A couple of years ago — at the age of 66 — dancer Naomi Sorkin performed in London’s legendary Coronet Theatre as the spirit of French stage actress Sarah Bernhardt. Her depiction of the femme fatale was well received by the press, but it was the reaction of her fellow, much younger dancers that stayed with her.
“In today’s world, so much is technique oriented. And it’s not to say there aren’t incredible dancers, but the emphasis has changed, and people saw things [when I performed] that they perhaps don’t see typically,” she says. “The primary goal of my teachers was always about dancing as an incredible, expressive art form that was capable of communicating the deepest of all human emotions.”
The technical demands of classical ballet are what make it a young person’s game. But those who endure are the ones who understand and transmit the potential of dance, as Sorkin laid it out above.
“The last two years have been hugely diminished in terms of what I’ve been able to do with my legs and feet. But the primary part of expression happens in the upper part of the body, and that I’m still very much capable of.”
Sorkin’s career began young, when she ascended quickly through the ranks of the prestigious American Ballet Theatre company in New York to become principal dancer. After spending time in a few companies, she became one of the first ballerinas to strike out on her own. A recital she performed accompanied only by piano and cello was well received in both Europe and the US and she eventually settled in London.
But Sorkin is also one of those restless, curious minds. She never fully immersed herself in the dance scene in England, preferring instead to stretch her boundaries further by taking to the stage in acting roles. She had studied at the renowned Stella Adler Studio in New York before moving to London and drew on that experience to perform speaking roles in the West End, and for renowned choreographer William Forsythe in Frankfurt.
It’s that kind of spirit that’s enabled her to be fearless in the way she evolves her talent and finds new avenues for it. She began building a small side line in interior design after a few friends smitten with her style asked her to re-do their homes. A couple of years ago, she began vocal exercises with voice coach (and recent AGEIST feature) Philip Foster. She’s far away from signing professionally, but that, after all, is not really the point.
“I feel good doing the exercises … it makes you breathe more deeply,” she says, “and I feel like I’m ready to emerge again, in a different way.”
So how does someone who has excelled at the top of their profession wrap their head around being bad at something again?
“Everything is a continual growing, learning curve,” she told me. “I’m not always patient. I’m trying to be kind to myself. I’m trying not to judge as much.”
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