My first love was a girl named Celeste that I dated for two years. Then she dated my best friend and I at the same time before breaking up with us on the same day. I was 8. [Ed note: Paul will be tweeting during this weekend’s performances. Follow him at www.twitter.com/balletaustin. Look for tweets signed ^PB.]
Most people would say that “ballet” was my first love, but in all seriousness I would have to say my husband Rhys Ulerich. [Ed note: Michelle will be tweeting during Sunday’s performance. Follow her at www.twitter.com/balletaustin. Look for tweets signed ^MT.]
In the past 10 years, Ashley Lynn Gilfix has danced in her fair share of pieces – both contemporary and classical. Find out what still challenges her, and why she’s incredibly excited to be Juliet.
Performing Romeo & Juliet is a great cap to the season and a truly memorable way to celebrate 10 years with Ballet Austin. I feel so fortunate to call Ballet Austin home, and it has been an amazing journey so far – filled with challenges that have inspired me to grow as an artist and as a person. Each role has demanded something different technically as well as dramatically, and I have discovered a lot of things about myself along the way. Whether it is the creation of a new contemporary ballet or the restaging of an old classic, each experience informs the next. I’m going to be pulling from everything I have learned so far as I take on this incredible opportunity to dance the role of Juliet.
Rehearsing Romeo & Juliet has definitely been a big shift after Light. The choreography is much more classical, which places a different set of demands on my body – being in “contemporary shape” is very different from “classical shape”. Contemporary movement tends to be very expansive, often involving deep lunges, full articulation of the spine and torso, and floor-work, which takes a lot of core and upper body strength. Needless to say, I am usually extremely sore when we begin a new contemporary piece and I spend a lot of time in the tub recovering with ice baths and Epsom salt.
Despite all of this, I actually think it might be harder to shift back into classical mode, like we’ve done with Romeo & Juliet. Everything has to be upright and placed and there are a lot of repetitive motions, which can be hard on the joints and tendons of the lower legs. There is also really nothing that prepares you for being back in pointe shoes all day long – it definitely took my feet and legs a couple weeks to adjust and regain the stamina required for Juliet’s more intricate pointe work. We frequently alternate between classical and contemporary works during the season, and while it can initially be a bit tough on the body, I love dancing both styles and wouldn’t have it any other way.
On an emotional level, working on Light was very draining because of the nature of the subject matter. While Romeo & Juliet is a tragic ballet, it is a fictional story, so the mood in the studio has been much lighter. It is actually a lot of fun to rehearse the darker scenes, like the potion scene and the crypt, because they are very challenging dramatically. One of my favorite things about full-length ballet is the acting, and I really enjoy the challenge of developing a character and showing their evolution from beginning to end. I typically do a lot of research when I’m working on a character in order to gather ideas that may help infuse my own interpretation. For this production I have been reading the play, and watching films and other versions of the ballet.
My Romeo, Paul Michael Bloodgood is also in his 10th season with the company, so it is very special to be performing together. I fondly refer to Paul as my “stage husband”, and in our 10 seasons with the company, we have been paired together in over 15 different roles. Dancing together so frequently has allowed us to cultivate a wonderful onstage partnership and also a great friendship, which allows us to be very relaxed around each other. As a result, it has been easy to explore some of the more vulnerable moments that our characters share as their love story unfolds.
Romeo & Juliet is my favorite ballet. I love Shakespeare. I love the drama. And the grand and sweetly haunting Prokofiev score is incredibly moving. Also, Mills’ choreography is wonderful to dance. For as long as I can remember, I have hoped to someday have the opportunity to dance Juliet, and I am absolutely thrilled to be performing this role next weekend.
Catch Ashley onstage as Juliet on Saturday, May 12. Tickets.
Getting into character and perfect technique – See what Paul Michael Bloodgood says about preparing for Romeo & Juliet.
