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."

The Conversation
Ballet Stars
Still via Youtube.

Throughout the last quarter of the 10th century Cynthia Harvey was a force in the ballet world. She had the unique distinction of dancing as a principal ballerina on both sides of the Atlantic, with American Ballet Theatre and then at The Royal Ballet, where she was the first American dancer ever to hold that position. A dynamo with impeccable style, her polished technique was matched only by her power. In this 1984 performance of a variation from Paquita, she bursts from the wing with a tidal wave of energy that carries her throughout the entire solo.

Paquita - Cynthia Harvey www.youtube.com

Keep reading... Show less
popular
Yu-Chieh Chao performs with the PBT Company in PBT: New Works. Photo by Aimee DiAndrea

When the artistic director of a professional ballet company saunters into the studio during school classes, students take notice. At Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School, however, it's not just eager pre-professional students who pay extra attention. Artistic Director Terrence S. Orr watches carefully, taking note of standout students, individual talent and, of course, who might be the right fit for the company.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre added six PBT School students to its roster this year, and the presence of the ubiquitous artistic director made an impact on the preparedness of those students and the decision to sign them to the company.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Training
Photo by Gez Xavier Mansfield/Unsplash

I want to be a professional ballerina, but I am currently a freshman at a boarding school where the dance program is nowhere near the level I need to get there. What can I do? —Lucy

Keep reading... Show less
News
From left: Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet; Michael Curley, Courtesy Cincinnati Zoo.

Yesterday Cincinnati Ballet announced an exciting addition to this year's Nutcracker cast: a character based on Fiona, the world's most famous hippopotamus.

Fiona was born at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden in January 2017. Six weeks premature, she weighed only 29 pounds at birth as opposed to the standard 55-120, and required round-the-clock care from dedicated zoo staff. Cincinnati Children's Hospital's neonatal intensive care unit even got involved. The zoo chronicled her progress on Facebook, creating the heart-warming Fiona Show (see the first episode below). The baby hippo's story went viral, winning hearts in Cincinnati and around the world.

Keep reading... Show less
News
Raffaella Stroik. Photo via stlouisballet.org
Update: Raffaella Stroik's body was found near a boat ramp in Florida, Missouri on Wednesday morning. No information about what led to the death is currently available. Our thoughts are with her friends and family.

Raffaella Stroik, a 23-year-old dancer with the Saint Louis Ballet, went missing on Monday.

Her car was found with her phone inside in a parking lot near a boat ramp in Mark Twain Lake State Park—130 miles away from St. Louis. On Tuesday, the police began an investigation into her whereabouts.

Keep reading... Show less
popular
Valencia Hochberg of Ballet Academy East in an A Wish Come True romantic tutu. Photo by Jayme Thornton for Pointe.

From tiny floral accents to full-on blossom embellishments, there's a stage-worthy take on your favorite feminine pattern.

Check out this behind-the-scenes video from our tutu shoot, and then see our full array of florals for all seasons in the gallery below.

Behind the Scenes: Flower Power Tutus www.youtube.com


Keep reading... Show less
News
Simulations of An's "Marie . T" prosthetic design, via jaehyunan.com

There's a new tool that lets amputee ballet dancers perform on pointe. As reported in Dezeen, an architecture and design magazine, industrial designer Jae-Hyun An has created a prosthesis he calls the"Marie . T" (after Marie Taglioni, of course) that allows dancers with below-the-knee amputations to do pointe work.

A carbon fiber calf absorbs shock while a stainless steel toe and rubber platform allow a dancer to both turn and grip the floor to maintain balance. What it doesn't allow the dancer to do? Roll down to demi-pointe or flat.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Training
Photo by Quinn Wharton.

