music in the park san jose

.New Ballet Dancer Alysa Reinhardt Shares Cinderella Story

music in the park san jose

In early February, San Jose’s New Ballet announced that a lead in this year’s staging of Cinderella would be Alysa Reinhardt. On the surface, there was nothing particularly notable about that announcement; Reinhardt is an acclaimed and experienced dancer and instructor.

What made the announcement remarkable is the fact that it was even possible. Just a few months after the 2019 ballet season concluded, Reinhardt was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The disease attacks the human body’s lymphatic system, sometimes spreading to organs and even bone marrow.

It all started with what seemed like a relatively minor dancing injury. “I thought it was tendinitis,” Reinhardt says. She went home, stayed off her feet as much as she could, and hoped she’d feel better. But a day or two later, when that didn’t happen, New Ballet founder and director Dalia Rawson advised her to get an MRI. As soon as that first MRI was completed, Reinhardt recalls being told, “You can’t go home; you need to stay here and get more testing done.” Reinhardt’s one-week vacation from her dancing career turned into a long-term pause.

“It shifted my whole life,” she says. “A full stop to dancing.” Reinhardt moved back to her hometown of Anaheim, and began treatment. “I was on crutches,” she says. “I weighed 85 pounds.” Doctor’s orders meant no movement at all. Her daily routine was pared down to the minimum. “Sleep, try to eat something, and get to treatment,” she recalls.

Reinhardt’s course of treatment included five months of chemotherapy, followed by radiation treatments over the period of a month and a half. By October 2020, the treatment phase was over. But the nature of the disease meant that Reinhardt’s eventual return to dancing wasn’t guaranteed.

Nobody told that to the then-20-year-old dancer—and if they did, she didn’t listen. “It was serious,” Reinhardt admits, “but it was treatable. I was told, ‘It’s gonna be horrible, but you’re going to see the end of it.’”

Even during the worst parts of the ordeal, when cancer was attacking her bones, Reinhardt knew that she would dance again. “I needed to get back to dancing,” she says. “It’s like my oxygen.” Within a week after treatment wrapped up, she was back in San Jose, trying to get back to work. “I probably shouldn’t have done that,” she concedes. “But I had to. I wanted that piece of myself back.”

The path to full recovery was arduous. But in a remarkably short time, Reinhardt had recovered enough to return to the stage. Since returning, she has participated in three seasons with the New Ballet. Reinhardt considers 2023’s Sleeping Beauty her first “big bounce” back onto the stage.

Portrait of dancer wearing a tiara and a decorative outfit.
TRANSFORMATION Alysa Reinhardt in costume. “Cinderella has joy through adversity, and that’s what makes her special,” New Ballet founder Dalia Rawson says.

Ballet is a strenuous discipline, one that requires not just poise but great physical strength. Even after she recovered, Reinhardt explains, her cancer would pose specific challenges: “My tumor was all through my left tibia. So with all of the surgery and radiation, I still have numbness there.”

She emphasizes that ballet dancers depend on the strength in their shins for balance. But because of her condition, she lacks a full and accurate sense of her weight distribution. “So I have had to be more intentional,” she says, “thinking more about where my weight is on my foot.”

That’s on the physical side. There are mental and emotional considerations as well. “I’ve been giving myself more grace and gentleness,” she says with a warm smile. “I have a better understanding now of, ‘If it’s not going to work out today, these are the steps I can take so that it will work tomorrow.’”

Reinhardt brings a combination of joy and determination to her performance as Cinderella, which Rawson sees as “defining qualities in her dancing.” In fact, when Rawson originally created the role in 2019, she did so specifically with Reinhardt in mind.

Rawson’s adaptation of Cinderella strips away many of the themes that she is unafraid to call out as stupid: “Oh,” Rawson moans dreamily, “I’m going to get a pretty dress and some nice shoes, and then the world will fall in love with me!”

Instead, Rawson’s staging emphasizes more grounded, real-world qualities. “Cinderella has joy through adversity, and that’s what makes her special,” Rawson says. “And that’s what makes this ballet a perfect vehicle for Alysa.”

New Ballet’s production of “Cinderella” takes place May 18-19 at the Hammer Theatre in San Jose. Tickets are $19+. newballet.com

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music in the park san jose