Ballet Stars
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.

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Ballet Stars
Hee Seo in La Bayadere. Courtesy ABT.

What are you proudest of in your career?

That I learned how to work in the studio. I always loved being onstage, but now I love the process of getting there. I used to want to be perfect in a role from day 1. Now I work to where I want to be.

Is there a role you haven't danced yet that you're excited to do?

I can't wait to learn Manon—I am dancing it with American Ballet Theatre this season. Usually ballet characters are straightforward—shy peasant girl or flirt—but Manon is complicated.

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Ballet Stars
Réjean Brandt Photography, Courtesy Royal Winnipeg Ballet

After growing up in Florida, how did you adjust to the climate when you moved to Winnipeg, Canada?

It was shocking. The winter is brutal! Now I know what to expect, but it's still a bit of a shock. I think the first day of snow was September 26th.

Do you have a go-to anecdote about company life?

Once we were on tour in Arkansas for Nutcracker. We got to the finale, and the music cut out. There was a womp-womp moment, the curtain came down, and we had to restart from the top of the coda. But the audience was excited they saw it twice—they felt like they got double their money!

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Ballet Stars
Kajiya as Gamzatti in Stanton Welch's La Bayadere. Photo by Amitava Sarkar, courtesy of Houston Ballet.

Your director Stanton Welch claims that you can hover in midair.
Really? I am not sure that I can do that. I do know that I repeat things over and over because I need to find my own way with each step, and maybe the floating quality happens in there somewhere. I just do it.

If you had to pick one signature role which would it be?
Just one? I can't. I have two. One is Giselle, because she's a human and not a creature, and people can relate to love and heartbreak. Stanton's Madame Butterfly is also important to me, because I met him when I was 17 and had heard that he thought I would be great in the role. I finally danced it in 2016 and it's a spectacular part.

Kajiya as Giselle in Stanton Welch's "Giselle." Photo by Amitava Sarkar, courtesy of Houston Ballet.

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Ballet Stars
Adiarys Almeida in Don Quixote. Courtesy Almeida.

How was training at the Cuban National Ballet School different from what you see in the U.S.?
It was free education, so it was very hard to get in, and there was a cut every year. We had academics alongside art, and we had to take a lot of different things: modern, character, ballroom, choreography composition, history of dance, music, French, makeup—everything you need for this profession.

Why did you defect?
I always wanted to have an international career. But also, I was 19, and I had a boyfriend. We were dating in Cuba when he won the lottery visa to come to the United States. When I was on tour here with the National Ballet he came to see me and I thought, I'm in love! So I stayed with him.

Has the political opening of Cuba affected you?
Before, if you defected, you had to wait five years to go back. That was pretty rough. Things have changed so much. It's about time; we're neighbors! Last year I was able to go back and perform at the Grand Theater in Havana—with my family, my teachers and my friends there.

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Ballet Stars
Lopatkina and Danila Korsuntsev in Balanchine's "Symphony in C." Photo by N. Razina, Courtesy Mariinsky Theater.

Last weekend, the Mariinsky Ballet announced on its website that one of its most revered prima ballerinas, Uliana Lopatkina, has retired from the stage. A principal dancer since 1995, Lopatkina's interpretation of Odette/Odile and "The Dying Swan", among other roles, was legendary. To honor her dance career, we're re-visiting this interview from the February/March 2013 issue.


What's the toughest part of being a dancer?

More than most professions, ballet erodes the private sphere. You don't fulfill yourself in this career: You serve it; you're a slave to it.


What ballet makes you most nervous?

Swan Lake. Even if it's not the most difficult ballet to perform, it's difficult in another way, a mystical way.

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Ballet Stars
Vanessa Zahorian in Tomasson/Possokhov's Don Quixote. Photo by Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB.

You trained partly at the Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington, DC. What's the most important thing you got out of that experience?

The opportunity to go to Russia at age 16. Oleg Vinogradov, the director at the time, chose me to be an apprentice with the Kirov (now Mariinsky) Ballet. I worked with Andris Liepa and Ninel Kurgapkina, and took class next to ballerinas like Diana Vishneva and Uliana Lopatkina. It was an honor.

