The Marathon Season: Paulina Waski on Completing Nearly 30 Weeks of Dancing with Boston Ballet and ABT

August 10, 2022

Paulina Waski knows stamina. A few days into her first week off since New Year’s 2022, she is already antsy—an understandable feeling knowing she’s just completed nearly 30 consecutive weeks of work with Boston Ballet and ABT, with a single day off in between. After finishing Boston Ballet’s season-closing performances of Swan Lake in May and June, Waski hopped on a train to New York City, settled into her new apartment for a day and promptly met ABT for class and rehearsal the next morning, joining the company for the June return of its beloved Metropolitan Opera House seasons. 

But Waski is no stranger to NYC nor ABT. Not only did she attend the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School starting at age 14, she eventually moved on to the ABT Studio Company and joined the main company as a corps member in 2012. She later joined Boston Ballet in 2019, hoping to build on her contemporary and neoclassical ballet skills—something she has accomplished after performing in pieces like William Forsythe’s Blake Works I, Jorma Elo’s Ruth’s Dance and more this past season. But as much as she loved the repertoire and company, Waski itched to move back to New York City, where she would be closer to family in Connecticut and her ABT home. Luckily, ABT artistic director Kevin McKenzie renewed her spot in the corps to begin this past June—at the small price of a marathon season.

Pointe spoke with Waski last week (at the start of her first break since January) to discuss this incredible feat of stamina, her history with ABT and what she’s learned from the past few months. Here’s what she had to share:

First things first. How did you land the Met gig?

Back in December, I reached out to Kevin [McKenzie] to let him know I was interested in coming back to ABT. He said he’d be happy to absorb me back into the company as soon as February, but I had an obligation and wanted to finish my season with Boston. So he said they’d meet me for the Met season and after. I don’t think I realized how fast the turnaround would be, but I didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity because it was ABT’s first time back at the Met since the pandemic; in that way, I hadn’t missed one since I left.

Paulina Waski stands casually outside the Met Theatre in a black and white photograph. She wears a black long-sleeved leotard and cut-off tights, a white practice tutu and pointe shoes. Her dark hair is in a loose bun, and she stands with her right leg slightly propped up on pointe. Her right hand rests on her hip, her left bent up to brush hair away from her face. She looks out contemplatively to the right in front of the white marble wall..
Paulina Waski outside the Metropolitan Opera House. Photo by Jason Lam, courtesy Waski.

What was the transition like from Boston’s season to ABT?

I hadn’t had a break since we finished Boston’s Nutcracker. Our last program was Swan Lake, and we did 11 shows. I was in every one, in every single second and fourth act, with some first and third acts here and there. I took an Amtrak to New York City right after our last show, with one day to settle in before joining ABT the following one from 10:15 am to 7 pm. I think the adrenaline kept me going; it all didn’t really hit me till this week.

I only rehearsed with ABT for a week before performances began and wasn’t expecting anything more than regaining my footing at the company. I would’ve loved to do some soloist roles like I had before I left, but since I hadn’t been rehearsing with them I didn’t expect that. But then they asked me to do Flower Girl in Don Quixote because a dancer got injured, and I’m really grateful because I’d learned it before but had never gotten the chance to do it. I had just one run-through of Act 1, one of Act 3, maybe a couple of variations rehearsals, and then the next week I performed it in three shows. It was the most fun I’ve ever had onstage!

What other ballets were you in at the Met?

Alexei Ratmansky’s Of Love and Rage, which I wasn’t expecting to be in but was super-fun. We also did 12 performances of Swan Lake. So that marks a lot of Swan Lakes for me!

April Giangeruso and Paulina Waski perform on a darkly lit stage in white swan tutus and feather headpieces with pink tights and pointe shoes. Their dark hair is slicked into low buns. They split center and arabesque en pointe toward mid-stage, into each other, heads inclined down with emotion. Their inside arms, in high arabesque line, create an archway as their outside arms follow the lines of their arabesque legs.
April Giangeruso and Paulina Waski in “Swan Lake.” Photo by Gene Schiavone.

We also did Romeo and Juliet, which I always enjoy because I got to be the character role Rosaline. Swan Lake was by far the hardest because I was cast in the pas de trois with Zhong-Jing Fang and Kento Sumitani. One night I got to perform it with Catherine Hurlin and Blaine Hoven, which was incredible. I’d watched that pas de trois so many times onstage, so it was great to finally be able to do it. It was the most unexpected but fulfilling Met season I’ve experienced.

That’s a lot of dancing! How did you make it through?

I’m pretty fast at getting choreography. I was also just so happy to be back with ABT that anything I was given I gave my 200 percent best.

My parents were really supportive throughout it all, too, and they were able to see me do Flower Girl and the pas de trois. My mom just finished her last chemo session; she’s going through stage 2 breast cancer. That’s a big reason why I wanted to come back to New York City, to see her more. Thankfully, my big performances lined up between her chemo sessions, so she had enough energy to see me. That made my nerves go away—I was trying to do it for her. And doing Flower Girl, you get a page bow in front of the golden curtain, which I’d never gotten to do before. She’d always wanted to see me do that, so that made it even more special.

Paulina Waski and Katherine Williams bow in front of a golden curtain onstage. They wear butter yellow ruffly tutus with sage green, light blue, and yellow short-sleeved corset bodices with a pink ribbon at the front and white and pink lace details. They wear pink ballet tights and pointe shoes with their dark hair slicked back into a low bun. They stand in B plus on their right legs, arms outstretched and upturned in a generous welcoming posture, smiling out to the audience proudly with chests lifted.
Katherine Williams and Paulina Waski in “Don Quixote.” Photo by Kent G. Becker.

Did you ever get sick or have any injuries?

Thank God I did not. There are always things I need to maintain, little aches and pains, but I take a lot of Pilates and cross-train to keep my body strong. I make sure to give my body lots of rest and eat enough. I also take a lot of Epsom salt and ice baths.

I know my body really well, and I can tell if I have the energy to go to the gym between shows to keep my stamina up. On lighter rehearsal days at Boston, I found an empty studio and worked on things for the Met season. At the time, I didn’t know they were going to have me do Flower Girl, but since I’d learned it before, I figured why not practice? Thank goodness I did, because I felt much more prepared when I did get that opportunity to perform.

You and Nastia Alexandrova, another former ABT dancer who joined Boston recently and also danced in the Met season, have followed similar paths. What has that been like?

Boston was a great stepping-stone for us, and we’ve both rejoined ABT as corps members. I remember us talking backstage during Boston’s Swan Lake, saying “How are we going to make it? This is so hard, I’m so tired!” But I guess that one day off between was very productive and restful!

Any parting thoughts?

Motivating myself to practice extra variations, even if I enjoyed it, was what I needed to get through this. So I’m proud of myself for doing that! I really got to step out of my comfort zone at Boston Ballet and am so grateful for that. Hopefully in the fall season I’ll get to do more contemporary work at ABT on top of the classics.

I’m also so happy Kevin had faith to give me this opportunity, especially jumping into those soloist roles with barely any rehearsals. (Thank you, Kevin!) I’m definitely going to miss him; he’s basically my “ballet dad” and has seen me grow up since I was 10. But I’m also ecstatic that Susan Jaffe will follow him. She’s also seen me grow up and coached me in school and in the Studio Company. I’m really looking forward to the fall season!