Why I Dance

With his elegant line and unaffected stage presence, Sascha Radetsky long held his own among American Ballet Theatre’s cadre of male stars. A soloist in the company since 2003, he stood out even in the most bravura passages, as well as for his courteous partnering, particularly when he danced with his wife, the heart-stoppingly beautiful Stella Abrera. Radetsky shone in roles like Benno in Swan Lake, but also displayed an effortless mastery in high-powered work like Twyla Tharp’s new Rabbit and Rogue. And among teenage girls, he retained his crush status long after the 2000 release of the cult ballet movie Center Stage. When he joined Dutch National Ballet last September, he left behind a host of disappointed critics and fans. Now a principal, he will have the opportunity to dance leads in classics like Giselle, as well as carve his mark on new work.

 

I didn’t burst from the womb straight into a pirouette, twirling my baby blanket like Espada’s cape. I didn’t forgo diapers for dance belts, and for a long time I preferred OshKosh to Capezio. No, I wasn’t born to dance. But I’ve devoted much of my life to dance, and it’s become my beautiful—and capricious—companion. Like the blissful trysts and bitter quarrels of a tempestuous love affair, my relationship with this art form has flickered and flared throughout the years. At times my eye has wandered, and I admit I’ve considered breaking it off with ballet. But I can’t do it; it’s got what I need. I can’t resist its immeasurable charms.

 

Being a dancer is a pretty nice gig. I’ve been able to travel the world (with per diem). I’ve dodged bats on a stage in Austin and mingled with the ghosts of gladiators on a Roman stage in Athens. I’ve performed for presidents and princesses, geishas and gangsters, in venues as varied as casinos, stadiums, and centuries-old opera houses. I’ve Nutcracker-ed my way through the heartland of America, from sea to shining sea and beyond, a gypsy-cavalier for hire. Have costume, will travel—to all the gritty and glamorous corners of the globe. Along the way, I’ve met some brilliant artists and inspiring human beings, such as my wife, Stella Abrera.  We’ve been on a hundred honeymoons, Stella and I, and with luck dance will send us on a hundred more.

 

At its best, dance just feels good, for everyone involved. Granted, it’s no fun to sprain an ankle, bulge a disc, or pull a calf muscle—and it hurts still worse when career hopes collapse and dreams drift out of reach. But there are precious moments in the studio and onstage when the struggles prove worthwhile, and the frailties of body and spirit are forgiven, even forgotten. Because of the vicissitudes of this line of work, because of the injuries, arduous training, and vastly subjective aesthetics, even modest triumphs resonate deeply. And like other art forms, dance can potentially allay the anxieties, banalities, and sorrows that plague our daily lives, and can remap the frontiers of our abilities. It is a tonic administered in an exquisite challenge: How precisely can you execute those virtuosic steps, how deeply can you delve into that complex character, how tenderly can you attune to this breathtaking music—and to the needs of your partner? Are you wholly in the here and now, and willing to fuse your mind, muscles, and guts into a single leaping, turning, feeling, daring entity? Are you willing to strive for something special on that ephemeral stage, something magical and glorious, something possibly doomed to fail?  If so, you—and your audience—will feel better than good. You’ll feel ardently alive.

 

Missteps or misfortune have sometimes subdued those feelings, but my appreciation for this craft and my core values are only the stronger. I’ve sowed oats in other fields of life, and I look forward to cultivating those interests. But for the moment ballet is what nourishes me, and its beauty and richness, power and freedom make for hearty fare. I can’t say it’s my destiny to dance, but it is my true pleasure, and I’m grateful for what I’ve been given: cherished memories, lifelong friends, the perfect challenge. It’s a good gig.

 

 

Photo: Angela Sterling, Courtesy Dutch National Ballet

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Photo by Todd Rosenberg, Courtesy Joffrey Ballet.

Christopher Wheeldon's new Nutcracker for the Joffrey Ballet was huge news when it premiered last winter. The choreographer shifted the setting from the home of a well-off German family to the Chicago world's fair, making the hero the young daughter of a working-class, Polish immigrant sculptress. This month, WTTW Chicago, the city's public broadcasting station, will premiere Making a New American Nutcracker, a new documentary showing how Wheeldon and his high-profile collaborators made the magic happen. Premieres on WTTW11 and wttw.com/watch on Nov. 16 before appearing on public television stations across the country. Check your local listings.

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Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

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Favorite theater: Teatro Real in Madrid, Spain

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