Ballet San Jose sits down with our newest company member, principal dancer Nathan Chaney. This season is Nathan’s first with Ballet San Jose. In this interview, Nathan speaks about his dance background, what inspires him, his advice for aspiring professionals, and his views about dancing with Ballet San Jose.
Tell us about your dance background before you came to Ballet San Jose.
I started training on a professional level when I was 13 in South Florida. While there, I moved in with Magaly Suarez, the former teacher of many Cuban stars. Then at age 14, I went to Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington D. C. for two years under the training of a Ukrainian named Anatoli Kucheruk. When I was 17, I moved to St. Petersburg, Russia to train at the prestigious Vaganova Academy, and after leaving Russia, I started my professional career at Orlando Ballet in the second company. Close to the summer of 2010 I left Orlando Ballet and moved back to South Florida with Magaly to train for Jackson IBC and Cape Town IBC, and then following that summer, I moved to Zurich, Switzerland and began working for Heinz Spoerli. I have done a lot of traveling over the years.
At what point did you decide that you wanted to make ballet your career?
I decided that I wanted to pursue ballet when I moved in with Magaly. I had to sacrifice going to public school and doing other sports that I was interested in, in order to dedicate myself to ballet. My family also had a big influence in my decision to become a professional because they would push and encourage me every day to go to ballet class. When I was young, I never wanted to go, but then I realized that if I worked hard enough, I could accomplish anything I set my mind to. I decided I wanted to do something different with my life. Doing ballet would allow me to travel and allow me to experience a different life, which was exciting to me.
Who in the dance world inspires you the most?
Jeffrey Cirio is a big inspiration to me because when I was 13, we were both living with Magaly and he was preparing to go to Jackson IBC. I had made it my goal to go to Jackson in four years, and he was accomplishing that goal already. He gave me something to work toward. Now, Jeffrey is a principal dancer with Boston Ballet, choreographing, guest dancing, and doing many other things outside of ballet. He does everything. It’s rare to find a dancer that has so much to give to the ballet world.
I’m also very inspired by José [Manuel Carreño, Ballet San Jose Artistic Director]. He was in one of the first movies I ever watched about Ballet when I was 13, and I really looked up to him. At that time, I never thought I would be here at Ballet San Jose, learning from José. It’s one of those ironic, coincidental instances that happen in life.
What is the one role that you have always dreamed of dancing?
Prince Albrecht in Giselle, to be the man that makes a girl kill herself. It’s so dramatic. I think it would be a fun role to play.
What does ballet mean to you?
To me ballet is a means of creating art with my body. For me, it’s really the combination of the music and movement that is really powerful. For someone to experience art with so many senses, it surrounds them and can be very moving. I also really like the live element of ballet. The performance happens in a moment of emotion, and then it is gone. You can see the same performance later, but it will always be different.
How do you prepare for a performance?
I try not to do anything out of the normal. It’s when you try and change your routine to accommodate something like a performance that you mess up. Your body is on a muscle memory, day-by-day plan, and when you try to wake up earlier or you stretch too much, it’s not good. If I want to stretch enough for shows, then I’ll start stretching two weeks before, instead of two days before. Your body has to be in tune for the performance. I might stretch for class for 10 minutes, not as much as I would for a performance, but again, you don’t want to drastically change anything. Really, my body is trained for a performance year round because I dance pretty much every day, so I don’t need to do much above and beyond.
Do you eat differently when you know you have a performance, compared with how you would normally eat?
I eat a lot, normal meals, but I eat a lot. I need a lot of energy to do my work. Again, I don’t like to change things drastically for performances. You don’t want to throw off your body’s routine.
What piece of advice would you give to aspiring professional dancers?
The years you get in school, you never get back. It is better to work as much as you can in your first years as a professional dancer than to try to start working hard later. When you get out of school, you get out of a lot of professional training, and you feel exhausted, but that is the time to keep pushing. In your first couple of years as a professional, you are setting yourself up to learn, grow, and get the roles you want. It’s like any other job really. The first years are very important to establish yourself professionally.
You have lived all over the world. How do you like living in San Jose, California?
I like the sun and the vibes of California in general. It is very different from Russia. San Jose is good because it is kind of a quiet city, and I can really focus on my work, but I also go to San Francisco all of the time for fun. There are a lot of great things to do around here, and I would rather live in a smaller city than live in a bigger city like LA. I like that there is an element of environment here.
What are you looking forward to now that you are dancing with Ballet San Jose?
I feel really ready to take in as much as I can from José and make it a good learning and growing experience. I want to take every moment and every day as a chance to better myself in my career. José is a big inspiration to me, and to learn from someone who I really respect and admire is one thing I have been looking for in my career. I am very excited to be dancing here.
What piece are you most excited about in this upcoming program?
I am really looking forward seeing my fellow company members performing In the Upper Room, although I won’t be dancing in that work. It is a really cool piece, and the music is incredible. The ballet really speaks for itself, so you’ll just have to see it.
See Nathan on stage at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts May 9-11 in Ballet San Jose’s final program of the season, Masterworks of Movement and Theatre, featuring Roland Petit’s Carmen and Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room. For tickets, visit http://tickets.balletsj.org/ or call 408.288.2800.