Arts & Culture » Stage

Adios, Bailarin

Boise bids farewell to one of its brightest dancers

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For Dubraskha Arrivillaga, ballet started as doctor's orders. Like legendary ballerina Allegra Kent, she was born flat-footed and was expected to have difficulties walking, let alone dancing.

But what started as therapy palatable for a 7-year-old became a passion remarkably strong for someone of her age. Along with her arches, Arrivillaga developed singular talent and remarkable facility for expression, one which Boise audiences had a final opportunity to appreciate recently at the Morrison Center. In Ballet Idaho's Balanchine program, Arrivillaga gave lovely and engaging performances. Toni Pimble's work, May Dances, contained a moment that highlighted Arrivillaga's artistry. The other company members peeled and drifted away like petals, leaving her to perform a solo, which displayed the breadth of her emotive and technical abilities. She glided across the stage with grace, fluidity and power.

While many Boiseans are familiar with this dancer from company's advertisements, few know her remarkable story. It's a long and arduous path that eventually deposited her on the Boise stage.

As a child in Venezuela, Arrivillaga honed her craft and attracted notice under the tutelage of Nina Novak, who, as a member of the Ballet de Monte Carlo, created the foundations of a classical ballet tradition in America. By the age of 14, she was dancing professionally and, early in her career, was offered a position with the most celebrated company in the country, the National Ballet of Caracas.

The arts were nationally subsidized, so it was possible for her to make a living as a dancer. However, a few years into her career, there was a government shake-up, the economy went bust and the budget for the arts plummeted. She continued to dance without income, but the national situation showed no signs of ameliorating, so she made new plans. She stopped dancing entirely and put herself through school in business administration. This led to four years of work for a consulting company. She thought she was happy with her nine-to-five life, but one day, lucidity hit. Unable to find parking before work, she sneaked into the lot of the theater where she used to rehearse and nabbed her old spot. Stepping out in her suit, she encountered dancers jaunting to class. She felt the tears rush to her eyes and knew she belonged with them. She left her day job and its comfortable salary and leapt back into life as a professional dancer.

Regrettably, under president Hugo Chavez, the arts received less and less support, and she was barely able to sustain herself. Her boyfriend at the time, also a ballet dancer, decided it was time for Plan B. To continue their art, they needed to flee the country. Arrivillaga agreed, and the two made plans for an escape to America. He went first, and after finding work with the Tulsa Ballet in Oklahoma, sent word for her to join him. Leaving everything behind, she crossed the ocean. They were married before a judge, sent a video of the ceremony to their families, and started their new life together.

Immediately, they encountered difficulties. Despite her formidable talent, Tulsa Ballet was not able to offer Arrivillaga a contract. Her husband resigned and, starting fresh, they hopped into an old car and drove across the country, auditioning for every company that would see them.

They received a tip that a company in Oregon was hiring. The newlyweds sent a video of themselves to the Eugene Ballet, were hired, and without any idea what to expect, headed West. Their confusion was considerable when they were informed that the Eugene Ballet could be found in Boise and had several a.k.a's, including "Ballet Idaho." However, it did not take long for them to become Boise enthusiasts.

In the five years that they have lived and danced in Boise, Arrivillaga and her husband have carved out a unique niche. While the bulk of their time is spent at the Esther Simplot Academy, the couple regularly takes their dancing beyond the studio walls and into the community. Even after nine hours of daily rehearsal, she teaches ballet at the Fulton Street Center for the Arts, and until recently, taught community Latin Dance classes on Friday nights.

Unfortunately, because of the split between Ballet Idaho and Eugene Ballet, Boise will soon lose this couple. Their work visas require that they stick with Eugene Ballet. Arrivillaga hates that she must "leave home for a second time," but said she never considered staying if it meant losing the opportunity to work under artistic director Toni Pimble.

"From the very beginning, I knew I needed to go with Toni," Arrivillaga said. "She's very demanding but very respectful. She can get everything out of you without being degrading. You feel safe working for her."

At the moment, she is fighting an uphill battle to secure green cards for herself and her husband, so they could stay longer and pursue other work. Finances are tight, but Arrivillaga explained, "Dance is not a career, it is a lifestyle. It takes a lot of sacrifice. You have to love it to do it, otherwise it is not worth it."