Sterling Baca’s rise to the top of the ballet world has been meteoric. Beginning dance at age 11 at the Academy of Colorado Ballet, he leaped his way into American Ballet Theatre (ABT) by the time he was 17. Sterling spent five successful seasons at ABT before joining Pennsylvania Ballet (PAB) as a principal dancer in 2016.
An illustrious dance career such as Sterling’s is the product of incredibly hard work, discipline, and laser focus. Having played sports such as basketball and football as child, he was inspired to start dancing after attending Colorado Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker. Sterling saw how ballet combined two of his passions – athletic ability with theatre. And thus he began his dance journey, which gained considerable momentum when he attended ABT’s summer intensive in New York at the age of 13.
Spending the summer at ABT opened Sterling’s eyes to what his future could hold. “Meeting kids from all over the world and having the opportunity to be a Super in ABT’s Le Corsaire at the Metropolitan Opera House convinced me that this was going to be a life long journey,” says Sterling.
Upon returning home to Larkspur, Colorado, Sterling continued working hard in his dance training and competed in the Youth America Grand Prix circuit. However, it soon became clear that to reach his full potential Sterling needed to make the move to a full-time ballet program. And so, at the age of 15, Sterling moved to New York to train year-round at ABT’s school, the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (JKO) School on a full scholarship.
Sterling’s dad had moved with him and home schooled him so that he could complete his high school education. At age 17, Sterling joined ABT II and eight months later he entered ABT’s main company as an apprentice. Six months after that, Sterling was promoted into the Corps de Ballet. In January of 2016, Sterling was named one of Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch” and graced the cover. A few months later, he announced his move to PAB to dance as a principal.
Now happily situated in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where he’s under the artistic direction of former ABT principal Angel Corella, Sterling has performed many of the dream roles for male dancers, including leading roles in Le Corsaire, Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet, and the Cavalier in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker.
Sterling is currently taking a very brief break from the PAB to perform in Joshua Beamish/MOVETHECOMPANY’s innovative new work @giselle, a modern reimagining of Giselle. Set to make its world premiere in Vancouver, Canada on September 5, @giselle promises to be an exciting showcase of some of the top talent in North American ballet. Besides Sterling, renowned dancers from ABT and The National Ballet of Canada will also perform.
In between rehearsals for @giselle, Sterling took some time to chat with me and share some personal insight into his life and career.
Have you trained in other styles besides ballet?
“Yes! I took and was provided modern, Jazz, and Hip-Hop at ABT summer intensives and the JKO School.”
Did you ever contemplate going into a university program for dance?
“Going to college for dance was definitely an option, but the level I wanted to reach and rank of principal dancer I’ve been privileged to attain required me to become a professional very young.
It is quite rare to go to college for dance and have a career in a top of the line classical ballet company afterwards. The competition is too great.
That said, many professional ballet dancers take college courses while dancing. I plan on doing this as well at some point.”
What is one of your favourite memories from living in NYC?
“I loved all the black box theaters and comedy clubs. All the small places you have to look to find. They’re often the most rewarding in an overwhelming city like that.”
What do you enjoy about now living in Philadelphia?
“After having the opportunity to have been to fifteen countries, I have to say Philadelphia is my favorite city! From the Art museums and theaters to the food and ‘brotherly love’, I have fallen for it all.”
What is one of your favourite memories from dancing with the ABT company?
“There are many but I’d have to say the first time I did a Variation in a Principal role at the Metropolitan Opera House. It was Ballroom Von Rothbart in Kevin McKenzie’s Swan Lake. Taking on an audience of four-thousand alone for the first time is an indelible experience.”
What has been your favourite ballet or piece to dance?
“Our artistic director Angel Corella has provided us with incredible classical, Balanchine and contemporary repertoire over the last four years. Out of many of these dream roles he has casted me to perform, I’d have to say Romeo in Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet takes the cake. It covers the spectrum of human emotion and demands the full technical criteria of a classical male dancer.”
What ballets and roles are still on your bucket list to dance?
“As I mentioned, Angel is covering all of them pretty fast for me which I am very grateful for. I’d really like to play Iago in Lar Lubovitch’s Othello and the leads in epic ballets like Onegin, Lady of the Camellias and Manon.”
Do you do other fitness activities outside of dance?
“I have always done a lot of cross training to stay strong and healthy. My favorite is swimming. It’s great to relieve physical stress, maximize cardio and lengthen muscle.”
What’s the coolest theatre you’ve ever performed in and why?
“I’d have to say the Academy of Music in Philadelphia! It is the oldest Opera House in the USA. I find it to be the perfect size and grandeur for ballet. I’m honored to have a world class theater for my home company.”
What are your top 3 favourite dance movies?
“Center Stage, Born to be Wild, and Turning Pointe.”
What’s your favourite song?
“I love music! I couldn’t pick one because my tastes are so eclectic from classical to dubstep to hip hop, rap, and Latin. It also depends on my mood.”
I hear you like spiders! Why is that?
“I’ve just always found them fascinating. They are one of the oldest organisms on the planet and have evolved unbelievable ways to survive. I also find them to be quite graceful, aesthetically pleasing to watch, like a dancer...?”
What’s your favourite food?
“My top four are Italian, Greek, Mexican and sushi.
Besides your dance pursuits, do you have any other dreams that you want to pursue in the future?
“I’ve fallen in love with this art form and hope to stay in the studio and business side of it after dancing. I really enjoy teaching, coaching, organizing performances, and cultivating financial support for our art communities. I’d like to be a ballet master for a company and hopefully one day an artistic director.”
@giselle, presented by Joshua Beamish/MOVETHECOMPANY runs September 5-7 at the Vancouver Playhouse. Tickets available at joshuabeamish.eventbrite.com.