Anastacia Holden in Chicago,
during her final days with the renowned Joffrey Ballet before her retirement in 2017. (Max Herman / For The Tribune.)
When the Greeley-based Colorado
Dance Theatre this weekend performs “The Nutcracker,” the Tchaikovsky-scored ballet that long has been a holiday-season
staple, the production’s Sugar Plum Fairy will be a well-known name in the ballet world.
Anastaia Holden retired from Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet
last year at age 31 to concentrate on running Embarc, the education non-profit organization she co-founded in 2010. Raised
in Ann Arbor, Mich., she began as a Joffrey apprentice in 2003 and joined the company full-time in 2005.
Writer Hedy Weiss’ major Chicago Sun Times profile on Holden as she approached her final Joffrey performances in April 2017 portrayed
her as stepping away while “dancing at the top of her game.” It was as though a Cubs outfielder had decided to
quit at age 31 after hitting .303 with 24 home runs and 102 runs-batted-in.
And here she is, 17 months later, dipping her toe shoe back in it as a
Nutcracker guest artist… in Greeley.
Anastacia Holden performing
in Jiri Kylian’s ballet Forgotten Land. (Courtesy Anastacia Holden.)
In a phone interview from Chicago this week, Holden said she
has done “three or four” guest artist appearances since her Joffrey retirement, and she is scheduled to perform
the Sugar Plum Fairy role in the CDT production at the Union Colony Civic Center, Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday afternoon.
So how did this come about?
Benjamin Wardell, a renowned independent
dance figure on the Chicago scene, was set to return to Greeley as a guest artist for the fourth consecutive year and again
dance the male lead, as the Cavalier. His guest artist partner the previous three years was Jen Drake of Nashville, but she
wasn’t available this time.
Wardell needed a partner.
He had never danced with Holden, but they knew of each other and Wardell knew retired dancers don’t have
asked if I was available,” Holden said. She laughed and added, “And I said yes.”
More importantly, she agreed to do it.
“I’m pretty excited to see her dance,”
said CDT artistic director Debie Larsen. “She’s got a very lovely resume.”
This is the only Nutcracker appearance Holden is doing this
year, though the guest artist opportunities are numerous because virtually all companies, large and small, perform the ballet
during the holiday season. Her retirement never was meant to be a statement that she never would step back onto the stage,
but it’s still a bit surprising that she’s doing this gig in Greeley.
Anastacia Holden as the
Sugar Plum Fairy in the Nutracker, the role she will dance in Greeley this weekend. (Courtesy Anastacia Holden.)
“I was confident I could
find my footing and be stable as this kind of freelance artist,” she said. “I’ve also been doing staging.
I just wanted to explore something new.
“Also, I’d had a wonderful, wonderful career at Joffrey and I wanted to retire before I started to
decline too much. That was really important to me, actually.”
Had that decline started?
“No,” she said. “I think I could have gone for five
more years before that decline really significantly happened. But I also was ready. I thought about it for a long time, played
with the decision and looked at it from all different angles, and I was ready.”
Holden dived even more than before into running Embarc, the
city-wide social and cultural education project. Among other duties, she still handles the financial record-keeping and human
relations for the non-profit’s 16 full- and part-time employees. She said Embarc is associated with 19 Chicago schools
and 930 students. It promotes activities outside school hours, including trips to theaters, museums, businesses and activities.
“It’s doing well,”
she said. “We have a lot of excellent programs going for our students. We focus on giving back as part of our core mission
for our students, that once they become successful in their own lives, to inspire them to create changes in their own community,
which will lead to the kind of lasting change you want to see.”
As she worked with Embarc over the past year, she continued to take dance classes
to stay in touch with the dance world. Since early November, she has been rehearsing the Sugar Plum Fairy Nutcracker role
been rehearsing a few times a week, and kind of amping that up as time went on,” Holden said. “Ben has been great.
I’ve admired his dancing for many years, but we’d never worked together so there’s a certain unfamiliarity
if it’s going to be a good connection. I’m so pleasantly surprised. It’s been easy and seamless.”
She and Wardell aren’t
scheduled to come to Greeley until Thursday, and the trick will be to integrate their performances and choreography into the
CDT production and its cast of about 130.
“To be in shape for Sugar Plum is a challenge physically,” Holden said. “But I’m used
to doing that. That part is actually easier than the unfamiliarity of a new production, the cast, and the expectations. Of
course, as a performer, I expect a lot of myself.”
If she sounds like a dancer second-guessing her Joffrey retirement, she says that interpretation
was the right decision for me,” she said. “It’s fun for me to have chance to perform here and there, but
not on a full-time basis.”