Performing “in character” is one of my favorite parts of dancing any full-length story ballet such as Romeo & Juliet. Similar to an acting role in film or theatre, trying to embody the emotions and thoughts of a character helps me to interpret the dance choreography for that role into movement that translates to the audience.
Neither character development nor ballet technique is more important to me in a story ballet – they are of equal substance to fulfilling the presentation. If the acting is terrible, the audience isn’t going to care about the relationship between Romeo and Juliet, even if both dancers are technically flawless. On the flip side, bad technique would be equally distracting and pull the audience out of the scene. Although the average observer might think one is more important than the other, to me it’s like cake and frosting: they complement each other perfectly.
Personally, getting “in character” for a role like Romeo involves reading the source material and watching films and ballet productions of the story, then finding my own voice or interpretation of the role. Although I try to transform into the character as much as possible, I believe bringing my own life experience to a role separates it from other iterations of the part.
Ashley (my Juliet) and I have spoken about the intimacies of our characters in depth, but we let ourselves laugh about it all, too. We’ve been great friends for ten years, and having the opportunity to perform Romeo & Juliet with my “stage wife” as she’s been nicknamed, makes our onstage relationship come full circle. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that she’s best friends with my real wife, Anne – a fellow dancer with Ballet Austin and one of Juliet’s friends in the production.
As we head into our last week in the rehearsal studio before production week, I am looking forward to running the three acts in succession to get a good grasp on the pacing and stamina required of me. Also on the check list are little things like trying to dance the piece in Romeo’s leather boots, working out any pas de deux kinks that may result from Juliet’s costumes and rehearsing to the live accompaniment from Austin Symphony Orchestra.
It’s all just a part of preparing for the show.
Catch Paul onstage as Romeo on Saturday, May 12. Tickets.
Romeo & Juliet is without a doubt a beautiful production – expressive emotion, mesmerizing movement and, of course, bejeweled costumes. Take a peek…
Costumes are organized on the rack by Company member. Dancers change frequently during the production, but the largest quick change is the 18-person switch from the Market scene to the Ballroom scene.
In last week’s Romeo & Juliet by the Numbers, we revealed a handful of facts about the costumes. Here is Lady Capulet’s (Michelle Martin, Associate Artistic Director) Ballroom Gown. Supported by two hangers, this beauty weighs a total of 30lbs.
The gown, filled with intricate detailing, would cost several thousand dollars to replace. It is due to the expense of replacing costumes like this one that wardrobe does their best to repair each piece in the weeks leading up to the performance. For Lady Capulet’s 3 dresses, including this one, our two wardrobe people spent 4 days on alterations.
When wardrobe began to repair the costumes 4 weeks ago, they discovered that many of the buttons, brooches and bejeweled adornments featuring rhinestones were in need of repair. In the buttons above, they replaced each of the individual rhinestones. (Ed note: They’ve since blocked this day from their memory.)
Ashley Lynn Gilfix, one of our Juliets, gets fitted for her costume by Wardrobe Master Alexey Korygin. Here they talk about adjusting the gathering in the fabric on her arms.
The costume shop keeps detailed records of every dancer’s measurements. Once ballets are cast, dancers are assigned costumes based on their measurements, and fittings and alterations then proceed from there.
In Juliet’s costume, they replaced all of the pearls and metallic fabric insert that runs down the sleeve. Metallic fabric can tarnish, and when these were pulled out of storage the shiny gold fabric you see now was green.
Tybalt’s costume (played by Ed Carr), needed to have the entire underarm replaced. If you look closely, you can just see the slight difference in fabrics.
For our Romeos’ (Paul and Frank) costumes, all of the sleeve grommets were replaced. Other alterations include re-soling shoes, as well as button, bead and snap replacements. The shop never cuts costumes; they only fold, adjust, pin and sew so as to extend the garment’s lifespan.
Romeo & Juliet opens May 11-13. Tickets selling fast.
