In recent years, Ansa Capizzi would wake up in the morning, exit her bed and feel the pain.
"It's amazing now to wake up with no pain and get out of bed like a normal person," she said. "When I was dancing, every morning I got out of bed, took one step and it was like a machine needing oil."
Aches, pains and stiffness have departed because the principal dancer with the Oregon Ballet Theatre has been sidelined, like most performers, after cancellation of events because of the COVID-19 pandemic. OBT had two performances planned for the spring.
And, Capizzi has started a new phase of her life, anyway — retirement, effective June 13. Capizzi, formerly Ansa Deguchi and a member of OBT for 17 years, had planned to retire in 2020. Retirement for the 35-year-old Capizzi just came a little early, and she welcomed it.
"It's really sad, but I've done so many things, I've done enough," said Capizzi, a native of Nagoya, Japan. "I feel more appreciative. I'm healthy and it's 17 years with OBT — it's sad to leave the stage, but I'm actually feeling OK."
Capizzi's last show was "The Sleeping Beauty" in February. It was a nice way to go out, Capizzi said.
"I knew it'd be my last classical ballet on the stage, and I shared it with (dance) partner Peter Franc," she said. OBT had to shelve "Beautiful Decay" and "The Americans 2.0" because of the pandemic.
Capizzi came to the United States in 2003, having met then-OBT Artistic Director Christopher Stowell and Damara Bennett, the former diector of OBT School, while performing in a youth audition in Japan. She left her family home in Japan and briefly spent time with a company in San Francisco before Stowell hired her as an apprentice. It was not an easy transition, she said.
"When I was younger, going to the U.S., everything was new," Capizzi said. "I didn't think enough about what that meant; I was like, 'Just go for it.' I didn't speak English, I couldn't communicate with people around me." She learned some English in San Francisco and gradually has worked on her English skills since then.
The next year she was promoted to the OBT professional company. In 2007, she moved up to soloist and then earned a principal dancer role in 2017 under the guidance of Artistic Director Kevin Irving.
"When I became a principal dancer, Kevin gave me this big treat. We had been working together for five years, and with a promotion, I had to be better than I used to be, put more energy into it," she said.
Since becoming a principal dancer, her good friend and retired dancer Candace Boucher, and others, have helped Capizzi adjust to the coming end of her ballet career.
"Anytime after 30, you gotta think about your next goal or lifestyle," she said. "People had left the company, and I tried to figure it out myself."
Having worked for Stowell and Irving, Capizzi pulled off the OBT artistic director trifecta in 2018, performing as Juliet in "Romeo & Juliet" under the direction of James Canfield, the former artistic director. It remains a highlight for her, along with William Forsythe's "The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude," George Balanchine's "Tarantella," Marius Petipa's "The Sleeping Beauty," Nacho Duato's "Por Vos Muero," Michel Fokine's "The Dying Swan," Nicolo Fonte's "Presto" and Jiri Kylian's "Falling Angels."
And, it was fitting that her career ended with a performance of the Stowell-choreographed "The Sleeping Beauty,"
"I'm so thankful. If he wasn't here (in 2003), I wasn't here. He made my way," she said. "He made me as a ballerina here, my base, guiding me till now. I'm so thankful he came back for 'Sleeping Beauty' to coach us. I felt it was perfect and complete — my to-do list was completed."
Said Stowell: "Beyond her sparkling stage presence and delicate strength, Ansa's bravery in leaving her family and pursuing a career as a professional dancer in Portland, Oregon, is her most striking and impressive characteristic. This quality followed her as she became one of OBT's most distinctive artists and accomplished principal dancers."
Irving, meanwhile, "is a really thoughful director, always open and you can talk about anything," Capizzi said. "I was pretty comfortable working with him. When he came here (in 2013), I felt like I joined a new company, the repertory was so different than Christopher. I got so inspired."
Working at a high level of ballet is always a challenge, because of the ability, condition, dedication and health needed to perform.
"It's hard, but I'm really lucky to be a dancer and dance as a job," Capizzi said. "It's hard work mentally and physically, but I never thought it was super tough."
Former dancers such as Boucher gave her sage advice upon retirement, emphasizing to set goals and determine what the rest of life holds. Capizzi remembers all the good times practicing and performing with fellow dancers.
Her husband, Michele Capizzi, is originally from Italy and is working at an Italian restaurant.
Capizzi wants to possibly teach dance in the future. One obstacle needing to be overcome, she said, is clarification of her green card status. "I'm just a little scared of that," she said.
"It's always hard to decide what to do, it takes time." She wanted to finish dancing with performances in Japan, but the pandemic has prevented her from traveling right now.
"I want to be positive, and I need to do something," she added. "Now the gym is starting to open, and (working out) is one of my favorite things to do — maintain my body, meditate, use the sauna. I couldn't do that for three months, and it was so hard in a little apartment to work out."
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