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By Lisa Kraus
The newly minted PAB soloist has authenticity and abandon.
“I know he’ll catch me,” says Evelyn Kocak of a daredevil plunge, facedown and floorward, before partner Alexander Peters nabs her just in the nick of time. The two are rehearsing the roles of Wendy and Peter Pan for Trey McIntyre’s Peter Pan, which Pennsylvania Ballet mounted this past May. The role of Wendy is the latest in a string of plums Kocak has landed since joining PAB as a corps member in 2010.
McIntyre understands why. “She is beautifully unaware of how talented she is,” he says. “Her movements come from a place of authenticity. I can tell that sometimes there is fear or hesitancy, but never does she let that affect her actions.”
Kocak remembers dancing from the time she was 3, “running around with scarves to music.” Her mother found a ballet studio in their hometown of Syracuse, New York, where Kocak studied with Deborah Boughton. It took steely perseverance to progress from those early classes to the year-round program at the School of American Ballet, and then a New York City Ballet apprenticeship. When Kocak’s dream of joining NYCB didn’t materialize, she joined The Suzanne Farrell Ballet for a season. One day, when she was taking class at New York’s Steps on Broadway, Vladimir Malakhov, the artistic director of Berlin’s Staatsballett, spotted her and offered her a corps spot.
“It was a place I’d never considered, a company I knew nothing about, a city I never thought about living in,” she says. Despite the gulf between the Russian-style classics in Staatsballett’s repertoire and the Balanchine legacy she felt at home in, it seemed like the right move. Kocak ended up staying four years. “Eventually I really missed being in a Balanchine company, moving in that way,” she says. Then Sandra Jennings, a former PAB ballet mistress, staged a Balanchine work on the Berlin group and saw Kocak in action. Jennings encouraged her to consider PAB, and alerted artistic director Roy Kaiser to keep an eye out for her. From then on, “the only place I wanted to be was Pennsylvania Ballet,” Kocak says. She made sure she was in the U.S. for the next PAB auditions. The outcome was all she could have hoped for. Kaiser offered her a corps contract.
Now 26, Kocak gives all her roles unstinting effort. “She attacks everything 300 percent,” says Tamara Hadley, a PAB ballet mistress. Hadley appreciates the freshness of Kocak’s dancing—its coltish quality combined with fleet footwork and complete abandon.
Kocak’s role models have long been the Balanchine dancers of Farrell’s generation, including Farrell herself, whose memoir inspired Kocak to make her way to SAB. “I think dancers have become so focused on being technically capable that sometimes that magnetism, which is so much more riveting, is missing,” she says.
Since Kocak joined PAB, she has had opportunities to shine in a number of ballets, including Tharp’s In the Upper Room and Ratmansky’s Jeu de Cartes. The Ratmansky ballet showed her ability to be both clipped and luscious. And as Wendy, she’s moved right into the spotlight, which made her soloist promotion at the end of last season no surprise.
Coaxed into discussing some dream roles, she confides, “I have always loved the second movement of Symphony in C. If I ever get to dance that, it would be an amazing highlight.” Luckily, that ballet is in PAB’s repertoire. Kocak may perform it sooner than she thinks.
Lisa Kraus edits thINKingDANCE.net.
At top: Kocak rehearsing at PAB’s studios. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy PAB.