by Len Lear
In 2012, the famous Donetsk Ballet of Ukraine, which tours internationally, had about 60 dancers in all of its tour groups, of which Carinthia Bank of Chestnut Hill was the only non-Ukrainian. After attending elementary school at the Germantown Friends School, Bank went to the prestigious Kirov Academy in Washington, D.C., a private boarding school where she studied ballet as well as academic subjects. (Carinthia had taken after-school ballet lessons at the Wissahickon Dance Academy in Germantown from 2001 to 2008.)
Due to her extraordinary talent, Carinthia, now 23, was invited to join Donetsk, run by artistic director Vadim Pisarev, after graduating from Kirov in May 2012. She had previously been accepted to Princeton University, but she chose to defer admission. and traveled to Ukraine instead.
This unique experience allowed Carinthia to dance with Donetsk ballets such as “Spartacus”, “Le Corsaire”, “Romeo et Juliette”, “Peer Gynt” and, of course, “Swan Lake”, which the company performed more than 140 times.
“As a human being,” she told us last week, “a lot of my best ballet-related experiences involve hanging out with my ballet friends. I think the experience of feeling so close to others was very important to me, and it was easier to find that in ballet than in other spaces because it came naturally as we pursued something something so hard next to each other, laughing and crying.
“In the company, I also had very special human experiences. As an introvert, I find it easy to be over stimulated, and walking around Donetsk alone I found peace in not understanding the words in the air or on the signs around me. I had the opportunity to appreciate the beauty outside of words and learned to feel the joy inside myself.
“The language barrier also allowed me to appreciate others in a new way. Like in any community, there were dramas in the business, but I didn’t understand them and no one pushed me to choose my field.
Despite this truly unique experience as the only American in the company, Carinthia quit dancing in the summer of 2013 and returned to Philadelphia on July 4. After having such an exciting and storybook experience, why did Carinthia leave?
This photo was taken during a conference organized by the Carinthia student group at Princeton University in October 2016. They are, from left to right: Catherine Babiec, a rower, class of 2017; Carinthia; Brian Taylor, Princeton alumnus and professional basketball player, and Erica Waller-Hill, Olympic hopeful and founder of Destined for a Dream Foundation.[/caption]
“Many reasons,” she said. “I could never find the balance between working hard enough to think it was worth it for me to dance and not pushing myself so hard that I hurt myself, physically and mentally. At that time, I really valued perfection… I felt bad devoting time to ballet when I could dedicate it to something that helped others.
“I was actually able to find more enjoyment in dancing when I was in the company than when I was in school, but I still felt I wasn’t perfect enough to deserve to continue. .. I had a lot of other interests that I wanted to explore. Some of the ballet friends I admire the most as artists and people do an amazing job of incorporating other interests into their lives as dancers, but I didn’t know how to use my other interests to complement my dancing…
“I had four days to decide (to stay or to leave), and I still think it was the worst four days of my life. I came to the conclusion that if it was so difficult to make the decision at that time i didn’t want to know how hard it would be after another year of dancing, another year of enjoying the company and my life there i decided to leave rather than have to take on again decision.
Carinthia graduated with honors in history from Princeton last year and now plans to study sports psychology in the UK. Her ultimate goal is to be a therapist with an organization that provides a full range of support to athletes going through retirement and life transition.
“That plan,” she explained, “comes, of course, from my own post-ballet struggles. I was very confused at the start of my time at Princeton because I loved the university but felt horribly lost and empty at the same time. When I started reading articles about athletes retiring and going through a “transition”, I realized that I was not alone and there was hope…
“I think it’s unfortunate for an athlete and for the rest of society when the athlete’s energy and power to contribute is lost after retirement. In my future work, I hope to help former athletes feel good and create a space where they can get to know themselves fully, appreciate their transferable skills and find new sources of fulfillment.
Carinthia’s father, Brad, is a lawyer and her mother, Daryl, is an obstetrician/gynecologist who previously worked at Chestnut Hill Hospital. She has a sister, Caroline. Carinthia, by the way, is named after a friend of her mother. “I’ve never met anyone else with my name,” she once told us.
You can reach Len Lear at [email protected]