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Ally Donnelly
September 18, 2009

 Isaac Akiba, 20, Boston Ballet 2009

Boston, Mass. – This weekend at the Boston Opera House, “Night of the Stars”, a showcase of dance. The show will feature everything from modern dance to classical ballet. It will also premiere the talents of a young man discovered by the ballet in a Boston public school when he was just nine.

Now more than a decade later, he has joined the elite company.

NECN’s Ally Donnelly introduces us to Isaac Akiba.

Ribbons of sweat shimmy down Isaac Akiba’s body. He has been hard at work for hours. First class, then rehearsal, then more rehearsal. This day, six hours of dancing at the Boston Ballet School in the city’s South End.

Akiba: “Uh. It can be ridiculous sometimes. You go home and you’re wasted. Your muscles hurt and your calves are cramping.”

20-year-old Akiba stands 5 foot 7, not even 140 pounds. With his ruddy face and hesitant voice — he has more the demeanor of a shy teenager than a tenacious dancer.

Akiba is the ultimate city kid done good. He is the first dancer ever to start with the ballet’s public schools program and work his way up to become a company dancer. One of only 52 dancers — in the prestigious….Boston Ballet.

Miko Nissinen, Artistic Director: “If you compare some kids playing hoops in the park and compare it to the Boston Celtics, that’s the kind of uh — I mean, it’s when you get in to a professional company of this caliber — you’ve made it.”

The schools program, CityDance — introduces ballet to 3rd graders throughout Boston. Akiba was just nine when dancers came to his working class Jamaica Plain neighborhood.

Akiba: “I remember we went to the auditorium and they put us in a line, they made us stand on toes.”

And that was it. Akiba was hooked. He won a scholarship for a 10-week program — and has been working his way up the ballet ranks for the last decade.

Akiba: “I love being on stage and performing; it never stops being challenging — I love that about it.”

Miko , Artistic Director: He’s a strong dancer, a dynamic dancer, he’s a good turner, a good jumper. I’m in awe of how much artistic depth he has at this age.

Miko Nissinen is the ballet’s artistic director. He first noticed Akiba when he danced in the holiday staple the nutcracker when he was 12. Nissenin knew Akiba “had it” by the time he was 17.

Mikko Nissinen: You have flawless diamond and now we have to start cutting it. It’s not easy life. It’s fantastic life, it’s fascinating life.

The ballet goes into schools in some of the city’s toughest neighborhoods where becoming a ballet dancer isn’t exactly seen as the “tough guy” thing to do….but leaders say they’ve got a sure fire way to combat that “sissy” teasing.

Margaret Tracey, school director: “We show them how high they have to jump and how many times they have to turn and have to lift women over their head and then catch them and not drop them.”

Nissinen: “After I showed what kind of physical condition you are — they thought ballet dancers were superman — who did more push ups when everybody else collapsed.”

Tracey: “It really breaks down the barriers and shows that dance is for everyone.”

Akiba says because other boys from his school went into the program he wasn’t teased much, but having male role models has been critical.

Akiba: “You’re around such beautiful dancers and you can be insecure sometimes in class and on stage, but it’s something you have to get through and realize it’s all a process.”

Miko: “I’ve been really amazed how he opens up and lights up on stage — so that’s the beautiful sight. What I’ve seen — first there was a little crack and now, it’s like, it’s opened.”

Quietly, Akiba admits he loves performing in front of an audience…the dark stage…the bright lights. “All of your work, you know, has led up to something you’ve created and hopefully it’s beautiful to other people watching you dance.”

And when the applause comes…he knows at least part of it is for him.“It’s very self satisfying. Yes! Finally, I got it. And that can be a great feeling.”

A great feeling, as a corps dancer in the Boston Ballet.

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© 2009 NECN

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