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In 1993 Larissa Ponomarenko made an unforgettable debut with Boston Ballet as Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty, slipping and hitting the floor moments after her second-act entrance. Then she got up and, for the next 18 years, astonished audiences with her dancing. She’s been one of the most extraordinary artists in Boston Ballet’s nearly 50-year history. Now she’s retiring from the stage and entering a second career as one of the company’s ballet masters.
Born in Ukraine, Ponomarenko graduated from the Vaganova Ballet Academy in St. Petersburg, Russia, and arrived at Boston Ballet with her husband, dancer and now choreographer Viktor Plotnikov, via Mississippi Ballet and Tulsa Ballet. She came as a principal, and from the beginning, it was clear there was nothing she couldn’t do. You’d have expected her Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake to be sublime, and they were, but she was also hilarious in Cranko’s The Taming of the Shrew; down and dirty in Tharp’s Waterbaby Bagatelles; and the muse for Jorma Elo’s Brake the Eyes and Le Sacre du Printemps.
It’s difficult for her to single out a favorite role. “I always liked ballets that demanded technique and artistry beyond the athletic balances and 32 fouettés,” she says. “Working on and performing roles like Tatiana in Cranko’s Onegin, Marguerite in Val Caniparoli’s Lady of the Camellias, and Madama Butterfly in Stanton Welch’s Madame Butterfly was always very fulfilling.”
But she’s excited about the next stage of her career as a ballet master. As she told Dance Magazine in “Long May They Reign” (Jan. 2010), “I’m pretty good at analyzing why things work in a ballet. I work with a mirror, almost like a sculptor with stone and a chisel, in slow motion, going from pose to pose.” Looking back at her career, she says, “I was fortunate to have extraordinary teachers, mentors, and colleagues who greatly contributed to my personal and professional growth. In the next chapter of my life, I am looking forward to passing on my knowledge and passion, and hopefully inspiring a young generation of artists.” —Jeffrey Gantz
Shila Tirabassi, who epitomized Stephen Petronio’s muscular, elegant choreography for 10 years, has retired from the company at 33. With her lush movement and striking presence, she delineates the bold lines and explosive moves of Petronio’s choreography. Petronio, she says, “cherishes the dancers’ individuality and not only respects our choices, but is curious about them. He pushes the edges and never takes the easy path, so the challenge kept me hungry all those years. He is a creative genius when it comes to movement invention.”
Of the numerous Petronio works she has danced, she says, “My favorite is The Rite Part, danced to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring—specifically, the virgin sacrifice solo that closes the piece. It was very challenging physically, and the music is such a masterpiece that the driving force behind it gave me a huge rush.” She has put to good use the training she received at The Juilliard School. After she graduated, she danced with Ballet Hispanico and Cunningham’s Repertory Understudy Group (among others) prior to joining Petronio.
Tirabassi’s plans include moving to Florida to help run the family restaurant, opened by her grandmother and run by her father for 35 years. She hopes to open her own yoga/Pilates studio adjacent to the restaurant (she credits Career Transition For Dancers as a vital resource). In preparation, she has trained in those disciplines as well as Thai yoga massage, restorative yoga, and prenatal fitness. But her magnetic, cool presence will be missed in Petronio’s annual seasons. —Susan Yung
Houston Ballet principal Mireille Hassenboehler and her husband, Robert Patman, welcomed their first child, Theodore “Teddy” Ambrose Patman, on April 29.
Garry Reigenborn (1952–2011)
A veteran dancer with the Lucinda Childs Dance Company and a Cunningham master teacher, Garry Reigenborn died in March. A University of Utah graduate, Reigenborn performed with Andrew deGroat before joining Childs’ company in 1981. He worked with avant-garde theater director Robert Wilson, a frequent collaborator with both deGroat and Childs, on several pieces, including revivals of Einstein on the Beach. In his later years with Childs, he set her work on new company members and served as assistant to the choreographer. In the ’90s, he taught at the Cunningham Studio and abroad, and joined the Bard College faculty in 1998. He performed with Childs as recently as 2000. In 2006, he was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease and relocated from New York to Colorado.
From top: Larissa Ponomarenko in Swan Lake. Photo by Gene Schiavone, Courtesy BB; Shila Tirabassi. Photo by Sarah Silver, Courtesy Petronio.