"Everything. I want to do everything."



An Interview with Jonathan Porretta,
Soloist, Pacific Northwest Ballet
July 1, 2002

By Stuart Sweeney



Stuart Sweeney: Was dancing something you always wanted to do?
Jonathan Porretta:
Always. My mother told me that as soon as I could talk all I said was, “When I grow up I want to be a dancer.” She was very confused, because nobody in my family had ever taken ballet or any kind of dance. Then when I was seven I started taking ballet/tap combo in New Jersey where we lived and at 13 I went to the School of American Ballet (SAB) in New York and I’ve just loved ballet ever since.

In the UK, because of image problems it has been very difficult to get boys to do dance. Was it a problem for you?
No, because my family were so supportive from day one. Of course sometimes it was hard at school and some schoolboys could be jerky, but it never bothered me. I just thought, “You have no idea.” I’ve just seen Billy Elliot for the first time and loved it. The ending is so awesome.

Do you have any strong memories from SAB?
Having Peter Boal as a teacher, but they were all great. I had Stanley Williams before he passed away and he was an amazing teacher. I also learnt a lot from Jock Soto about partnering. Of course it was all based around Balanchine technique and style. So for summer programmes I would go to ABT, which is the complete opposite of SAB, and balance it out myself and see what I liked from both. I didn't go there, but the PNB School also teaches a more general classical American combination of Balanchine and other styles.

New York City Ballet seems to do so many ballets each year, even if you take account of the triple bills. Did you get preparation for that at SAB?
The School was always pushing you hard to take as many classes as you could each day to build up your stamina. They would say to us, “If you think this is hard, wait until you’re in the Company!” There is nothing like being in that Company and I don’t know how they manage with all those performances. I love it at PNB where we have two week seasons and time to prepare. But I also love to go home to New Jersey and see NYCB and all my friends and I think the dancers are awesome at the moment.

You did some guesting with other companies before PNB.
When I was still at SAB I danced with a small company in New York run by Francis Patrelle and that was such good experience and he created a role for me in The Nutcracker and gave me a lot of performance experience, which you don’t get so much at SAB. At the PNB School they have the professional division who get to understudy the corps roles in the bigger ballets. We use those students a lot and it’s a great experience for them. I also danced with San Francisco Opera in Death in Venice.

"Some of the Princes would be great but I think I’m still too young right now."

Tell me about joining PNB.
Getting in was very exciting. I hadn’t auditioned for any companies and SAB wanted me to stay another year. I was doing a ballet class during the summer programme and I was told that Francia [Russell] was coming to look at me, but she didn’t show up. Kent [Stowell] showed up, but I didn’t know he was there. Then I saw him standing there in the doorway and thought that maybe they would come and see me tomorrow. He introduced himself to me and then said, “I want to offer you a contract.” I nearly passed out and two weeks later I was there at 18.

Everybody is awesome and it feels like one big family. You get support from everybody and Francia and Kent are so nurturing. They push you and they support you. It’s such a great company. I joined as a New Dancer for a year and then I was in the Corps for three years and I’ve just been promoted to a Soloist.

Was there a particular breakthrough role for you?
In my first year I had performed the corps roles in various ballets and nine parts in Kent’s Nutcracker. Then the last rep was Silver Lining and I had two principal roles, so that was very exciting and so much fun. I’m doing one of them here, “Pick Yourself Up”, which is great. After that they gave me so many things to dance. I got to do In the middle, Bluebird in Sleeping Beauty, and they would say things like, “Come and learn Oberon in Dream.“ So it’s been incredible. Doing all the different roles makes you a better dancer.

Have you toured with the Company before?
This is my third in fact. My first year we went to Istanbul and Hong Kong. But it is my first time in London and I’m really excited. I went to Sadler’s Wells yesterday for class and it’s such a great theatre. I haven’t seen the stage yet, but the dressing rooms and studios are awesome.

What are you performing in this week?
I’m in every show. In Silver Lining I’ll do “The Edinboro Wiggle” with Kaori Nakamura. We also danced Bluebird and I was so nervous to dance with her, as she is unbelievable. I’ll also do “Pick Yourself Up”. Then in the Mixed Bill I have two parts. The first is a soloist part with two other boys, which is so much fun, and the third principal couple part on Thursday and Friday. I love that ballet; it has great music that everyone wants to choreograph to and it’s great to dance to as well. The rep has something for everyone, from a tutu ballet to Jardí Tancat.

We had a run through on an island off Seattle before we came and that was where Julie [Tobiason] had her injury. I saw her coming off stage and she went straight to the physical therapy table. In two seconds Francia and Kent were backstage and it was scary for everyone. Then we found out she had broken a bone in her foot and wouldn’t be able to come to London for her final performances with the Company. But she’s tough. She’s getting married soon and she was talking about how she is going to decorate her boot! We have a connection as we both come from Jersey.

This will be the end of the season for PNB. What are you doing in the summer?
I’m going to Cancun [in Mexico] for vacation. Then I’ll be in New Jersey visiting my family and going into New York every day, looking at ballets and taking class at Steps. We start up again around the 12th August in a temporary arena while they rebuild the Opera House. We switched over there in January and it’s working fine.

So what are your dreams?
I’m really excited right now to be a Soloist and I hope that one day I’ll be a Principal. I just hope things keep going the way they have been; it’s been great.

Any particular roles you’d love to do?
Everything. I want to do everything. There’s a lot of ballets that I have favourite parts in, such as The Dreamer in Opus 19 by Jerome Robbins. When I was at SAB we used to go to the ballet every night and Peter Boal used to do that. It was just incredible. I’m lucky that I’ve already done some of my dream roles like Agon. In the middle is such a different experience; it’s about you, the music and the other dancers. It’s such a fun feeling to walk around the stage and look at each other. It’s a great ballet and one of my favourites. Some of the Princes would be great but I think I’m still too young right now.

What about after dance or is that too far ahead?
No, I do look that far out. There will always be ballet for me. I’d love to teach, and to choreograph. I choreographed a ballet at SAB, which was a lot of fun and they’re still doing it. If I could direct a company one day that would be incredible


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Edited by Malcolm Tay

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