For Pacific Northwest Ballet's Cecilia Iliesiu, company life in 2020 had its cons ("Zoom rehearsals from my living room..."), but also its pros ("...with Christopher Wheeldon").
In the midst of it all, she reached a major career milestone when she was promoted to soloist in November during PNB's streamed gala. "PNB delivered flowers to my door, and my best friends from around the country joined a surprise Zoom call. It felt really special in its own way," she says.
We chatted with Iliesiu about how she's tailored her cross-training for this year like no other.
Her new daily workout: "Training has become very different during coronavirus," says Iliesiu. Company members have a three-hour morning or afternoon rehearsal shift, with some days at home and others in the studio with their small pods. Each morning, though, she takes an online yoga class from a Seattle studio. "It's a great workout, really great stretching and strengthening, and then also the meditation/centering part is really necessary during this time. That hour a day encapsulates all the things that I need to get going."
She particularly bonded with yoga back in the summer of 2019, and found that the one-legged poses improved her ankle stability and balances more than exercises from physical therapy and Pilates had. "I honestly had never felt better coming back to the season," she recalls. "That's what I'm hoping continues with my body throughout this big question-mark period in our careers."
Cecilia Iliesiu in Jessica Lang's Her Door to the Sky
Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB
A commute that doubles as cardio: Earlier in the pandemic, Iliesiu moved, so she now bikes the 15 to 20 minutes to PNB. "It's the best warm-up ever," she says. "Not only that, but I get my cardio in; I get to be outside exercising."
She's already recommending it to the younger dancers she mentors. "I'm like, 'Get a bike, or go running'—I can't run. I don't like it—'but do some exercise outside, 'cause there's only so much that you can do in your home."
Her favorite core exercise: Bicycles, twisting her elbow to her opposite knee and alternating. "The twists warm my back up, as well, especially my lower back. I like exercises that do multiple things."
Pilates during the pandemic: When PNB cleared out its Pilates room to create another temporary studio, Iliesiu, one of PNB's AGMA union delegates, helped arrange for one reformer to be placed in each studio, so the dancers could continue to use them.
On days she's at work, Iliesiu does a 15-minute reformer warm-up before class. "I do ankle exercises, hip circles, things to get the blood going. I used to do a bunch of TheraBand exercises, but I like getting the whole body moving before barre."
The great outdoors: One plus side of the pandemic? A less rigorous rehearsal schedule meant that Iliesiu could spend most summer weekends hiking the Pacific Northwest. She and PNB principal Elizabeth Murphy trained to check off a 20-mile, bucket-list thru-hike in one day. "It's awesome cross-training. Not only the cardio and endurance, but stepping on rocks is the best ankle-stability exercise."
Go-to massage tool: Iliesiu uses The Orb, a 5-inch ball, to work out kinks in her hip muscles. She also uses it to roll out her back. "It's become really sore, since I'm doing a lot more computer work."
Best snack for rehearsing in a mask: Squeezable applesauce. "I can fit it under my mask and squeeze the applesauce in, rather than having a bar that I'd need to take my mask off for. I always have that in my dance bag when I'm going into the studio."
What the pandemic has taught her: "When I show up to the barre—whether that's my windowsill or our beautiful studios or a venue that we're going to be filming at—I'm doing this for me, rather than validation from someone else. I'm learning again to dance for myself and to not be judged by the mirror or other people around me. There are easier days and harder days, but I think that's been my biggest lesson in my dance career.
"I'm definitely not at my prime right now—I don't think anyone is—but just feeling good about where my body is every day, and if it's not the best, if I'm not able to balance, that's okay. It's a journey."