Why I Dance: Jonathan Porretta

Porretta in Molissa Fenley's State of Darkness. Photo by Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB.

As clichéd as it sounds, asking me why I dance is like asking a fish why he swims or a bird why he flies. I dance because I'm meant to. It's who I am. Even as a little boy in New Jersey, whenever adults would ask me what I wanted “to be" when I grew up, I'd answer, “I wanna be a dancer!"

I'll never forget the first time I was shown a video of Mikhail Baryshnikov. My mouth dropped open and my eyes widened. I got closer to the television screen like a moth to a flame. I couldn't believe what I was seeing: His magnificent jumps, astounding turns and artistry.

For me, Baryshnikov was a god. Growing up in a town where a boy like me wasn't quite the norm, having him as my role model reassured me that what I wanted to do in life and who I wanted to be could really be achieved—there were other people out there just like me.

Nine years later, I got to take ballet classes from him at the School of American Ballet, where I trained. I was so nervous and excited. I couldn't believe I was going to meet him! The lessons he taught me in those few classes have lasted me throughout my entire career, right down to the way I hold the barre when facing it, always with wrists crossed to keep myself squared. I even teach this to students now. And I always say, “Baryshnikov taught me this."

To this day Baryshnikov is still my hero. He represents more than just stellar talent and artistry; to me he is freedom. Freedom to be who you are and fight for what you want. The stage is where I truly feel the happiest and most comfortable with myself. Even on days when I'm exhausted and sore, I feel so lucky that I have been given the gift to do what I love every day of my life.

It's hard to compare the feeling you get after hitting your last pose in a ballet. That moment of realizing what you've just accomplished. Not every ballet is as rewarding as others, but to be in front of a crowded theater, giving the audience everything you've got and feeling them feeding you their energy back—I live for those moments when everything comes together onstage.

It's those moments that I savor. Dance is and will always be my first true love.

The "Merde" bag. Courtesy Scenery

Jennifer Kahn knew the theater industry could do better. As a professional stage manager for 17 years she worked on regional, off-Broadway and Broadway shows. Nearly each time a show closed, something unsettling happened: "I would watch them throw away our shows. All of the beautiful artwork by my friends in the paint shop would go in the trash." The elaborate backdrops? Gone.

But she had an idea: What if the material used in the backdrops and legs could be upcycled into something new? And what if theater lovers could literally keep a piece of a beloved show?

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Sponsored by Harlequin Floors
Left: Hurricane Harvey damage in Houston Ballet's Dance Lab; Courtesy Harlequin. Right: The Dance Lab pre-Harvey; Nic Lehoux, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

"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.

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Photo by Gabriel Davalos, Courtesy Valdés

For decades the name Alicia Alonso has been virtually synonymous with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the company she co-founded in Havana in 1948. Alonso died on October 17, just shy of what would have been her 99th birthday. In recent years, she had stepped back from day-to-day decision-making in the company. As if preparing for the future, in January, the company's leading ballerina, 42-year-old Viengsay Valdés, was named deputy director, a job that seems to encompass most of the responsibilities of a traditional director. Now, presumably, she will step into her new role as director of the company. Her debut as curator of the repertory comes in November, when the troupe will perform three mixed bills selected by her at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso. The following has been translated from a conversation conducted in Spanish, Valdés' native tongue.

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Health & Body
Sara Mearns in the gym. Photo by Kyle Froman.

New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns wasn't sure she was strong enough. A ballerina who has danced many demanding full-length and contemporary roles, she was about to push herself physically more than she thought was possible.

"I said, 'I can't. My body won't,' " she says. "He told me, 'Yes, it will.' "

She wasn't working with a ballet coach, but with personal trainer Joel Prouty, who was asking her to do squats with a heavier barbell than she'd ever used.

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