'I don't want my career to fade away' says one PNB dancer
Benjamin Griffiths is like so many of us who’ve been sequestered at home during the pandemic.
He’s reading, streaming movies, and he works out every day.
“I’m in pretty good shape for a normal person,” he says.
But Griffiths isn’t a "normal person." He’s a principal dancer at Seattle’s Pacific Northwest Ballet. Yoga, strength training or online dance classes can’t replace the hours he’d normally spend in the studio every day.
For Griffiths, the statewide stay-at-home order is especially poignant because he’s retiring from PNB in June, and the pandemic means he’s spending the final weeks of his ballet career not dancing.
“The uncertainty is really hard,” Griffiths said. “Not knowing if we’re going to finish the season.”
In fact, the day after our conversation, PNB decided to cancel the remainder of its artistic season. Griffiths may not get a chance to dance in Seattle again.
Griffiths came to PNB in 2005 and rose through the ranks to the top tier of company dancers. His boss, PNB artistic director Peter Boal, says the 36 year old is one of the ballet company’s best technical dancers, with the ability to tackle some of ballet’s most challenging repertoire. Boal was surprised when Griffiths told him earlier this season that he planned to step down.
“I just thought we had more years together,” Boal says.
But he understood Griffiths’ decision. For the past couple of years, the dancer has been hampered by ongoing injuries that never seem to heal completely. He’d rehab, start dancing, then re-injure himself.
“I just started to question my body’s ability to keep doing this as a profession,” Griffiths says.
Traditionally, when a dancer of Griffiths’ stature retires, he gets the opportunity to star in a farewell performance. At PNB, the program is called "Season Encore" and features sections from some of the retiring artist’s favorite ballets. This year’s performance was cancelled, along with the rest of the artistic season.
“We’re talking about how we’re able to capture that moment if we’re not able to do it in public,” Boal says.
But Boal holds out hope his company will be able to perform sometime later this summer.
For Griffiths, it would be one last chance to appear onstage with his current dance partner, Leta Biasucci.
"Whenever I think about not dancing with her, it makes me question my decision to retire,” Griffiths says.
But when he reflects on the pain he experiences when he’s dancing, Griffiths knows it’s time to think ahead to the next chapter of his life. After 12 years of night school, he received his Bachelor’s degree from Seattle University last year. He’d like to go into arts management, but he knows the economic uncertainty facing so many arts organizations right now means they aren’t likely to be hiring in the near future.
He and his husband, a former dancer who now owns a beauty products company, plan to move to New York sometime this year. Although, Griffiths acknowledges coronavirus will delay that move. For now, he strives to stay in shape, holding out hope that he’ll be able to take the stage just one more time this summer.
“I don’t want to just fade away,” Griffiths says. “I don’t need a big extravaganza for myself, but I want to finish.”