This is a year of changes for Carla Körbes. On June 22nd, she was appointed associate artistic director of the L.A. Dance Project, where she will work with Benjamin Millepied, the company's founding director. The announcement came just two weeks after Körbes retired from the Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle, where she was a principal dancer. Speaking from L.A. Körbes reveals that she is four months pregnant. 

© Patrick Fraser
© Patrick Fraser

“It has been such a year!" she says. "I got married [to L.A.-based photographer Patrick Fraser] then we found out that I was pregnant!" She explains how it felt to rehearse in the weeks leading up to her farewell performance at PNB's Season Encore on June 7th: "Dancing pregnant – you don't have a center anymore. So, you cannot engage your abdominals the way you could before. It’s a very strange feeling... You get tired at a level that you have never experienced, and you cannot drink coffee, you cannot take Advil, you cannot take baths. Really, if you think about it, pregnancy and ballet – they really don't go together at all!

“PNB’s Season Encore was way more than just a show for me. It was the end of something, and the beginning of something. It was so full of layers […] it was perfect. I was tired, I was happy, I was sad at some points. Peter Boal (PNB’s Artistic Director) gave that speech before I danced and that killed me almost," Körbes says jokingly, about the sentimental speech given by Peter Boal, who has been instrumental to her career. "I was thinking, ‘Come on Peter, don't cry before I dance!' Then he talked about that time I almost missed the opportunity to have a career by breaking my foot." At that moment, Körbes was behind the curtain, waiting to perform Jessica Lang's The Calling. “I'm on stage going, 'Are you for real?!'" She sighed reminiscing, "I love him, and I am so thankful he did that speech. It was heartfelt." Later on, she adds: "I cannot believe I got to do my last performance with this little bean inside of me... Through all the jumps I was thinking, 'okay baby, jump with me now!'”

Körbes grew up in Brazil, and left her hometown of Porto Alegre at 15 to study at the School of American Ballet. Upon completing her training, she joined the New York City Ballet, where she became a soloist in 2005. She moved to Seattle, to dance with Pacific Northwest Ballet at Peter Boal's invitation, that same year. 

It is in New York she first met Benjamin Millepied: “Ben and I have known each other since we danced together at New York City Ballet," says Körbes. "Ben told me: ‘I have known you forever. I have seen how you work. I have seen how you dance. This is what L.A. Dance Project needs.' I have had a very clear vision of how I should dance, and I think he really liked that. You know, I could have stayed at New York City Ballet and just ride the wave, but I was very unhappy at some point and I moved on. I am not afraid of change." She continued, "As people, as artists, we have got to put ourselves […] in that position, where a big door closes but there are other doors that open. Change can be very scary, but it's good for us."

© Patrick Fraser
© Patrick Fraser
Her audacity resonates with the L.A. Dance Project, the ambitious artistic collective formed in 2012 known for its cross-discipline collaborations (most notably with artists working with film, music, and architecture) and for presenting dance both in conventional theatres, and in more innovative environments (the company recently set performances at L.A.'s Union Station and in the forests outside of the city).

Körbes says: “L.A. Dance Project started as this vision Ben had” and now "the company tours a lot – this year they went all over Europe and to Asia. It is a wonderful thing to be all over, but at the same time the dancers crave a sense of home. So our goal this year is to build a base and get more connected with the L.A. community. We are also hiring two new dancers, so we are[…] doing lots of auditions."   

Körbes recounts her first week with the company. "I had two really long, good talks with the dancers. I heard how they feel, and what is necessary for me to do right away for the company.  Now I have all these ideas of what I want to do for them…I am really excited for when they get back – they are on break now. I am ready to work." Körbes pauses, then exclaims, "Wait, I just retired!" then laughed and continued. "I wish that we could, as dancers, say 'I retire', but it is not the reality. You spend all your life dancing but financially, you do not have much to show for it."  For the company, "ensuring a good salary, physical therapy, opportunities to tour, a nice studio, and vacation time is fundamental.[…] And we want to do so much more than that. But as a young company, it will be a challenge finding the balance between what we want to do and what we can do.”  

“I will be teaching the company as well” (though Körbes explains she will have a break when her baby is born, and then come back to her full responsibilities. When on break, she will do the administrative work from home.

Although her performing career was in large classical ballet companies, she is not daunted by the small size and contemporary repertoire of L.A. Dance Project. “What is not completely different," she explains, “is that when you go into the studio, it does not matter if it is classical or contemporary, we are all working towards… I don't know what the word is in English – 'Aperfeiçoamento' – which means to constantly work towards bettering yourself."  The financial challenges are to scale, but no less significant. "At PNB,the concerns were more 'Can we put together a new Nutcracker?' Here, it is “Do we have the finances to have physical therapy for the dancers more than once a week?’ “

"I like L.A." Körbes responds thoughtfully, when I asked her how she felt in her new home, after New York City and Seattle. “It is very diverse. It is huge! There are lots of artists and people flock to galleries. We need to do the same for dance."  She goes on: ”In Seattle and in New York, you have huge opera houses and there is ballet on all the time. Here, I think the audience needs to be educated in dance, so they start to crave it. A small company like L.A. Dance Project makes it easier to perform in different places and to reach different audiences”. 

She concludes by saying: "I want people to know we are here; and to say, “I am going to see L.A. Dance Project this weekend”.