Ballet dancers make it look easy. That's one of the signs of a great performance. But as supple and spirited as they appear to be onstage, they sweat, pant and sometimes even collapse backstage from a physical effort as taxing as the hardest contest in sports. Lesley Stahl explores the world of ballet at its center in New York City, and talks to the NYC Ballet's ballet master-in- chief, who is charged with preserving its future. Her report will be broadcast on 60 Minutes Sunday, Nov. 25 at 7:00 p.m. ET/PT.
The future of the ballet rides on the backs of young dancers like Robbie Fairchild, whose performance of the title role in "Apollo" is captured by 60 Minutes cameras at New York's Lincoln Center. Fairchild had a year to think about one of the most demanding roles in all of ballet. "Terrifying. Absolutely terrifying. I had a year leading up to this moment, just thinking about this role," he tells Stahl. "It's the one thing I was like, 'God, I want to do that so badly.'"
After a 20-minute portion of the ballet full of difficult jumps and leaps, he gets a break. Backstage, cameras are there to see him immediately collapse panting, sweating and spent. He lay there for as many minutes as he could. "You come off, you have to just basically fall asleep for the little chance you have, so that when you got back, you can have as much as you can," says the 25-year-old dancer from Utah.
By sheer will, he went back onstage showing no hint of the physical and mental exhaustion that caused him to fall in a heap. "I have to make myself go in a complete opposite of how I feel," says Fairchild, who overcame the teasing he encountered as a child with a pure love for dance. "God help you if you told people you did ballet...I got...razzed for it. But if you love something so much...no matter how...much someone teases you for it you got to follow it."
Few people love ballet more than Peter Martins, the company's ballet-master-in-chief, who must deal with the fact that ballet is becoming less popular. He began as a dancer with the NYC Ballet and became its head after the death of its legendary founder, George Balanchine in 1983. Back then, the ballet sold out all the time. Martins says Russian defectors probably helped. "When Baryshnikov and Nureyev defected it gave it a mystery. When Baryshnikov danced for the New York City Ballet, we had sold out houses all the time," he tells Stahl.
Martins must nurture talented dancers to keep the ballet vibrant but he also has to fill seats. He commissioned ex-Beatle Paul McCartney to compose music for a ballet he choreographed, knowing the critics would pounce on such a move. "Oh, it packed the theaters. Absolutely it worked," says Martins. Pressed by Stahl that the critic's harsh words must have hurt, Martins responds, "When you say 'hurts,' that would suggest that you always think that [the critics] know better... that they know what they're talking about. What matters really is what you think."