Dancing her way onto stages in the United States, Asia and Australia, Mariana Baltodano has become a source of pride for Costa Rican ballet. For this inaugural installment of our new Ticos Abroad column, the dancer talked to The Tico Times about her early training in Costa Rica, her move to Sydney, Australia, and her endless search for good plátanos maduros.
Mariana Baltodano knew at the tender age of 11 that she was going to have to leave her homeland to pursue her love of ballet. Luckily for Costa Rica, she was able to delay her departure until she was 19, and has been busy making an international name for herself ever since.
“I remember saying to my mom that I was going to have to leave Costa Rica to train as a professional dancer because there wasn’t an appropriate school for me there anymore,” she told The Tico Times. “And just like that, as soon as I had made my child’s mind up, the Escuela de Ballet Clásico Ruso (RussianSchool of Classical Ballet in San José) opened up and announced national auditions.”
The 31-year-old has been studying ballet since her mother first enrolled her in classes when she was 4.
“I remember loving every second of it,” she said. “I had a little pink skirt that I would wear around the house, and whenever my mom would ask me to show the guests how I danced, I would put on that skirt and dance away in the living room.”
Baltodano studied with the Escuela de Ballet Clásico Ruso for seven years before moving to New York City to follow her dream, studying under several companies there. “I had so much fun living on my own,” she said of her first venture away from home.
“I loved it. However, I did find it hard eating properly, which in turn made me gain quite a bit of weight. They say New York does that to you. … I don’t know if it was New York or my newfound independence, but I became a little rounded ballerina.”
Upon returning to Costa Rica, she set about fine-tuning her dancing style and met her future husband, Pablo Solís, whom she described as “a very independent and ambitious Costa Rican.” In 2005, the couple relocated to Australia, where Baltodano has been making quite a name for herself.
As one of the six ballet chorus dancers for both the Australian and international tour of “The Phantom of the Opera,” Baltodano has been able to spread her wings.
From launching an intense tango show in Sydney to playing the Suger Plum Fairy in the Sydney Youth Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker” last year, the Tica dancer has been constantly expanding her repertoire. She even played a minor role in acclaimed Australian director Bruce Beresford’s recent feature film, “Mao’s Last Dancer.”
Born and raised in San José, Baltodano grew up in the northwestern district of La Uruca. While she has fond memories of her childhood there, she noted times have changed and the area has grown.
“It was a great area becase it was close to everything, even back then when it wasn’t as engulfed in the central business district as it is now. … It had many green areas and parks close by where you could play. There wasn’t a lot of traffic either. I remember playing with all the children on the street; you wouldn’t do that now.”
Her life in Australia feels a world away from her Costa Rican roots, she said. “We live in a gorgeous area two kilometers from the beach, where crime is very low and therefore personal safety is not even a topic of discussion for us,” she said.
“The Sydney beach culture means clothing is relaxed and much more informal; people sometimes even go without shoes, which I still can’t get. I dress much more informally now than when I was in Costa Rica.”
Other benefits she listed include a lack of social divisions, a multicultural society and the fact that “people follow rules.” Despite the advantages of living overseas, she acknowledged that she misses her homeland, especially when it comes to Costa Rican family and food.
“I miss family life. Both our families are close and like to have loud family gatherings,” she said. “I also really miss plátanos maduros (ripe plantains). I can’t seem to find them anywhere around Sydney.”
She also noted that the regulations in Australia can make people become “a bit robotic.”
“They lose that sense of adventure and spontaneity that Latinos have,” she said. At present, Baltodano works as a manager at the TanyaPearsonClassicalCoachingAcademy, a selective full-time ballet school in Sydney. Her future plans include pursuing a master’s degree in business to help bring the arts industry here to a new level. And she knows she will one day return to her beloved native country.
“My dream would be to become the director of the National Theater in Costa Rica, or to occupy a role of relevance and influence in the Costa Rican arts,” she said. “I also plan on having a family … a nice house on a big lot in the Escazú or Santa Ana mountains, and then grow old alongside Pablo and retire on one of Costa Rica’s beautiful beaches.”