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Newly Minted Pantastico

Noelani Pantastico Talks About Her Rise to Pacific Northwest Ballet Principal

by Dean Speer and Francis Timlin

September 2004 -- Seattle

We recently sat down during a rehearsal break from PNB’s preparation for Kent Stowell’s "The Tragedy of Romeo & Juliet," with one of PNB’s newest Juliets, Noelani Pantastico, who was officially promoted to principal rank on August 2. She talks about her career, dancing, pointe shoes, and aspirations.

Please tell us about your pathway to PNB.

I was born in Oahu, Hawaii and did some hula but left when I was four years old. My father had passed away and my new stepdad was in the military and we moved around every two years. So, off we went to New Hampshire where I did Creative Movement for two years until we moved to Colorado where I did gymnastics and soccer for two years, but no dance! Then we moved back to New Hampshire where I did take ballet at the Ballet New England school. My teacher suggested that we look into a serious ballet program for me and thought we should look at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet [CPYB] in Carlisle. I am the middle child of six children and dance was great to get away from all the craziness.

Marcia Dale Wearey [CPYB director] wanted me full-time, meaning three and a half hours a day, six days a week. My mom was not for this! But after much convincing, she let me do it. I stayed at CPYB until I joined PNB at 17 as an Apprentice.

How was that?

I had taken PNB’s Summer Course at ages 14, 15, and 16. I had auditioned for other summer programs and was accepted at several, but the one here was the only one to be able to offer me airfare, dorm, and tuition, inclusive. I was never accepted into SAB. When I was 16, I did the cattle-call audition for PNB in New York. Otto [Neubert, Pacific Northwest Ballet balletmaster] taught and Francia [Russell, Pacific Northwest Ballet Artistic Director] watched. I had just taken the audition for the summer course the day before and took the company audition as more of an afterthought; it was unplanned. I got the apprenticeship! I came here for the 1997-98 season, was promoted to soloist in 2000, and then to principal just a couple of weeks ago.

I had been doing major roles while a soloist and I’m happy for this as it gave me the chance to prepare for this promotion. I had been told they wanted to promote me earlier but could not due to budget constraints.

What is this year’s season bringing you?

For "Romeo & Juliet," I’ve been paired with Le Yin. I’ve previously been partnered by Jeff Stanton, which is great as he’s such a good partner and I learned a lot about partnering from him. At CYPB, we didn’t have either the guys or partnering very much, and sometimes when we did, the girls had to partner the girls, so I learned how to hold myself, but Jeff has also taught me how to trust my male partner more and to allow it to be more of a partnership and to let them do more.

I’ve enjoyed rehearsals so far but it’s also been a tough learning curve for me – having the responsibility for carrying a show but also fewer rehearsals, having been used to dancing six hours a day, but also harder parts. And now after company class, I’m only rehearsing a couple of hours a day, so I also have to find additional ways to keep myself in shape, since I’m not dancing as many hours.

What else are you looking forward to doing this season?

"Merry Widow" – the part of Valencienne. I like story ballets. The Stravinsky rep, especially "Apollo," and "The Rite of Spring" (Tetley version), "Lambarena," "Symphony in C," and "Four Temperaments."

Let’s talk about your debut in "Sleeping Beauty." I remember your Aurora as being particularly glorious. You looked so happy, genuinely so.

I was happy! I had wanted to do this part for a long time. When I reflect back on "Sleeping Beauty," I really remember coming into my own. I think the ballet fits me very well so I felt pretty comfortable in the whole process. My partner Jeff Stanton was a dream to work with. I really felt taken care of on and off stage. Working on it with Francia was amazing. I really felt like I got to know Francia a lot better because we worked together so much. She is like the ballet mom I never had! No one has made me work as hard as that. The Rose Adagio was my favorite part, balances and all! Francia paid me the nicest compliment; after my first performance, she told me that I had just become a ballerina. I was elated and I felt as if I was dreaming.

That’s great! Tell us who have been some of your favorite choreographers to work with.

I’ve enjoyed working with Val Caniparoli on "Torque," as there was lots of dancer input on the movement. I do a lot of classical work, and prefer it, but I know I need to expand my repertory. Chris Stowell was fun to work with on his "Zais." One of the questions we’ve had for the Artistic Director candidates coming in [for interviews and auditions] is on their views on casting. I know I don’t want to get stuck being typecast. Kevin O'Day also choreographed a demi-soloist part on Jodie Thomas and myself in "Sound around Dance." I remember being real nervous to work with him because I had heard he was a talented up-and-coming choreographer, so to be chosen by him was an honor.

What are some of your interests and hobbies outside of ballet?

I wish I had a garden. I do have two “Pixiebob” cats who are Loki and Lexi and have a Boston Terrier ,Maddox, who have helped me realize I’m not yet ready for children – all of that chasing after and running around! It’s not really a hobby but I’m getting married next Summer in Hawaii, and that’s been crazy to organize. My fiancé is former dancer Brady Hartley, whom I met here in the School. He moved to Columbus, Ohio and was in BalletMet and then Sacramento Ballet for two years. I was racking up frequent-flyer miles during these years! Brady is now here in Seattle, has retired from performing and is going to be attending a culinary arts school.

Do you have an interest in teaching ballet or in choreography?

Actually, I have been guest teaching for Mid-Columbia Ballet’s summer course in Richland, Washington for the past several summers for one week at a time and for CPYB with a similar setup.

How has this gone? Do you like it?

I do like it. However at CYPB, it’s crazy; all I do is give what feels like a series of masterclasses, as I only see the same group of students once. I should be there all five weeks, so I can really work with them!

How was performing for New York City Ballet?

Olivier Wevers and I did the second movement of the "Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet." One of the biggest challenges was keeping in shape as we performed it during our layoff, so Olivier and I would come in and give ourselves a little class and then rehearse. In New York, company class was only one hour and way too many people for the smallish room it was in. We had to take turns! Everyone was so warm and welcoming that it made the whole process much easier to handle.

I was pleased to see the similarities but also the differences between how things are run there and here. For example, I found it amazing that they are used to having to learn a ballet very quickly and perform it right away, sometimes even the same day, when we here are used to a few weeks.

Sara Leland [New York City Ballet Assistant Balletmistress] began coaching me but started to make some changes. Francia who was there, right in front, was surprised but I think it’s that she wanted to relax us. Peter [Martins, New York City Ballet Ballet Master-in-Chief] said to go ahead and do it as we had learned from Francia. Tempos were the “speed of light.” I mean, Stewart [Kershaw, Pacific Nothwest Ballet Musical Director] here tends to conduct fast, but Andrea Quinn was really fast! We were forewarned and so were able to be prepared and adjust. There ended up being just a couple of places that were too speedy, but it was okay. It was a fantastic experience just being there and I spent a lot of time in the wings just observing. It helped that Kent [Stowell, Pacific Northwest Ballet's other Artistic Director] and Francia were there too. They were a wonderful support system.

Readers will want to know: what pointe shoes do you wear?

I wear Freed 5XX with a heel pin and my maker is “Key.” I use and make my own “tendonitis ribbons” which help when you plié and with rolling through your shoes.

Any last comments?

Someday I think that I might like to be a dance writer or critic or maybe a ballet teacher or maybe even a cook! But until then, I hope that people enjoy watching me dance for many more years to come.

Edited by Azlan Ezaddin.

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