New York - Choreographer Justin Peck of New York City Ballet has broken custom by choosing a woman as the understudy for a man in the principal role of a ballet that premieres Thursday.
Star dancer Robert Fairchild's double will be soloist Ashly Isaacs for five winter performances of "The Times Are Racing," New York City Ballet said.
Isaacs will only take over during the current run if Fairchild is unable. But Isaacs will likely appear in two performances in May as Fairchild is already scheduled to be away, although final casting will be decided closer to the date, a spokeswoman for the dance company said.
While men and women have switched roles in theatre since antiquity, the practice is highly unusual in ballet.
"I don't know if it's a first time, but it certainly feels like it might be one of the first that there's been a gender-neutral principal role at New York City Ballet," Peck told The New York Times.
Isaacs has already "stepped in a few times, and she looks great," Peck said.
"The Times Are Racing" merges classical dance, hip-hop and tap dancing and takes an urgent political tone, with dancers wearing hoodies that bear words of protest. The piece is set to electronic artist Dean Deacon's dark 2012 album "America." Peck, the resident choreographer at New York City Ballet, has been a rising star in the dance world with his innovative productions that have included previous collaborations with indie rockers Sufjan Stevens and The National's Bryce Dessner.
New York City Ballet has promoted the new work by holding rehearsals in a subway station, with the video uploaded to YouTube at http://u.afp.com/4ciH.