Story by Susan Lee
Ballet San Jose’s James Kopecky began studying ballet in order to help himself breathe.
At the age of three, Kopecky had developed allergy-induced asthma. “My parents were desperate to find an athletic activity that was indoors,” he says. “So they sent me to ballet classes.”
Kopecky also took jazz, musical theater, and tap. The first dance company he ever joined, in fact, was Especially Tap Chicago, while he was still in high school. He credits tap with giving him a unique perspective on ballet. “Rhythmic pattern and timing is more heightened in tap than in ballet,” he points out. “So I’m more aware of those than some dancers who haven’t trained in tap. Tap also helped me become a better contemporary dancer. I can think outside the box, imagine steps in ways other dancers may not, because I was exposed to a wide range of the art.”
After high school, Kopecky decided to enter college instead of jumping straight into a company. In 2010, he got his B.F.A. in dance from Butler University in Indianapolis. Though he says that other dancers are sometimes surprise by his choice, it was the right one for him. “If I’d started dancing right out of high school, I wouldn’t still be dancing. Every dancer reaches a crossroads, and I just wasn’t ready to make dance my life. It’s not a stable career. Your body gives out on you after a certain age. I knew that I could study dance in college, and if I didn’t like it, I could major in something else. I’m a stronger person for having had that experience.”
In 2010, right after graduation, Kopecky joined Ballet San Jose as an apprentice. He’d never even been to California before. “Indianapolis was very gray,” he admits. “Now, I don’t even need a winter coat!”
Kopecky was promoted to the Corps de Ballet in 2011.
So far, Kopecky’s favorite role has been his twenty-minute, improvisational solo during Ballet San Jose’s 2014 performance of Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16. The Isaeli choreographer is renowned for creating a dance language known as “gaga.” Kopecky found the form especially appealing because, for him, it broke down the barrier between the audience and the dancer.
“In ballet,” he says, “we’re taught to keep our bodies very controlled. Gaga is more free-form. Like me! It’s outside the box. It’s like yoga. It’s a way to research your own body, to discover how your reactions are different from the reactions of the dancers around you.”
During his solo, Kopecky stood alone on the stage during intermission, looking out at the audience. “People were still talking and coming in and out. I liked it because I was able to do whatever I wanted to. I’ve never had a chance to improvise like that before. I was able to really let go. I was, as dancers say, ‘able to leave it all on the stage.'”
And as for Kopecky’s plans for the future?
He laughs. “I’m just trying to get all my dancing in before I break.”