Special thank you to Wardrobe Master Alexey Korygin, and Wardrobe Asst. & Shoe Manager Jamie Urban.
Breakfast: a piece of homemade bread toasted with peanut butter and jam, scrambled eggs, possibly some berries or part of a banana, and coffee
Lunch: a sandwich – turkey and cheese being a common go-to option – or dinner leftovers
Dinner: some sort of protein such as chicken or fish, accompanied by a grain and vegetable combo
Breakfast Recipe - 100% Whole Wheat Nut and Seed Bread
1 1/3 cups lukewarm water
3 tablespoons olive oil
5 tablespoons honey, molasses or maple syrup
4 cups whole wheat flour
1/4 cup sunflower seeds, chopped*
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped*
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
To prepare the dough: Combine all of the ingredients, and mix them until you have a shaggy dough. Let the dough rest, covered, for 20 minutes, then knead till fairly smooth. Allow the dough to rise, covered, for about 2 hours, or until it’s puffy and nearly doubled in bulk.
Gently deflate the dough, shape it into a log, and place it in a lightly greased 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ bread pan. Cover the pan with lightly greased plastic wrap (or a clear shower cap), and allow it to rise for about 2 hours, till it’s crowned about 1″ to 2″ over the rim of the pan.
Bake the bread in a preheated 350°F oven for 40 to 45 minutes, tenting it lightly with aluminum foil for the final 20 minutes of baking. Yield: 1 loaf.
Breakfast: coffee and oatmeal with a handful of blueberries or some other fruit
Lunch: sandwich with pesto, sliced mozzarella, Roma tomatoes, and something leafy on two slices of homemade whole wheat bread
Dinner: pasta with marinara sauce, ground turkey (or grilled chicken) and possibly some cooked broccoli or spinach mixed in at the end, a salad with crumbled feta and kalamata olives, and a baguette fresh out of the oven
Snacks: Greek yogurt, almonds and fruit are great for workday pick-me-ups
Lunch Recipe - Homemade Wheat Bread
7 cups whole wheat all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons Yeast
1 tablespoon kosher salt (increase or decrease to taste)
1/4 cup Vital wheat gluten
Mixed into a food safe but not airtight container, add and mix in:
3 & 1/4 cups lukewarm water
1/2 cup of honey (You can also use only water instead of honey)
Don’t over-mix, this is a no-knead recipe!
Leave container of dough covered, out on the counter for 2+ hours to allow it to rise, and then put it in the refrigerator. You can use the dough piece by piece for up to two weeks.
Pull off a cantaloupe-sized chunk of dough, shape it into a ball, then elongate it a bit into an oval and toss it into a loaf pan. Let it rest (loosely covered with plastic wrap) for 90 minutes and then bake it at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes. Note: If you use only water you’ll have to adjust baking time and temperature, but the process is essentially the same.
After letting the loaf cool, slice it up to have sandwich bread for the week!
Breakfast: a bowl of cereal, some juice, and a banana
Lunch: leftovers, or a sandwich or something else quick from a nearby restaurant. Can’t miss homemade Thai food from Royal Blue Grocery on Fridays!
Dinner: simple and quick meals for dinner, with enough for a few days of leftovers
Snacks: fruit, yogurt, trail mix, and chocolate milk
Dinner Recipe – Ed’s Simple Stir Fry
6 tablespoons soy sauce (or to taste)
2 tablespoons minced ginger
2 (or more) cloves of garlic, minced
Optional: crushed red chilies, rice vinegar, teriyaki/Sriracha/hoisin/oyster sauce, etc.
sesame or other neutral oil (for use over high heat)
1 onion, chopped
1 lb. tofu (or another protein), cut into bite-sized pieces
6 cups assorted vegetables chopped into similar shapes/sizes
A splash of water, stock or white wine
First, prepare the sauce by combining the soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and whatever else you like in a small bowl. Taste, adjust, and set aside to let the flavors meld.
