Pacific Northwest Ballet corps member Emma Love never expected to perform as one of the flirtatious women in Jirí Kylián’s Sechs Tänze. Then barely a year in the corps, Love was fourth in line for the part. But when other dancers got injured, she went on, handling Kylián’s idiosyncrasies with aplomb. It was tangible proof of the potential that PNB artistic director Peter Boal says he could see in Love when she was 15 and “trembling like a leaf” in auditions for the company’s school.
At 5' 9", with striking extensions, Love has the classic proportions of a Balanchine ballerina. But she didn’t blossom overnight. Love grew up in Wichita, Kansas, studying the Cecchetti method at Rogers Ballet school. A 2005 summer intensive at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet ignited her interest in Balanchine. She soon learned about PNB’s Balanchine-rich repertoire and its reputation for welcoming tall dancers.
Accepted to PNB’s school in 2006, Love spent her first six months in Seattle attending both the school’s top level and the Professional Division, where the emphasis shifts from technique to artistry. Her hyperextended legs and loose muscles presented challenges. She learned she needed to get stronger, and she struggled with turns and jumps.
The jumps she unleashes now she credits in part to the 2007 Flemming Halby Exchange program between PNB’s school and the Royal Danish Ballet. Love and Andrew Bartee (now a fellow corps member) spent three weeks in Copenhagen immersed in the Bournonville style, dancing in company class each morning, with apprentice classes in the afternoon. There, Love found out why her jumps lacked power: She was cutting her plié short. Using her seat muscles and new timing, she gained lift. She practiced diligently until her body caught up with her new approach.
In 2008, she became a PNB apprentice, and entered the corps a year later. “For me, the biggest thing is fear of a step you think you can’t do,” confesses Love. That fear sidetracked her briefly. She found herself holding back, and getting passed over for roles. Gradually she realized that, in rehearsal, even the best dancers try and fail.
As her confidence increased, she started to put her hand up more. She was not afraid to approach Boal and ask, “Can I learn this part I’ve had my eye on?” Motivation and grit paid off in this spring’s Swan Lake. Love asked to learn as many parts as she could, besides the roles in which she was officially cast. She ended up dancing in all 11 shows: as a princess, a swan in the pas de trois and in the czardas in Act III, to name just a few of her roles.
During PNB’s recent trip to New York, Love was cast in Concerto Barocco and substituted for an injured corps dancer in Agon. Boal thinks of her often for Balanchine works: “Agon is a great example where she’s right for the corps, but she’s also right for the pas de trois. What’s striking about Emma is that she approaches everything with such intelligence.” He ranks her now among the top of his corps, someone he looks to for demi-soloist and soloist roles.
She and her fiancé, Price Suddarth (also in PNB’s corps and a “natural turner,” she says), will be married this August. Both love to cook, and hike with their dogs. About four times a week, Love does cardio-heavy elliptical workouts for her legs, or swims 30 laps for a good full-body workout.
After seeing Love’s performance in Ulysses Dove’s Vespers in 2010, Boal has had her try more contemporary work on for size: David Dawson’s grueling A Million Kisses to my Skin and Mark Morris’ 2012 world premiere at PNB, Kammermusik No. 3.
“I feel at home in Balanchine,” says Love, “but I love—love—a lot of the new works.” More may be on the way.
At a Glance
Training: Rogers Ballet Inc., Pacific Northwest Ballet School
Favorite role: A Million Kisses to my Skin
Dream roles: Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, First Girl in Red Angels, Tall Girl in "Rubies"