Radetsky on Writing

Sascha Radetsky

Sascha Radetsky will give his final ABT performance on July 3, as Franz in
Coppélia with Xiomara Reyes. Since joining ABT in 1995, Sascha has danced a wide-range of leading roles including including the Second and Third Sailors in Fancy Free, Champion Roper in Rodeo, Paris, Tybalt, and Benvolio in Romeo and Juliet, and my favorite of his roles, the lead male in Stanton Welch’s Clear. In 2008, he joined Dutch National Ballet as a Principal Dancer, returning to ABT in 2010. Post-ABT, Sascha will be featured in Flesh and Bone, a “dark and gritty” ballet drama series on the Starz Network in 2015.

In addition to entertaining crowds worldwide, Sascha is passionate about writing and his work appears in several publications. Here is some of his work:

Experience filming “Flesh and Bone” in Dance Magazine
Final performance: essay in Vogue.com
Final days with ABT: essay in Vogue.com
Final ABT rehearsal: essay in Vogue.com
Breaking Free: dealing with and recovering from dance injuries
Indelible Expressions: coexistence of dance and tattoos
Frederic Franklin: remembering the great dancer, who died in 2013
Transitions: thoughts on Ethan Steifel after his final ABT performance
Why I Dance: thoughts on being a dancer
Poetry in the New York Times: Metropolitan Diary

I interviewed Sascha via email on his writing interests. I particularly enjoyed his take on dance critics and will take his commentary to heart as I review performances.

Q: What writing projects are you currently working on? What inspires you for new ideas for your work?

Sascha: I’m about to begin working on a serial “dancer’s diary” for Vogue.com, which will focus on my last season with ABT (update: see the completed works in the links above). I usually need a goal or assignment in order to put pen to paper.

Q: Are your writing interests primarily in fiction, non-fiction, or poetry?

Sascha: I enjoy fooling around in each of those forms. I’ve probably had the most practice writing essays. I’ve only recently taken on fiction, and find it at once thrilling and daunting. I love poetry’s deliciously spare recipes of words, its distillation of emotion, experience, and revelation down to their essence. I don’t know if I’m any good at any given form, but I must be improving—or at least developing a palette—because I cringe now when looking at my writing from a few years ago.

Q: When/how did you become interested in writing?

Sascha: I grew up in a house that had books on every wall. They might’ve constituted its primary form of insulation. My dad was a writer; my mom is an artist. They read to my siblings and me when we were little, hooked us early. The written word was a source of great bonding between my dad and me, as the outdoors was between my mom and me. My parents steadfastly supported all my interests; I could write pages in appreciation of their love and guidance. Maybe I will.

Q: Is writing something you want to pursue after your dance career is over?

Sascha: I’d like to devote more time to writing after retiring from dancing, although I don’t imagine making a second career as a writer.

Q: Which writers have influenced you the most?

Sascha: Such a tough question. I would love to be able to write nonfiction like Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Ian Frazier, John McPhee, David Foster Wallace, or John Krakauer. Or fiction like Herman Melville, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, A.B. Guthrie, Jr., Raymond Chandler, Larry McMurtry, Elmore Leonard, Martin Cruz Smith, Annie Proulx, Cormac McCarthy, or George Saunders. Or poetry like Walt Whitman, Rainer Maria Rilke, Robert Frost, Pablo Neruda, Sylvia Plath, Charles Simic, Jack Gilbert, Louise Gluck, or Kim Addonizio. Or fiction and poetry like John Updike or Jim Harrison. I’m leaving out tons of people, and there are so many still to discover. These sorts of lists always evolve, anyway.

Q: What are your favorite books?

Sascha: I guess you mean fiction? I’ve long been obsessed with the history of the American West, so I’m a sucker for westerns. The Big Sky and Lonesome Dove ride the top of my list. Both are sweeping, tragic, dazzlingly rendered Great American Novels. The same can also be said of Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain Odyssey-redux and James Welch’s singular Fools Crow. James Clavell’s Shogun is a GAM, just set in feudal Japan. Huckleberry Finn delivers a laugh, a surprise, and an exquisite sentence on nearly every page. Moby Dick constantly meanders off course, but then such capable hands are at the tiller. On the Road and Hemingway’s short stories stoked my adolescent craving for adventure; I guess I find those books less exhilarating now. Some people don’t consider Elmore Leonard’s “genre” fiction literature; I disagree. Of course, I like his westerns and period novels best. Martin Cruz Smith offers a sly spin on noir fiction in Gorky Park and its sequels. Annie Proulx’s series of Wyoming short stories manages to be haunting and funny and poetic all at once. Saunders’ Tenth of December is so original, so odd and touching (but not maudlin). Love or hate Cormac McCarthy (count me among the former)—the man can turn a lethal phrase, and in Blood Meridian (and the rest of his oeuvre) he cranks them out like bullets from a Gatling gun.

Q: What books/magazine/newspaper articles have you read recently that impressed you?

Sascha: Roger Angell penned a breathtaking meditation on aging in The New Yorker a few months ago. Ariel Levy’s “Thanksgiving in Mongolia,” from that magazine, is a mini tornado that will upend you (turns out I was staying in her Ulaanbaatar hotel at the very time of her ordeal). Maria Konnikova consistently posts fresh and intriguing science-related essays on The New Yorker website. I’d recommend “A Speck in the Sea,” by Paul Tough, from the NY Times magazine, to anyone who likes lobster, crab, or not dying. Every now and then one of those Modern Love personal essays in the Sunday Times will kick my ass. I enjoy Anthony Lane’s colorful, indulgent movie reviews in The New Yorker, also James Wolcott’s lively columns in Vanity Fair. Sam Harris’ science and philosophy-based essays resonate with me. Whenever I want to laugh, shake my head in wonder, and feel terribly inadequate as an observer (and writer), I’ll read David Foster Wallace’s reportage. Again, I’m leaving so much out.

Q: Is it possible to write during the ballet season? It must be difficult to do anything but dance during the season due to the compressed and hectic schedules.

Sascha: It’s challenging but possible. I think William Carlos Williams wrote his poems after full days treating patients. And a young Elmore Leonard wrote in the early mornings before his first cup of coffee, hours prior to clocking in as a copy editor at an ad agency. Alas, I’m not as motivated as those gentlemen. Often I’m too physically exhausted to do anything but veg out in front of the TV with a glass of something tasty.

Q: On dance writing and reviews, do you read reviews during the season? What general characteristics do you like or dislike about reviews?

Sascha: Sometimes I read them and sometimes I don’t. They’re hard to avoid; friends or acquaintances seem to inevitably comment on reviews, in support of the good mentions or out of indignation at the bad. I’ve gone seasons without reading any, and seasons during which I read everything, if only out of curiosity at the critics’ tastes and writing styles. I danced for a year in Amsterdam and was blissfully ignorant to Dutch-language criticism, for better or worse (a liberating but surreal feeling, as if I were performing in an alternate dimension). I prefer reviews that are (of course) interesting and well-written, in which witty flourishes don’t collapse into snark, that resist grand proclamations, that reflect a judicious consistency of taste and expansive knowledge and appreciation of ballet. I respect the critics who are forces for the positive, who endeavor to advance the art form and its artists rather than just their personal voices. Critics need not be cheerleaders nor shy from writing negative reviews, but I think their impact should ultimately be constructive.

Sascha will be in the following ABT performances this season:

Manon: June 4 matinee, June 6
Giselle: June 18 evening, June 20
Swan Lake: June 27
Coppélia: July 3

You can follow Sascha on Twitter: @RadetskyRambles.