For 23 seasons, Amy Aldridge has been a major force at Pennsylvania Ballet, where she’s been a principal dancer since 2001. This week, she announced she would be retiring from the company on May 14 in the pas de deux from one of her favorite ballets, Balanchine’s “Rubies.” Her next step? Lots of teaching in the Philadelphia area. Pointe spoke with Aldridge about her time at PAB, and what she’s learned along the way.
Congratulations on your long career! What made you decide to retire this year?
I’ve been thinking about it for the last two or three years, but I couldn’t really decide. Then when I saw we’d be doing a lot of Balanchine pas de deux on our last program this season, I thought, that’s it! Everyone said you’ll know when you know, and it just hit me. The physical maintenance has become harder and harder, and mentally I'm ready to move on. I asked Angel if we could squeeze in the “Rubies” pas de deux for my retirement, since it wasn’t originally on the program.
What are some of the things you learned over the course of your career?
Less is more. I always approached everything with so much energy and attack. Sometimes in rehearsals the ballet master would ask, “Amy, are you tired today?” I’d say yes, and they’d say, “Because that was much better. You’re working too hard!” You don’t have to have the same attack for everything—sometimes the easier, gentler approach yields the better result. Also, knowing when to breathe—where to pull back, finding where the rest spots are. All that came with experience.
What about in regard to the mental challenges?
Before I joined the company, I had one of the most difficult teachers, Melissa Hayden, for three years at North Carolina School of the Arts. She was so hard on me—I probably cried three times a week in class. Then when I joined Pennsylvania Ballet, I had another tough ballet mistress. Being younger, I thought they were picking on me because they didn’t like what I was doing. But I realized that they were doing it because they cared—they saw my ability and my potential. They knew I was capable of so much more.
That said, I really look forward to being on the other side and not having to be so perfect—there’s so much pressure! And I think it’s pressure we dancers put on ourselves, rather than from the outside.
You danced under Roy Kaiser for the majority of your career at PAB. Was it hard to shift gears when Angel Corella became director in 2014?
It was. I’ve known Angel for a long time because his sister was in the company. So he was a familiar face, which made the transition easier. But I had gotten used to a certain rhythm—what combinations to expect in class, the routine—and then suddenly everything was new. The classes were very different, even the rehearsal schedule changed. But even harder was that I had developed a whole family over the years, and I watched everybody retire. Then new people came in, and I watched more people retire. It’s such a different company right now, but it’s a very nice group. With any change there’s going to be a transitional phase where everyone is a little bit uneasy, but now things have settled down. The company has developed that closeness again.
What was one of your most memorable career moments?
We were doing The Second Detail and William Forsythe came to a stage rehearsal. I had gotten thrown in at the last minute, and had to learn a lot of material. I was so terrified because I was without the mirror and there were all those counts. In some places, I completely messed up. On opening night he came up behind me and said, “Don’t let the dance rule you. You rule the dance.” Afterwards I thought, it’s true: you make it, you control it. That advice has always stuck with me, especially when I feel nervous before a performance.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.