By Katherine Moore of Dance Informa.
After a 21-year professional dancing career, Principal Dancer Julie Diana will retire from Pennsylvania Ballet this May. Especially known for her magnetic presence in both classical and contemporary repertoire, Diana has chosen to bring her 10-year stay at Pennsylvania Ballet to a close with a performance of Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain on Sunday, May 11, 2014.
A New Jersey native, Diana began her professional career at San Francisco Ballet in 1993, rose to the rank of principal in 2000, and then joined Pennsylvania Ballet in 2004. After touring with the company to Washington D.C. in June, Diana will turn her attentions to her family and her writing career. Diana is married to Principal Dancer Zachary Hench, and they have two children.
Dance Informa chats with Diana about her career highlights, what she’s doing next and how she balances her professional life with family.
Over the course of your performing career, what was your favorite role or dance to perform, and why?
“That’s a hard question to answer! I’ve danced many roles that I hold close to my heart. But my favorite has to be Juliet. I first danced this role in Helgi Tomasson’s Romeo and Juliet and then again in John Cranko’s version, with my husband as Romeo. I love story ballets because I can immerse myself in a character and develop all the fine details that make her unique (I learned so much from working with Lynn Seymour on MacMillan’s The Invitation.) But I’m also a huge fan of Shakespeare, and that’s one reason why my husband chose to propose to me during a curtain call of R&J. Dancing that ballet with him, sharing the rehearsal process and magical moments onstage, was an experience that’s hard to express in words.”
Tell us about your decision to retire from Pennsylvania Ballet. What factors have led you to this decision, and what’s next on the horizon for you?
“I considered finishing with Swan Lake next year, but I honestly don’t think that my body would be able to do another season. I’ve had a chronic hip injury since 2007 that has just become too difficult to manage. When I saw that Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain was on the program this May, I thought it would be a perfect way to retire in Philadelphia. Chris played a big role in my career and the Rain pas de deux is a gift to dance. I’ll be performing it with my husband on Mother’s Day.
As for the future, I plan to spend as much time as possible with my children (my daughter Riley is five and my son Lukas is two.) I will also focus on my writing and explore other artistic opportunities.”
In addition to a professional dance career, you have a B.A. in English and are an accomplished writer. Can you describe your relationship to dance and writing? Have you found a connection between the two or are they separate fields in your mind?
“That’s a great question. For me, dance and writing have a very symbiotic relationship. I take all my research and apply it to my own practice in the studio. For example, I just wrote a piece for one of the magazines about dancing adagio in center, and I spoke with exceptional teachers and dancers about how it should be done (or taught). Not only did I use that information for my article, but I thought about it in class and rehearsal, applying some of the tips and thinking about the different approaches.
But the process of writing is so different! Of course, it’s sedentary, and I get antsy after awhile at the computer. But I also like how I can go back and fix things, rework something until I get it right. In rehearsal, I also fix things and rework something until I get it right, but the final draft of a story is tangible and lasting, and not something I feel pressured to do on the spot, like an ephemeral dance performance.”
“It’s hard to pinpoint a best experience when I’ve loved so much about my career: working with exceptional artists, traveling the world and expressing myself through dance. But I did struggle a bit early on, when I joined the corps of San Francisco Ballet at age 16. I had three stress fractures my first year in the company and took over a year off to get healthy and retrain. In retrospect, the time was invaluable. I learned so much about my body and what I needed to sustain myself in a professional environment. But at the time, I felt lost.”
What advice do you have for young dancers who are considering a career in dance?
“You have to love it.”
What can you tell us about how you balance your work and personal/family life?
“It’s a constant challenge! But it helps having an incredibly supportive husband who is juggling all of the same things.”
To learn more about Julie Diana, visit Pennsylvania Ballet’s website at www.paballet.org or visit her personal website at www.juliediana.com. To book tickets to her final performances, call 215-893-1999.
Photo (top): Pennsylvania Ballet Principal Dancers Julie Diana and Zachary Hench in After the Rain. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, courtesy of Pennsylvania Ballet.