Dancer Spotlight: Subtlety and Style

March 14, 2012

With his old-school athleticism, clean lines and compact frame, John Mark Giragosian stands out among the Joffrey Ballet’s many strong male dancers. He partners effortlessly, crisply articulating the essence of each step. In his solos, he seems more expressive than determinedly impressive, bringing color and inflection even to abstract movement.

Giragosian is not a Joffrey newcomer. Promoted from apprentice to company member by artistic director Ashley Wheater in 2008, his opportunities have grown steadily. While he has danced featured roles in The Nutcracker, Frederick Ashton’s Cinderella and Ronald Hynd’s The Merry Widow, Giragosian still has untapped facets to his artistry that he may eventually be able to explore. “I see John Mark as a leading dancer,” says Wheater. “Right now he is a very strong soloist. But I see him taking on many things. Cranko’s Romeo and Juliet is coming back in a few seasons and definitely he should be a Mercutio. In the next few years, Twyla Tharp will do some things here, Ashley Page will do a new work here. So John Mark’s future looks incredibly bright and very interesting.”

Giragosian, like many male dancers, came to ballet through his sister. At 5, following one of her performances in his hometown of Manassas, Virginia, he jumped onstage and began dancing. When the audience started filing out, he burst into tears. Before long, Giragosian had added dance class several days a week to a roster of activities that included soccer, karate and piano. By the time he was in high school, he was studying at the Maryland Youth Ballet six days a week. He had to leave school 90 minutes early and make up the classes he missed online and at the local community college. Nonetheless, Giragosian graduated at the top of his class.

Although there was a period when he dreamed of being a doctor (science was his favorite subject), Giragosian steadily refined his classical technique, encouraged by his instructor Olivier Munoz, now a teacher at Orlando Ballet School. While he kept a tight focus, with Munoz’s encouragement he experimented from time to time. Giragosian even brought a contemporary piece to the Helsinki International Ballet Competition. It was a stretch and he did not medal, but both he and Munoz remember the process as a welcome learning experience.

Giragosian admits that it’s been “a journey” getting his body to feel comfortable in nonclassical pieces, even at the Joffrey. “I did Paul Taylor’s Cloven Kingdom my first year here,” he recalls. “It was the most modern thing I had done and so a lot of the steps felt like they didn’t look very good. I was doing them the way I’d been told to do them, but I was thinking to myself, This looks weird.”

Thoughtful and self-aware, today Giragosian, 23, has a good sense of his strengths and weaknesses. “My biggest struggle as a whole is really my line,” he says. “My feet and legs don’t always shape the way I want them to. When I am onstage, I’ll really try to think of shaping my legs and feet. Sometimes that will make the rest of my dancing stiff. So it’s a fine line for me to be able to work in a way that allows my legs and feet to be stretched to their maximum while maintaining relaxation and good form in my upper body.”

Giragosian’s learning curve isn’t dictated solely by the studio and the stage. In January, he began working toward a degree in economics at Northwestern University. “It will be a challenge,” he admits, “because I’ll be going to night school and balancing that with touring, rehearsing and performing. But I want to be able to have options after my ballet career. And I really love learning.”

At a Glance

John Mark Giragosian

Age: 23

Company: The Joffrey Ballet

Training: Maryland Youth Ballet

Favorite Role: George Balanchine’s Tarantella

Dream Role: Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet