OKC Ballet luminaries Ryan Jolicoeur-Nye and Racheal Nye.
Oklahoma City Ballet just completed its 50th anniversary season culminating in a lavish performance of Sleeping Beauty, and this glittering, golden triumph was led by the husband and wife team of Ryan Jolicoeur-Nye and Racheal Nye. Ryan is the acting artistic director and ballet master, and Racheal is the school director of the OKC Ballet Yvonne Chouteau School. Looking tired but content, they mention over coffee that they haven’t had a day off since January and are looking forward to taking a family vacation. When questioned about what drives them to commit so much energy and time to their art, Racheal answered: “For us, ballet is life. We are passionate about how we can add to it and bring it forward.”
The two met when they were assigned as partners in 2012, dancing for Ballet Idaho. “I’m tall for a dancer and I didn’t think he could lift me,” Racheal said. “But he surprised me with his steady strength.” The two glanced at one another and smiled.
Racheal and Ryan were drawn to OKC Ballet because they both had opportunities here to shine. “It is very rare to have two people in the same artistic field able to pursue their dreams the way we can here,” said Ryan. Racheal was thrilled to be offered her position at the Yvonne Chouteau School, saying, “When I retired from dance, I had no significant injuries, but I was starting to feel that my artistic capabilities and my physical capabilities were widening. It’s been 10 years since I have stopped dancing professionally to teach — and I feel limitless. There is no end now to what I can do with my effort and creativity.”
When asked about his vision for moving the OKC Ballet forward, Ryan answered, “Dancers are capable of performing in more athletic ways now than they were 100 years ago. Ballet has become more athletic over time. What we deem aesthetically pleasing and what we admire about art evolves. Art is a mirror and a reflection of the time we live in; it changes. As a choreographer, I am always trying to push boundaries. That evolution doesn’t have to only happen in New York City and Los Angeles — it can happen in Oklahoma City.”
Racheal grew up taking ballet lessons from a young age. Ryan took his first ballet class at 16 in order to better perform as a football player. For the first year, he said, “I hid my ballet shoes under my bed like Billy Elliot. I would skip football class and go to ballet class instead. That one class changed the entire trajectory of my life.” At times, Ryan relied on donors to help him pursue ballet.
The couple believe that coming from two different places socioeconomically makes them a better team for the Oklahoma community at large, and both are passionate about the OKC Ballet’s outreach program. Racheal said, “Ryan is very open about growing up with very few privileges and wanting to extend the opportunity to dance to other people as much as possible.”
Ryan agrees. “We work in tandem together to make sure young people have opportunities that could potentially change their lives. I recognize passion in young students who may not have a financial way forward in their pathway [to] following their dreams.”
From their innovation and creativity in choreography and performance to a passion for cultivating talent and finding new students in the community, Ryan Jolicoeur-Nye and Racheal Nye are a dynamic force in the arts and a gift to Oklahoma. We eagerly await the next season of OKC Ballet.