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Pivot Pointe
June 14, 2023

Career Transition With Alysson Rocha

First Ballet Master at Ballett Dortmund

Born in Rio de Janeiro, began his ballet education at the age of 6 at Petite Danse School of Dance with a scholarship from ONG “Dançar a Vida” Social Project, under the direction of Nelma Darzi.

Finalist at Youth America Grand Prix 2005, won a scholarship to San Francisco Ballet School, where he studied for two years.

At 16 years old, started to work under the Direction of Marcelo Misailidis, at the Municipal Theater of Rio de Janeiro doing classical repertoire from Yelena Pankova, Sir Peter Wright, Enrique Martinez, and Dalal Achcar.

From 2011-2013, Alysson was coached by Pedro Kraszczuk and Cecilia Kerche. In parallel, he was the Choreographer and Artistic Coordinator of "Dancar a Vida Youth Company,“ Rio de Janeiro.

In 2013, after attending the Job Fair of YAGP, Alysson was invited to join Ballett Dortmund in Germany, creating roles alongside his director Xin Peng Wang and performing pieces from William Forsythe, Alexander Ekman, Jiri Bubenicek, and Demis Volpi.

In 2018, Mr. Rocha was appointed Ballet Master with Ballett Dortmund, assisting and keeping the pieces from Ballett Dortmund’s director, Alexander Ekman, Douglas Lee, Raimondo Rebeck, Wubkje Kuindersma, Giuseppe Spota, Marijn Rademaker and William Forsythe.  

Winner of the prize “Dortmunder Löwe 2019” for his “Silent Orchestra”  dance/music project with deaf kids. In the same year, Alysson returns to YAGP Brazil Semi-Finals as a judge and guest teacher.

Since 2020, Mr. Rocha engineers and supervises the Professional Ballet Class CDs of Pascal Sévajols, former dancer and accompanist of Roland Petit, Ballett Dortmund and current pianist of Ballet de l'Opéra National de Bordeaux.

In 2021, Alysson Rocha was appointed by Xin Peng Wang as First Ballet Master with Ballett Dortmund and in 2022 Mr. Rocha attended the YAGP Finals as a Teacher and Judge and was also invited by Prof. Dr. Alkis Raftis to become a member of the International Dance Council of UNESCO.

We asked Alysson to reflect upon his career transition.

Q: At what stage in your career did you realize it was time for a career transition?

Alysson: I always liked this other side. I stayed in school late each day until my mom could pick me up. I was always assisting and watching classes when I was young (since I was about 12). Then, going to the San Francisco School of Ballet, I was one of those kids who used to watch all of the performances. They had 150 shows in the season, and I would watch all of them! When I spent the summers back home, I would teach at the school I grew up in, so I could pass on whatever I learned and that continued into my career.

In my second season, I started to experience a huge pain in my hip. One day, it was just blocked. It took three years to find a proper diagnosis. So, of course, it was a very painful path that I had to pass. I was living in pain 24 hours a day. Then the doctors discovered what it was, and I had to have surgery, but it wasn’t a major problem. The head of the femur was too big, and I could not turn it in on the right leg. It would always be damaged.

I waited one year, and then I did a minor surgery. I had no scar and it was successful. I remember the last principal role that I created with the director, which was actually my last performance. I remember having friends there and saying, “Guys, today is my farewell.” This was before surgery. It is still very vivid in my head, the ballet was Faust and I was playing young Faust. I finished dancing and was lying dead on the floor. I had to lie there for the last pas de deux, and I was listening to the music, looking up at the ceiling, and thinking “This is it.”

It was positive. I was actually happy about it. I was never attached to being on stage and dancing. Of course, I enjoyed performing and my time on stage, but the process was always hard. Needing to have surgery made me feel that it was it. But none of my friends believed I’d be done.

When I woke up from the surgery, I was completely fine and without the pain that I had for four years. I recovered completely. After four months, I was giving company class. It was agreed upon, a year before, that I would teach the company. I went to the director before my surgery to tell him what I had been thinking about and that I didn’t think I could come back. I couldn’t promise that I would come back next season and not break, so I asked if he wanted me to resign, fire me, or if there was anything else I could do. I asked if I could help with the junior company; the director knew I was interested in that work.

In the end, my director called to tell me that he’d give me the opportunity to work with the junior company as an audition. He gave me the full last week of the year where they had guest performances, performances in-house, rehearsals in and out of the theater, warm-up classes, and coaching. Everything was combined in that one week. And after that week, he offered me a position as a guest ballet master.

I think I was the best person at the best time. At that moment, company dancers were leaving and there were new dancers coming in. The director also felt the necessity to have somebody younger that knew everything from the inside and could help guide that transition, for staff and dancers.

It was an easy transition for me because I didn’t have many days on the contract or many productions. I could learn from the first ballet master because he would retire in two seasons. The CEO of the theater also gave me lots of opportunities to do dance projects in the city. Not professional, but related to the community. I did this project with deaf kids and this project for four-year-olds with performances and everything.

There was a lot in that year of transition, lots of growth. Not only professional growth but personal growth because you have to be very strong to deal with the outside world. You have to act or react to have an opportunity.

