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Pacific Northwest Ballet Catches Körbes

An Interview with Carla Körbes

by Dean Speer and Francis Timlin

January 26, 2006 -- Seattle, Washington

We talked with new PNB soloist Carla Körbes, while she was in the midst of PNB’s preparation for their mid-winter repertory program, “Valentine.”  Körbes joined PNB from New York City Ballet in the Fall of 2005 at the invitation of PNB’s new Artistic Director, Peter Boal.  What follows is a summary of our conversation.

How did you get started dancing?  What’s the story behind your first plié?

I’m from Porto Alegre in Brazil and have an older sister.  Both of us have high energy and were sent to ballet.  When I first went to ballet class, I loved it so much I didn’t want to go to regular school!

We moved to Sao Paulo where we lived for two years and I did both ballet and swimming, although I didn’t care for swimming all that much.  I kept on dancing.  At around age 10 or 11, my teacher thought that with my potential and desire I should go back to Porto Alegre to study at Ballet Vera Bublitz.  She was an amazing teacher and used to bring in people from the outside to attract an audience – Bujones and Hübbe for example.

I got into her school at 11 and she brought Peter Boal in as a guest artist and teacher when I was 13.  We had been doing exclusively full-length ballets but she decided we should do “Apollo.”  So we learned it – this was new territory for us.  I danced with Peter and he recommended that I come to SAB.

There are no ballet companies in Brazil, except in Rio, so I had thought that I might go to Europe someday.  This was a big decision for my family but it was made easier since my sister had gone away to Holland for an exchange program to study and learn about a new culture, and to study music.  We thought I’d try the Summer Course for three weeks, but after the first week I was asked to stay for the regular course at SAB.

School in Brazil runs from March through December, and they gave me a hard time about leaving in the middle of the year. It was hard on my parents.  My parents, however, had come from large, close families, but they left when they were young in order to pursue their dreams, so they understood what having passion about something means.

What level did they put you in and how did you adjust?

I started in C-1 but was soon moved to C-2 [the next highest level].  I love learning new things.  I couldn’t understand what people were saying, but I was able to pick up the style from close observation.  I got into Professional Children’s School (PCS) and took ESL classes in English and History for the first year.  I greatly feared making verbal mistakes and it really took me about six months to start talking more freely.  People thought I was shy and not very conversant, but it was just that I couldn’t speak well!  By the second year at PCS, I was mainstreamed into regular classes.

At SAB my main teachers – Susi Pilarre, Suki Schorer, and Kay Mazzo – all helped me a great deal.  At first I felt like an outsider to the NYCB culture.  I had to get used to lots of dorm rules.

I began at SAB in 1996 and was taken into the company in 1999.  I had injured my foot in 1997 and was out for a year and a half recovering – 8 months on crutches.  I hadn’t jumped in a year and it wasn’t easy coming back – there were lots of bumps along the way.

In 2000, I got a contract and started to get stronger.  Mr. Martins started to show interest.  In 2001, I went on in many ballets to cover for several injured dancers, particularly Maria Kowroski in “Episodes,” “Organon,” and Titania in “Midsummer.”  Then Darci [Kistler] got hurt and I ended up doing everyone’s nights due to injuries.  Sometimes I wouldn’t feel ready but would go ahead.  With “Episodes,” I found out at noon that day that I was going to perform it that night.  I learned it that afternoon with piano accompaniment, but when I got out onto the stage with the full orchestra, I got lost during my solo and had to choreograph.  Fortunately, when my partner came out he got me back on track!

I went through a period when I alternated being well and being hurt.  When we went to Russia, I managed to get an intestinal parasite and had additional surgery.  I started to see life in a different way and decided to come to PNB to explore my career options.  It’s easy to get lost at NYCB, as it’s so big.  Here, the dancers are so healthy.

How do you like Seattle so far?

I love Seattle!  The city is open and I like the people.

What have you done so far this season, what are you currently working on, and what are you looking forward to doing?

I did Mr. B’s “Symphony in 3 Movements,” including the central pas de deux that I got to do with Jordan Pacitti.  I had been somewhat typecast at NYBC in lyrical roles and it was great doing this part.  It’s nice to be recognized that I can be challenged outside of what I’m perceived of being capable of doing.  In New York, I never got to do the leotard ballets, so it’s been great doing “Artifact” and “Concerto Barocco” here.  I also did the first couple in Robbins’ “In the Night.”

With “Jardi Tancat,” I really had to work at it as it’s different from what I was used to doing.  I didn’t really get the feeling until the first performance.  We were so very fortunate to have a terrific coach, Hilda Koch working with us in-depth.

For the February program, “Red Angels” is a fantastic piece – so powerful.  I just want to match the music and it’s great doing a part that’s so different from what I had done earlier in my career.  We’ve all enjoyed working with Shelley Washington who’s been here staging and coaching Tharp’s “Nine Sinatra Songs.”  She’s full of energy and helps us find the interpretation that is right for each of us.

With so many changes for me in the past, I’m enjoying the present!  However, for our future programs, I know I’ll be doing “Diamonds,” which I’m excited about and am looking forward to “Sleeping Beauty.”  I got to have a one-hour rehearsal with Suzanne Farrell when she was here recently and it was heavenly.

What are some differences that you’ve noted between PNB and NYCB?

It’s a smaller group of people who are very helpful and supportive of one another.  We get positive comments and we cheer each other on!

Let’s get into your head as a performer a little bit.  How do you prepare?  What do you think about?

I love to listen to the music.  I don’t like to count and prefer to “play” with the music.  Of course, in some ballets, like “Agon,” you have to count!  Being lyrical is easier for me and comes naturally.  Coaches are important.  I used to compare myself to Wendy Whelan – probably partly because we’d be sharing parts – until Christopher Wheeldon told me that I needed to learn to be comfortable looking like myself!  Coming back to a part can be easier, like Titania for example, after I’ve been able to “digest” the role.

What pointe shoes do you wear and what size?

I use shoes made by a former Freed maker, Bob Martin.  He has a line he calls Innovations.  They are harder and flatter and I like them.  I wear size 4 ½.

What do you like to do outside of ballet?  Any hobbies?

I love traveling and being around people I love.  I have a mission to explore Brazil since I left when I was only 14.

I haven’t felt this good in a long time.  I’m healthy and ready to dance!!

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