Where arts and diversity meet
Talking with a Brazilian ballerinaOctober 25th, 2011 at Tue, 25th, 2011 at 11:55 am by Gabrielle Nomura
From the powerful Cuban-born Karel Cruz, to the fiery Japanese ballerina, Kaori Nakamura, standouts of Pacific Northwest Ballet have been known to bring international diversity to the stage, hailing from across Latin America, Asia and Europe.
When PNB took on Brazilian ballerina Carla Körbes in 2005, the company would gain yet another star from overseas; plus, a much-admired role model of young dancers.
“She’s what made me want to go on pointe,” 11-year-old Lauren Zimmermann told me for the November issue of The Bellevue Scene.
Zimmermann was not alone. Many of her friends in the PNB School’s level four class expressed their love of the ballerina with gold hair, flawless technique, and a versatility on stage that allows her to portray characters as different as the wicked black swan, to a blushing, girlish Swanilda.
Diverse|City sat down with the international star to discuss her rise to ballet stardom in the United States – a journey that started in her hometown of Porto Alegre, Brazil. Although it’s been 15 years since she left the country, Körbes always carries her blue, green and yellow Brazil sweatshirt in her dance bag. It reminds her of home.
Körbes discussed what it was like to grow up dancing in Brazil and the importance of role models in the often cut-throat world of professional dance.
Diverse|City: Many PNB students say you’re what makes them want to dance en pointe. Do you remember getting your first pair of pointe shoes in Brazil?
Körbes: Unlike PNB, which gets its pointe shoes made in London, my first pair of shoes were made in Brazil. I was 10 years-old. They were really good, but really hard, meaning the shank felt like an iron board. I think they lasted me at least six months. It’s a real contrast to now, where if I’m doing a ballet like “Don Quixote” I will go through one pair a day.
Diverse|City: How did the shoes make you feel?
Körbes: I was so excited. I couldn’t wait to dance in them. I got them with my sister and she was like, ‘Uh-uh.’ She was the smart one who said, ‘No this really hurts.’
Diverse|City: It’s a luxury to be able to get your own custom-made pointe shoes as a PNB dancer. Tell me more about that.
Körbes: They make the box of the shoe (the part that covers the metatarsal) a little wider, narrower, rounder or pointier. We all need something a little different; you can ask them to fit your shoe exactly to your foot. On the bottom of the shoe, each maker engraves the sole with their symbol, like a bell, key or letter of the alphabet. Your last name is spelled on the bottom which is awesome; you always know you have your own shoes.
Diverse|City: How long have you been wearing Freed pointe shoes?
Körbes: My shoe situation has been complicated. I used to wear Freeds when I arrived at PNB, but then I changed to Innovations and have been wearing them for the past eight years. But now, the company’s going out of business so it will be a quest to find a new shoe.
Diverse|City: Who were your ballet idols growing up?
Körbes: When I was a student, I loved Ana Botafogo (prima ballerina of the Teatro Municipal of Rio de Janeiro). I wrote her a letter and she sent me a signed copy of her book back. A year later, when she came to dance in my town, she totally remembered who I was. I think it’s important for us as dancers to have someone we can look up to and see who we want to be one day. I don’t think I always realize I’m at the point in my life where I’m the role model.
Diverse|City: Why are role models so important?
Körbes: It motivates [students] and gives them something to look toward. I feel like that even though I didn’t have access to meeting many professional dancers until I was 16. When I moved from Brazil to New York, I finally got to meet more professional dancers, which was so intimidating and exciting, taking class with people like Barishnikov – oh my God. It’s what keeps ballet alive; it’s that dream that starts when you’re 5.
Diverse|City: How have you spent your break between PNB’s “All Wheeldon” program which wrapped up earlier this month and “Love Stories” which will premier Nov. 4?
Körbes: I’ve been working on the variation from “Don Quixote” (premiers Feb. 3-12) because it keeps me in shape.
Diverse|City: What message do you have for all the young dancers who look up to you?
Körbes: Remember to enjoy ballet. There are days when it can be really hard. Just always remember why we do what we do. It can be so easy to get down on yourself, on your body. One of the most important things is to not compare yourself to anyone else. I forget that sometimes, too. But whenever I get injured and have to take some time away from dance, and then come back, I’m like, ‘Oh yeah. This is it.’