Q: Have you always had a passion for teaching?

Alysson: It always existed, I think even in academic school. My mom is a psychologist, and she taught at a university. So I grew up with her correcting the tests and everything because, many times, she could not leave me with anybody. I used to go to work with her and play there, kind of making my own homework and exercises to do.

Thinking back, that’s what I can recall. Teaching is really what gives me pleasure. It’s that shared moment of learning. The process of me giving feedback to a dancer, seeing if that dancer understands, and if they don’t, reframing it to help them achieve their goal. You have to learn how to rephrase things, learn how to put them, and arrive at that dancer’s perception. This moves me. You are proud and happy because the dancer is happy when they achieve it. It’s their success now, not mine.

Q: You are probably one of the younger ballet masters in the dance industry. How does being on the younger side give you an upper hand in this profession?

Alysson: Well, technically I have more energy from being young. I have more energy, and I’m much more flexible. I’m middle-aged, so I’m closer to the younger generation and the older generation of dancers. I also have less pride about being “the right one.” I think dancers appreciate having someone closer to them in age who understands and has compassion and empathy for what they’re doing. being mobile also helps a lot.

I still get a lot of help from teachers who have much more experience and who had different types of careers than I did. This helps the work.

Q: What is it like to work with and mentor the next generation of up-and-coming dancers? Does it make you miss dancing?

Alysson: No, I don’t miss it. As I said, I was never that attached. I am happy when I see other dancers dancing.

When I get opportunities to go outside for Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP) or when they come here to European Ballet School (where I am guesting), I am happy when I see their confidence grow. I’m part of a wonderful school with amazing teachers, so I don’t have a lot to teach technically speaking. But what I can bring is that confidence. and to give dancers a lot of freedom. We are all responsible for how we manage our freedom, which is very important for dancers to learn for their careers.

Q: So another difficult question. How do you teach that confidence?

Alysson: You have to hire me and then I have to teach! This is for sure. But when dancers see that they are good and that they already know everything, I see them tense. Not in a bad way, but concentrated, maybe over-concentrated. So, to do it with confidence, I want to see everybody breathing. I want to see energy going through the body. When I teach, I focus on this, and when I judge, I’m aware of the feedback I give to help develop this kind of confidence.

Q: Can you share more about Dançar a Vida Youth Company?

Alysson: When I joined my ballet school in Brazil, I was given a scholarship through a social project they started. My mom was working all day long and raised me by herself. She could not afford all the ballet expenses because dance is expensive.

The school then later created a youth company. But by the time they created it, I had already graduated from the San Francisco School of Ballet. When I came back home to Rio, I worked with the youth company.

We had sponsorships from two major national banks, and we used that for the creation of this youth company. We were supposed to do one full-length evening show with 72 performances a year. The performances were designed for normal theaters and all of the tickets were free. We were going to all of the communities with theaters to put on a dance night. There were 18 of us. I also choreographed because at that point I enjoyed choreography, and I had seen so much of it in San Francisco, which I could bring into my work. I’m not the best choreographer, and I don’t think I am innovative, but my thing is musicality.

It was very, very successful throughout all of the communities. The goal was to inspire as many young kids as possible who have never seen dance. Many of them joined the school through the social project. I did this for three years before leaving again.

Q: Did you ever think that your part 2–being a ballet master and teaching would be even more fulfilling than your career as a professional dancer?

Alysson: Yes, because I never thought about the career of a ballet master. I still don’t think it’s a career of ballet mastery. I do have the position, but the title is divided into artistic management, like logistics in the office and the studio.

I always knew that it would be fulfilling because I always liked the other side. I also enjoy different aspects of the role, such as talking to different people, the orchestra, the conductor, and the costume department. I am constantly learning. It’s a chain of culture. If you want to see people with culture, you also need to make sure that you are knowledgeable about culture. Otherwise, you have nothing to give.

Q: What do you think is the biggest myth surrounding career transition?

Alysson: The biggest myth is opportunity. I was always secure because I could always go back to Brazil and work. But many of my friends and colleagues are still dancing outside the ballet world. They’re holding on much longer because they think that there will be no opportunity. If you’re certain about transitioning, you make a plan and there are always opportunities. You cannot just stay on the couch and wait for a call, you have to put yourself out there.

Q: What advice do you have for dancers thinking about career transition or going on the journey?

Alysson: My first piece of advice is to meditate. Meditate and breathe. I believe when you’re aligned with your mission, it doesn’t matter what is going to happen. You’re going to face it. If you breathe and accept it, this can be the best moment. You can take a step back, but make sure you keep going.

If you are really aligned with your mission, then you have daily love. Even if it’s a bad day or even if people are jealous of you or are comparing, you can breathe and remember you love what you do. Everything will be fine.

You have to accept that you’ll always pass through a lot of ups and downs throughout the season. It’s not an Instagramable life all the time.

Communication is the way. It’s the mission, especially here. It’s collective work. You don’t want to do it alone, you want to hear feedback and other people's ideas. That’s how you can be part of the theater, part of the team, and maybe learn about what’s going on around you.

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