“I never intended to be a professional ballerina,” Alissa Wassung ’10, former teen ballet sensation, said.
Indeed, she doesn’t give off the traditional aloof aura associated with ballerinas as she sips her tea in The Publick Cup. Immediately, Wassung comes off as someone kind and caring, sweet, if you will — someone who knows what she wants but who will not step on other people’s toes to get it. Wassung’s vibe is almost motherly.
“I ended up in ballet classes because I wouldn’t stop dancing around my parents’ house,” she says. “We just happened to live in a town where there were professional training grounds.”
Wassung’s life seems a combination of happy coincidence and hard work; she doesn’t make a big deal out of her trials and tribulations and only appreciates the good results of any event.
At 15, Wassung became a member of the Hartford Ballet, and after about a year there, a friend suggested she audition for American Ballet Theater. For Wassung, ABT had been her “dream company” ever since she had first heard about it.
“Her work ethic and extensive talents brought her to American Ballet Theatre as the youngest dancer in … one of the best ballet companies in the world,” her brother Gavin Wassung says.
At 16, Wassung moved away from her home-schooled Connecticut life to New York to pursue her ballet dreams.
“I’m so thankful. It was such a wonderful experience. We traveled everywhere,” she says.
ABT does not have a theatre in New York, so much of the time it finds itself on the road, which Wassung says helped her develop her world view.
Then came the shock. Wassung tore the cartilage in her hip and suffered lower back damage early in her career. Despite the injury, however, she still feels a strong link to her former company.
“To hear her talk about the American Ballet Theater is to hear her talk with love of a community which has taught her much about the importance of community itself,” friend Katherine Maltby ’10 says.
Wassung needed an artistic outlet when the injury ended her dance career. Taking classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology on the recommendation of a friend — while also working for Zach Brown, a designer who designed costumes for ABT — seemed to be the perfect option.
“She sees artistic value in people, places and objects,” friend Mary Benyo says. “She’s easily inspired and intrigued because she readily responds to all her senses. She realizes the gift that each sense is and therefore marvels at the sensations they constantly provide her with.”
After graduating, Wassung worked at the Westport Country Playhouse, where she soon became costume manager. But she wanted to go back to school, so “Why not shoot for the stars?” she remembers thinking. At 25, Wassung was accepted to Yale.
“I was a little worried about being called upon to buy people alcohol, but I was more worried about fitting in,” she says. “But it’s not a big deal — people have such depth here. Age hasn’t mattered.”
Wassung is surprised that Yale lacks a dance program, but she speaks enthusiastically of arts activity on campus. She particularly values the World Performance Project, which she calls “such a great initiative.” She is also amazed by the quality of the hands-on dance groups on campus and has coached a session with A Different Drum.
Wassung still cannot dance because of her injury, but that doesn’t cloud all she’s accomplished thus far.
“Now, at age 25, she is already looking back at the kind of impact on the world that many develop only after a full lifetime,” her brother says.