Next week at New York City Center, Pacific Northwest Ballet performs a triple-bill of Balanchine masterpieces as well as Jean-Christophe Maillot’s evening-length production Roméo et Juliette, marking the full company’s first performances in New York since 1996.
Seth Orza, who will dance the roles of Apollo and Romeo, is a familiar face to local audiences. Before joining PNB in 2007, Orza danced at New York City Ballet for eight years, where he made an impression in a number of major roles, even as a member of the corps de ballet. After moving to Seattle with his wife, Sarah Ricard Orza, he was promoted to soloist in 2008 and principal dancer in 2010.
I spoke with Orza by phone about his upcoming performances, how PNB differs from NYCB, and his life offstage.
You made your debut as Apollo last year. How did you prepare for the role, and how much have its other interpreters influenced you?
I studied lots of videotapes of Apollo, including performances by Peter Martins and [PNB Artistic Director] Peter Boal. And just being in City Ballet and watching Apollo — seeing Peter Martins, Nikolaj Hübbe, and Nilas Martins dance it — helped. I just do my best to live up to the part, even if I can’t do it exactly like them.
How does it feel to come back to New York and dance one of City Ballet’s trademark works?
It makes me nervous! This will be the first time I’ll be doing the full ballet in New York on a large stage.
You’ve played Romeo in Peter Martins’ production of Romeo and Juliet at New York City Ballet. How does it compare to Jean-Christophe Maillot’s version, which was created in 1996 for Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo and staged at PNB in 2008?
They’re completely different. Jean-Christophe’s version is more involved in the personalities of Romeo and Juliet, and Friar Laurence plays a big part in this production. It’s his view of the story — his pain and what he goes through — and he starts the ballet and ends it. There’s also more acting than in Peter Martins’ version, and there are no weapons. The style of movement is different too. My walking has to be different, and I have to be more boyish. That was a struggle for me.
Does acting come naturally to you?
Not really. [Laughs.] Not like this. I worked really hard on studying the Monte-Carlo tapes, and what their Romeos chose to do. It requires more than face; it’s about changing my posture. Sometimes my back is to the audience, but they still need to read my body language.
From the photos I’ve seen, Maillot’s version also looks much simpler visually than most others.
Definitely. The production is completely white. There’s one ramp onstage, and the rest of the space is bare.
Your partnering Carla Körbes in both Apollo and Roméo et Juliette. What’s it like to dance with her?
I love dancing with her. We pretty much started our careers dancing together. My first principal role was with her in Richard Tanner’s Soiree, at New York City Ballet in 2000, and we’ve danced together for years now. It’s always an honor to share the stage with Carla. It’s especially amazing to dance with her in Roméo et Juliette; you can get caught up in all the romantic drama, and it’s pretty overwhelming.
What’s the difference between dancing for NYCB and PNB?
The lifestyle. New York City is alive, and that’s the way NYCB is. There’s not a moment when you’re not working, and it’s hard on the body even though it’s an amazing experience. At PNB, there’s more time for you to be grounded and focus on yourself and where you want to go as a dancer. I feel good about my decision to come to Seattle. I’ll always love City Ballet, though, and I love going back there and seeing how great the company looks.
When you return to New York, is there anything you’re sure to do while here?
See all my friends. I grew up with all of my friends at City Ballet. We were together from the School of American Ballet, in our teens, through our late twenties. When I’m in New York, I take class with City Ballet and watch a show from backstage and just catch up with everyone. We always go to a bar in the Upper West Side called the Emerald Inn. It’s a City Ballet hangout.
PNB’s visit to New York goes right over Valentine’s Day, when the company gets a night off. What are you and your wife, Sarah [a soloist with PNB], planning for the holiday?
I’m taking her out to dinner. I was thinking of taking her to the restaurant where we got engaged in Brooklyn, under the Brooklyn Bridge, but it will probably be packed.
What have you been up to offstage?
Preparing to be a father! Sarah is six months pregnant. It’s a new chapter, and I’m very excited for it.
Congratulations! Is it a boy or a girl?
It’s a girl.
Pacific Northwest Ballet performs at New York City Center from February 13 to 16. Visit City Center’s website for more information and to purchase tickets.