The largest performance studio at the Fernando Alonso National School of Ballet in Havana, Cuba, is packed with lower school students, seated helter-skelter around the edges of its new sprung floor. They move over to make room for photographers and visitors in town for the 26th Havana International Ballet Festival, who have come from as far away as Mexico, England and the United States. They are all at the academy, known world-wide for its rigorous adherence to a scientific methodology painstakingly developed by ballet master Fernando Alonso, because Aurora Bosch is giving a mixed-level master class to the upper school, of which she is a graduate, becoming one of its first teachers at the age of 19. Bosch, known as one of the "Four Jewels" of the Cuban National Ballet (along with Loipa Araújo, Josefina Méndez and Mirta Plá), is now based in London, but earlier this month she returned to Havana to attend and participate in the festival.

Shortly afterwards, the school's director Ramona de Saá invited me to speak with her and Bosch about the expanding focus of this distinguished school that has produced such outstanding dancers as Carlos Acosta, Lorena and Lorna Feijóo, José Manuel Carreño, and a host of others who have danced with first-rate companies the world over.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars
Emma Love Suddarth and her husband, PNB soloist Price Suddarth. relax along the Seine river. Photo by Lindsay Thomas.

It's Monday, June 25. Armed with neck pillows, compression socks and loads of coffee, we are ready for our flight to Paris! Les Étés de la Danse, a French festival held at the beautiful La Seine Musicale theater, invited Pacific Northwest Ballet for its 2018 season. Half of the company will arrive the first week to participate in its Hommage à Jerome Robbins celebration with a handful of other companies. The rest will join the second week for a PNB-only residency.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Training
Wendy Whelan teaching at Jacob's Pillow's Ballet Program. Photo by Christopher Duggan, Courtesy Jacob's Pillow.

Last month The School at Jacob's Pillow announced a major change to its historic summer ballet program, which boasts alumni at companies including American Ballet Theatre, Pennsylvania Ballet and Dutch National Ballet. This summer, rather than focusing on coaching dancers in the traditional, story-driven classical repertoire, the intensive makes the shift to contemporary ballet. Directed by former Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet director Alexandra Damiani and BalletX co-founder Matthew Neenan, the Contemporary Ballet Program will work to engage students in the development of new work and the ever-adapting repertoire (including pointe work) it requires.

Former New York City Ballet prima and longtime Jacob's Pillow participant Wendy Whelan played a large role in the decision making process. We touched base with Whelan to hear about what went into this decision, and whether she thinks that this focus on contemporary training represents a growing trend in the ballet world.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Careers
Knowing your rights can help you steer clear of toxic dance companies. Getty Images

I was applying to audition for this ballet company, and the form asked if I had a history of mental issues (i.e., eating disorders, anxiety, depression) and to give a detailed description of them and steps taken for treatment. Is this something that companies normally take into account during auditions? Moreover, are they allowed to ask this? I felt so strongly about not wanting to give that information that I decided not to apply. —Melanie

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars
Galina Ulanova and Nikolai Fadeyechev in "Giselle." Screenshot via YouTube.

The final moments of Giselle's second act are some of the most hauntingly beautiful in all of ballet: from the pas de deux between Giselle's betrayed spirit and the man she still loves, to the wilis' cold rejection, to Albrecht's heart-wrenching desperation as the curtain closes. The Bolshoi Ballet's late prima ballerina assoluta, Galina Ulanova, is among the most legendary interpreters of the ballet's titular role, admired around the world for her ability to utterly transform into character. Alongside her frequent partner Nikolai Fadeyechev, also a former leading dancer with the Bolshoi, their performance is an offering of sensitivity that stirs us even decades later.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Careers
Rosenfield in Dances Patrelle's Yorkville Nutcracker. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy Rosenfield.

Shoshana Ronsenfield's career has not followed a straight path. In a surprising move, the born-and-raised New Yorker left a burgeoning career at New York City Ballet in 2012 to study economics at Barnard College. Upon graduating, Rosenfield spent six months freelancing with companies including New Chamber Ballet and Tom Gold Dance before spending two years working in global management at Goldman Sachs (and dancing on the side).

