He’s been in “The Nutcracker” for 22 years, and as the Boston Ballet returns to the Opera stage, he’s ready to jump again.
From Clara’s mischievous little brother, Fritz, to the royal Snow King, Boston Ballet soloist Isaac Akiba played 13 different roles in the company’s acclaimed production “The Nutcracker” on a 22-year record. For him, the production of this season from Nov. 26 to Dec. The 26th is particularly important and not just because it marks the Boston Ballet’s first performances at Citizens Bank Opera House since the pandemic closed in March 2020. It will be the first time Akiba has danced on stage since 2019, when he tore his ACL during a live “The Nutcracker” performance.
Akiba was dancing the virtuoso lead role of the Russian characters in Act II, with his fractional jumps and pirouettes, when he came out of a double basque jump and his knee gave way, requiring months of rehabilitation. . Some dancers may have called him a day, but is Akiba back in action, and among his roles on opening weekend? The bravery of Russian lead. âAll I can do is trust all the work I’ve done and go out there and do my thing,â he says.
He calls the return to performing arts a wake-up call. âCollectively, everyone is really excited to be on stage again, taking off our masks and smiling to the audience,â he said recently after a long day of rehearsals. âIt’s been so long that we’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to play in front of thousands of people. I feel very emotional when I think about it.
Some of that emotion can be used to keep Boston Ballet dancers motivated over the next four weeks. The âNutcrackerâ season is a test of endurance. Akiba describes long nights and short days, high stress and little rest. But for him, the challenge is also part of what keeps him determined to grow as a dancer.
“Ballet doesn’t get any easier [as you get older]”Akiba, now 33, says.” You have to bring yourself to a high level of fitness and art. … I always want to be better, so I keep pushing to reach new heights. It’s really important in a company like the Boston Ballet not to get complacent.
Akiba’s history with the company dates back to the age of 9, when he was chosen to study ballet as part of his free introductory training program, Citydance. âI’ve always been very athletic, but at the same time I like to focus on the details, and for me ballet has combined them in a beautiful way,â he says. He went on to study at the Boston Ballet School, then joined the Boston Ballet II before being promoted to Boston Ballet in 2009, the only former Citydance student to join the professional company.
âI’m a JP kid. I took the Orange Line [to the ballet] my whole life, âAkiba says. âI was going into a corporate class and seeing these outstanding artists / athletes from Korea, Italy, Georgia, South America and China. â¦ They inspire me. There is such dedication. I wish the audience could see what it takes to get on stage at such a high level. On a daily basis, that’s what keeps me going.
Boston Ballet Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen calls Akiba a natural and versatile rider in roles ranging from classical to contemporary. Nissinen praises his thoughtfulness and character work, citing the portrait of the mad inventor dancer in “CoppÃ©lia”. âHe gave such a true portrait,â says Nissinen. âFor a young artist to do such a murderous job in a role like this is really impressive. “
However, it is Lead Russian that Akiba cites as his most rewarding role, estimating that he has performed it over 100 times. âPutting on the leather boots comes with the same familiarity as a seasoned Red Sox player when he slips his hand into a perfectly worn glove,â he wrote in a recent essay.
Seeing dance as a young ballet student inspired him to seriously pursue this art form. âThe leaps of bravery associated with Tchaikovsky’s fantastic music are such a thrill,â he says, âa time when a classically trained artist can feel like a rock star. â¦ Every exercise during my rehabilitation was performed with a singular goal in mind – to fly again in this dance.
Karen Campbell can be reached at [email protected]