How Joffrey Ballet Company Artist Amanda Assucena is Dancing With Abandon

September 28, 2023

From her first audition with The Joffrey Ballet, Amanda Assucena knew she was where she was meant to be. “Before the auditio­n class, I had never connected with ballet technique and free movement so much,” Assucena recalls. The Brazilian-born dancer officially joined the trainee program in 2012, was promoted to company artist the following year, and continued her meteoric rise with lead roles like the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker and Juliet in Romeo and Juliet by the age of 19.

In addition to adding a sense of freedom to her impeccable technique, dancing with the Chicago-based company has given Assucena the opportunity to perform on some of the world’s most famous stages—from New York City’s David H. Koch Theater while on tour with The Joffrey to the historic Bolshoi Theatre during the Benois de la Danse competition. Still, Chicago remains her home, the city where one of her most memorable performances took place: Assucena’s debut as Giselle with The Joffrey Ballet. “I felt like I could fly in every step,” she says. “I had never been so calm onstage before, especially for a debut in a classical ballet,” she continues, adding that Giselle is her “absolute favorite ballet.”

a female dancer wearing a long skirt posing with one leg extended front with a city skyline behind her
When she isn’t dancing, Assucena enjoys spending her time in nature or with her cat, Bubba. Photo by Kristie Kahns.

An Early Interest in Performing Arts:

“My first memory that is connected with any kind of performing is when I was 5 years old and my parents took me to watch the opera Aida back in Brazil. The next morning, I was reenacting as many scenes as I could with my dad. I remember only walking around on demi-pointe, doing the splits, and putting my arms in fifth position any chance I got. After that my mother looked for a good school and signed me up for ballet class.”

Moving From Rio de Janeiro to Florida at age 14:

“My biggest challenge was adapting to a new culture and making new friends when just becoming a teenager. Not having family there to pick me up when I was down and tired was brutal. It wasn’t until later that I learned who my true friends were—they became my family away from home.”

Her Pre-Performance Routine:

“I used to have a ritual of doing everything exactly the same each time I had to perform a lead role, but I’m trying to change that since it’s become too stressful. One thing I still do is have a moment to myself before curtain to get connected to a higher power. Then, I knock on the stage three times, give it three kisses, and touch my shoes, and costume, and headpiece—as a teacher of mine once told me to do. I then do three little sautés in first position to shake the nerves off, and it’s showtime!”

A Favorite Stage:

“I truly loved performing at the Koch Theater in New York City. It brought this sense of intimacy with the audience, but also total freedom—a stage where I didn’t feel nerves.”

The Power Of Music:

“I also love any time I get to share the stage with an orchestra, instead of having them in the orchestra pit. Having them play right behind us completely changes the space and fills it with passion, like you’re enveloped in that one single moment, and nothing can take you out of it.”

An Unforgettable Performance:

“Performing Christopher Wheeldon’s Nutcracker pas de deux in Cancun this past July will stay in my heart forever. I had the honor of being accompanied by Alondra de la Parra and The Impossible Orchestra, and to perform it alongside my longtime partner on stage and in life, Alberto Velazquez. It was a genuine, passionate, and emotional show.”