Photo Top: Xuan Cheng and Brian Simcoe. Photo by Tatiana Wills.



Olga Krochik, Ilir Shtylla and Brennan Boyer




How did you begin studying dance?

When I was about five years old, my parents put me in gymnastics, and I continued with that for a couple of years, until my family moved from Moldova to America. Then when I was in second grade, an outreach program came to my school and recruited three or four of us kids, myself included, to go to their ballet school. Once a week they would pick us up during school and take us to ballet class. They actually took my twin brother but he quit after the first year. After a couple of years we moved again, from Brooklyn to New Jersey, so I had to quit as well.  

What did you like about ballet that led you to pursue it seriously?

When I was eleven, my parents took me to see the New York City Ballet, and to my surprise there were children in the production. I was so envious of them because I wanted to be on that stage. That was when I decided that I wanted to be a ballerina. I found out that there was a school associated with that ballet company, and after auditioning was accepted to the School of American Ballet. My passion for ballet intensified after only a couple of years at SAB. I knew there was no turning back.

What are some favorite roles that you have danced, and why are they your favorites?

Well, I’ll start off with one that means the most to me. I really loved dancing the principal couple in Balanchine’s Rubies. I worked on it all year and performing it for the OBT school show in 2006 was the most fun I’ve ever had on stage. It was particularly special because I was offered a company contract the following week. Other roles I’ve enjoyed are “Melancholic demi-soloists” in Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments, the “Russian corps de ballet” in Balanchine’s Serenade, the “Scherzo” movement of Balanchine’s Western Symphony, and the pas de trois in Le Corsaire. In these roles I felt confident and comfortable and really enjoyed myself.

How do you prepare to perform a difficult role? As you learn the role? And before you go on stage?

During the learning and rehearsal process, I make sure I hear everything that is being said by whoever is running the rehearsal. It is very important to stay really focused and attentive because it is easy to miss little tricks and tips, especially when I am in the second cast or the correction is not being directed towards me. When choreography is particularly difficult for me, I ask someone who is more experienced for help with the steps and a lot of the time that ends up being a quick fix. When I have learned it all I review the choreography often to make sure that my body knows it as well as my mind. After warming up before performing a difficult role I go over the choreography quickly to remind my body and apply my most recent corrections. I’ll practice any tricky step or sequence and once I’ve had my time on stage I’ll either find a quiet place or find friends to distract myself as much as possible from my raging butterflies.

How do you like living in Portland? What about the city and this area are special to you?

Portland is very compatible with my lifestyle. I recently bought a bike that I can ride everywhere. The studio, the theater, farmer’s market, anywhere I need to go is accessible by bike, bus or foot. I like not needing a car. Living in Portland has increased my awareness of green issues and I enjoy contributing to the city’s eco-consciousness. Also, I love dining out; Portland has a great culinary scene. No matter what neighborhood you’re in there are lots of great restaurants. Favorites include Navarre, Ken’s Artisan Pizza, Junior’s and brunch at Screen Door is always good.
What do you like to do when you’re not dancing?

When I have time I like to drop into a yoga class. I initially got into yoga to cross train with ballet; it's good for injury prevention and maintenance. My ballet background helped me to progress quickly making my newfound skill more enjoyable. I love to read; a few company girls and I trade books, it’s sort of a makeshift book club. Recently I rediscovered jewelry making. My mom owns a little jewelry shop back in New York and when I lived at home she taught me how to make all sorts of earrings. I found a few bead stores in Portland and started exploring new techniques. The results have been successful and my friends are asking me for new earrings. I love working with semi-precious jewels, but they’re so expensive I might have to engage in some nimble thieving (wink wink).
Is there anything about ballet that you wish audiences understood, that no one ever asks about?

Along with physical strength, a dancer has to have mental and emotional strength. Because aesthetic beauty is so important in this art form, a dancer can’t always achieve what they want through hard work. We learn early in our ballet life about rejection, how to overcome it and to accept ourselves and work with what we were born with. Our work consists of scrutinizing every detail of ourselves and our movement and like most jobs we have good days and bad days. It is important for a dancer to develop thick skin so that we are able to absorb criticism without taking it personally and continue to use it to strive towards our goals.


