Astorian’s sugarplum dreams come true

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It was the tiara and the tutu that initially beguiled Lily Balogh.

Like thousands of other young girls, from all backgrounds, who were mesmerized when they took in their first performance of “The Nutcracker” by the New York City Ballet, Balogh was captivated by the childlike magic and feminine delicacy of the ballet — Tschaikovsky’s music, Balanchine’s choreography, the sets, costumes, and E.T.A. Hoffmann’s germinal story, dating back to 1816.

“I remember it was really pretty and I really wanted to do it,” said Balogh. “I thought it would be a great job to dress up. I didn’t realize it would be such hard work.”

Unlike scores of would-be ballerinas who pledged a career in dance after seeing the classic Christmastime production, Lily carried through with hers.

Her mother saw an ad for community dance auditions at Cathy’s Dance Studio in Astoria and Lily, at age 6, began taking ballet, jazz and tap lessons.

Perhaps part of the reason for Lily’s parents’ devotion to the classical arts is that though she was born and raised in Astoria, her parents emigrated from Hungary.

“In Europe, there is an undertone of art and of history,” said Lily, who often visits Hungary with her parents. “Every time I go there I come back here with a different perspective.”

By the time she was 9, Lily was ready to audition for one of the community auditions The School of American Ballet holds throughout the city, including Queens. The grueling spring sessions are designed to recruit fledgling stars to train at SAB’s headquarters at Lincoln Center.

Less than one audition in five is invited into the program. Lily made the cut and enrolled as a full-time student in the fall of 2001.

She trained at the prestigious school for nine years, coming up through the Children’s Division, Intermediate Division, and Advanced Division. By the time students reach the Advanced Division, the classes are comprised mainly of students from across the country.

“Sometimes as a dancer you focus so much on the physicality of what you are doing, you lose focus that you are making art,” she said.

By the time her ballet schedule reached the point where she was commuting to SAB from Queens six days a week, for a total of 18 hours of dance class, Lily decided to transfer from her Catholic parochial school in Queens to the Professional Performing Arts School in Manhattan for ninth and tenth grades.

Lily first performed in Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker” with the SAB at ages 10 and 11. In 2002, she was a party scene guest and a soldier. The following year, she revised her role as a soldier. She returned to Nutcracker at age 14 as a teenaged party guest in Act I.

In addition to her roles in “The Nutcracker,” Lily appeared with the New York City Ballet in “Harlequinade” in 2004 and “Firebird” in 2007. In the spring of 2010, Lily was chosen by Peter Martins, who is both the Chairman of Faculty at SAB and the Ballet Master in Chief at NYCB, to become an apprentice with the NYCB.

She began her one-year apprenticeship this past September, along with six other students. In the coming year, Lily will be given the opportunity to perform up to eight ballets. By next fall, the apprentices hope they will receive offers to join the ballet company as corps members.

In this production of “The Nutcracker,” she is thrilled to be performing as a maid in Act I and in the beloved Hot Chocolate scene in Act II. Even after years of mastering her art, Lily Balogh is still in part that little girl entranced by Sugarplum Fairies, Lands of Sweets and the dancers who conjure them.

“When I first started, I just remember being in awe of all the dancers,” she said. “‘The Nutcracker’ always has a certain magic about it. Every time we go on stage, we know that there are a lot of kids in the audience. We also know we are inspiring a new generation of dancers.”

Updated 6:18 pm, October 10, 2011
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