At this point it’s best to prepare all the other ingredients and have them ready by the stove.
Heat a tablespoon or so of oil in a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook for a minute or two, stirring occasionally. When the onion begins to soften, add the protein and cook until the tofu begins to brown or the meat is almost fully cooked.
Add a splash of the sauce and cook, stirring frequently, until the tofu is nicely browned or the meat is done. Remove the onion and protein and set aside. Return the pan to the heat and add another tablespoon of oil. When the oil is hot, add the vegetables and turn the heat to high. Add the splash of liquid and cook, stirring constantly, until the vegetables are tender.
Turn off the heat and return the onion/protein mixture to the pan along with the rest of the sauce. Stir until evenly mixed and heated through. Serve immediately over rice or noodles, and save the leftovers for lunch!
You can see Brittany, Anne Marie and Ed in all of their well-fed glory, May 11-13 in Romeo & Juliet. Tickets here.
From cats that play dead to dogs that wear scarves, our dancers’ pets are almost as diverse as the Company members themselves:
Orlando Julius Canova
Pet: Lia // Dog
Age: 8 years old Lia acts about as far from 8 years old as she can get. Not only does she bound around the Ballet Austin offices with the energy of a puppy, she loves to swim and roll around in the water. When Orlando moved from Chicago to Texas with Lia, it was too hot for her to fly in the pet section of the airplane. So, instead, Orlando and his mom took a 2-day road trip down to Texas with Lia in tow. In the words of his mom, “This dog better live forever.”
Ashley Lynn Gilfix
Pets: Samson // Dog and Desmond (Desi) // Cat
Age: Samson is 4 years old; Desi is 8 years old Orlando isn’t the only one who brings his dog to work: Ashley’s dog Samson is also a frequent visitor – getting treats from the front desk before running back to the locker room where he is crated during rehearsals. Ashley’s cat, Desmond, is also a performer – this big kitty loves to “sing” and is definitely the boss of the two pets.
Anne Marie Melendez & Paul Michael Bloodgood
Pet: Cordelia (officially “Cordelia Chase Bloodgood”) // Cat
Age: 8 years old Adopted just before Paul and Anne got married, Cordelia is more like a dog than a cat. In addition to running to the door when Paul and Anne come home, she also has a bag of tricks that includes sit/stay, shake and play dead when Paul shouts, “BANG!”\
Pet: Bowser // Dog
Age: Almost 2 years old Bowser, a huge snuggle bunny with an extreme overbite, is friends with a few of the other dancers’ dogs – particularly Samson and Stella (see the end of this post). Happy and energetic, Bowser loves to play fetch outside, but hates giving back the ball. According to Chelsea, he is definitely a mama’s boy – even if his dad disagrees!
Pet: Chibi // Dog
Age: 2 years old For such a tall dancer, Chris has a very small dog. Fittingly-named, “Chibi” means “little person” in Japanese. Chris got Chibi from a local breeder, despite originally setting out to get a different dog. When Chris arrived at the breeder, however, it was Chibi who was the most interested and playful of all the puppies. Later that night, after Chris took Chibi – then only the size of an iPhone – home to his new house, she curled up on his foot and promptly passed out. Love at first cuddle.
Pets: Tucker // Dog & Dudley and Scoot // cats
Age: Tucker is almost 8 years old; Dudley and Scoot are 1.5 years old Beth rescued Tucker almost 7 years ago during a road trip to California, and later adopted her two cats (Dudley and Scoot) to help keep Tucker company when she’s at work. Tucker is full of energy and loves to go along for bike rides with Beth in the mornings. People often mistake him for a puppy because he’s so wiggly and affectionate. Dudley and Scoot are convinced they’re dogs, too, and according to Beth they love to follow along on walks around Town Lake.