How did you begin studying dance?

When I was young, I liked to dance at weddings, like when my aunt and my uncle got married. I was a little kid and I was one of the ones who would get up and dance to the music. My parents thought maybe I should look to folk dancing. Folk dancing is pretty big in the part of the world that I come from. That’s how it began.

The place I first went to was an after-school program. They taught various folk dance styles. The people who ran that program at the same time ran the ballet program. They said I had pretty good facility for ballet. I was ten, so my parents and I decided that I should give it a try.

Ballet in Albania was perceived differently than how it is here in the U.S. Here in America, a boy affiliated with ballet is considered not  masculine. It’s not easily understood by society. Studying ballet in Albania, I didn’t have to face taunting. Actually, when I told my friends I was going to ballet school, people were impressed, they looked up to that. My friends were surprised, and jealous, I guess, in a way.

What did you like about ballet that led you to pursue it seriously?

When I first got into it, I was just doing it because you feel very privileged. Only a handful of people get to go in the program. At the time I was selected, there was only one ballet school in the whole country, and in my class there were only twelve boys total. In a way, you got a little slack academically because you were learning a profession so young. For the first four years, I thought, I’ll just do this and see how it goes. Then, my first year of high school, I got into it more. The body developed a little bit more, and a well-known choreographer took me under his wing. I trained with him for the next two or three years. He is the person who pushed me to go in this direction.

What are some favorite roles that you have danced?

All kinds of Balanchine ballets, Petipa ballets, Christopher Wheeldon’s work. Lynne Taylor-Corbett. Actually, from Ib Anderson, I like his ballets too. I have had the good fortune to do a couple of Christopher Stowell’s ballets this year, and I liked those as well.

How do you prepare to perform a difficult role? As you learn the role? And before you go on stage?

It depends on the role. One thing I have to make sure I do before I step on the stage (Ilir knocks on wood three times) is look up and say, “Help me.” If it’s something I’m not familiar with, like Nicolo Fonte’s Bolero, something that was totally out of my vocabulary, I try to relax and get my mind to a different place. I just go out there and do the best I can. Bolero was actually my favorite thing that I did the whole season. It challenged me, and I like to be challenged.

How do you like living in Portland?

In Portland, I haven’t had much time to do anything, because I go back and forth to Phoenix where my wife Carolyn is. When Carolyn came to visit we went to Mt. Hood and the coast, and we thought they were beautiful. When it comes to weather, I like Phoenix for a dancer’s body. The dry and warm climate is good. Your muscles are warm before you even get in the studio.

What do you like to do when you’re not dancing?

I’m kind of a sports fanatic. I like to watch all kinds of sports. And I like to cook.

Is there anything about ballet that you wish audiences understood, that no one ever asks about?

Hopefully it looks as easy as possible because it’s not easy. It’s a lot of hard work, not only physically but mentally as well. Dancers tend to work themselves up if something is not working out well. It affects the rest, it’s like a chain reaction. If it doesn’t go well, you have to come back the next day, it’s another day. I think the people in the audience don’t see that, which is fine. It’s not for them to see. I don’t want to see what a banker goes into when he goes through all those calculations. The audience, they just want to enjoy the dance.


How did you begin studying dance?

I began dancing because of my mother. I actually would mimic TV variety hour shows and dance along. I was about four or five. We still have a video of me dancing in my onesie. I just liked it. I would do dances for my cousins and relatives and so my mother signed me up for a ballet class. I was so mad at her for it, but I loved the class and I loved the end of the year recital. That's what really got me hooked, the performance. 

What did you like about ballet that led you to pursue it seriously?

