Ballet Stars

Leta Biasucci: Breaking the Mold at Pacific Northwest Ballet

Leta Biasucci photographed by Nathan Sayers for Pointe.

This is Pointe's October/November 2014 Cover Story. You can subscribe to the magazine here.

In a company known for its tall women, Pacific Northwest Ballet's Leta Biasucci doesn't fit the mold. At 5' 3", she seems petite next to several of the company's willowy principals. But her height is far from all that stands out.

Last spring she charmed audiences in Giselle's peasant pas de deux, flying through impeccable batterie with grace and precision. The role seemed made for her, but so does nearly every one that she's danced, a tribute to the broad spectrum of her talent. She's stepped in last minute as Swanilda in Coppélia. She's conquered Clara in PNB's Nutcracker. She's been featured in work by Christopher Wheeldon and Twyla Tharp. And last winter, shortly after her 24th birthday, she made her debut as Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty. “It's odd to see someone fit so naturally in a full-length ballerina role," says PNB artistic director Peter Boal. “That's the hardest thing to do, and she got there first." Biasucci has been a star in PNB's corps de ballet for only three years. This fall marks her promotion to soloist, and she is well on her way to expanding the definition of a PNB ballerina.

Even her background is different. Unlike most PNB corps dancers, Biasucci did not come through the company's professional division or the School of American Ballet, where Boal keeps close ties. A Pennsylvania native, Biasucci began dancing as a 5-year-old in a ballet-tap combo class. After three years, her teacher suggested she might like the more rigorous training at Marcia Dale Weary's Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, noted for turning out technically strong, versatile performers. Her years there laid the foundation for her entire career. At 16, she became a trainee at San Francisco Ballet School. At 18, she landed her first professional job with Oregon Ballet Theatre under Christopher Stowell. OBT's small size, she says, gave her “a good place to grow, feel nurtured and have opportunities to be presented," but she was hesitant to let her roots grow deep. “I had dreams of dancing in a larger company," she says.


Biasucci took PNB's company class in spring 2011 without any real expectation of a job. For one thing, she was comparatively short. Early on, she says, “I'd come to terms with the fact that my height would always be a deciding factor in jobs offered, roles danced and heads turned." Petite felt especially prohibitive at PNB. “In my mind it was always women that are 5' 10" with these incredible lines." Boal, however, was intrigued by her. “There was something so unique about her style—which is good and bad," he says. “We see about a hundred dancers a year that come through and take company class, and very few of them stick with you." Biasucci stuck, and Boal offered her a contract.


Biasucci with PNB soloist Kiyon Gaines in Twyla Tharp's "Brief Fling." Photo by Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB.

She soon proved herself. At the end of her first season, another dancer's injury gave her an opportunity to dance Swanilda. Last on the cast list, but with a physique and personality perfect for the role, Biasucci had been tapped as an understudy. However, Boal notes, “careers are always made on what happens last minute." He felt pleased by her success. “It made you look at Leta and think, Okay, we're not just talking about a future soloist. We're talking about a talent that's going to ascend into all of the big roles."

Last season's Aurora was a dream role for Biasucci, one she found both rewarding and grueling. “The characterization is conveyed so much through clarity in the technique," she says, and each act requires a very different approach. Biasucci felt at home in Act I's rapid-fire petit allégro entrance, but the ballet's demanding adagios challenged her natural inclinations, especially in the ethereal second act. She notes drily that “other ballerinas talked about how Act II was supposed to be the 'rest act,' but I had to expend so much energy on not punching everything."

Contemporary choreography, integral to PNB's repertory, has been the final frontier for Biasucci, with her classical CPYB background. “At first it was scary for me," she admits. At PNB, big names like Twyla Tharp and Crystal Pite setting their work on the company has deepened her understanding and experience. Biasucci has also worked closely with choreographer and former PNB dancer Andrew Bartee, whom she considers a source of inspiration. The respect is mutual—Bartee loves teasing new movement qualities out of Biasucci. “It's like her skin breathes when she moves," he says. “I've told her before, I wish I could be in her body for a day, because everything looks like it feels good, even if the movement's awkward."

“She's very gutsy in what she'll attempt to do," says Boal. “I actually love when she's unsuccessful, because she has these amazingly creative ways of still finishing a combination when she's clearly falling to the right." Biasucci's willingness to try anything extends beyond the studio. By night, she takes college courses in arts management through PNB's Second Stage program. “The dance career requires that you are worried about yourself," she says. “To learn about how the organization operates has allowed me to see the arts as a much bigger, broader entity."


Biasucci in "Sleeping Beauty." Photo by Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB.

Biasucci is poised to shift the long-established image of the PNB ballerina. But a company standard arises from exceptional dancers who win the audience over to the qualities that set them apart. “There was probably a time when Patricia Barker went into roles, and people thought she was longer and lankier than what a ballerina should be," says Boal. “Then Kaori Nakamura went into a role, and they thought, She's so tiny, we picture someone more like Patricia Barker. But Leta is pushing the model in a new direction, and people have really come to embrace her as a talent." It's anyone's guess where Biasucci's talents will lead her next, as Boal is first to recognize. “That's what is so exciting about Leta. She's going to go in 10 directions. Ten great upwardly-mobile directions."

Show Comments ()
Photo by Rob Becker, courtesy DePrince.

