By Mary Hierholzer
Erica Cornejo, Rie Ichikawa and Sarah Wroth wouldn’t quite call it retiring, and they’re not in a state of denial. Though these three dancers conclude their long and celebrated careers as ballerinas of Boston Ballet in just a few days, none will withdraw from their beloved world of dance.
The Boston Dance Journal interviewed Ms. Cornejo, Ms. Ichikawa and Ms. Wroth in a series to hear about their plans, their aspirations and the meaningful moments of being professional ballerinas. This is the first installment, featuring Principal Dancer Erica Cornejo.
Erica Cornejo’s tenure as a ballerina is marked by passion, entrepreneurship and bravery. The dancer from Mercedes San Luis, Argentina boasts an acclaimed career of international dancing, and in return, she will go on to share her experience and passion with dance lovers of all ages.
What’s next? Aside from freelance dancing and being a mom, Ms. Cornejo shifts her focus to Integrarte, a studio that she and her husband, former Boston Ballet principal Carlos Molina, opened last August in Jamaica Plain. The couple started Integrarte from scratch, offering classes in ballet, yoga, salsa classes, baroque dance. “We want to have our own space to help other through our art,” Ms. Cornejo says.
Why now? “I wanted to do something for my future. Things happened in a good time—this will be my last season dancing with Boston Ballet because it takes a lot of time at the studio, and we have a three-year-old little boy who we want to spend more time with. I wanted to keep dancing, but just to be in a company takes a full-time commitment… and I wouldn’t be able to do it.”
“I know that this is the next chapter, and I’m very much looking forward to it,” she says. “I’m happy and sad, I have mixed feelings of leaving Boston Ballet. It’s one of those chances you take in life.”
What was a career-defining moment? For Ms. Cornejo, there are many influential moments and figures. Since she began dance at age four in Argentina, she’s had teachers and mentors to guide her. When she became a professional dancer in a company created for young dancers by Julio Bocca, she was exposed to international performing. It was in Buenos Aires that she first saw the American Ballet Theatre perform, and she was inspired to join.
Ms. Cornejo entered ABT’s studio company, and was provided the opportunity dance with the main company as an understudy during their Metropolitan Opera season. Fate would have it that the dancer she was assigned to was injured, and so the 19-year-old Ms. Cornejo who spoke no English danced all of the shows among ballet stars. “I will never say no,” she says. “Even if I was dying of nervousness, this was my chance. I would do my best. I was learning, looking for ways to be better, looking around at all the dancers, I was like a sponge trying to store the information.”
Ms. Cornejo remained in the studio company for only three months that season; she was offered a corps de ballet contract with ABT, where she spent five years in the corps dancing soloist and even principal roles, and was then promoted to soloist. Around that time, she met her husband, who was at the time a soloist at ABT, too. They were married, but he moved to Boston Ballet to become a principal dancer, and so the couple was apart for two years. When the time was right, Ms. Cornjeo followed, joining her husband as a principal at Boston Ballet in 2006.
What is a role that is special to you? She has two—Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, and Tatiana in John Cranko’s Onegin. “I’m so passionate with what I do and I like to challenge myself in roles and styles. I love to do ballets with drama and a lot of acting…. Those two ballets, I feel like I could die dancing.”
“(Juliet) was one of the roles I always dreamed of doing,” Ms. Cornejo says. And as for the mature role of Tatiana in Onegin, “I felt like I had the chance to do it at the right time. I was old enough in my career to have all of the information artistically and technically. It was the right time to approach this character in the best way. Onegin was one of those ballets that I can still feel what I felt.”
What has been the most meaningful thing about being a ballerina? “It is my passion. I don’t question why I do it, I just do this because I love it,” Ms. Cornejo says. “Through this art, I’m able to know and to work with so many amazing people. It has opened the door to learn the art but also to connect to other humans…. Every second I’ve been dancing has been happiness…. That’s what I feel what I’m dancing, and now that’s what I want to give back to students…. I’m just so happy that I was able to do what I love.”