By Steve Sucato
After a 27-years career as a professional dancer with the last 16 of those years spent at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre (PBT), beloved principal dancer Alexandra Kochis will take her final bow this Saturday, May 14 at 7:30 p.m., in a new version of Swan Lake by outgoing company Artistic Director Susan Jaffe. Kochis will dance the lead roles of Odette/Odile in the production for the fourth time in her career.
A native of North Andover, Massachusetts, Kochis’s early training was with Mimi Ferrell of Ballet Arts Academy in Boxford, Massachusetts, and Iacob Lascu of Lascu School of Ballet in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. She continued her studies at The Boston Ballet Center for Dance Education, The Kirov Academy in Washington D.C., and The School of American Ballet in New York. She joined Boston Ballet II in 1995 and the main company in 1998. In 2006, she and her husband Christopher Budzynski, also a dancer at Boston Ballet, joined PBT. At PBT she has performed numerous lead roles in The Sleeping Beauty, Giselle, Don Quixote, Le Corsaire, The Great Gatsby, Moulin Rouge® – The Ballet, La Bayadère, and in several George Balanchine ballets as well as Stella in John Neumeier’s A Streetcar Named Desire.
I talked to her about her impending retirement, her career, what’s next for her, and her Swan Song performance.
You appear to still be at the top of your game, why retire now?
All good things must come to an end. I feel super grateful to have danced this long in such a great and supportive company and to go out with a bang.
Your final role at PBT is as Odette/Odile in Swan Lake. What do you have to do internally to switch gears from being the good-hearted Odette to the villain seductress Odile?
The hard part is not dwelling on the technical demands of the role but really living the emotions of Odile and letting that carry the technique. Sometimes it really does feel good to be bad.
Beyond acting how you have been coached that Odile should behave, how much of your own feelings as a woman do you bring to the role?
A lot. You have to feel comfortable in your own skin and in your sensuality to present such an alluring character. Your own womanhood and femininity are a huge part of your assuredness in making your performance convincing.
What is the most challenging for you dancing the Swan Queen?
I broke my foot in December rehearsing The Nutcracker and coming back from that into such a strenuous ballet has been one challenge, another exciting challenge has been in doing a new version of Swan Lake. There has been a lot to work out with this fresh take on the character.
You experienced your husband Chris’s retirement from PBT a few years ago, did you learn anything to help you manage your emotions to perform at your best?
Yes. His last performance was probably the hardest one I have had to dance. I felt so responsible in wanting to be there for him. Now, I know where I am coming from in my own headspace, and I can deal with that better.
Did you glean anything from dancing in other retirement shows in your career?
I have seen so many dancers retire in my career. I see it as a matter of perspective. I remember vividly when longtime Boston Ballet Principal Dancer Devon Carney (now Artistic Director at Kansas City Ballet) retired, I balled when the curtain came down. I was a young dancer just starting out and thought ‘what is going to do without ballet in his life?’ At that time in my life, I just couldn’t see there was this whole other side of life out there. When you realize there is a terminus to this career it makes it a little easier to handle retiring.
Looking back, what drew you to ballet in the first place?
My mom put me in ballet at age 5, but I loved the intense focus you had to have and even that speech was cut out of the equation, it was just music and work. That was magical to me and I felt removed from the rest of my life in a good way.
Did you always want to be a professional dancer?
I looked at ballet more as a practice and study than that I would make a career of it. I was a serious student and needed it as a part of my life, but I never thought I would be chosen to be a professional dancer. When I was unexpectedly by Boston Ballet II out of high school, I guess it was meant to be.
Was there a plan B?
I was going to go to Georgetown University to study dance physical therapy.
What will you miss and won’t miss about dance company life?
I will miss the comradery and the friendships I formed and the ability to be incubated and not be distracted by the outside world when in the studio. I won’t miss the constant body maintenance and all the sacrifices that go into keeping up your career. I also won’t miss sewing pointe shoes!
What were some of your favorite roles in your career?
One of the first was being the “Cowgirl” in Agnes De Mille’s Rodeo at Boston Ballet, I was a corps de ballet dancer and it was the first time I got to dance a lead role and bring my own personality to that role. Altogether, I was in the corps de ballet for 13-years which I think is unusual for a Principal Dancer in their career. A breakthrough moment at PBT was getting to dance Juliette in Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Roméo et Juliette with Chris. It was such an intense rehearsal process, and it was a completely new take on the role for me that was really liberating. Others were Giselle in Giselle, Kitri in Don Quixote, and Nikiya in La Bayadère.
What are some of the bucket list ballet roles you didn’t get to dance?
I really wanted to dance the role of Tatiana in Eugene Onegin and I never got to. Also, the
The Sylph in La Sylphide.
What’s the best piece of advice you have gotten about dancing or life?
Be serious when you’re serious and be able to let go when you need to let go.
What advice do you have for aspiring young dancers?
Find a place that appreciates and supports you. There are countless different companies and styles and focuses out there, find what is going to be the most fulfilling for you. Approach each day in the studio trying to improve.
Are you done with dancing altogether?
I might still take class for fun, but I think my performing days are behind me. I am really excited not to have to conserve my body all the time. I have a lot of interests outside of the marley box of the studio.
I started dabbling with writing fiction over the pandemic and I found it very engrossing and fulfilling. That will be something I am looking to do more of. I also just want to take some time to be reinvigorated. Ballet is such an all-consuming passion. I am trying to open myself to being excited by something else on that level.
What are you going to do with all your dance clothes?
I have become less sentimental about them, and I will do some mindful doling out of them.
Remaining performances of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre in Susan Jaffe’s Swan Lake are May 13-15, 2022 at the Benedum Center, Pittsburgh, PA. Tickets are $29-$114. For more information, showtimes and tickets, visit pbt.org.
Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.