Now Rosenfield is on to a new chapter: She's just completed a boot camp in computer coding, and is currently doing a coding teaching fellowship. But she's still dancing. This weekend, Rosenfield will appear in Tom Gold Dance's fall season at Florence Gould Hall. We caught up with Rosenfield to hear all about how she's balanced college and career and how she's learned that it is possible to do it all.

Keep reading... Show less
Reverence
Xander Parish in Balanchine's "Apollo." Photo by Valentin Baranovsky, courtesy Mariinsky Ballet.

What do you enjoy more: performing or being in the studio?
Performing. My coaches understand that I'm not a studio dancer—sometimes, in the studio, it can go quite horrendously. They'll say: It's okay, we know onstage you can do it.

In reaching the top, how much was talent and how much was sweat?
A lot more sweat than talent. I've got certain attributes: long legs, nice feet. That's a blessing, but I wasn't naturally coordinated. I was called Bambi in school because I couldn't really control what I had. I was a very late developer: I got my strength together when I was maybe 27.

Keep reading... Show less
Viral Videos
Josephine Lee takes Chicago. Photo Courtesy Lee.

Earlier this summer, we followed master pointe shoe fitter Josephine Lee of the California-based The Pointe Shop as she made her on a pointe shoe fitting tour around the West Coast and California. Now she's back, this time on a 45-day tour from California to Chicago, educating students on all things pointe shoes and helping them to find their perfect fit. Lee's making stops at top ballet companies and academies across the country, interviewing school directors and chatting with professional ballerinas to find out how they customize and break in their pointe shoes. Below, check out Lee's final stop: Chicago's Joffrey Ballet. She touches base with Ashley Wheater, artistic director of the Joffrey Ballet and the Joffrey Academy of Dance.

Ashley Wheater on the Joffrey Academy of Dance youtu.be

Missed Lee's stops at Ballet West, Colorado Ballet, Nevada Ballet Theatre, Oklahoma City Ballet or Kansas City Ballet? Check them out now!

Trending
Sara Mearns and Joshua Bergasse said "I do" in a beachside ceremony on November 3. Photo by Perry Vaile Photography, Courtesy of Brides.

If you follow New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns on Instagram, you'll have noticed that for the past several months, her feed has included wedding prep pics in addition to her usual performance posts and cross-training clips. This past weekend, the big day finally arrived, and Mearns married Broadway and television choreographer Joshua Bergasse in a dreamy beach ceremony in North Carolina.

And if you were hoping Mearns' wedding day would include a bit of ballet, she didn't disappoint. Not only were some familiar NYCB faces in the bridal party and at the reception, but Mearns made sure to include a nod or two to her career. Luckily, Mearns also spent the day with Brides magazine, letting them in on the ceremony and the reception to exclusively capture all of the best moments.

Keep reading... Show less
Editors' List: The Goods
When you see these sale prices, you'll jump for joy too. (via @covalentactivewear on Instagram)

Every so often, the e-retail gods conspire to save us from that weekly terror known as *~Monday~*. Today marks another one of those rare and precious moments.

We aren't sure why so many sales are happening simultaneously, but we're certainly not mad about it: Five of our favorite dancewear brands are offering pretty fun discounts right now. So gently release your plans for a productive Monday evening (who were you kidding, really?) and resolve to wind down with some online-retail therapy. (It's called #SelfCare, dancers. Look it up.)

Keep reading... Show less
News
Artists of Pennsylvania Ballet in Jiří Kylián's Petite Mort. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev.

Wonder what's going on in ballet this week? In addition to the seven performances listed below, John Neumeier's Anna Karenina makes its North American premiere at National Ballet of Canada November 10-18, and Hungarian National Ballet makes its U.S. debut with three performances at Lincoln Center's Koch Theater November 7-11.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars
Hungarian National Ballet dancers (and recent newlyweds) Lilli Felméry and Gergő Ármin Balázsi in "Sleeping Beauty." Photo by Attila Nagy, Courtesy Hungarian National Ballet.

