Cuban dynamo Joan Boada was a leading star of San Francisco Ballet (SF Ballet), where he performed as a principal dancer for 17 years. During that time, he lent his power, charisma and refinement in works by Helgi Tomasson, George Balanchine, Yuri Possokhov and Christopher Wheeldon, to name a few.
Having graduated from the renowned Escuela Nacional de Ballet in Havana, Cuba, in 1993, Boada went on to join the Ballet Nacional de Cuba under prima ballerina Alicia Alonso, and also performed with Le Ballet de Nancy, Ballet de Bordeaux and Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo before joining SF Ballet. It was only after retiring from his performing career in 2016 that Boada moved on to teaching at various schools as guest teacher and répétiteur at SF Ballet and Boston Ballet. In 2019, he was ballet master and choreographic assistant for the Compañía Nacional de Danza in Spain under Joaquín De Luz. And he most recently served as artistic director at Conservatory Ballet in Reston, Virginia, before assuming his newest position as ballet artistic director at the acclaimed Kirov Academy in Washington, DC. Though the academy is recovering from an embezzlement scandal and leadership changes, Boada feels well-positioned about leading the school in a new direction.
Only a little over a month into his new role, he spoke with Dance Teacher about his teaching career, his goals for Kirov Academy, and advice for ballet teachers looking towards a post-pandemic future.
You had such a successful performing career, most of which was spent at SF Ballet. What made you decide to pursue the teaching route after retiring?
With all the information I accrued during my dancing years, I felt the best way to give back was to work with students. I wanted to share the information I was able to gather from my teachers in Cuba, my experiences in San Francisco, and all my international guesting opportunities.
Looking back, was there any teacher that had the most impact on you?
Magaly Suárez was my teacher in Cuba for several years before I graduated. She was the person that really helped me become the dancer I am. She was the star that looked over me, protected me and pushed me forward to become a better dancer. The best advice she gave me was ‘The only thing that pays off is hard work.’ Just putting in a little extra effort can give you the ability to overcome any challenges, injuries, etc. She’s given me, and her other students, the strength to look past any difficulty.
You’ve had such a broad range of experiences with various ballet disciplines, from your Cuban training to performing Balanchine works at SF Ballet. How do you plan to integrate all of that knowledge with Kirov Academy’s Vaganova curriculum?
Our curriculum in Cuba was pretty much based on the Vaganova technique, and we were lucky to have some famous teachers from Russia help start the Cuban school. Russian training is very sophisticated; they are pure in their dancing, like with their port de bras, for example. The Cuban method emphasizes very powerful technique, and you see that in our jumps and turns. When I went to France, I was more focused on the beauty of dance; how to interlace the steps and how to portray a character in a pure way. I think all of these methods were a perfect combination for me as I entered my professional career, and now I can share all of that with the students here.
Nowadays, knowing just one style of ballet isn’t enough to succeed professionally. I’ve talked to my pre-professional students and graduating seniors a lot about that. You also evolve a lot as a dancer during your career working with different choreographers, so you can’t just stay stuck on one style. So I think I was brought on to help students prepare for professional life based on the experiences I’ve had.
In terms of technique, how do you feel you’ve changed things up a bit in class to give your Kirov students a new challenge?
I believe focusing on musicality shocked them a bit. When I started using different rhythms in the music during combinations, it forced them to really listen to the notes and find the musicality with the steps. It’s opening their minds to other ways of moving because they will be confronted with that the minute they step out of the school.
Last year, Dance Teacher profiled the career preparation course your predecessor, Runqiao Du, used to hold weekly with graduating seniors. Is this something you plan on continuing?
Yes, Kirov Academy saw this was a really good class for its students. I’ve also been discussing college programs as an option for students, since there are many here who excel academically. We talk a lot about the LEAP program (Liberal Education for Arts Professionals). I wasn’t a LEAP student myself, but I wish I did it. Many of my friends went through the program, so I’m really pushing that to the students here, since education opens many doors for dancers.
What are your primary goals and priorities now in your current role?
I was brought into a really hard year at the academy due to COVID, and we also lost one of the school’s main donors. My main goals right now are to keep the Kirov’s doors open after such a tough year and, of course, to promote more diversity and inclusion at the school.
What do you think ballet teachers need to focus most on right now to prepare dancers for company life?
Students’ well-being. COVID has created a lot of anxiety in students, and many may feel afraid to face reality again. A lot of students have been struggling to go back to their normal routines after training on Zoom. Support is the most important thing teachers can focus on right now to make sure their students have all their needs addressed.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include information about the academy’s embezzlement scandal.