It's Last Dance For Pennsylvania Ballet's Arantxa Ochoa

By J. Cooper Robb
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 4 | Posted Oct. 24, 2012

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The final curtain: Pennsylvannia Ballet principal dancer Arantxa Ochoa is shown in rehearsals for "Giselle."

Photo by Alexander Iziliaev

When a great athlete retires from the game, we always hope they go out on a high note. Ballet dancers are no exception; they are as much athletes as they are artists. And like many a pro quarterback who doesn’t know when it’s time to quit, many dancers conclude their careers after their skills have been diminished due to age and injury.

Happily, this is not the case with local legend Arantxa Ochoa. A performer with the Pennsylvania Ballet since 1996 and principal dancer for the last 12 years, Ochoa is transitioning from the stage to classroom. Since September, Ochoa has been leading the faculty of the School of Pennsylvania Ballet; in January, the recently opened school is scheduled to move into the Ballet’s new home at the Louise Reed Center for Dance on North Broad Street. While beginning her tenure as a teacher, Ochoa is simultaneously bringing down the final curtain on her on-stage career this weekend with a farewell performance as the title character in the company’s magnificent production of Giselle at the Academy of Music. (Performers are subject to change, but Ochoa is scheduled to perform Oct. 28.)

“I had already made the decision to retire [before the company announced its 2012-13 season], and then I found out that Giselle was going to happen, and I thought how perfect that was,” says Ochoa. “When you are a little girl dreaming of becoming a ballet dancer, you dream of playing Giselle. From the music to the story to the steps, there is so much in the role, and there is a lot of opportunity for acting, which I enjoy.”

Her acting ability is one of the elements that separates Ochoa from other dancers. Roy Kaiser, Pennsylvania Ballet’s artistic director, refers to her as a “full artist.” “Arantxa is a wonderful technician,” he says, “but she also has the ability to fully immerse herself in a role, and there is a presence about her on stage that is completely engaging.”

Ochoa, who is married to former principal dancer Alexander Iziliaev, now Pennsylvania Ballet’s photographer and videographer, says she enjoys the acting challenges that come with “story ballets” like Giselle, a far cry from the shorter works that the Pennsylvania Ballet also stages. “I love the two- and three-act ballets like Romeo and Juliet and Sleeping Beauty. I love to act. People want to see the steps, but I love to develop a character that I can fully express on stage.”

Her decision to retire from it now, she confesses, is hard to put into words. “It’s the right time. Other performers always say that you will know when the time comes. I never thought that I would, but then something clicks, and you just know it’s time to move on and try other things.” And while she’s had her share of injuries—including breaking her fifth metatarsal—she says that the physical demands of ballet are only one factor in her decision to retire. “It’s a little bit of everything. It is your mind, as well as your body. I’ve had a wonderful career. And it is just the right time.”

What will she miss most? Ochoa mentions the audience first, but says she’ll also miss the arduous rehearsals. Despite the grueling hours—9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday with performances on the weekend—she admits, “I will miss the work you do with your partner before you go on stage.” It is this work ethic that Ochoa stresses with her students. “I think people don’t realize how much hard work is involved because they just see the beautiful part. There are a lot of things that a dancer needs, but I tell my students that hard work is most important,” she says.

Perhaps the most gratifying thing about Ochoa’s retirement, says Kaiser, is that she’s still in her prime as a performer. “It’s always sad to see a dancer’s performing career end, but in Arantxa’s case, she’s doing it of her own choice. She’s not retiring because of an injury or something else,” he explains. “It’s her decision, which is always a very positive thing for a dancer.”

And, as Ochoa’s performance in Giselle proves, she’s still at the top of her game.

Featuring Adolphe Adam’s lushly romantic score, the Pennsylvania Ballet’s production is visually stunning (John Hoey’s lighting design is wondrous) and emotionally affecting. In the title role, Ochoa’s dancing is precise and elegant, and she truly captivates in a performance that is both subtle and breathtakingly passionate.

As Kaiser observes, “there is a natural evolution in a ballet company. Will one dancer step in and fill (Ochoa’s) shoes? No. But a number of dancers will step in and bring their qualities to the repertoire we perform.” 

Through Oct. 28. $30-$125. Academy of Music, Broad and Locust sts. 215.893.1999.

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Comments 1 - 4 of 4
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1. Anonymous said... on Oct 24, 2012 at 10:32PM

“Bullshit. The artistic director and company essentially forced her into retirement so her and her husband can be teachers at the new school. She would have danced a few more years if they let her!!”

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2. Anonymous said... on Oct 29, 2012 at 12:01AM

“Now that Arantxa has retired, there is no one else in the company to watch. I was there for the final performance, and the marvellous Arantxa aside, the performance was disappointing. Hilarion was completely unengaging. He and Albrecht barely had a noticeable conflict. Albrecht's role requires breathtaking stamina and athletic performance which just wasn't there.The wilis's shoes squeaked loudly on the floor, they looked alive, not matching Gabi Yudenich's ghostly makeup or dark hair.

Sadly, the company has fallen off it's mark. The talent they have lost in recent years has not been replaced.

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3. anonymous said... on Nov 15, 2012 at 12:48PM

“WOW!!! what is happening at Pennsylvania Ballet. I just heard today that Barette Vance is also retiring. The company certainly has it's work cut out for them since their two best dancers will now be gone and their current principals are not start quality at all.”

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4. Anonymous said... on Dec 27, 2012 at 10:44AM

“People, please stop being so ridiculous. Yes, Aranxta and Riolama will be sorely missed. However, the company has never been better with many rising stars. Gabby Yudenich has been absolutely breathtaking recently, as have Lauren Fadeley and Brooke Moore. I will add that Holly Fusco, who is for some reason still in the corps, is an absolutely beautiful and assured dancer. Then there is Julie Diana and her hubby Zach, both incredible. Go to the PA Ballet more often and you will see for yourselves.”


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