Trending

Two Years After Retiring, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet Dancer Makes Remarkable Last-Minute Comeback

Samantha Klanac Campanile and Joseph Watson in Nicolo Fonte's "Where We Left Off." Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy Aspen Santa Fe Ballet

In the final moments of Jiří Kylián's strenuous Return to a Strange Land, Samantha Klanac Campanile made sure her exhaustion didn't stop her from savoring the moment. She looked around The Joyce Theater as the lights began to dim and soaked up her last scheduled appearance there.

"I took a mental picture because I thought, I'm never going to do this again," she said. In September of 2016, after over 14 years with Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, Campanile retired. She and her husband moved back to Buffalo, New York, where they both grew up and first dated in high school. She settled into a new life as a fitness instructor and gave birth to daughter Anja in July 2017.


Fast forward to late 2018. Back in Aspen, company directors Tom Mossbrucker and Jean-Philippe Malaty learned that one of their current dancers was pregnant and wouldn't be able to perform in the spring. The company has only five men and five women, so losing a dancer creates a challenge. But the directors were in a particular bind: For their March season at the Joyce, they'd programmed two pieces featuring all 10 company members, Nicolo Fonte's Where We Left Off and Fernando Melo's Dream Play. "We usually can have roles covered within the company," Malaty said. "But we took a risk with two full-company pieces and wound up with a problem."

Campanile with her daughter Anja. Courtesy Campanile.

Malaty mentioned the situation to Campanile, now 35. "J.P. said to me, 'do you know anyone taking class?'" Campanile said. "I thought he was kidding and we had some fun banter. But then he said, 'Would you consider coming back?'"

Campanile thought she was in shape for a "normal" person, but she wasn't sure that was enough to be back onstage. She rarely took class anymore and only taught dance as a sub. But the chance to perform again was too good to pass up.

In early January, she figured out a plan to get herself ready, and decided to go for it. She had just a little over six weeks to get ready for a one-week rehearsal period, followed by performances in Scottsdale, Arizona, and then the Joyce. She set out on a course of taking class, working out and renting studio space to rehearse both roles off a video.

It was challenging to find the time.

"The cliché is true: As a mom, you don't have time for anything," Campanile said. "Anja would take a nap and I'd take out the video and go over the choreography, or I'd get up at 5 am to work out."

She credits her work as a teacher with The Bloom Method, a fitness method specializing in pre and post-natal conditioning, for her successful comeback. "Dancing with better awareness of my core and functional movement patterns, my body feels much better supported now," she said. "I broke some bad habits."

That said, she was nervous when she arrived in Santa Fe for rehearsals. "Would people wonder, why didn't they just hire someone young?" she said. "I was the new person for the first time in a long time."

But quickly, she felt support from her colleagues and the company's directors, who were thrilled with her performances.

"Having her back was a gift," Malaty said. "Her physical beauty, yes, but her honesty. You see her soul onstage, this time even more than before."

Campanile and her daughter Anja get ready backstage at The Joyce Theater. Courtesy Campanile.

During her performances at the Joyce, Campanile stood out for her long line and dramatic intensity. In the middle of Fonte's piece, the lights suddenly dim and she runs over to a male dancer as he exits the stage. In supported, off-balance extensions, she gave the moment urgency, as if trying to stop time and keep the moment from ending and the lights from going out.

For all her intensity, Campanile described being back onstage as calming. "Being a mom is 24 hours a day. It's the most selfless thing," she said. "Being onstage, having some time for myself, it's like a mental vacation."

She always hoped to become a mother, but with ASFB's heavy touring schedule, she never planned to return to the company after pregnancy. So the sweetest moment of her comeback came when the curtain went up and she saw her daughter Anja in the audience. As she did the last time at the Joyce, Campanile savored the moment. "It was so surreal to see her there," she said. "In my wildest dreams, I never thought this would happen."

With the performances over, she's back to Buffalo and the new life she's built, with no more performing on the horizon. "Being a mom is my greatest role now," she said. "But I never expected this to happen, so who knows what's in store?"

The Conversation
popular
Yos Clark, of Africa's Ivory Coast. Courtesy Ballet Rising.

From his home in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, an eight-year-old boy named Yos Clark discovered ballet from the film Un, Dos, Tres, and began teaching himself to dance through videos. A teacher in France saw photos of Yos dancing online, and taught him over Skype because the studio in Abidjan was too long of a commute for him to train there on a regular basis. Apparently, the lessons paid off; last year, Yos received a scholarship to continue his training in Warrington, England.

Dancers like Clark are what propel former Dutch National Ballet principal Casey Herd recently; since leaving the company three years ago, Herd has become determined to shed light on the lesser-known stories of dancers making it around the world. Now, he and his friend and colleague Chris Weisler are creating a documentary project called Ballet Rising. Together they have been transversing the globe, searching for people embracing ballet. (Since the series is still in development, a premiere date is TBA.) Between stops, Pointe touched base with Herd over the phone to learn about the project, where his travels have taken him so far, and what his hopes are for the future of global ballet.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Training
Getty Images

I got professionally fitted and my shoes were fine in the store. Now in class, the vamp is digging into my foot in demi-pointe and the heel is sliding off. Is it the size, the width or both? —Mandi

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars
Svetlana Zakharova in Carmen Suite, via YouTube

If you're making your weekend plans, you may want to clear your calendar for Sunday and check your local movie listings. On May 19, Fathom Events, in partnership with Pathé Live and By Experience, is broadcasting the Bolshoi Ballet's performance of Carmen Suite and Petrushka throughout cinemas nationwide. The program will be captured live the same day from Moscow, and feature some of the Bolshoi's biggest stars.

Keep reading... Show less
Viral Videos
Still Courtesy Design Army

Hong Kong Ballet is celebrating its 40th anniversary in style. Today, the company released the new phase of its yearlong ad campaign, which includes the below film, a Wes Anderson-esque romp through the city fusing ballet with pop culture, filled with ferry boats, pom pom-wielding grannies and dim sum served in hot pink containers.

Keep reading... Show less