We’re taking a walk down memory lane and asking our dancers to share the most memorable roles and ballets they have performed while at The Washington Ballet. Samara Rittinger, from North Vancouver, Canada, is beginning her fifth season with The Washington Ballet as a full company member and shares her top three favourite TWB ballets below!

Throughout the last four seasons that I have been with TWB, there have been so many amazing programs with such an incredible repertoire. For me, there are three that will always stand out: Sir Frederick Ashton’s The Dream, Alexei Ratmansky’s Bolero, and George Balanchine’s Serenade. These ballets were not only fun and incredibly enjoyable, but also provided a lot of firsts for me in my career.

Sir Frederick Ashton’s The Dream

In-studio dress rehearsal of Sir Frederick Ashton’s The Dream. Photo by Peyton Anderson.

The Dream, which we performed at the end of the 2016.17 Season at The Kennedy Center, was a big one for me. It was the end of my first season as a trainee at TWB and the first time I danced on the Opera House stage. My role as a fairy corps enabled me to dance with all the amazing company ladies and provided the incredible opportunity to work and rehearse with Susan Jones from American Ballet Theatre. I remember the counts were so hard to keep track of since they kept changing. There were a few times where I caught myself literally counting out loud in rehearsal! Not only were the counts hard to pick up, but the style that Susan wanted us to have was also very specific, so we spent a lot of time working on the placement of our wrists in relation to our head. It was amazing to watch her demonstrate the position she wanted our arms to be; they just went to the most perfect position with so much feeling, and without her even trying, her body just knew where to go. Incredibly detailed stuff and I loved it! The one section I don’t think any of us will forget is the finale step of glissades switching direction while flipping our wrists and changing our heads while still pointing our feet. We would go over it so many times every night before the show, I think opening night I was still quietly counting out loud! A few days after the season was done, I got a call from Julie telling me I had been promoted to the Studio Company, which just made the whole season that much better and rewarding!

Alexei Ratmansky’s Bolero

In-studio dress rehearsal photo of Alexei Ratmanksy’s Bolero.

During the beginning of my first year as a Studio Company member, I got to perform Ratmansky’s Bolero. The company was rehearsing it for a show in September, and as a Studio Company member, I was in those rehearsals learning from Tatiana Ratmansky in the back. I think we had about a week and a half to rehearse it after the September program since we (Studio Company) would be having our show in October at THEARC. It was the hardest, most exhausting, but also most incredibly rewarding, process! It was the first piece for me that was not a classical ballet, so it really pushed me out of my comfort zone physically and mentally. We were working on it with ballet master Michelle Jimenez, and she was pulling every ounce of energy we each had for every run through we would do. I was also very lucky to have an amazing partner, Stephen Nakagawa, and we had so much fun working together to figure out all the partnering details. There were always certain parts where we would look at each other and give a little smile and it would give me a burst of energy I needed to keep going. I will forever love the music as well, no matter how many times I listen to it!

George Balanchine’s Serenade 

Photo of Samara RIttinger in Serenade by Gilles Delellio.

The third piece that I absolutely loved was when we performed Serenade for the final program in the 2018 season. This was the first Balanchine ballet I had ever danced. I had only ever watched Balanchine pieces on YouTube with New York City Ballet. Since I went to a school that was very Russian based, I was nervous that I would not be able to get the Balanchine style and the quickness of it all. I never considered myself to be a very fast-moving dancer so I watched the full Serenade on YouTube repeatedly to try and practice some of the steps when in the studio. I knew this would be a particularly challenging ballet for me. Serenade was also the first time I was doing a role outside of the corps. I was cast as one of the four Russian girls. I remember the first day learning the beginning section of the Russian dance, and as I was watching Darla Hoover show the choreography, I instantly thought “no way will I be able to do that!” From even the first eight counts I was already nervous to try it. It took me a while and lots of repetition, but the thing I found so amazing about Balanchine’s movement is that once you get it, it just stays in your body. Everything comes together so organically between your body and the music that after a certain point you do not even think about the steps, you just allow yourself to dance them and enjoy the feeling. Besides the physical aspect of this ballet, there is also a deeper sense you get being on stage with all the other ladies. I will never forget the wave of energy that passed over all 16 of us when the curtain slowly opened on opening night and we all felt the presence of the audience and how they were already so invested in the show. I remember talking to other dancers after the show and we all had the same experience, it was so amazing!

Every show always leaves you with memories, either amazing ones or maybe even some not so great ones, but I always try to take one memory or lesson from each performance. What I love about TWB is that everyone, from the dancers to the artistic team to production, invests so much into every performance. It makes it hard to pick a favourite program, but these three are always the first that come to mind. I cannot wait until we are all back together on stage able to share more amazing ballets with the audience!

–Samara Rittinger