Leta Biasucci's on and offstage charm has made her a company favorite. Photo by Jayme Thornton for Dance Magazine.

Why Seattle Has Fallen For PNB's New Principal, Leta Biasucci

Rehearsal is in full swing, and Leta Biasucci, Pacific Northwest Ballet's newest principal dancer, finds herself in unfamiliar territory. Biasucci is always game for a challenge, but choreographer Kyle Davis wants her to lift fellow dancer Clara Ruf Maldonado. Repeatedly. While she's known for her technical prowess, lifting another dancer off the floor is a bit daunting for Biasucci, who stands all of 5' 3". She eyes Maldonado skeptically, then breaks into a grin.

"It's absolutely given me a new appreciation for the partner standing behind me!" Biasucci says with a laugh.

Looking at Biasucci, 29, with her wide smile and eager curiosity, you think you see the quintessential extrovert. In reality, she's anything but. "I was an introverted kid," Biasucci says. "That's part of the reason I fell in love with dance—I didn't have to be talkative."

It's only one of the seeming contradictions in Biasucci's life: She's a short, muscular ballerina in a company known for its fleet of tall, long-legged women; she's also most comfortable with classical ballet, while taking on a growing repertoire of contemporary work.


Biasucci has enchanted Seattle ballet fans almost from the moment she arrived seven seasons ago. She has a charismatic stage presence that belies her size and exudes authentic joy, no matter what she's performing. She's also technically precise, known for her footwork, jumps and speed.

Meanwhile, her hard work has garnered her respect from her colleagues and her boss, artistic director Peter Boal. That dedication has propelled Biasucci through PNB's ranks, earning her a promotion to principal last September. It was the capstone of a whirlwind year that also included Biasucci's marriage, college graduation and a company tour to Paris.

Dancer Leta Biasucci lands in a deep fourth position, arms splayed, in a shimmering purple dress.

Biasucci in Jerome Robbins' In the Night. Photo by Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB.

Biasucci grew up in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, the youngest of three girls. Although neither her parents nor her siblings danced, she was hooked as soon as she started a weekly tap/ballet combo class at age 6. After building her technique at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, she finished her training at San Francisco Ballet's two-year trainee program.

She landed her first job with Oregon Ballet Theatre in Portland. During her second year there, OBT was facing significant financial challenges, and put some of its dancers on partial contracts.

"So I had a second job," Biasucci recounts. "I sold jeans. I was pretty good at it."

But Biasucci wanted to dance. On a lark, she and a friend drove three hours north to Seattle to take company class at PNB. Boal noticed her immediately.

"She was beguiling," Boal says. "Her turns were sometimes on and sometimes really off. But the way she'd come up with finishing combinations when they didn't go well, she had a unique quality."

Boal hired Biasucci, but he knew from the outset that she didn't really fit in with PNB's corps. "She was not always in line, her arms would be slightly different," Boal says. "She would sometimes drive us crazy."

Boal could have chosen not to renew Biasucci's contract; instead, he wound up promoting her to soloist.

"Leta has been growing as an artist since she was first hired," says Boal. "She's become more polished, more refined and more identifiable." He loves how Biasucci exudes a natural artistry onstage, excelling in everything from classical roles like Swanilda to Balanchine's jazzy "Rubies" to contemporary work.

In her first seasons at PNB, Biasucci was initially cowed by the expansive new repertoire. "Certainly, when I came I was a classical dancer. Put me in pink tights and a pointe shoe, I can do that," she says. Contemporary ballets remain a challenge. But she loves tackling them, and renowned choreographers like William Forsythe and Crystal Pite have featured her in their pieces.

She's not afraid to stretch herself. Last September, Biasucci and frequent partner Benjamin Griffiths danced the first pas de deux in Jerome Robbins' In the Night, a dreamy, romantic duet. "That was a role I probably wouldn't have cast myself in," Biasucci says, laughing. "It was outside my comfort zone: romantic, adagio, all of the qualities that I'm not!" Nevertheless, waltzing with Griffiths in her flowing purple skirt, Biasucci was the picture of a young woman in the midst of her first love.

Griffiths says Biasucci's willingness to throw herself into unfamiliar material is just one reason PNB's male dancers all want to partner her. "She is very passionate," he says, "but also extremely kind, gracious and fun."

Boal promoted her to principal not only because of her artistic abilities, but also her attitude. "She's just the most pleasant person to work with," he says. "She's so respectful of other people. She has the talent as well, but it's got to be both."

Channeling 1970s Natalia Makarova, Leta Biasucci stands with one foot on pointe, staring enigmatically into the camera

Leta Biasucci just earned a degree in arts leadership. Photo by Jayme Thornton.

Despite the demands of her career, Biasucci has a full offstage life. Like many people in the Pacific Northwest, she and her new husband, a design director, enjoy spending time outdoors. She says they're also homebodies who like to putter in the kitchen.

But Biasucci doesn't have a lot of downtime; she's spent the past seven years studying for a college degree in arts leadership. She's thrilled about graduating, but she hasn't really given much thought to life post-ballet. She still dreams of dancing the leads in classics like Giselle. But in her newest role, principal dancer, she has another goal.

"Being a role model and a mentor," Biasucci explains. "When I look back at my time as a younger dancer, I have such clarity of conversations with principals. Their kindness and generosity didn't go unnoticed."

Back in the studio, Biasucci is still struggling to lift Maldonado. Finally, fellow principal dancer James Moore walks over to demonstrate where Biasucci should place her hands, and how to tuck her elbows close to her torso for extra power. Biasucci watches carefully, then gives it a try, hoisting Maldonado by the waist, pivoting, then setting her down gently. Biasucci will keep rehearsing and refining the lift until it becomes second nature. As always, when the curtain goes up, she'll give the audience everything she's got.

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What brought you to The Joyce?

That was many years ago, but it's still the same today: It's a belief in and passion for the mission of the theater, which is to support dance in all of its forms and varieties—every kind of dance that you could imagine.

Diversity is so important in dance leadership today. How do you approach this at The Joyce?

Darren Walker said something interesting at a Dance/NYC Symposium, which was that The Joyce is a disruptor. It was nice to hear in that context, because we don't think of it as something new. We didn't have to change our mission statement to be more diverse. We've been doing this since day one.

Is drawing in new audiences and maintaining longtime supporters ever in conflict?

Of course. I call it the blessing and the curse of our mission. We do present more experimental companies that may attract a younger audience. But it's very tricky. You're not going to tell your long-term audience, "Don't come and see this because you're not going to like the music." We've had people walk out of the theater before, but it's a response. It's important to spark those conversations.

What experimenting have you done?

We've tried a "pay what you decide" ticket the past couple of seasons with some of our more adventurous programming. You would reserve your seat for a dollar and after seeing the show pay what you decide is right for you.

Do you have advice for other dance presenters?

Find opportunities to sit with colleagues from around the country. At Dance/USA there's a presenters' council where we come together and talk about what we're putting in our seasons and what we're passionate about. Maybe there are enough presenters to collaborate and make it possible to bring a company to New York or to do a tour around the country.

Also, remember what it's all about: making that connection between what's onstage and the audience. If we can do that, despite every visa issue and missed flight and injury and changed program and whatever else comes our way, then we should feel good about the job we're doing.

To purchase tickets to the Dance Magazine Awards or become a sponsor, visit dancemediafoundation.org.

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