Island-born ballerina Noelani Pantastico of Les Ballets de Monte Carlo returns this weekend to dance in Ballet Hawaii’s production of ‘Giselle’
By Alice Keesing
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Noelani Pantastico, the newest star in Monte Carlo’s ballet company, returns to dance in Giselle, the first time it’s been seen here in 23 years
When Ballet Hawaii takes to the stage with Giselle this weekend, it also welcomes back to Oahu one of the most beautiful keiki o ka aina to ever put on pointe shoes. These days Noelani Pantastico dances with the renowned Les Ballets de Monte Carlo in Monaco, but when she performs at Blaisdell Concert Hall Saturday and Sunday, she’s coming back to her early roots.
Pantastico was born on Oahu 28 years ago. (Her stunning looks come from her island-style heritage: She’s Filipino, Hawaiian, Chinese, Spanish and Polish.) She lived in Ewa Beach and remembers some early classes in hula. But when she was 4, her family moved to New Hampshire. Pantastico’s stepdad was in the military, so the family did a lot of moving around. She describes a childhood doing the “normal-kid stuff” like soccer and gymnastics.
Interestingly, it wasn’t until Pantastico was 11 that ballet really entered her life. After someone pointed out her talent, Pantastico began attending Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet. She plunged into the life with classes three-and-a-half hours a day, six days a week. She has joked that this was a way to escape the craziness of five siblings at home.
In 1997, at age 17, she apprenticed with Seattle’s Pacific Northwest Ballet, one of the largest and most highly regarded companies in the country. By 2004 she was a principal dancer, known for her poise and freshness, speed and spontaneity.
Just when she was on top of her world, Pantastico shook everything up. In 2007, a team from Les Ballets de Monte Carlo came to PNB to set Romeo and Juliet. Pantastico fell in love with their way of working.
“Their coaching is something that I have always wanted more of,” she says. “It was intoxicating being in studio. I kind of fell in love with the idea of working like this.”
That feeling was cemented when Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo director Jean-Christophe Maillot arrived in Seattle to do more work with the dancers.
“As dancers you need to be fueled, you need to be inspired, and Jean-Christophe did that,“she says.
Pantastico expressed her interest in joining the company and says she was shocked when they offered her a position as a soloist.
She traveled to Monaco this summer for an introduction. She got settled into an apartment, started learning some grocery-store French and explored the city, with its castle and hotels and glamour crowd.
The plan was for Pantastico to take classes with the company and get to know everyone. But she ended up on stage.
“Not even a week after I arrived, I found out I was going to be doing Juliet here on the terrace for the opening show,” she says.
After 11 years in Seattle, Pantastico was nervous about being in a new place where she has to prove herself all over again. But when she Skyped with MidWeek from Monaco recently, she was clearly thriving in the new adventure.
“It sounds so cliché when I say it, but I feel like I’m alive again,” she says.
Later this year, Pantastico will move to Monaco permanently along with her husband, Brady Hartley, a former dancer and newly trained journalist, and their Boston terrier Maddox, who will no doubt enjoy his new home where dogs are welcome guests in restaurants.
First, though, Pantastico is renewing her connections in Hawaii this month.
Her first return to the Islands was in 1998 when she came back to be with her aunties, uncles and cousins.
“It’s paradise,” she says with a laugh.“What was strange was that there were certain smells that were really familiar. I don’t know if that was just me making up stuff, but there were certain things that felt really familiar - it felt like home.”
In 2005, Pantastico came again - this time for her wedding to Hartley at Hilton Hawaiian Village.
It was around this time that she contacted Ballet Hawaii artistic director Pamela Taylor-Tongg to let her know she was interested in guesting.
“I didn’t really expect anything to come of it,” she says, but Ballet Hawaii quickly recruited her for last year’s Maui production of Nutcracker, where she danced Dewdrop.
Pantastico truly is an island girl; her graceful spirit fit easily into the island way of doing things, and the experience was a happy one on all sides.
“She’s an exquisite dancer,” Taylor-Tongg says. “And she has a huge heart, and she’s so easy to work with.”
For Giselle, Pantastico will dance the peasant pas de deux as well as a solo in the second act.
Her partner for the pas de deux is New York City Ballet’s John
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