As the Hungarian National Ballet prepares its first U.S. tour to New York City's Lincoln Center this week amid a busy fall season in Budapest, first soloist Lili Felméry and principal dancer Gergő Ármin Balázsi have a lot on their plates. But adapting to the unknown is nothing new; since joining the company, both Hungarian dancers have tackled impressive lists of classical and contemporary roles. Just recently married, they're bursting with excitement to perform in New York together, where the company is performing Swan Lake, Don Quixote and an all Hans van Manen program. Pointe caught up with the newlyweds to hear about some of their favorite onstage moments, honing the details of style, and favorite memories learning from some of the dance world's greatest masters.

Keep reading... Show less
News
Anna Laudere of The Hamburg Ballet in Anna Karenina. Photo by Kiran West, Courtesy National Ballet of Canada.

November 10–18, the National Ballet of Canada presents the North American premiere of John Neumeier's Anna Karenina at the Four Seasons Centre in Toronto. Co-produced with Hamburg Ballet and the Bolshoi Ballet, NBoC is the last of the three companies to present the new two-act production.

Anna Karenina: Inside the Studio | 2018 | The National Ballet of Canada www.youtube.com

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars
Sergei Polunin and Misty Copeland lead a corps of 18 dancers in choreography by Liam Scarlett. Photo courtesy Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The wait for Disney's reimagining of The Nutcracker is over. Although The Nutcracker and The Four Realms is not a full-length ballet, woven into the plot is a five-minute performance by megastars Misty Copeland and Sergei Polunin alongside 18 supporting dancers, with a CGI Mouse King moved by jookin sensation Lil Buck (aka Charles Riley). Royal Ballet artist in residence Liam Scarlett led the film's choreography in his first major motion picture experience. "It was a call I didn't expect to get," says Scarlett. "I really am the biggest Disney fan, so I couldn't believe it!"

Keep reading... Show less
Viral Videos
Natalie Varnum, in red, with Houston Ballet dancers in front of the Dubai Opera House. Photo Courtesy Varnum.

Last week, Houston Ballet toured artistic director Stanton Welch's Swan Lake to Dubai, making it the first American company to ever dance at the Dubai Opera House. Demi soloist Natalie Varnum covered this historic tour for Pointe through a series of vlogs, taking us from the long plane ride to harrowing camel rides to backstage shenanigans to opening night. Settle in and enjoy!

Part 1: Houston Ballet's Tour to Dubai with Natalie Varnum www.youtube.com

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars
The Royal Ballet principal has joined the cast of Universal Pictures and Working Title's film adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats. Photo by Nathan Sayers.

The Royal Ballet's Francesca Hayward is no stranger to collaborations outside of the dance world. The principal ballerina has modeled for Vogue (on more than one occasion), created her own clothing line with Lululemon, and up next, she'll star in the film adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, Cats.

Keep reading... Show less
Trending
Mackenzie Foy as Clara and Keira Knightly as Sugar Plum star in this new Nutcracker spin-off. Photo by Laurie Sparham, Courtesy Disney Enterprises, Inc.

If there's one thing that dancers know well, it's The Nutcracker. From the minutiae of the plot to the choreography to Tchaikovsky's timeless score, we've got it down.

Disney's new holiday film, The Nutcracker and The Four Realms, released in theaters November 2, is not a retelling of the ballet's story, and it's not a dance movie. Nevertheless, we think there's plenty in it for bunheads to love (like Misty Copeland). Don't believe us? First, watch this featurette featuring Copeland, and then read on for four reasons why you might want to take a break from your Nut rehearsals to head to the movies.

Disney's The Nutcracker and The Four Realms - "On Set with Misty Copeland" Featurette www.youtube.com

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Viral Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get Pointe Magazine in your inbox

Sponsored

Win It!