In the Spotlight: Sterling Baca's Surprising (And Slightly Scary) Hobby
In January of 2016, we put a promising American Ballet Theatre corps de ballet dancer named Sterling Baca on our cover as a "25 to Watch." Soon after, he shocked us by announcing he'd be leaving ABT to join Pennsylvania Ballet as a principal.
Since then, Baca's thrived at PAB, becoming one of their most talked about dancers and a face of Angel Corella's new vision for the company. We caught up with him for our "In the Spotlight" series, and he revealed a hobby that made our skin crawl. (No offense, Sterling!)
Name: Sterling Baca
Company: Pennsylvania Ballet
Hometown: Larkspur, Colorado
What do you think is the most common misconception about dancers?
That we don't eat!
PC Alexander Iziliaev
What other career would you like to try?
I've always had a passion for the natural sciences and wildlife, especially insects. I'd enjoy being an arachnologist, but at this point I see myself being a part of this wonderful art form for the rest of my life—with some spider searching on the side.
What was the last dance performance you saw?
ABT's Swan Lake, featuring one of my idols Marcelo Gomes. I watched it specifically to observe Marcelo's mastery of Siegfried to prepare for Angel Corella's production at Pennsylvania Ballet this March.
What's the most-played song on your phone?
Probably "Ride Out" by Schoolboy Q. I listen to music while at the gym, so it's usually hip-hop, rap or reggaeton.
Do you have a pre-performance ritual?
A nap, make-up, a long stretch, a short barre, a couple of jumps and five long, deep breaths.
What's your favorite book?
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez.
Baca with his girlfriend and fellow PAB dancer, Nayara Lopes. Photo via NYC Dance Project.
Where can you be found two hours after a performance ends?
Where did you last vacation?
Home in Colorado, visiting family.
What app do you spend the most time on?
Who is the person you most want to dance with—living or dead?
I have had the privilege to dance with incredible dancers at ABT and PAB, and many international guest artists. But dancing with my girlfriend Nayara Lopes is special. Nothing beats looking into the eyes of true love on stage.
What's the first item on your bucket list?
Discovering a new species of spider.
What's your go-to cross training routine?
Swimming, gym time (upper and lower body) and floor barre.
What's the worst advice you've ever received?
"The best thing you could do is just kinda mark the whole thing so you are able to get through it." I would rather fall on my face giving everything I had.
If you could relive one performance, what would it be?
Performing Paris in Sir Kenneth MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet with Alessandra Ferri during my final Met season with ABT. She taught me so much about how to be spontaneous on stage. The final scene, after Romeo kills me in the crypt, I positioned myself to be able to secretly observe her. As soon as I saw her wail in silence over Romeo's dead body, I couldn't help but begin to cry myself. That was the moment I realized what the quintessence of this art form is all about.
Alicia has died. I walked around my apartment feeling her spirit, but knowing something had changed utterly.
My father, the late conductor Benjamin Steinberg, was the first music director of the Ballet de Cuba, as it was called then. I grew up in Vedado on la Calle 1ra y doce in a building called Vista al Mar. My family lived there from 1959 to 1963. My days were filled with watching Alicia teach class, rehearse and dance. She was everything: hilarious, serious, dramatic, passionate and elegiac. You lost yourself and found yourself when you loved her.
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.
It's Nutcracker time again: the season of sweet delights and a sparkling good time—if we're able to ignore the sour taste left behind by the outdated racial stereotypes so often portrayed in the second act.
In 2017, as a result of a growing list of letters from audience members, to New York City Ballet's ballet master in chief Peter Martins reached out to us asking for assistance on how to modify the elements of Chinese caricature in George Balanchine's The Nutcracker. Following that conversation, we founded the Final Bow for Yellowface pledge that states, "I love ballet as an art form, and acknowledge that to achieve a diversity amongst our artists, audiences, donors, students, volunteers, and staff, I am committed to eliminating outdated and offensive stereotypes of Asians (Yellowface) on our stages."
An audience member once emailed Dallas choreographer Joshua L. Peugh, claiming his work was vulgar. It complained that he shouldn't be pushing his agenda. As the artistic director of Dark Circles Contemporary Dance, Peugh's recent choreography largely deals with LGBTQ issues.
"I got angry when I saw that email, wrote my angry response, deleted it, and then went back and explained to him that that's exactly why I should be making those works," says Peugh.
With the current political climate as polarized as it is, many artists today feel compelled to use their work to speak out on issues they care deeply about. But touring with a message is not for the faint of heart. From considerations about how to market the work to concerns about safety, touring to cities where, in general, that message may not be so welcome, requires companies to figure out how they'll respond to opposition.