Q&A: Sascha Radetsky retires from American Ballet Theatre
Sascha Radetsky talks about his decision to leave American Ballet Theatre behind
Thu Jun 19 2014
Photo: Rosalie O'Connor
On July 3, Sascha Radetsky bids American Ballet Theatre farewell in a performance of Coppélia at the Met. Before leaving, Radetsky, married to ABT soloist Stella Abrera, talks about gaining perspective and pursuing goals beyond ballet. And he's not quitting entirely: Radetsky is a lead in the forthcoming Starz series Flesh and Bone, which features choreography by fellow former ABT member and Center Stage costar Ethan Stiefel.
For his farewell performance at American Ballet Theatre on July 3, Sascha Radetsky will play Franz, a feckless young man who cheats on his girlfriend—with a doll. The charming Coppélia, a comic ballet, will show off Radetsky’s acting chops: This is, after all, the dancer who starred as Charlie in the 2000 film Center Stage. The ABT soloist, married to fellow dancer Stella Abrera, is currently filming a lead role in the forthcoming Starz show Flesh and Bone. Speaking about his career, which began with the company in 1996, Radetsky, 37, says he felt like he “was nearing the end of the arc.” And there is something else that cannot be denied: “I was just tired of my body hurting.”
What parts of your body hurt the most?
My injuries are more due to attrition than accidents. I have a couple of herniated discs in my neck, and that more than anything else—I had a flare-up last December, and I had actually made the decision to retire before that, but that just cemented the choice. I was flat on my back. I couldn’t move for a few days, and I had Nutcrackers that I had to cancel. So those injuries and the tendinitis, the wear and tear, arthritis in places. I don’t know if I have more injuries than anyone else my age. But also even if I were perfectly healthy, I think it’s a good time to stop. I’m doing a lot of the same roles that I once did, but probably not as well. I’d rather go out on a somewhat high note.
How old were you when you started dancing?
I think I was around five.
You began because your sister was a dancer. Did you take to it right away?
I think I did. I got to see a lot of ballet. Our parents took us to see ABT when they would tour to San Francisco. We saw San Francisco Ballet, and I got to watch Misha [Baryshnikov] and Alexander Godunov and Fernando Bujones—all these great dancers. Their kindness and largesse toward me also pushed me to commit more to dance. They were definitely sources of inspiration.
How were they encouraging?
I first started coming to New York around nine or ten when my sister was at SAB. At 11, I went to Misha’s school for two summers. So when I wasn’t in that school, I was taking classes at David Howard or Robert Denver’s studios—kind of legendary places—and there was one summer where Alexander Godunov sort of took me under his wing; the memory’s a little murky, but I felt as if I was his project for those weeks. He was very stern with me, but with a twinkle in his eye. A typically Russian approach to things. He was taking class at Robert Denver’s. A big tall blond-haired Russian guy in fireman pants. I remember he wore those to warm up in. He was really kind and gave me lots of corrections. I was starstruck.
What was Misha’s school like?
Russian teachers. The first year there were a lot more kids. Ethan Stiefel was there. Katie Lydon was there and a few others who went on to have great careers. He wasn’t one of the regular teachers. He oversaw it more, but on occasion, he would come in to teach. Jurgen Schneider was one of the teachers. Luba Gulyaeva—the classes could run from an hour and a half to three hours. You never knew. [Laughs] There was dance-history class, character class with Alexander Minz, who was Drosselmeyer in The Nutcracker. I feel like [Baryshnikov] was trying to pass on more than just technique. He was trying to touch on the theatrical aspects and the more intellectual aspects with the dance history. It was very ambitious, and it’s a shame it only lasted a couple of years. He was still dancing with ABT. He would demonstrate from time to time and that was something to behold.
Why didn’t you spend more time at the School of American Ballet?
I went to SAB for a summer and had Stanley Williams and loved it, had a wonderful time. I think I tended toward the Russian training because my first teacher taught a version of Vaganova, and it was drilled into me that that was the best system, and also at the time there were a lot of great Russian stars. Nureyev was winding down. I don’t know if it was really a deliberate choice or more just happenstance. The opportunity came along and I seized it. SAB—there were so many kids. Although Stanley gave each of us individual attention, just by virtue of the amount of students, there wasn’t quite as much personal one-on-one training, and ABT was always my goal. And then I got the opportunity to train in Moscow and that held its own appeal. I’d been going to New York for several summers already, so this was new territory.
Was ABT your goal because you saw the company while growing up, or did you want to dance story ballets too?
I think just having watched the company. I definitely enjoyed the story ballets. I did get to see them do some rep, and I remember one performance of Fancy Free really lit a fire under my butt. It was Gil Boggs, Robert La Fosse and Kevin McKenzie. I probably was 10 or 11—maybe younger. From that moment on, I always wanted to do Fancy Free. But I did respond to the bravura stuff, the big jumps. I think it was later that I gained an appreciation for the quicker movements and the more nuanced, neoclassical choreography.
And you got to dance Fancy Free. Was it as good dancing it as watching it?
Way better. But I can still watch it. I never tire of it.
Did you choose your last performance?
I went to Kevin [McKenzie] and said that this was going to be it and then we worked it out from there.
Are you happy with the decision to make it Coppélia?
Sure. I have no personal connection to the ballet aside from the fact that Freddie Franklin staged it, which is really wonderful, but it’s not a role to which I feel a strong connection or is near and dear to my heart. In a way, that’s kind of nice too: It’ll be my first and last go at this new role. It’ll be fresh if nothing else. [Laughs]