In January, a commercial for Chase's QuickPay Mobile App starring Michaela DePrince aired on national television. In March, it was announced that Madonna would be directing the movie version of DePrince's autobiography. And in April, she graced the cover of Harper's Bazarre Netherlands. With all the buzz, it's easy to forget that the Dutch National Ballet soloist has been sidelined since August 2017 with a ruptured Achilles tendon. Pointe checked in with DePrince to see how her recovery is going.

Last fall, you ruptured your Achilles tendon. How did that happen?

It was the first of August. I was in Sicily doing an event with Google. We had dinner at a temple and it was just absolutely incredible. I'm kind of clumsy outside of ballet, so I thought it would be safer if I took my shoes off. Then Lenny Kravitz starts to sing a song and he dedicates it to me. I got up and went to go sit next to him on the stage. When I got up from sitting, I stepped in the wrong place at the wrong time. I knew right away that I ruptured my Achilles. They brought me to an ambulance and took me to the hospital. I flew back to the Netherlands the next day and had an appointment with the doctors here in Amsterdam. They said, "Yeah, you ruptured three quarters of your Achilles." And then on August 14, I had surgery.

Keep reading... Show less
Make sure you're comfortable slipping into pointe shoes for center. Photo by Jim Lafferty.

I was offered a company contract (my first!) starting this fall. What should I do in the meantime to make sure I'm as prepared as possible? —Melissa

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars
Photographed by Jayme Thornton for Pointe.

This is Pointe's April/May 2018 Cover Story. You can subscribe to the magazine here, or click here to purchase this issue.

If you are a dance lover in South Korea, EunWon Lee is a household name. The delicate ballerina and former principal at the Korean National Ballet danced every major classical role to critical acclaim, including Odette/Odile, Giselle, Kitri, Nikiya and Gamzatti. Then, at the peak of her career, Lee left it all behind.

In 2016, she moved to Washington, DC, to join The Washington Ballet. The company of 26 is unranked, making Lee simply a dancer—not a soloist, not a principal and not a star, like she was back home.

"I try to challenge myself, and always I had the urge to widen my experience and continue to improve," she says one blustery winter day after company class, still glowing from the exertion of honing, stretching and strengthening. "When I had a chance to work with Julie Kent, I didn't hesitate."

Keep reading... Show less
Olga Smirnova. Photo by Quinn Wharton.

Several weeks ago, Youth America Grand Prix announced that the lineup for tonight's Stars of Today Meet the Stars of Tomorrow gala at Lincoln Center's Koch Theater would include Bolshoi Ballet principal Olga Smirnova and first soloist Jacopo Tissi. But an article in Page Six published last night states that Smirnova and Tissi were denied visas to enter the US.

YAGP organizers "believe the Department of Homeland Security's decision may be motivated by the myriad tensions between the superpowers," says the piece, noting that "Smirnova is so revered in Moscow that her treatment could create a Russian backlash."

Keep reading... Show less
Houston Ballet principal Connor Walsh getting early practice as a leading man. Photo courtesy Connor Walsh

It's that time of year again—recital season! And not so long ago, some of your favorite ballet dancers were having their own recital experiences: dancing, discovering, bowing, laughing, receiving after-show flowers, making memories, and, of course, having their pictures taken! For this week's #TBT, we gathered recital photos—and the stories behind them—from five of our favorite dancers.

Gillian Murphy, American Ballet Theatre

Murphy gets ready for her role as "Mary Had a Little Lamb." Photo courtesy Gillian Murphy.

"This photo was taken by my mom when I was 11, waiting in the dressing room (the band room of West Florence High School in South Carolina) before I went onstage as 'Mary' for a recital piece featuring 3-year-olds as little lambs.I had so much fun being the teacher's assistant in the baby ballet class each week, particularly because my little sister Tessa [pictured below] was one of the 3-year-olds. I remember feeling quite grown up at the time because I was dancing in the older kids' recital piece later in the program, but in this moment I was just looking forward to leading my little lambs onstage in their number."

Keep reading... Show less
popular
Thinkstock.

From the latest launches to forever favorites, these stretch-canvas flats will (comfortably) keep you on your toes:


Bloch Inc. Infinity


Bloch combined the top features from two of their best-selling shoes to create this arch-enhancing slipper. An elastic top line (instead of draw- string) allows the shoe to mold to your foot, and a ridge-less outsole helps with balances and turns by giving the toes more room to spread out.


Keep reading... Show less
popular
Photo by Jacob Bryant, Courtesy Random Acts

"When you turn up at someone's door saying, 'I would like to make the first dance in Antarctica,' they often call you crazy."

So says Kiwi choreographer and former ballet dancer Corey Baker. Luckily, his persistence paid off. On Sunday, April 22 (that's Earth Day, everybody), Baker, who now directs the U.K.–based Corey Baker Dance, is releasing his short film "Antarctica: The First Dance." Commissioned by Random Acts for Channel 4 and The Space (UK), the four-minute film stars Royal New Zealand Ballet dancer Madeleine Graham—who performed in unimaginably frigid conditions to promote Baker's very important message. "I wanted to highlight Antarctica's epic landscape and vast beauty, but at the same time show that it is under threat," he says. "Climate change impact is real and immediate. By showing up-close the beauty of this incredible place, people can feel closer to something that may otherwise seem abstract and unconnected."

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get Pointe Magazine in your inbox

Sponsored

Win It!