Retiring Dancers Share Plans & Reflections, Installment II: Rie Ichikawa

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 second installment, featuring Soloist Rie Ichikawa.

Rie Ichikawa will always have edge. Her creative take on ballet is evidenced in celebrated performances in ballets like Jiří Kylián’s Bella Figura. The ballerina from Nagano, Japan, has enjoyed a strong career, never even needing a major surgery. At 40, Ms. Ichikawa is still in top shape, and ready for the next step after 17 seasons with Boston Ballet.

What’s next? Ms. Ichikawa will teach part-time with Boston Ballet School, and as a freelance teacher. “I like passing my knowledge onto the younger generation,” she says.

Why now? “I feel good right now, and I’m happy where I am, and I’m ready,” she says. It was a tough decision—though she loves to dance, the 40-year-old ballerina is in tune with her body, recognizing its change over time. “Right now, I still feel good, and I can still give the level that I want to give,” she says. “If I was to continue, who knows what would happen—I don’t want to finish by injury.”

What was a career-defining moment? The first time becoming a mother, then coming back from it,” Ms. Ichikawa says. “We all have fear—you don’t know if your body is going to be the same. Because of the month when I wasn’t able to dance because of the pregnancy, when I came back, I could truly find the joy of dance again.”

What is a role that is special to you? The soloist role in Jiří Kylián’s Bella Figura. "I had to basically do all improvisation, which was a very challenging role for me at the time,” she says. “I became more of an artist, and was more than a dancer. That was the role that made me a different person.”

Who has been particularly influential in your career? Larissa Ponomarenko, a ballet master and former principal dancer with Boston Ballet. Ms. Ichikawa has both danced with and been mentored by Ms. Ponomarenko.

“She has been such a gift,” Ms. Ichikawa says. “I have seen her being a dancer and how she was always committed, and very nice to everybody… It’s just everything—work ethic, how she approached things, and now being on the other side—how nurturing and giving she is.”

What has been the most meaningful thing about being a ballerina? “Being me. I am a dancer,” Ms. Ichikawa says. “It’s a never-ending learning process. If I didn’t find a new way to be creative, I would have stopped a lot sooner. But something about this career is that there was always something to learn…. I’ve loved it so much.”

See Rie Ichikawa perform with Boston Ballet in The Sleeping Beauty as Princess Florine, May 25 at the Boston Opera House, 7:30 p.m. For tickets, visit the Boston Ballet webpage.

By Mary Hierholzer

 Rie Ichikawa in Jiří Kylián's Bella Figura; photo by Gene Schiavone, courtesy Boston Ballet

Rie Ichikawa in Jiří Kylián's Bella Figura; photo by Gene Schiavone, courtesy Boston Ballet