A Conversation With Jonathan Porretta

One-on-one with a principal dancer for Pacific Northwest Ballet.

Jonathan Porretta has danced ballet since he was 7 years old, and has been with the Pacific Northwest Ballet for the past 12 years. He joined the company in 1999, and moved through the ranks to become a principal dancer in 2005. He most recently danced the roles of Oberon and Puck in George Balanchine’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Seattleite: What initiated your work in ballet and dancing?

Jonathan Porretta: We still don’t know to this day! I always wanted to be a dancer, but my mom and I can’t point to exactly when it started. I remember a time, when I was about four or five. We went to see the New York City ballet for “The Nutcracker.” When the curtain went up … I fell asleep! Then when I was seven, my mom got me some ballet and tap dancing combination classes for my birthday, and I just stuck with it after that.

S: What inspires you to dance?

JP: Performing. It’s the best — the scariest thing in the world, but also the happiest place. The connection with the audience is also inspiring, remarkable. You can feel the energy when you’re onstage; as much energy you put into it, you get back in buckets. The ballet is magical.

S: What brought you to the Pacific Northwest Ballet in 1999?

JP: I had been a student at the School of American Ballet, and I had applied and been rejected from the New York City Ballet. I stayed on for the summer program, to learn more, and to see what would happen with my career from there. I was also going to audition for other companies, including the Miami City Ballet and the PNB. Francia Russell (PNB Founding Artistic Director and Stager) had set up an audition with me.

Unbeknownst to me, Kent Stowell (PNB Founding Artistic Director and Choreographer) showed up the day before when I was dancing for class. After the class, he offered me a contract! After that, it was kind of like, “when can I come out?” I was totally a New York City and East Coast snob, thinking I would only be in Seattle for three years at most. And look, here I am 13 years later! I love Seattle — it’s such a special city.

S: In your opinion, what mindsets or skills are required to grow in the art and skill of dancing ballet?

JP: Passion. You have to be passionate about the craft, the technique. You also have to have a wilder side to attack the choreography — where it’s not even you. You embrace it, and it takes over your body. You have to have the technique down, just so that you can lose it and be free. Lose the steps and it becomes like liquid.

S: Describe the overall experience of being and becoming a principal dancer for the PNB?

JP: You have to move up the ranks, working hard. The corps member is the most busy, because you’re trying to do your job, but you’re also trying to get noticed. You get to dance some soloist parts, so that stretches you. Then you get promoted to a soloist, and your roles completely change. As a principal, it’s all feast or famine. Sometimes you’re dancing three to four ballets per night, and sometimes it’s just one. You have to really savor those roles.

S: Do you have a favorite past performance or character?

JP: I have so many! Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” is still my favorite. I hope to do it again before I get too old. I also loved Kent Stowell’s “Dual Lish.” Mercutio was one of my favorite characters to dance, for “Romeo et Juliette.” And playing Oberon and Puck for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” has been a lot of fun. They are so different.

S: What has the experience of playing Oberon and Puck in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” been like for you?

JP: Wonderful! I have gotten to do Puck so many times, and it never gets old! There’s so much to his character that you can play with. With Oberon it’s been fun too. He’s regal, since he’s the king. Since I’m short, so I don’t get to play princes, but that’s okay because I think they are stiff and boring anyway. But Balanchine wrote Oberon to be short, so he has that “man-syndrome” and is constantly strutting and puffing out his chest. He’s also a fairy, which I love — it’s a lot of fun.

S: Do you have hobbies outside of your work at the ballet?

JP: Wine tasting in Seattle. I will eat at any restaurant, and we have a lot of great Seattle restaurants. I would love to write a column, and get paid to eat and drink around the city! I also play with my dog, named Angelo. He’s an Italian greyhound chihuahua that I adopted a month ago.

S: What are your career goals? What do you want to do after the dancing part of your ballet career is over?

JP: I would love to take over the company. Or open a school of ballet and teach. I do some teaching during the summers here, and I get so much from teaching other people the art of dancing.

You can also find Porretta’s video bio on Youtube, as well as PNB’s trailer for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”