Meet Sarasota Ballet’s Emelia Perkins

February 7, 2023

Emelia Perkins stands out onstage—not because she’s trying to catch your eye, but because her crystal-clear classical technique and natural charisma draw you to her. When Sarasota Ballet performed at New York City’s Joyce Theater last August, the coryphée sparkled in a devilish variation in Sir Frederick Ashton’s Birthday Offering and made floorwork look effortless in the world premiere of Jessica Lang’s Shades of Spring. Her varied repertoire includes the Bride in Martha Graham’s Appalachian Spring, Paul Taylor’s Brandenburgs and a role creation in David Bintley’s A Comedy of Errors, and she shines in them all.

Company: Sarasota Ballet

Age: 23

Hometown: Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Training: Dancers’ Workshop, Baton Rouge Ballet Theatre, Houston Ballet Academy

Stagestruck: Perkins started training at age 4 because her mother was an avid ballet dancer. “But I did not like ballet at all until I was 11,” she says—that’s when she performed onstage for the first time. “I was like, ‘I totally get it now.’ ”

A perfect match: “I found the right company,” says Perkins, who joined Sarasota’s studio company in 2018 and was promoted from apprentice to corps in 2020 and to coryphée last year. She loves the company’s emphasis on English ballets—Ashton’s Rhapsody and Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon are on her list of dream roles.

Always learning: Although she’s danced Serenade, Theme and Variations and Western Symphony, Perkins is still getting a handle on neoclassical style. “I have a Balanchine technique book on my coffee table because I’m trying to figure out how to do it!”

Meet me in Manhattan: Last summer’s Joyce run was not only Perkins’ New York City debut—it was the first time her family saw her dance professionally. “Seeing them afterwards, I could not contain my emotions,” she says. “I was so happy.”

What Sarasota Ballet’s assistant director is saying: Even at her audition for Sarasota, Perkins had something special, says Margaret Barbieri. “She wasn’t just doing exercises, she was really­ performing in the class.” Five years later, Barbieri says that Perkins has “grown as an artist, she’s grown technically, she’s grown as a person.”

Hands-on hobbies: “I always have ideas and want to make something,” says Perkins, a veteran crafter and builder who taught herself to crochet and make jewelry. “Once I have a garage, I’ll get some iron-casting equipment.”

Role model: An aspiring choreographer herself, Perkins enjoyed working with Lang. “It wasn’t like showing a step—she handed me something and if it fit, it stayed in the piece. It was beautiful,” says Perkins. “It was nice to see how other female choreographers work in the front of the room.”