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Pacific Northwest Ballet's first Black principal dancer reflects on remarkable journey to the Seattle stage

Principal is a professional dance company's highest rank and Jonathan Batista is the first Black principal in PNB's 50-year history. #k5evening

SEATTLE — When Jonathan Batista moved to Seattle to in 2021 to dance as a soloist for the Pacific Northwest Ballet, he had no idea a promotion would come as soon as it did. 

"My artistic director said, 'Look, you're going to sign your contract and it's going to inform you that you're going to be promoted in September.' And when I saw that paper, I just started shaking. It was a mixed feeling of happiness, joy, love for what I do, accomplishment and community," Batista shared. "As a Black dancer you have so many silent battles that you don't even realize. It can be quite challenging to see how much we have advanced."

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Jonathan is the first Black principal dancer in the Pacific Northwest Ballet's 50-year history. Principal is the highest rank in a professional dance company. 

The young dancer grew up in Brazil in Rio De Janeiro's poorest slum, The City of God.

"Brazil at the time, the investment in dance was very little," Batista explained. "It wasn't unheard of, but it wasn't as invested as it is today." 

But he had parents who taught him hard work and discipline.

"Most things I learned from my parents that I really hated, I LOVE it today!" Batista shared. 

He also credits a community of people who rallied around his talent. The opportunities ultimately led to a full scholarship at the English National Ballet school.   

"That was an eye opener to a lot of people in Brazil because here was that young black boy from slums of City of God going to one of prestigious schools in London," Batista said. 

Jonathan would continue to wow them and many others, dancing for companies and in productions around the world.

Yet he still noticed barriers. 

"It was always something that was lacking, something in the ballet world. There was a resistance to my talent because Black bodies were not understood," Batista explained. "There was not representation at that time."  

Batista said he was drawn to Seattle because he saw representation and opportunity. 

"Not only were we being celebrated for our talent but for our art and for our skills," Batista shared.

In fact, one of the highlights of his time here dancing as a soloist was during Swan Lake, when he worked with Angelica Generosa, a Filipina principal dancer for the PNB. 

"It was very important moment, a celebration of two communities!" Batista said.  

When Jonathan isn't performing, he is likely working; and on social media you can often find an entertaining take on his full days. 

"I'm very passionate about what I do, so I would say that if I could dedicate 24 hours a day to my craft, I think I do in certain ways," Batista explained. "But I believe I put in 12-15 hours a day, going to the gym, waking up at 4 a.m. and going to bed at 8 or 8:30 p.m."

His career is not just the fulfillment of his own dreams, but of a community that helped pave the way. 

And he's hoping to do the same for others. 

"I think it's really about kids coming to the theatre and seeing their reflection on stage." 

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