The Kennedy Center

Sara Ivan


Sara Ivan (Corps de ballet) joined The Suzanne Farrell Ballet in 2005 after attending Exploring Ballet with Suzanne Farrell at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. the previous summer. She has also danced with The Washington Ballet. Her repertory includes solo roles in Divertimento No. 15, Apollo, Stravinsky Violin Concerto, La Valse, and Romeo and Juliet.

What is your favorite role to dance and why?
Usually whatever ballet I'm learning is my favorite. I love the freshness and possibility of something new. However, as soon as you get your first few corrections you realize there is more to the dance than you initially thought and before you find your footing again you start to think "I can't do this."

What do you like to do when you are not dancing?
I live in New York City so my free time is spent discovering the city and discovering new groups of friends. I am happiest when I immerse myself in the art world: Movies, museums, good books, etc. When you are a working artist your imagination is your greatest tool. I also spend a lot of time on spiritual discovery. I think of myself as a conduit for the art, not the art itself.

How do you prepare yourself for the physical challenges of rehearsing, performing, touring?
There are so many variables when you go on tour. I find it's best if I just throw myself into the thick of it from the beginning. That being said, ballet classes and proper nutrition are very important. I take vitamins and drink more water and sleep more so that I am healthy when I begin a season. That way there is one less thing to worry about. Learning new tools for managing stress is very helpful because we typically do not have a lot of time to prepare a show, and most of the dancers learn several ballets. I don't want to sabotage the work I'm doing because of the pressure I feel.

What is it like to work with Ms. Farrell? Any fun and memorable stories or anecdotes about working with her?
That's a hard question because there are so many memorable moments working with Ms. Farrell. I guess I would say working with her is equal parts intimidating and inspiring. She is always pushing you to give more. But I find that every correction she gives to a dancer really does change their dancing for the better. I trust that she is telling me the truth about my dancing and what will make it better. My favorite times are being coached personally on a role. It is a different way of communicating: an honest and direct communication. There is no hiding. You can't really fake anything working with her. Or at least I can't.

What music do you like to listen to when you warm-up?
I don't listen to music before class because during a rehearsal period I will be listening to beautiful music all day. I like to acclimate myself to the climate of the studio, connect to my fellow dancers because the rest of the day will be spent working with not much time to chat with each other. In a way, not talking the rest of the day is like a meditation in service of the work you are doing. That is why I like to wake myself up by being present to what is going on around me before class starts.

What do you think is the most common myth about being a ballerina? What do you wish people knew about what it's really like to be a ballerina?
When I tell people that I am a ballerina I usually hear questions like "Does your hair have to be long? Do pointe shoes hurt?" There are common misconceptions like ballerinas live in a bubble or they are anorexic and stupid, that they don't go to college or they don't have families. I don't think you can stereotype ballet dancers these days. Everyone is an individual. I wish people knew how much devotion and hard work ballet demands. All parts of you are being pushed to their limits. It is very painful, tedious hard work. You sweat, a lot. You bleed and break down your body. But it is very gratifying in the end. I have never felt anything on par to performing. There are sublime moments that feel like nothing else when a show goes well. For me there is no other feeling like it in life.

Do you feel an affinity for any particular choreographer?
Naming my favorite choreographer is like naming my favorite composer. I just can't decide. It really depends on the day. But I find Balanchine's work to be the most challenging and rewarding. It's amazing how you hear the music differently when dancing his steps, I hear little sounds I would have missed if I were moving in another way. I really believe that his goal was to allow the audience to hear the music more clearly by visually enhancing it.

What is the biggest reward in your career?
I hope it is yet to come! But I think the simple fact that I am able to dance professionally, that it is not just a childhood dream fallen by the wayside, is the best reward of my career.

Sara Ivan Headshot