Performing. I hated class sometimes. I didn't like barre at all, but center was better. There were times that I wanted to quit but my mother never allowed me to because sure enough by springtime we would start working on our recital and I loved it again. It was when I was about 13 that I think I really got the notion that I could do this professionally. I had done summer programs in Philadelphia and had seen the dancers in that company and thought that this could be something I could do. 

What are some favorite roles that you’ve danced, and why are they your favorites?

Forsythe’s The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude is definitely one of my favorites. I liked doing “Melancholic” in Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments too. Actually I just really like a challenge. I love a role that allows you to dance and have fun with it, but that also pushes you to your limit. It's really exciting as a dancer to say that you did that. I danced Glen Tetley's Rite of Spring with Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle, and can honestly say it was the hardest thing I've done. You get to the point where you literally just can't get your body to do anything anymore, which is really hard, because when there is an audience out there, you make it work, you just do it. And we made it work, but wow, it was close. That's what I like, being able to look back and say that I did that. It makes me proud of my accomplishments. The push to do it excites me. I can be a big cheerleader backstage too; it gives me energy to keep going by helping others on stage. It's sometimes a look in our eyes, or actually saying, “Come on, you can do it.” I feed off of that energy. I love it.

How do you prepare to perform a difficult role? As you learn the role? And before you go on stage?

Each role is different, usually it's the music that helps me the most. I have to have a certain rhythm when I dance, to help me breathe and figure out the ups and downs of the movement. Everything has its own syncopations. When I'm having a hard time with something, I try to listen to the music to find out exactly where in the music I need to be at a certain point so that I can time things right. Turning takes a different rhythm than jumping and so I have to try and figure it out ahead of time. When it comes to the show, I try to relax and treat it like a normal day. It doesn't always happen, and it's usually when I prepare, really prepare for a role that I get the most nervous. So, I try to be as casual as possible. By the time I get on stage, I know I can do it, I've done it enough times in rehearsal, and I try to remember that and just do it one more time. It's when I'm relaxed like that that I can really have fun with it, and I can start to play more on stage. 

How do you like living in Portland? What about the city and this area are special to you?

I like Portland. I live downtown and so I'm pretty close to everything. I got lucky with my location, I'm right off the bus line to the studios, and can walk to the theatres. I think that's one of the things I like about Portland, that I can walk almost everywhere. I spent four years in Seattle, and loved that city so much, and coming to Portland reminds me so much of Seattle, just smaller and easier to get around. I like the northwest a lot. I'm from the east coast and seasons are important to me. The great thing about the northwest is that you get all of the seasons but in a milder form. The summers are amazing here. 

What do you like to do when you’re not dancing?

Everyone always asks that and I always feel so boring. Usually, I relax. I need the downtime. I like to go to the gym when I can, when I have the energy or time. I like it because it's a different type of workout. I like to rent a movie and hang out with friends, go out to dinner or drinks. Normal stuff, I don't really have any hobbies of late. I usually save my projects for the summer when I have the time off for them. And they keep me busy then. I've worked with Steven in making dance wear, and will probably continue that this summer, we haven't really had much time for it this year. 

Is there anything about ballet that you wish audiences understood, that no one ever asks about?

Well, everyone's pretty much given the good answers. Dancing is harder than it looks because we are trained to make it look easy. It's really hard to smile when you’re gasping for breath. Dancing is a lifestyle, not just a job. We make a huge commitment to this job, and sometimes that means sacrifice, but usually after a good show, we know why we do it, and don't regret that sacrifice. It's hard to take compliments sometimes, because we know where we can do better and it's never fully good enough to us.

I want people to know that ballet isn't just tutus and point shoes and classical music. Ballet can be very exciting and it would blow your mind to see and understand some of the things we do. People almost always dance in some sort of pain and you would never know it unless you saw them icing after the show. We make it work. It has to happen, we always do the show—the show must go on. 

Who's Your Dancer? 

OBT / National Endowment for the Arts Oregon Arts Commission Regional Arts & Culture Council Work for Art Portland Monthly Oregon Community Foundation Jerome Robbins Foundation
Work for Art