When Taylor Falb first saw a Russian ballet production of Swan Lake at 8 years old, she set her sights on a future full of pointe shoes.
Everything about the ballet inspired her.
"Watching the story be told through movement, even little 8 year old me could comprehend it," Falb recalled. "From the moment I saw 'Swan Lake' for the first time, I was like, 'That's my dream role.' I've always wanted to dance that — between that and sugar plum fairy — it's been something I've very much dreamed of doing."
The time to star in "Swan Lake" is yet to come for Falb, a Seabreeze High School senior, but in just a few days, she'll be able to cross off sugar plum fairy from her list of dream roles. Falb will perform the part during Ormond Ballet's production of "The Nutcracker" at the Peabody Auditorium on Saturday, Dec. 17. The ballet studio is presenting two shows: a "Nutcracker in a Nutshell" condensed show at 2 p.m., and a full production at 7 p.m.
The role has been a physical and mental challenge, Falb said. But, it's been an enjoyable experience, she added.
"The new mentality and mindset I've had to set for myself is crazy," Falb said. "But I've also been able to apply that positive mindset, that 'You know what? Even if something goes wrong, you've got to keep going and you've got to move forward' ... to my every day life."
And seeing as Falb hopes to become a professional ballerina, and is preparing to audition for companies in the spring, that mentality is something she plans to carry with her, long after the sets of "The Nutcracker" have been cleared away.
Rising to the top
Falb began dancing around 2 years old, but it was mostly geared toward gymnastics. At 5 years old, she attended a recreational dance studio and would continue that until she decided to take dancing more seriously at 8 years old.
And when she started pointe work at 10 years old, her passion for classical ballet was solidified.
"I just really, really pushed myself to continue growing, and I moved up the levels pretty quickly because of this," Falb said. "I was in the studio all the time. I'd stay two hours past my class to work in a studio by myself and just really try and teach myself every little possible thing I could."
For inspiration, she watched videos of her favorite ballet dancers: Tiler Peck, Natalia Osipova, Marianela Núñez and Francesca Hayward.
Ballet became her life — At 13 years old, she decided to do homeschool and focus on her art, and it was the biggest year of improvement for her, she said.
That was also the year Falb met who is now her director at Ormond Ballet, Michelle Boutros, who taught at Falb's former dance studio.
"When I started teaching her, she was the youngest in her class, and she had a lot of promise," Boutros said. "I couldn't not watch her in class, and she had so much natural ability on top of, she's extremely tenacious."
Falb was very passionate about ballet, even then, Boutros said, adding that Falb was an easy student to teach, describing her as fearless.
"Watching her grow has been amazing, and she's had different levels of adversity, whether it's been previous experiences in dance or through different health issues, and she's just risen to the top," Boutros said.
A role of a lifetime
At her first dance studio's production of "The Nutcracker," she was a Christmas angel — and she also got an understudy role. That, Falb said, marked the beginning of her getting to understudy roles beyond those a dancer of her age usually got; she typically learned roles that were at least one or two years more advanced.
Falb, now 17, estimates she's had somewhere around 14 understudy roles in the last decade or so. Including, last year, where she was the understudy for sugar plum fairy at her former studio. Last year's production, where she played the role of dew drop fairy, also marked her return to "The Nutcracker," as she hadn't done the show since she was 12.
Falb was also coming off a seven-month break from dance at the time. She had needed it, she said, both mentally and physically. Prior to her decision to take a break, Falb had also developed eosinophilic asthma, which causes swelling in a person's respiratory system, due to an illness in 2019. In addition to that, she's had to overcome injuries such as achilles tendonitis.
If someone would have told her she'd be dancing the sugar plum fairy role in 2022, after 16 weeks of rehearsals, Falb said she wouldn't have believed them.
"But it's been an experience, and a really good one," Falb said. "I'm really honored to get to do it because there's very few people who get to dance a principal role like this anywhere, even at a small studio or especially in a company. It goes to the highest of principals, so it's just such an honor to be among the very few and the very prestigious few that have gotten to dance this role."
A pas de deux
Falb and Boutros will be filming her professional ballet audition videos and working on her resume over the Christmas break. January, February and March will be full of auditions. Falb will also be preparing for her spring recital, and of course, her high school graduation.
Botrous is confident that Falb will succeed. She recalled the first time she met her, and how Falb had been learning a dance from a video. Falb soon knew everyone's part — and has continued that trend through the year. Boutros said it's usual for Falb to know the entire ballet.
"Not only will she excel as being a professional, but then later when she transitions into being a teacher, or director or choreographer, she'll be great at that as well because she picks up details and she immerses herself in the scene, whether she's an understanding or not," Boutros said. "... She's very detail-oriented and it comes out through her dancing."
Hearing her director's confidence and praise gives her strength, Falb said. Botrous showed faith in her even in the moments Falb said she didn't have faith in herself.
"In my moments of doubt, she's always been the one to pick me up and grab me by the shoulder and be like, 'Taylor, yes you can. You were made to do this. Very few people can do what you do. You need to push through,'" Falb said. "I would not be here without Ms. Michele. I would not be in this place. I don't even think I'd be standing here. She's helped me through so much and I appreciate her more than words can describe."
Her words of wisdom for future sugar plum fairies? Breathe.
"Take a step back," Falb said. "Take a deep breath. It's all going to be OK, and enjoy it — because it flies."