By Samantha Pak
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Angelica Generosa started ballet at the age of 4 and it didn’t take long for her to know that’s what she wanted to do with her life.
At 13, the New Jersey native and Filipino American performed as Clara in the Radio City Rockettes’ Christmas Spectacular show and after getting a taste of what it would be like to dance professionally, she was hooked.
“I was just living in a dream world,” she said about the experience.
And now at age 29, Generosa is a principal dancer with Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB) and living that dream. She’s one of the leads in the company’s upcoming performance of “Giselle.” The ballet will run from Feb. 3-12 and Generosa is one of about half a dozen dancers who will be playing the title character. Her first performance will be at the 2 p.m. show on Feb. 4.
More than hard work
Turning her dream into a reality wasn’t easy. In addition to putting in the hard work and long hours it takes to become a professional ballerina (she was homeschooled all through high school to accommodate her training schedule), Generosa is a Filipino American in a predominantly white art form. This brought on a whole new set of challenges.
She studied at the School of American Ballet (SAB), an official school of the New York City (NYC) Ballet, which often leads to a contract with the ballet company. But when it came time for that conversation, the powers-that-be told Generosa she “didn’t fit into the mold” of what they were looking for at NYC Ballet.
At 16, she realized they were talking about her race—which she hadn’t seen as a factor in the decision making.
“I can’t change the way I look,” she said.
When Generosa had decided to pursue ballet as a career, her parents—both nurses—were supportive, but also told her it would be more difficult for her as a person of color. As a young teen, Generosa didn’t really know what that meant—not until that meeting at SAB.
“That was the reality check,” she said about her realization. She was not what ballet looked like “on the outside.”
A new path with no regrets
Generosa was heartbroken that she didn’t make it into NYC Ballet. But it was also around this time that Peter Boal, artistic director at PNB, reached out. He had come to SAB to scout for dancers and while Generosa was too young to be hired right away, he suggested she dance with the Seattle-based company during an upcoming summer program. She did and Generosa has never looked back. Although she has danced at international galas and with other dance companies in one-off performances, she’s only ever danced professionally with PNB and is now in her 11th year with the company.
“I don’t regret my decision,” she said.
Generosa said one of the reasons she has stayed with PNB has been what she describes as a healthy environment. She enjoys her colleagues and when she arrived, PNB was also a little more diverse than what she had experienced on the East Coast. Dancers of color weren’t just there to “check that box,” and she felt accepted for who and what she was. In addition, PNB had a number of Asian dancers, including principal Kaori Nakamura and later, Noelani Pantastico.
“I finally saw someone who looked like me,” Generosa said.
She also acknowledged what her friend and mentor Misty Copeland—the first Black principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre—has done to help more dancers of color become part of the ballet world. Generosa said seeing everything Copeland (who she’s known since she was 14) faced, helped her see how she could deal with things and also that she wasn’t alone.
“[Ballet] turned into an even more beautiful art form,” Generosa said. “It was already beautiful.”
Generosa is in her third year as a principal—having been promoted while on her couch mid-pandemic, she said with a laugh. And while she has been the lead in a ballet before, this will be the first time she has done “Giselle.”
“Giselle” tells the story of a young peasant girl, who falls in love with Albert, a duke who disguises himself as a fellow peasant. When it comes out that Albert is already engaged to someone else, Giselle dies of a broken heart. Albert then goes to Giselle’s grave to beg for her forgiveness, where she ends up haunting him.
“It’s very sad now that I’m saying it out loud,” Generosa said as she explained the ballet’s storyline, which was first performed in 1841 and is the oldest ballet PNB has performed.
Generosa also acknowledged that if “Giselle” were written today, the story would likely be different—meaning the cheating man would face more consequences and Giselle would likely have a better fate than death. The dance world is changing and Generosa said that as dancers in ballet become more diverse, hopefully the next step would be for that representation to lead to more diverse stories being told.
In addition to ballet, Generosa said Boal and PNB incorporate other styles of dance, such as contemporary, into their newer works. She appreciates this because the physicality of these other styles are different, which keeps things refreshing. Stepping into a different dance style also helps keep her mind sharp. This being said, one dance style Generosa would love to do more of is jazz, adding that she wouldn’t mind trying that out when she’s a little older—and perhaps dancing on Broadway.
“That’s what the arts is about,” she said about combining styles and trying out new things. “Everything can be so much more.”
Samantha can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.