In addition to cancelled shows, the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted final performances for many retiring dancers. This week, Pointe is giving several retiring principals and soloists a chance to reflect on their careers and offer advice to the next generation.
Eris Nezha has been a principal dancer with Los Angeles Ballet since 2018, but that is just one aspect of his long international career. He began training in his homeland at the National Ballet Academy of Albania in Tirana, later attending Milan's Teatro alla Scala Ballet School. In addition to dancing as a principal at La Scala Ballet and Boston Ballet, he has traveled the world as an international guest artist, performing with Staatsballett Berlin, Zagreb National Ballet and Tirana National Ballet, to name a few.
Nezha was set to retire at the end of this season in Thordal Christensen's The Sleeping Beauty, which has since been postponed until summer of 2021. His last performance was in February opposite his wife, fellow principal dancer Petra Conti, in George Balanchine's Agon. Pointe caught up with Nezha to talk about his life onstage and his exciting plans for the future.
How do you feel about the cancellation of your final performance due to COVID-19?
In these sad times, the priorities are different—personal success needs to be put aside. It is definitely more important to stay healthy, safe and connected with our families. We are all in this together, and if my part is to stay home and not perform one last show, I am happy to do so. I feel very grateful and happy with all that I have accomplished.
What was the most rewarding or challenging role you have danced in your career?
The most challenging was probably my 2005 debut in my first lead role, Des Grieux in Sir Kenneth MacMillan's Manon. Not only was it my first time leading a three-act ballet, but the role requires incredible technical, partnering and artistic skills. Before my premiere, I could see in the eyes of my director and teachers joy, pride and worry all at the same time—they were relying on me and trusting me in something very important.
Nezha with Petra Conti in L'Altro Casanova, choreography by Gianluca Schiavoni
Costin Radu, Courtesy Nezha
How has it been sharing the stage with your wife, Petra Conti?
I met Petra in Italy—we were both guest principal dancers for the ballet Cinderella, and she was only 17 years old. I was her partner in her first three-act ballet. We met again some years later when we both danced Giselle with La Scala. We worked really hard for our debut, and the critics were enthusiastic about our freshness on stage. Everyone started saying that there was an incredible connection between us… I guess we were the last to see it!
Sharing my life on and offstage with Petra has been my greatest fortune. Ballet is not just our job, it has made us who we are today, and it connects us on so many levels. What scares me most about my retirement is that I will not be there every day in the studio with her. That's how we have existed for so many years—it has been our secret power.
How has ballet changed your life?
Ballet has always been a part of my life. Not doing ballet will definitely change my life. I am both excited and scared of this.
Nezha takes a bow.
R. Amisano, Courtesy Nezha
What advice would you give to young dancers, especially young men, looking to have a long, successful career?
Success is not a straight line. An artist will hear many "no's," and will often feel alone. In my experience, not giving up and believing in myself and my qualities has been fundamental. I would add that for a male dancer, it is important to learn partnering technique early. It is not easy, but in most cases, a good partner has many more possibilities and will be able to advance faster in his ballet career.
What are your post-retirement plans?
I am currently the producer for the second edition of the Petra Conti Show, an original fusion of performing arts in collaboration with Dream Orchestra. The performance was postponed because of the pandemic, but I am enjoying the creation process, as having more time for such a big event means being able to explore, research more and prepare better.
Petra and I have also created the Z Ballet Masters Project, to coach and mentor the next generation of dancers (the "Z" is for "Generation Z"). For now, we don't have a fixed location, but we teach master classes and privates in Los Angeles County. Our bigger plans involve opening one or multiple locations.
I am also very interested in the movie industry. Currently, I am engaged as a production assistant for the movie Midnight in Switchgrass, which will continue shooting once the health crisis is over. Becoming a filmmaker is my dream goal.