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What Seth Says...

Interview with Pacific Northwest Ballet Principal Dancer Seth Orza

by Dean Speer and Francis Timlin

We visited with Pacific Northwest Ballet Principal Dancer Seth Orza in the midst of Nutcracker season in 2011. Here is a summary of that interesting conversation.

We often begin by talking about backgrounds – where someone is from and how they got started in ballet. Why don’t we start there and continue on to talk about your career...

I’m from San Francisco. Both of my parents were dancers with the Oakland Ballet, when Ronn Guidi was its director. They had six children who all became dancers – three sisters, two brothers – one a twin – and a little brother still at San Francisco Ballet.

I started at the age of four with Damara Bennett and Yehuda Ma'or at Dancerstage and later transferred to City Ballet School and a year later transferred to San Francisco Ballet School, where I was for five years. I then went to School of American Ballet for two years and gained an apprenticeship with New York City Ballet. I first met Peter Boal at SAB during my first Summer session at the age of 12 and then stayed for the year in 1997, my fourth summer session with SAB. One of the initial challenges was the stylistic difference between SFB and SAB.

I was excited to get into New York City Ballet in 1999 and be promoted to soloist in 2007. I won the May L. Wein Award for outstanding promise – the same year as did Carla Körbes and Craig Hall. It guaranteed an apprenticeship with NYCB.

What was your first year like?

I was set up to learn 8 ballets with a goal of obtaining a corps contract. It took 9 months and was very hard. I did a lot of corps work right away – you are expected to be able to learn and pick up choreography very quickly. This took me about a year to get used to this pace.

I learned to ensure I knew something thoroughly before going on stage – I forgot the mazurka in “Swan Lake” much to my own horror and that of ballet mistress Rosemary Dunleavy, who counseled me to be sure to speak up instead of being caught on stage not knowing what to do.

Some really neat things happened in the first couple of years. Like Richard Tanner making his ballet, “Soirée” for myself and Carla. It was a fun, bright number. I found that more opportunities came up, especially on the Robbins side of the repertory, and I even got to meet him once before I joined the company.

Other highlights include being “Nutcracker” prince with Janie Taylor; doing the third movement of Bizet [“Symphony in C”] – also with Taylor; David Allen's “Reunions” which was a piece done on Ethan Stiefel for the Diamond Project, which was hard to live up to. I was also honored to partner Alexandra Ansanelli, I found the ballet fatiguing both physically and mentally. Up to that point it’s probably the most I have done at this point in my career. I had a great time performing that ballet, even with all the stress.

What is your process and approach to performing or leaning a role?

It takes lots of mental preparation. I try different things, watching different tapes for new steps and new turns and different versions of that specific ballet.

What brought you out to Seattle? You’re on record as having been angry...

PNB sounded like an opportunity to try something different. I got injured a couple of times at NYCB – everything goes at a fast pace and injuries are a setback and it is hard to prove yourself all over again. I was coming back from a back injury – a bulging disk – and was out for seven months.

Carla left in 2005, then Miranda [Weese], left shortly thereafter, both to join PNB. My wife, Sarah, had quit dancing to work on jewelry with our friend Jamie Wolf. My wife wanted to start dancing again and NYCB wasn't working for out for me anymore. We thought Peter Boal would be a great person for whom to work. I wanted to be in a place where I felt I could communicate and relate with my boss, and at NYCB, I felt “in a cage” and couldn't. My wife and I couldn't be happier with our decision.

You’ve tried your hand at choreographing while here?

Yes, I've choreographed twice so far, my first piece “Fragment.” and the second "Le Festival des Amis." I found the process to be a struggle for me -- it's hard not to copy and to be original. I also found that students, as talented as they are, need more time to work on stylistic aspects and steps. I really enjoyed the challenge of choreographing and am disappointed I won't be able to choreograph this year.

I’d like to hear your thoughts on partnering...

I love to partner! I don’t think I was a good partner when I first joined NYCB. It takes time to get used to holding a woman. When I began; I felt off balance. I got a lot of help from Jock Soto. I really enjoy partnering now, learning to anticipate. I think I was inspired by the drive of Jorge Esquivel, one of my teachers at SFB School. It’s a hard profession, and we tend to be self-critical.

What are your hobbies and interests outside of ballet?

I like to play the guitar – I’ve been playing for about five years. I'm also interested in finishing school. With being so young when I started my career I put my studies to the side. Now that I'm older I've started to focus back on my studies. I’m also interested in ballet mastering or directing. I’m now 30 and you have to be thinking of what’s next.

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