Since then, you spent your entire career at San Francisco Ballet. How have you grown as a dancer?

When I first came I was very focused on technique. I was 18, in the corps, and all of a sudden I was Sugar Plum. At this point 20 years later, I'm focused on the emotional aspects of my performance. I'm not concerned about how many turns I'm going to do, or how long I'm going to balance.

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Ballet Stars
Photo by Aleksander Antonijevic, Courtesy National Ballet of Canada.

You're celebrating 25 years with the National Ballet of Canada. What makes it home?

I wanted to join the National Ballet because it had one of the best repertoires in the world. We do all the staples of the classical canon and yet get to work with amazing creators like Jirˇí Kylián, William Forsythe, Glen Tetley and all the iconic choreographers of the 21st century. I still feel that way.

What have you learned that could be helpful for young professionals?

Look around and really watch the people around you. I can't tell you how important that was for me, to have so many great dancers to learn from. You can absorb a lot by watching, you don't always have to do.

Your tenure has spanned three directors. Do you have tips for surviving directorial changeover?

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Ballet Stars
Salenko in "Sleeping Beauty." Photo by Yan Revazov, Courtesy Staatsballett Berlin.

Staatsballett Berlin's Iana Salenko on guestings, salsa music and her knack for design.

What are you most proud of in your career?

I'm a tiny dancer, so to dance roles for tall ballerinas I would never have dreamed about, like Swan Lake—I'm very proud that I managed to get them.

What's the hardest thing about guesting with other companies, like The Royal Ballet?

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Ballet Stars
Ashley Murphy and Oscar Sanchez in The Washington Ballet's Director's Cut. Photo by Theo Kossenas, Courtesy TWB.

Why did you make the move from Dance Theatre of Harlem to The Washington Ballet?

I had been at DTH for 13 years, and I wanted to see what else was out there. I felt like it was time for me to experience other choreography and a bigger company setting.

Has the change helped you grow as a dancer?

Definitely. At DTH, they knew me and trusted me with a lot of principal roles. Here, I had to work my way back up. I'm more of a performer onstage than in the studio, so it was hard for me to show them what I could do. But the people around me were so encouraging, which helped my confidence. As my first year went on, things got better.

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Ballet Stars
Megan Fairchild with Joaquin De Luz. Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.

Do you prefer the consistency of doing the same show eight times a week or the variety of mixed rep?

I like both. I'm a creature of habit, so I completely took to the Broadway lifestyle. What's nice about it is that you know your show: you know the little moments you've got to tackle, and other than that you just have fun. And coming back now, I'm definitely loving City Ballet's schedule. A lot of these ballets I've been doing for a decade. Now I'm excited to do them again; everything feels fresh.

Do you have any advice for students wanting to be professional dancers?

If it doesn't happen the way you thought it was going to happen, there's always going to be another audition or another year. Try not to let discouragement hold you back from continuing to work hard, because that's what gets you to where you need to go.

Ballet Stars
Megan Fairchild in Jerome Robbins' Dances at a Gatherin. Photo by Paul Kolnik.


This story originally appeared in the August/September 2016 issue of Pointe.

You took a year off to perform on Broadway as Ivy Smith in On the Town. What did you learn from that experience?

If I'm not being classical I can be kind of a goofy dancer, so it was a good push for me. And dancing for a different audience, where it's purely based on how much fun everybody's having, takes the emphasis off being technically perfect. That was something I held on to a little too tightly before. I learned that just being me is enough.

What role do you find particularly challenging?

The Cuckoo Bird in Justin Peck's The Most Incredible Thing! He's very specific about the steps and the timing he wants—it's a whole new vocabulary for me. The costume has heavy wings that “whoosh" as you turn. During my first show I fell. Then the next show, I fell again. To get out there and try a third time after falling twice was a fun challenge, but a difficult one.

Fairchild in Balanchine's Tschaikovsky Suite No. 3. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

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