Porretta in photos and prose

Jonathan Porretta, a veteran principal dancer of the Pacific Northwest Ballet, was facing his second corrective foot surgery in two years in July 2015. The then-34 year old, who had spent more than a decade and a half wowing Seattle audiences, was also wondering if he would ever dance again.

It was a pivotal moment, and the ordeal of two operations in two years became the greatest challenge he had faced during his brilliant ballet career.

Porretta wasn’t the only one to recognize the significance of what he was going through, however. Serendipitously, local journalists, Rosie Gaynor and Marcie Sillman, did too. They realized that he would have some time on his hands while recovering and rehabilitating and approached him about doing a book.

The result of their collective effort is “Out There: Jonathan Porretta’s Life in Dance,” a hard cover, 136 page book with more than 200 photographs, including 95 full-color ones by Angela Sterling, one of PNB’s professional photographers.

Elliot Bay Book Company will host a talk and book signing with Sillman and Porretta on Sept. 10 at 2 p.m. Sillman says the event will include “a conversation based on the interviews that led to the book.” Given the book’s message – “Be yourself and people will love you for who you are,” the event is intended to appeal to a broad audience.


Out There

The book, the first-ever specifically on a PNB male principal dancer, journeys from Porretta’s lonely youth growing up in small-town Totowa, New Jersey, to his comeback early this year as Mercutio in “Romeo and Juliet.”

He had a dream to dance that other kids didn’t get and for which he was ostracized, while being raised by a single, devoted mom with two other children. To make his youth even more challenging, he was gay.

The book literally begins with Sillman setting a vivid scene, as she does in her radio broadcasts. She describes Porretta performing Molissa Fenley’s “State of Darkness,” a contemporary solo piece set to Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.” His execution of Fenley’s work was a tour de force; I remember giving him a standing ovation when I saw it.

A unique feature of the book is a section called, “Ten Key Roles,” in which Porretta talks about his ten favorite roles out of the many he’s danced over the years. He told me, “They are the most special to me – they’re the top ten.” They range from Kent Stowell’s last work for PNB, Dual Lish, to a handful of works by George Balanchine – “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Agon,” “Prodigal Son,” “Rubies,” and “Square Dance.”


Looking Forward

Fortunately for Porretta, who lives to dance and his fans who love to watch him, the second surgery was successful, and he regained his relevé. (For men, this is the ability to rise and balance on the ball of the foot or feet.) Before the surgery, Porretta couldn’t put weight on his left big toe – it was too painful.

He says now, “I’m just enjoying every opportunity to perform onstage, letting the moment wash over me. You never know how much longer you have. You don’t think like this when you’re a young dancer.”

This season at PNB, he’s especially looking forward to the second program, “Brief Fling,” and hopefully partnering with another beloved PNB principal, Carrie Imler, for one of the pieces, “Forgotten Land.” He’s danced with Imler many times and affectionately calls her, “The Queen.” She has been at PNB even longer than he has.

This season also marks Porretta’s first time dancing in George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker.” Though he trained at the School of American Ballet in New York City on full scholarship, he never performed in New York City Ballet’s “Nutcracker”; he was too big. He remembers the ballet’s stager telling him and another student, “Boys, I would love to have you in the production, but your rib cage is too big to fit in the costume.” Presumably, it was worth the wait. Now, he gets PNB’s Nutcracker male lead role of Cavalier, with a costume designed by Ian Falconer and a perfect fit.

Though he and I talked about what he’ll do when he retires (Sillman mentions a few ideas he’s considering in her book), he’s not yet making concrete plans.

Jordan Pacitti, a friend of Porretta’s since training at the School of American Ballet and who danced at PNB for a decade, says of his friend’s drive to dance: “It’s the thing he’s supposed to do. It found him, and it truly is his purpose. I’ve known him since he was 15. Ups and downs, good or bad, it’s always been the same.”

Sillman’s book’s been written, but it’s impossible to say how or where Porretta’s “Life in Dance” will end. He says, “I’m hoping to dance as long as I can.”