The Kennedy Center

Elisabeth Holowchuk

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    The Suzanne Farrell Ballet: Photoshoot

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    The Suzanne Farrell Ballet Snapshot: Elisabeth Holowchuk


Elisabeth Holowchuk* (First Soloist) was born in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada. She received her early training from Christine Taylor Schmelz and continued her studies at The School of American Ballet. She is an alumna of Exploring Ballet with Suzanne Farrell. Elisabeth's repertoire includes principal roles in Balanchine's Serenade, Baiser de la Fée, Meditation, Agon, Slaughter on 10th Avenue and Duo Concertant as well as Jerome Robbins's Afternoon of a Faun and In Memory of... and Paul Mejia's Romeo and Juliet. Elisabeth has also danced in the Balanchine Preservation Initiative ballets: Pithoprakta, Concierto de Mozart, the Contrapuntal Blues pas de deux from Clarinade, Ragtime, and Haieff Divertimento. Elisabeth danced with The Suzanne Farrell Ballet from 2001-2015 and rejoins them for this season, while also pursuing dual degrees in Accounting and English at Lehigh University.

A Conversation with Elisa

What has been your favorite role to dance and why?

I find that whatever I am working on at the moment becomes my favorite. I like ballets that challenge me. The challenge can be the process of finding how to make the steps work for my body, or perhaps adopting a persona that is not my own in real life. In that respect, I had a lot of fun dancing "The Strip Tease Girl" in Slaughter on Tenth Avenue. In real life I am very shy and could never let my hair down or "strut my stuff" like that. I think it's wonderful that ballet affords dancers the chance to be different than they feel they are. What happens on stage almost becomes more real than what happens off stage because I don't feel hindered or limited by the outside world when I am dancing. Similarly, I also found working on the "Unanswered Question" section of the ballet Ivesiana a challenge in that I had to face one of my fears. The stage is pitch black, except for a spotlight. I spend the entirety of the ballet carried by four men. They hold me above their heads and I stand and walk on their shoulders in the dark. While I am not particularly fond of heights, I am afraid of the dark! The juxtaposition of the somewhat anxious, unsettling music and the calmness that I am supposed to portray was a great way to work through those fears. I learned to trust my partners and know that even though I couldn't see them they were there to support and carry me. It was a great lesson in having faith in something that you can't necessarily see with your eyes.

How do you prepare yourself for the physical challenges of dancing ballet?

I have a series of pilates exerices that I perform daily before class in the morning. I need to activate my abdominal muscles and I do a little stretching prior to the start of the day. I tape my toes with masking tape before putting on my pointe shoes to avoid getting blisters. At the end of the day I do a technique called Yamuna Body Rolling. Basically, you roll along and perform a series of movements on a ball and this helps relieve stress and tension in the muscles. It's like have deep tissue work performed but you get to control the depth and intensity of the massage.

Mentally, I try to clear my head in the morning before the rehearsal day. Sometimes I go over choreography, especially the sections that give me trouble. I try to visualize myself performing the step correctly. I'm a "glass half empty" kind of girl, so it's just as important for me to think positively to prepare my mind as it is to prepare my body. What has it been like to work with Ms. Farrell?

I was fortunate to come through Ms. Farrell's Exploring Ballet program, so I have been able to work with her for many years now, even prior to being in the company. I remember her telling all of us in her summer program that we become the most important people in her life while we would be working with her. Having been her student and now one of her dancers, I truly believe that statement! She is the most supportive artistic director. I like the fact that she is present in the studio all day everyday when we are working. She teaches class, runs rehearsal and stages the ballets. You can tell that she values each of her dancers and the unique gifts that each of us brings to the company. We work as a team, but more importantly, a team of individuals.

The Suzanne Farrell Ballet also participates in the Balanchine Preservation Initiative and this project has provided a whole new aspect to working with Ms. Farrell for me. I have had the honor to perform several of the roles created for her that were previously "lost." Learning the ballets from her and through her experiences has been an amazing gift. What do you like to do when you're not dancing?

I really like to draw. My mom used to drive me back and forth to New York City from our home in New Jersey for ballet class, and I would sit in the car and sketch for the entire ride. I've turned some of my drawings and ideas into a business endeavor- I now own my own design company called Stylish Ink. I have a website that I designed and created myself that showcases and enables me to sell greeting cards, stationery, t-shirts and lots of other products, most of which have a ballet theme. I have a great time dreaming up new designs and ideas for products and then implementing them on the site. I even enjoy printing out coupons to send to customers, creating ad campaigns and taking orders to the post office. It's important to me to have a creative outlet, while inspired and tied to my life as a dancer, but also completely "other" at the same time.

What do you think is the most common myth about being a ballerina?

It's not exactly a myth, but I think most people would be surprised at how versatile dancers are. Many of my friends and colleagues pursue all kinds of careers outside of dance. I know many dancers who are Pilates instructors, yoga teachers, massage therapists, photographers, actors, directors, screen writers, make up artists, costume designers, columnists, authors, interior designers, models, painters, musicians... the list goes on! We really are a creative group of people.

What is the biggest reward in your career?

I love the sense of legacy and personal interaction involved in dance. You really can't do this on your own. You can't read a book and figure out how to become a ballet dancer. It takes someone (or many people) who have come before you and who pass on their knowledge to you in order to understand ballet. If all the dancers who came before me hadn't accomplished what they have done, I wouldn't be here doing what I am doing now. You take what you have learned from those individuals and you transform it into your own art. Then, at the end of all of that, you get the chance, and the honor, to pass it along to the next generation of dancers.
Elisabeth Holowchuk