by Tom Turner
by Tom Turner
One could argue Ian Hussey has two birthdays: June 28, 1985, the joyous day he was born into the Hussey family, arriving seven minutes before his twin brother Eamonn; and December 3, 1993, the day he was born into his Pennsylvania Ballet family. And while ballet has occupied most of Ian’s professional life, surprisingly it was not ballet that first piqued his interest. Early on, he was obsessed with figure skating. Kristi Yamaguchi, Nancy Kerrigan, and Brian Boitano were Ian’s idols. “I didn’t just love them,” he said. “I wanted to be them!” But in December 1993 that all changed when Ian’s parents brought him to the Academy of Music to see Pennsylvania Ballet’s holiday classic, The Nutcracker. Ian was instantly enthralled and, thanks to a family friend (and perhaps a bit of serendipity), invited back the following day to watch the company take class on stage. “I remember sitting in the auditorium, watching the dancers,” he said as if it were yesterday, “and it’s still surreal to think of myself as one of them now.” But one of them he is and has been for many years…24 if you’re counting, 15 as a professional.
Like most professionals, Ian makes dance look graceful and effortless, but the ballet grind is anything but. Ballet is grueling, physically demanding, and plagued with injuries. It requires hard work at every level, even for the lucky few blessed with a natural inclination for the art form. For dancers lacking these innate facilities, they must work even harder, and Ian Hussey will be the first to tell you he is no exception. Ballet did not come easily to him. A professional career, let alone one as distinguished as his, was never a given. To achieve his dream, Ian had to work hard, very hard. And his colleagues would tell you his work ethic and the pressure he places upon himself to excel are qualities they admire in him, even if those qualities can sometimes manifest quite spiritedly. “Oh, you mean a Hussey fit,” said friend and former Pennsylvania Ballet Soloist James Ihde with a reminiscing chuckle. “Ian actually has a great sense of humor about them…a few hours later. But you learn it’s smarter not to poke the bear when they’re in progress. Ian expects the best from himself at all times and doesn’t have a lot of self-forgiveness for having bad days. When his expectations for perfection meet his human limitations, it can get intense.”
And while ballet certainly demands this level of intensity, Ian admits it can also be a barrier if you’re not careful. “I had to learn to dial it back,” he said. “Enjoy myself…but still work hard.” This devotion to craft was instilled in Ian from his earliest days in tights, mostly through his training at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, a renowned program he left home to join when he was just 15 years old. “I was scared,” he admitted. “I was alone. I didn’t know anyone. And we were expected to work our tails off,” he added, likening it to ballet boot camp. “It was intense.” But it was also where he matured and everything began to click, something Ian credits to Marcia Dale Weary, his beloved teacher who passed away on March 4th of this year. “She changed my life,” Ian said of Ms. Weary. “Without her, I would not have auditioned for Pennsylvania Ballet. I would not have a career. She helped me to grow as a person and an artist. She gave me the confidence to succeed.” And succeed he did.
Over the years, Ian has danced many of his dream roles, his favorite being his debut as Romeo in John Cranko’s Romeo and Juliet. At the time, Ian was still a young corps de ballet member, and Arantxa Ochoa, his childhood dance idol, was his Juliet. After the performance, then Artistic Director Roy Kaiser came out onto stage and promoted Ian to soloist in front of an appreciative audience—one that included his mother, Joan. “He watched every movie…and read every version of Romeo and Juliet he could find to prepare for that role. And he was amazing,” she recalled proudly. For the record, Mama Huss, as she’s affectionately known by many of Ian’s friends and colleagues, has never missed one of her son’s performances. When asked what she would like to tell him upon his retirement she simply replied, “I would thank him for bringing so much beauty into my life…and remind him it was not only his dancing we loved. It was him. His presence and abundant love, not only for dance, but for all those around him.”
Retiring from the stage is a difficult transition for any dancer, but it can be equally hard on those left behind. Working so intimately with others, laughing, crying, and bleeding (sometimes literally) for your art, makes them more than colleagues. They become family. And having to say goodbye is heartbreaking. In Ian’s case perhaps none more so than for Principal Dancer Jermel Johnson. Whether performing an impromptu pas de deux together during rehearsals to lighten the mood or walking across the room for a random trust fall (and then playing it off like nothing happened), life in the studio without his friend is hard to imagine. “We’ve known each other for so long,” said Jermel. “We finish each other’s jokes, get every reference (most of them about Disney movies and musicals), and can tell each other’s mood with a single glance.” They can be screaming one minute and “hugging it out” the next…or just there to offer an encouraging smile from the wings. “Ian has been a huge influence in my life, and it has been amazing to watch him grow, lead, and inspire us all.” Artistic Director Angel Corella couldn’t agree more, praising Ian’s professionalism, versatility, and charisma. “He’s an exceptional artist and a wonderful role model for our younger dancers. He will be missed dearly by the company, guest choreographers, and our audience (particularly his mom), and we wish him well in his next chapter.”
Continuing to serve as a role model is what Ian hopes to do as he moves into that next chapter, to share with future generations of dancers all he has learned from his beloved teacher, Marcia Dale Weary. “Ballet will always be a part of my life because of her,” he said. “I feel a responsibility to pass along everything I gained from her…to make her proud.” She will no doubt be smiling down upon him as he takes his final bow and bids farewell to a company and city he has called home his entire life. And he does so with a full heart, knowing he was not only able to make the dreams of that starry-eyed eight-year-old boy from so long ago come true…but also share it with so many amazing people along the way. Now it’s time for Ian to realize a new dream: to build a life and family in New York with his husband Adam. “I’m going to miss seeing Ian on stage,” Adam said. “But his elegance, grace, and humility are things I know he will carry into this next phase of life, and while our lives together are never choreographed or perfectly timed, he still brings a sense of wonder and awe into everything we do.” Adam understands more than anyone what Mama Huss reminded us: it’s not only Ian’s dancing we loved…it’s him. Or as Adam so lovingly put it, “Ian is the prince, the cavalier, the hero, and trusted partner. And when he takes his final bow and the curtain falls, he’s still all those things to me.”