After 25 years dancing under three artistic directors, 15 of them as a soloist, James Ihde will retire in May, the Pennsylvania Ballet announced Monday.
He was hired at 18 by Christopher d’Amboise, spent most of his career under Roy Kaiser, and now dances for Angel Corella.
His final performance will be May 13 in the “Diamonds” sections of George Balanchine’s Jewels. Ihde will retire two days short of his 43rd birthday and is leaving after a longer run than most dancers, for whom 40 is considered retirement age. The length of a man’s career can vary more than a ballerina’s, depending on how his body holds up.
Lifting ballerinas “does take a toll,” Ihde said, “but you can train yourself” working out in the gym.
“I’ve had remarkably few injuries,” he said. “I sprained a few ankles. Ten years ago, I did hurt my back, but it was more muscular … there was no disc damage.”
Even so, Ihde deals with his back injury every day and mentally divides his career into “pre-hurting my back and post-hurting my back. If I was doing a lot of work, I was always conscious of it. I’d work really hard but not create a situation where you don’t get to perform.”
Leaving on “Diamonds” was a happy coincidence, “a perfect piece for me to go out on,” he said. It’s a Balanchine ballet, and both he and the company have a long history of dancing Balanchine. It’s also one last long pas de deux to challenge him — as well as one last new role.
In the “Diamonds” pas de deux, “you get fatigued to the point where you almost have to forget everything but what you have to do,” Ihde said. “Nerves and concerns disappear. I did always look at that as a pas de deux I would’ve loved to have done.”
A native of Kent, Ohio, Ihde came to Philadelphia at 18 “kind of by accident” and plans to stay here, teach, and remain in the dance world.
His introduction to Philadelphia was through his teacher Gina Carroll, whose son Andrew danced for the Pennsylvania Ballet. D’Amboise “was hiring tall people like crazy,” Ihde said, and Carroll encouraged him to go to the summer program at the Rock School and audition for the company.
At 6 feet, 2 inches, Ihde was one of several tall men hired that year, d’Amboise’s last. Recently, under Corella, the company has shifted to favor shorter dancers.
“Obviously in 25 years, there’s been a lot of ups and downs,” Ihde said. “Some seasons just aren’t built for you — I can usually spot it ahead of time. But minus those few things, for working somewhere 25 years, the net experience has been very positive. I didn’t stay for nothing.”