Anastacia Holden connects to Chicago with the same gusto as the characters she portrays on stage. Appearing in “The Nutcracker,” “Othello” and so many other productions, the ballerina—and nine-year Chicago resident—looks for other pockets of inspiration in her daily life, whether stumbling upon vintage stories in her neighborhood, Ukrainian Village, or exploring hot eateries in Pilsen. Chicago, and The Joffrey, are home.
You’ve danced with Joffrey since 2005. How did you land with this prestigious troupe, and in Chicago?
Like most dancers who join the company, I auditioned. I had a teacher who knew that Joffrey was looking for a seasonal dancer to perform with the company in Cranko’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and Joffrey’s ‘Nutcracker’. I sent a video and was offered a contract for those two ballets. Once that period of employment ended, they extended my seasonal contract through the remainder of the year and have renewed my contract every year since!
What are some of the highlights of your career?
I’ve been lucky to dance so many roles over the course of my time at Joffrey that it’s hard to narrow down to a few highlights. I really like dancing roles that have an element of emotional characterization, so highlights in that area include Gamzatti in ‘La Bayadere,’ Bianca in ‘Othello,’ and the young girl in ‘The Green Table.’ I also love dancing in more neo-classical and contemporary pieces like ‘Bells’ by Possokhov and ‘Forgotten Land’ by Kylian.
What role will you play in “Stories in Motion” or the 20th anniversary festivities for Joffrey in general?
We haven’t started rehearsals for the 20th anniversary season yet, so casting has not been made for the repertoire. The season is full of pieces that we’ve never danced before, so it’ll be exciting to see where we’re all placed.
What other dance companies do you admire—or any kind of performance/theater—in Chicago?
Chicago is full of really powerful arts organizations. I’m a home team kinda gal, so of course I’m partial to Joffrey, but I also really enjoy watching Hubbard Street Dance Chicago for their athleticism and quality of movement. The Lyric Opera productions are always stunning and elaborate, and there is so much great theater that it’s hard to know what to recommend. From Steppenwolf to Chicago Shakespeare to productions at the Goodman Theater, it’s all worth checking out.
Chicago is positioning itself as a global leader in the arts world. What inspires you about this city?
Chicago seems like it is constantly changing and yet ever the same, a sturdy bedrock amidst flowing waters. There is always a new restaurant, theater, exhibit, or opportunity to be part of something amazing, and yet, the city is still able to maintain its unique and solid ‘big shoulders’ character. Inspiration is all about stimulating the heart and mind with new and beautiful experiences, but I think you also need these things in conjunction with a stable environment that allows you freedom to explore. Chicago has all of these elements, how could you not be inspired?
Where do the ballerinas hang out post-performance?
It depends in whether we have a show the next morning or not, but when we feel like celebrating, we head to The Gage for a drink and a bite after the show. It’s close to The Auditorium Theater where we perform, they’ve got a really extensive list of libations and great dishes to nosh on. Generally anywhere that keeps their kitchen open late is a good option for us, we’re normally pretty hungry when we finish work.
When you have newcomers to Chicago, where do you take them?
If you’ve never been to Chicago, Millennium Park is a must, the Crown Fountain, Lurie Garden, Cloud Gate (the bean), and Pritzker Pavilion are all attractions in their own right, but the fact that they’re clustered together makes for a really stimulating experience. During the summer there’s usually a free concert or show at the Pavilion like the summer film series on Tuesdays, performances by the Grant Park Orchestra, and the Chicago Dancing Festival at the end of August. It’s a great opportunity to have a picnic, relax, and watch a show.
I’m also a bit of a foodie and Chicago is full of great food, so I definitely take any guests I have out to eat. For ethnic dining, I love Cumin on Milwaukee, Noon O Kabob on Kedzie, and Ken Kee in Chinatown. For fine dining some favorites are Yusho and Longman & Eagle in Logan Square, Duseks and Nightwood in Pilsen, Ruxbin and Rootstock in the Ukrainian Village.
What are your favorite neighborhoods, and why?
I love my current neighborhood, the Ukrainian Village, where I’ve lived for almost six years. There are a ton of vintage clothing and furniture shops all through the neighborhood, so it’s great for walking and window shopping. There are some specialty shops like Hoosier Mama Pie Company and Black Dog Gelato that only focus on one thing but do it really well, and a lot of great restaurants popping up all the time.
I also like Pilsen for its strong (and growing) arts community, and diverse mix of people. There are tons of galleries that open to the public for a gallery walk on the second Friday of each month.
If you weren’t a dancer, what would you be doing?
In 2010, I helped to cofound a non-profit called EMBARC that works to inspire inner-city students to academic success through social and cultural exposure. I’ve been doing the accounting/bookkeeping and general business management since its incorporation, so if I weren’t dancing, I’d probably take on more full time work with EMBARC.
My Perfect Day
Nothing starts off the day right like a great cup of coffee. Chicago has a lot of small new coffee roasters, but I choose to get my cup at Big Shoulders on Chicago Ave. This is no nonsense coffee with complex and nuanced flavors, and the best part? It’s on my walk to the train.
For a great lunch around the Joffrey Studios, I head to Pastoral. They have artisanal sandwiches and salads, along with specialty foods like domestic and international cheeses, wines, freshly baked breads, and hand-crafted beers. This is also a great spot to stock up before a picnic in Millennium Park.
On the way home from work I like to stop at Dovetail to see what new, local, hand-crafted or vintage pieces they have in store. It’s great for accessorizing and one of a kind pieces, and owner Julie Ghatan is always nice to talk to.
Dinner at Yuzu Sushi & Robata Grill. Another great spot in my ‘hood, this small byob storefront is always busy, and for good reason, everything on the menu is delicious. The normal soundtrack is late 90s/early 2000s hip hop. That, and the anime painted walls make for a great sushi eating environment.
Nothing beats the heat and humidity of a Chicago summer like a trip to the movies and my favorite theater is the Logan Theater on Milwaukee Ave. In addition to recent releases, Logan Theater features ‘vintage’ movies, like "Rebel Without a Cause." Originally opened in 1915, the theater was recently renovated to preserve the historical design and architecture. Tickets are still low at $7/person and you can even bring drinks from the lobby bar into the theater with you!