Ballet Stars

Pacific Northwest Ballet Principal Leta Biasucci On Overcoming Rejection

Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB

Your teacher at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, Marcia Dale Weary, recently passed away. What impact did she have on you?

I feel deeply indebted to her. She shaped my life's course, and I know that were it not for her, I would not be living out my dream today. She led by example through her remarkable commitment to her work, as well as her genuine kindness and generosity.

You were a trainee with San Francisco Ballet. What was that experience like?

It was an exposure to different schools of thought. We were mostly in the full-lengths, and watching run-throughs of Sleeping Beauty and Don Quixote was revolutionary for me. But I was young and far away from home. That transition was hard. My body started changing. It wanted to be fleshy. Biology is cruel in that way. I desperately wanted to fit in, but it wasn't meant to be.


Biasucci in David Dawson's Empire Noir

Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB

How did you handle not getting into the company?

It made me question: "If I'm not good enough here, am I good enough for somewhere else?" It was difficult to keep working hard, and to cope and move forward. I vacillated between "This is me, this is my body—take it or leave it" and "Well, I need to fix it. How can I fix it?" From there I went to Oregon Ballet Theatre, which was a very close-knit environment. The dancers were incredible role models and I absorbed whatever I could from them.

How do you approach something that makes you uncomfortable?

I've grown to relish contemporary things outside of my comfort zone. I try not to come in feeling defeated or defensive, and to take in what the cho- reographer or stager is asking of me. It's easy to think, Ugh, I can't do this, it isn't my thing. But it's never going to be my thing if I don't try.

Biascci as Aurora

Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB

You first danced Aurora as a corps member. How was it revisiting the role this season?

Before, I felt like I was racing the ballet, and it was always winning. I noticed a difference this time. I had more freedom to interpret and make choices. I attempted to make Act II different from Act I by incorporating that fluid, underwater- dream aspect into the port de bras, and really finessing the phrasing of all the turns, to not break the spell.

What do you do on your days off?

I really enjoy reading. I need downtime to feel normal. I cook my quinoa, take a bath, ice my ankle...and the day's over.

What advice have you found particularly helpful?

Take care of yourself, body and mind. It's nobody else's job to say that you should take it easy today. It's hard to advocate for yourself when the culture is so "Yes, I can do that. Push me." I think it requires experience, cultivating an awareness of your body, and just having the guts to stand up for yourself—and cultivating that, too.

News
Ross Brown, Courtesy RNZB

It's been several years since former Pacific Northwest Ballet star Patricia Barker took over leadership of the Royal New Zealand Ballet. In that time Barker and her husband, former PNB dancer Michael Auer, have had to acclimate themselves to a new country, a new hemisphere and a new culture.

She also noticed that RNZB had a different way of working when she took the helm in 2017. The company was then grappling with acccusations of abusive behavior and other workplace grievances by its former director, along with a few vocal New Zealanders with nationalistic agendas stirring up controversy. "The company was trying to lay low and let things blow over," she says. "You can never lay low; you just have to face your troubles head on."

Even though Barker says the turmoil had nothing to do with her, she took it on and moved the company forward by turning attention back on the art form, which she says is what matters most to audiences. And what matters to Barker with regard to that art form is creating more opportunities for female choreographers. So much so that the company's entire 2020 season will feature works choreographed by women.

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Courtesy Apolla

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Eri Nishihara in Rex Wheeler's Symphonic Dances. Sarah Ferguson, Courtesy Richmond Ballet.

This is one of a series of stories on recent graduates' on-campus experiences—and the connections they made that jump-started their dance careers. Eri Nishihara graduated from University of Utah with a BFA in ballet performance in 2016.

As her time in high school drew to a close, Eri Nishihara knew she wasn't ready to dance professionally. She had seen dancers her age from other cities at summer intensives and didn't think that she was up to company caliber yet. "I didn't want to feel like I was having to keep up for a lack of training or experience, while adjusting to a new professional life," she says. Nishihara had trained with University of Utah professors in the past, through summer intensives at Ballet West, and felt that their teaching style would best prepare her for a future career.

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News
The Washington Ballet's NEXTsteps program opens this week. Here are company dancers Ashley Murphy-Wilson and Alexandros Papajohn. Procopio Photography, Courtesy The Washington Ballet.

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