Oct 27, 2020

Capareda’s Long, Winding Road to Ballet Austin

Reporting Texas

Photo by Sarah Annie Navarrete

For Alexa Capareda, dance has long been a force in her life, a whirlwind around the globe. It has also been transformative. A journey that took her from youthful dancer to esteemed ballet master.

As a child in the Philippines, she was well on her way to success. Then, her father was named a professor at Texas A&M.

Not long before her family moved, she watched “Mean Girls” with friends, which would serve as a glimpse into her American life — both literally and figuratively. In life and in dance.

Capareda had a hard time adjusting to the culture shock she experienced when she moved from a small arts high school in the Philippines to a big American high school.

A Filipina teacher warned her that many dancers in America would be taller and prettier than she was. Her work ethic, she was assured, would set her apart.

“Things are changing but I realize now that ballet has been — and rightly so, as it is a European cultural form— for the tall, beautiful, light-skinned girls,” Capareda said. “Problematically, that was the standard I aspired to, even though I’m a small, brown Asian with a flat nose. I think I had a lot of trouble and some deep part of me continues to think I’m not as ‘pretty’ as the other white girls.”

In addition, the move to Bryan-College Station would present new challenges.

“I went to three different, smaller studios in College Station to keep up the level of how many ballet classes I was taking a week,” Capareda said. “Also, on the weekends, my parents would take me to Ballet Austin or Houston Ballet to take open classes. Then, I would do the summer intensive at Ballet Austin.”

At 15, she graduated from A&M Consolidated High School with plans to pursue a dance degree at the University of Texas at Austin.

But, while attending the Ballet Austin Summer Intensive the summer before she planned to start school at UT, her plans changed.

“I was put into the highest level and awarded a traineeship, which I was really surprised about because they had not previously given it to anyone that young before,” Capareda said.

She was just 16.

“I had committed to being in the dance department already, which was kind of tough. Because, at the time, it felt like being in a professional environment would be more valuable to me and I would be able to pursue something else in college,” Capareda said.

She spent only one semester in the UT dance department, but said she remains appreciative for the training and connections she made there. After that semester, Capareda spent two years as a full-time trainee at Ballet Austin, switching her major to English.

When the opportunity was presented to her, Capareda seized on the chance to move to Montreal, Canada to dance at École Supérieure de Ballet Contemporain de Montréal (now Ecole Supérieure de Ballet du Québec). During her time there, she was a part of the junior company, Le Jeune Ballet du Québec, where she performed more contemporary works.

“I was involved in a couple of projects and I was hired as a demi soloist in the Nutcracker there,” she said. “A smaller, regional Nutcracker, but it was cool as my first job, I was 19.”

In Canada, she met Mario Radacovsky, who hired her after a year in Montreal to dance for his new company, which focused more on contemporary repertory. For Capareda, that meant moving to Bratislava, Slovakia.

With Slovakia as her new base, Capareda toured all over Europe, training and performing around the clock. Although, funding for the company shifted and the repertory moved in a different direction. She realized she wanted more freedom to choose the choreography she performed.

“I just remember a moment,” Capareda said. “I was putting my makeup on before a show and felt like ‘I don’t want to do this anymore.’ Of course, it was maybe a little dramatic at the time, but I think I would have been happy to not be doing as much performing.”

After a couple of seasons in Europe, Capareda decided to move back to the U.S., so she could secure her American citizenship and finish the degree she put on hold to dance professionally.

“I was really excited to do something other than just dance, which I think was what was hard for me,” Capareda said. “Because I am the type of person who needs different kinds of stimuli…I was ready to not really dance anymore, when I moved back here.”

Back in Austin, Alexa was able to be more selective about dance projects. While finishing her degree, she taught at the Ballet Austin Academy and Community Center. Two years later, when she graduated from UT with a degree in English and a minor in dance, the associate artistic director of Ballet Austin needed help with staging ballets and taking the second company on tours. She was drafted for the role.

Capareda has been at Ballet Austin since her graduation in 2015, where she trains, stages, rehearses and choreographs. She applies her diverse background and experience to her work today, as ballet master for Ballet Austin’s second company and the Butler Fellows. Last year she was named ballet master. As teacher and mentor to her students, she said her relationship with dance is much healthier than it used to be, now that she is at the front of the room.

“As a dancer, you are constantly trying to please and constantly thinking of yourself in relation to others,” Capareda said. “Here in the U.S. and beyond, it’s a bigger fight even just simply because of the number of people and the number of companies here. I have worked hard, and I now am starting to feel my value.”

Ellis Broderick, a Ballet Austin apprentice and student of Capareda’s, said Capareda’s experience helps her provide direction and understanding of the stresses that comes with being on the cusp of a professional dance career.

Broderick recognizes Capareda’s unusual trajectory, which serves as an example to her students that a career may be long and winding with many different paths but can still lead to extreme success. Capareda said she now recognizes the problems dance faces, but constantly works to change the status quo by focusing on the language she uses and the way she chooses to lead.

“It’s easy to feel self-conscious and beat oneself up for every felt flaw,” Capareda said. “I would be kinder to myself and owe myself the same grace I allow the dancers I coach now. In and out, I breathe ballet, but I recognize what its faults are and know that I should remain vigilant in the space that I am occupying, because maybe it can help future generations of young dancers.”