ABT dancer Thomas Forster makes quite a presence as he stands in one corner of the studio during a break in rehearsal.
He’s 35 years old, but he has a childlike height and demeanour. He wears a surgical mask and athletic shorts under a dark velvet cloak, yet his bowed head and sad expression give him the appearance of a sad prince from a fairy tale illustration.
An Unassuming Prince Dons the Velvet Cloak at Ballet Theater
Forster is practising the entrance of Count Albrecht in Act II of “Giselle,” and she is one of six dancers at American Ballet Theater who were elevated to principal in September of last year.
In February of 2020, a month before the pandemic essentially wiped out all performing arts, he gave a single performance of the part in Washington. He had no idea when or if he would get to dance it again after that.
His upcoming April debut in “Swan Lake” has been postponed. For the Ballet Theater’s “Debut Deferred” series, he made a humorous video in which he performs turns in his living room while his son Benjamin, then 3 years old, runs around with a stuffed elephant; Forster then hits his head against the ceiling while attempting a double tour, a type of turning jump. It’s difficult to practise at home when you’re 6-foot-3 and a half feet tall.
His New York premiere is on Friday in the ballet “Giselle,” a Romantic masterpiece from the 19th century. There are a total of six new releases in this genre this week. Forster recently reflected on his one performance in the past 20 months, saying, “There are shows where you forget time and steps and skill.” “I really do wish I could get back to that.”
A young woman in “Giselle” dies after discovering that the man she loves is not who he claims to be, which causes her to go into shock and ultimately commit herself. Forster was practising a scenario that involved a guilty Albrecht carrying a bouquet of lilies to her grave in the dead of night at the Ballet Theater on that fateful day.
A sad cello tune can make the scene too dramatic. Many dancers flaunt the billowing cloak as they glide across the stage, drawing attention to their gracefully arched feet. No, not Forster.
His reading is unobtrusive, laser-like, and uncomplicated. After the practise, Kevin McKenzie, the artistic director of Ballet Theater, remarked, “Tom has always had an interesting energy that caught your attention.” “It has dramatic undertones,” he said.
Forster has always been at his best when his roles call for him to convey a sense of frailty and humanity, such as the cadet who is left by his fiancée in Antony Tudor’s “Lilac Garden” (1936) and the Ukrainian soldier who returns to his home after World War I in Alexei Ratmansky’s “On the Dnieper” (2009).
Forster’s “unaffected and genuine acting” and “wonderful lines and arched feet, which bring gentleness and poetry to his dance,” respectively, are what attracted Ratmansky to cast him in multiple key roles, including “Serenade After Plato’s Symposium.”
However, his advancement via Ballet Theater has been gradual despite his competence, lyrical good looks, and acting talents. Forster attended the Royal Ballet School in London and eventually became a member of Ballet Theater’s Studio Company in 2006 thanks to an exchange programme.
(Like Billy Elliot, Forster began ballet at a school in a local church, where he was the only boy.) Forster grew up in the southeast London district of Penge.
Given the choice between joining the Birmingham Royal Ballet or coming to New York, he picked New York, urged by his father, sculptor Frank Forster. His father, a former amateur boxer, had always supported his son’s dream of becoming a ballet dancer.
A year later, in 2007, Thomas Forster joined the main company. His journey to soloist took eight years, and the subsequent five years to principal.
Forster was Able to Shake off the COVID-19 Blahs Thanks to the Promotion, and he’s been going Strong Ever since.
He purchased a Rogue Echo Bike, a stationary bicycle that employs a fan to provide resistance when you pedal, to maintain his fitness while gyms and rehearsal studios were closed. He referred to it as a “killer,” emphasising its lethal nature. You’ll be gasping for air in just four minutes.
One upside to his extended period of inactivity was bonding time with his son Benjamin, who enjoys learning and performing Gene Kelly dance routines. (This upcoming fall, he will begin ballet training at a Ballet Theater-affiliated school.)
Forster and Shari Siadat published a children’s book last year titled “My Daddy Can Fly!” with narration in Benjamin’s voice. It will be available later on in 2018.
In his opinion, it’s better that he’s a father than a young phenom at the start of this new chapter of his career. He no longer feels like he has to prove himself at every rehearsal and performance. It’s the end of the road for me professionally, and I’m savouring every moment, Forster remarked.
Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, but I no longer give much thought to the opinions of others. I’m just putting in my best effort and trying to appreciate the journey along the way.
What, he doesn’t cry when he misses a turn as some other dancers do? “I’d be crying all the time,” he said.