Monday, June 6, 2022

It's Hard to Say Goodbye


Sarah Pasch, center, with Elle Macy, left, and Chelsea Adomaitis in Twyla Tharp's
Waiting at the Station, 2013. photo @ Angela Sterling

When dance journalists write about ballet, we’re usually focused on the choreographers or the principal dancers, the orchestra, or the sets, costumes and lighting.

We note new creations, exemplary performances, on-stage partnerships and the like. I think of us a bit like magpies, lured from one bright, shiny object to the next. When a beloved ballet star gives their last performance, we're likely to note their departures in a multitude of media outlets. The accolades are usually well-deserved; unfortunately, we’re not quite so attentive when other hard-working dancers decide it's time to leave their performing careers behind. 

And that’s too bad, because I think of the corps de ballet in particular as the hardest working, often least recognized, group of dancers in show business. This week Pacific Northwest Ballet says goodbye to two corps members: Guillaume Basso and Sarah Pasch. The company also bids farewell to elegant PNB soloist Joshua Grant.

Joshua Grant-Montoya, left, with his husband Christopher Grant-Montoya and canine family members in their new school, Dance Conservatory Seattle. photo courtesy Joshua Grant-Montoya

One minute to recognize Grant, who has appeared in everything from new work by David Dawson to Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Romeo et Juliette, where his Paris unsuccessfully wooed a reluctant Juliet. 

Joshua Grant as Paris in Jean-Christophe Maillot's
Romeo et Juliette. photo @ Angela Sterling

But Grant, a veteran of Les Ballets Trocadero de Monte Carlo, was just as arresting as Mother Ginger in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, both for his facility mincing along on stilts supporting a 60+ pound costume that hides a troupe of kids and his brilliant comedic timing.

Joshua Grant as Mother Ginger with PNB school students in George Balanchine's The Nutcracker
photo @ Elise Bakketun 

But back to the corps de ballet, dancers who are particularly indispensable when a company like PNB mounts big productions like Nutcracker or Swan Lake. While our eyes may be glued to the Sugar Plum Fairy (or Mother Ginger), or to Odette and Siegfried’s doomed love story, we can’t help but be awed by twirling Snowflakes, or the amazing bevy of swans who take the stage in Swan Lake’s Act 2, hopping in from the wings with precision and unity. It’s hard work, physically and mentally. Odette and Siegfried get several night’s rest in between performances, but those swans grind out shows every night.

PNB corps de ballet members in George Balanchine's The Nutcracker, 2018.
Sarah Pasch is at far right. photo @ Angela Sterling

Leading PNB’s pack (or should I saw flock?) this year with her trademark elegance and poise was ten-year corps de ballet member Pasch.

“It was my fourth time around with this ballet,” says the 31-year old. “I still love it.”

It will be one of many memories Pasch savors next fall, when she trades the Marion Oliver McCall Hall stage for an elementary school classroom. While the dancers were sidelined during the pandemic, Pasch used her time to complete a Bachelor’s degree from Western Governor’s University, and to focus on her now two-year old daughter Etta, who she’s raising with her husband, PNB soloist Ezra Thomson.

“The pandemic actually kind of worked in my favor,” Pasch explains. “I had planned to take time off school and work when Etta was born (January, 2020). Things changed, and I wasn’t dancing (because of the pandemic), so even though I had a newborn baby at home, I did have time to do school.”

Last fall, Pasch needed a few more months leave from PNB to complete her student teaching. She told her boss, Artistic Director Peter Boal, that she’d be back for Nutcracker, but would retire from the company this summer.

“I kinda used it as a consolation prize,” Pasch laughs. “If you let me do this, I’ll retire and you can hire some younger dancers!”

Sarah Pasch as the Stepmother in Jean-Christophe Maillot's
Cendrillon. photo @ Angela Sterling

In the meantime, Pasch has used her position as one of the senior corps members to help guide some of PNB’s newer dancers. Boal says Pasch’s grace and unobtrusive but steady presence in the studio has earned her the respect of her peers, and her boss.

“Every company has undesignated leaders like Sarah, who see the bigger scope of the rehearsal process.” Boal wrote in an email. “She knows what needs to be fixed and how to fix it. She will be missed.”

Sarah Pasch with Dammiel Cruz-Garrido in Ulysses Dove's Red Angels, 2018.
photo @ Lindsay Thomas

Pasch leaves PNB on a high note. She’s scheduled to dance in Ulysses Dove’s Red Angels with fellow corps member Dammiel Cruz-Garrido in the company’s Encore performance June 12th. She first saw this ballet when she joined PNB School’s Professional Division in 2009.

“I was out in the audience,” says Pasch, “and I was like, ‘I have to do that role!’”

Boal cast her in it several years later, which she says was a big deal for her; as a corps dancer Pasch hasn’t had regular opportunities to  perform solo roles. She considers Red Angels to be one of her career highlights, along with a stint in George Balanchine’s Rubies.

Sarah Pasch, center with, from left, Chelsea Adomaitis, James Yoichi Moore and Elle Macy in 2013 production of Tharp's Waiting at the Station. photo @ Angela Sterling

Another highlight was originating the role of Golden Girl, one of a trio featured in Twyla Tharp’s Waiting at the Station, created for PNB in 2013. The ballet is one of three Tharp works that make up PNB’s final program of this artistic season. Although COVID forced the company to cancel opening weekend performances, Pasch is scheduled to reprise the role this weekend (June 9-12), if the virus allows the shows to go on.

“It feels like full circle,” she says. “To have a role created on you is so cool. It feels very precious to me, and I’m so excited I get to dance it again.”

This summer, Pasch will tour with PNB to New York and Los Angeles before stepping away from professional ballet for good. She acknowledges her life will be different come September, when her husband heads back to the ballet studio while she takes her place in front of a classroom. Pasch is eager to begin this new career, but says ballet will always be with her.

“I’ll really miss that magic of the curtain coming up, being onstage in costume. There’s nothing like it,” she acknowledges. “I’m just grateful for the audience here, the career I’ve had, this home I’ve created at PNB.”


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