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.
Most dancers are familiar with this story: You get that first company contract, and figure that you just have to show everyone—your director especially—how special, reliable and talented you are, and your career will be everything you dreamed it to be.
But what happens when casting goes up and your name's fourth cast or worse—not even there? When you're working so hard, pushing through pain, but you end up feeling frustrated and invisible, wondering how all those goals you began with will ever be realized? Do you shrug it off, keep your head down and hope things will change? For how long?
In a windowless subterranean studio under the New York State Theater, I pulled back an imaginary arrow and let it fly.
"Good!" said ballet master Tommy Abbott. "I think you're ready. Tomorrow you rehearse with Mr. Robbins."
I was slated to play Cupid in Jerome Robbins' compilation of fairy tales called Mother Goose. It was a role given to the tiniest boy who could follow directions at the School of American Ballet. In 1976, that was me.
The following day, I reported to a much larger windowless studio on the fifth floor known as the main hall. The room was bristling with excitement and nervousness. About half of the dancers from New York City Ballet were on hand, plus a coterie of bustling ballet masters and Mr. Robbins. Tommy tucked me and two other boys in a corner. My first rehearsal with the legendary choreographer was underway.
Two questions I'm often asked as an advocate for diversity in ballet are, "Do you think ballet organizations are genuine?" and, "Do you think it's changing?"
Quite honestly, there are times when I am not so certain. Then there are days when I get texts and Facebook messages alerting me to a story that reinforces my belief that ballet might just be shifting.
One such moment was in late November when Andrea Long-Naidu texted me the image of Pacific Northwest Ballet's Clara, Samrawit Saleem. There she was, seated on the floor in her party dress, gazing down lovingly at her Nutcracker with an elegant use of épaulement. Andrea called me, "Theresa, she's gorgeous, she's brown and look at her hair!!" She was referring to Saleem's double strand twists that were styled half-up half-down. My mouth was agape.
This fall, Dance Magazine followed Noelani Pantastico for a day as she was rehearsing "Emeralds" and performing "Diamonds" in George Balanchine's Jewels. It was the start of the principal's third season back at Pacific Northwest Ballet, returning to the company she grew up in after a seven-year journey dancing with Jean-Christophe Maillot's Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo.
Here are a few of our favorite images and insights from the day:
Lindsi Dec is one of the pillars of Pacific Northwest Ballet: From Balanchine to Wheeldon, her mastery of principal roles brings a dynamic spark, strength and expansive spirit to the stage. Last year in January, Dec took on the biggest role of her life when she and husband Karel Cruz (also a principal with PNB) welcomed their son, Koan Dec Cruz.
Now back on stage and rehearsing for PNB's first rep of the season, Dec spoke with Dance Magazine about the powerful ways that becoming a mother has influenced her dancing.
Get Dance Magazine in your inbox
Somewhere between Pacific Northwest Ballet's fall 2015 production of Kiyon Gaine's Sum Stravinsky and its winter 2016 Romeo et Juliette, Seth Orza completely changed his look: from a strong, commanding presence to a lanky, impetuous boy.
"For Romeo, I wanted to seem more youthful," says Orza. "I'm 6 feet, and I wanted to lose about 10 pounds."
A long time ago, I was a teenager, just hired as a member of the corps with New York City Ballet. I found myself standing in B-plus at the very back corner of the State Theater stage, clutching the hand of fellow teenage corps member Shawn Stevens. Though the expansive stage was filled with dozens of talented dancers, I was most awed by the two who stood front and center: Suzanne Farrell and Peter Martins. With a sudden and sweeping downbeat from maestro Robert Irving, the full power of Balanchine and Tchaikovsky flooded the stage and the final triumphant moments of "Diamonds" began.
From dancers to presenters to directors, no one in dance is exempt from the task of building an audience. But keeping up with email, social media and other marketing efforts can chip away at precious time spent honing your craft. Add in the fear of coming across as vain or self-absorbed, and it can be hard to know how to begin.
A breath of fresh choreographic air is coming to Salt Lake City. Ballet West artistic director Adam Sklute has invited companies from across the country to join Ballet West for the first annual National Choreographic Festival, May 19–20 and 26–27. Over the course of two weekends and two different programs, premieres and recently acquired repertory will be performed in the new, state-of-the-art Eccles Theater.