturbing her.

"Amazingly enough I ended up getting the [only] bedroom," Brandt said, chuckling.

But her parents didn't mind.

"We kind of looked it as camp — all of us sharing a bathroom. We had a lot of fun," remembered Barbara Brandt.

And even though Gary Brandt then had to reverse commute to Greenwich, he "was a good sport," the younger Brandt added.

The next year, Brandt's family expanded to a two-bedroom down the street, and eight years later, Brandt, now 20, pirouetted her way to dance-world stardom.

Now, she's won a prestigious arts award and is getting cast in her first big solo roles this fall

The Princess Grace award will pay her salary this year as a member of ABT

"It’s a super high honor, but it’s also wonderful for ABT because they get the extra money and funding for whatever they need," said Brandt, declining to say how much she was personally awarded.

ABT did not respond to request for comment. 

Brandt applied unsuccessfully for the award a few years ago, so the win means even more to her now and "will open doors for me to work with other extraordinary artists," she said. 

American Ballet Theatre, which Brandt described as one of the top three ballet companies in the world, has around 80 dancers. Man of them only perform in group scenes, as members of the Corps de Ballet, and are never featured in solos or lead parts. Even fewer become principals, the show's stars. 

Friends in the company previously warned Brandt of ABT's high selectivity when it came to casting soloists and principals, so she's tried to be realistic while still pushing for that goal. 

Now her dedication and talent have gotten noticed. 

Brandt experienced a breakthrough in her roles this season, which opens Oct. 30th, three years into her career with the company.

She will play several solo roles in ABT's "The Nutcracker," at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and is dancing the principal role in its "Piano Concerto #1," at Lincoln Center, choreographed by Russian choreographer Alexei Ratmansky, an artist-in-residence with the ABT, and with music by 20th century Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich. 

Receiving the news of the roles was "surreal," she said. 

"I totally had to pinch myself. I was so excited, so elated."

Though those early adolescent years, shuttling between the Professional Children's School and classes at ABT, and then later squeezing private tutoring in between performances for ABT's junior company, were difficult, Brandt always smiles when she remembers her family's closeness, both physically and emotionally. 

She now lives just a few blocks away from her parents, still on the Upper West Side. 

During the official season, Brandt will rehearse for the next show and take classes during the day and then perform at night. 

"It gets super strenuous," she said.

It helps that after an arduous performance at the Koch Theater at Lincoln Center, she just has to walk a few blocks and she's home. 

But she won't be home for long before it's time for a global tour, with company performances in Japan, Australia, Abu Dhabi and D.C. already lined up for 2014. 

Brandt is both "a family person," and "independent," her mother said, a necessity when "you’re touring and you’re managing yourself internationally as a professional ballerina all over the world." 

Brandt's passion for ballet helps her cope with the pressure, but so does the fact that ABT does not at all resemble the "malicious" and "cutthroat" world depicted in the movie Black Swan, but is instead a "supportive" place, she said. 

"She did exactly what she wanted to do. I really commend her and we’re all proud of her," said her mother.