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Retiring At 33: Star Seattle Ballerina Carla Korbes Transcends The Pain

When Seattle ballerina Carla Korbes dons a white tutu in the classic ballet, “Swan Lake,” she can make you believe she’s a swan.

That uncanny ability has made Korbes a darling in the ballet world – so beloved that New York Times chief dance critic Alastair Macaulay regularly flies out to see her perform. He calls her one of the world’s greatest ballerinas today because of how she feels the music and embodies the characters.

But Carla Korbes says it’s time to retire. At 33, she has been plagued with injuries. Her last Seattle performance is on June 7.

"The days your body feels good, when you're not dealing with the pain,” she says. “Those are such good days.”

Korbes has danced through the pain this year. In January, before Pacific Northwest Ballet opened "Don Quixote," she doubted whether she would be able to go onstage.

"My leg wasn't feeling good," she says. "I never get this stressed out, but I was beyond myself, having doubts I usually don't have."

Korbes's fiancé – now her husband – was in the wings to support her that night, as was her little dog Bella. Korbes made it through the performance.  

"After the show I didn't go back to feeling bad,” she says. “I was so happy!"

[asset-images[{"caption": "Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Carla Korbes hasn't announced any plans beyond this summer.", "fid": "118220", "style": "offset_right", "uri": "public://201506/20150604-korbes-1.jpg", "attribution": "Credit Courtesy PNB"}]]So was the PNB audience, which has embraced the tall blonde ballerina for the past decade.

Korbes came to Seattle in 2005, when her mentor Peter Boal was hired as PNB's artistic director.

Boal met Korbes in her native Brazil, when he was a principal dancer at New York City Ballet. He danced with the 15-year-old dance student, then told her she should come to New York to study at the prestigious School of American Ballet. She followed his advice.

"I go back and read old diaries from when I got to New York,” she says. “A lot of them are dark. I'm sad, far away from home. And the ballet life is really difficult."

There are many fine dancers at Pacific Northwest Ballet, but Korbes is the undisputed star. On a recent afternoon, a gaggle of ballet students stared at her as she walked out of the PNB library. 

Korbes knelt down to talk with the little dancers, and let them pet her dog Bella.

Korbes hasn't announced plans beyond this summer, when she'll be artist-in-residence at the Vail International Festival of Dance in Colorado.

Seattle balletomanes can see her Sunday, June 7, in PNB's one-night-only Encore performance. It will be simulcast online for Korbes's fans around the world.