Pet: Stella // Dog
Age: 1.5 years old Kirby’s dog Stella, a brindle boxer, is filled with energy and constantly has love to give (usually with slobbery kisses). A social butterfly, Stella loves trips to the off-leash dog park in Kirby and her husband’s neighborhood, as well as weekend trips to Red Bud Isle, Zilker and Turkey Creek.
Ballet Austin II dancer Sarah Hicks lets us into the world of creative “workshopping”.
As a young dancer, you don’t often have the privilege to be choreographed. The opportunity to have a completely new work of art created for you is perhaps one of the most exciting parts of being a dancer. The fact that I have experienced this with Nelly van Bommel’s Hansel and Gretel is absolutely thrilling, to say the least.
Every choreographer works and creates movement differently. In Nelly’s case, we went through an exhilarating, entertaining and, at times, completely hysterical process we called “workshopping.” In these creative brainstorm sessions Nelly would give us a simple idea, such as pretending to run through a room full of shattered glass, and have us show her our physical interpretation. From there, she would take the movement we gave her and morph it into something quintessentially “Nelly.”
After much manipulation and innovation on Nelly’s part, we ended up with movement that could easily be described as playful, energetic and even mischievous. Her choreography is largely based on a tribal-like community feeling in which moving as a group and being comfortable with your fellow dancers is crucial. She challenged us to create games, to be shamelessly verbal while dancing, and to spend a lot of time rolling, stomping, scooting and crawling on the floor (activities we “bun-heads” generally find mortifying!). Despite all this, the challenges paid off and we ended up with a piece that is funny, charming and truly unique.
Another notable quality of Nelly’s work is her use of props. As an audience member, you will quickly find yourself thrust into a world of spinning tables, four wheel drive shopping carts, and velcro cupcakes. Nelly created a full sensory experience in her fabulously comical interpretation of a fairy tale classic.
Hansel and Gretel is entertainment for the whole family, sure to please audience members of all ages. Don’t miss it!
Hansel and Gretel opens Feb 25. Tickets available here.
Associate Artistic Director, Michelle Martin, discusses how one choreographer’s personality, background and constant curiosity combine to make Hansel and Gretel a ballet you won’t forget.
Nelly van Bommel’s Hansel and Gretel, is one of those rare examples of a work that appeals across generations, and its success is as much a reflection of her energy and sense of humor as it is of her choreographic talent. Nelly’s curiosity provides her with a limitless pool of inspiration, and she draws on her background in street theater, and modern dance technique to express her discoveries.
I came to know Nelly through Ballet Austin’s biennial choreographic competition, New American Talent/Dance. She was one of the three finalists in 2010 and I spent two weeks in the studio with her as she created a new work, Fanfarneta, for our main company. As she worked, I was fascinated by her interest in human interaction and her eye for nuance, particularly within interpersonal encounters. I thought her highly theatrical aesthetic would be a wonderful match for a narrative work, and her collaborative approach would provide a rich experience for the dancers in Ballet Austin II. I was thrilled when she accepted our invitation to create Hansel and Gretel.
Nelly’s work on Hansel and Gretel began with a series of facilitated games for the dancers. Some were based on movement and others involved vocalization. Through this process she began to know the dancers as individuals, in terms of both physicality and personality; and from this foundation, she matched each dancer with her ideas of the characters from Hansel and Gretel. Using the movement from her games, she crafted the dance portions of the piece first. Set to a series of traditional German folk songs, they’re high energy and playful, establishing her whimsical perspective on the story and its characters. The narrative scenes, particularly with the Witch, Hansel and Gretel, and their parents, were made in a very collaborative way – the dancers contributed to the development of the characters and the progression of the story. Nelly’s unique perspective is interspersed throughout the ballet with quirky interjections of props that are brilliantly out of context and absolutely hilarious – a wildly retro vacuum cleaner, baskets of apples and mountains of marshmallows .
Kody Jauron, “Hansel”, lets us in on why Hansel and Gretel isn’t your mother’s fairy tale.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being a part of the creation of Hansel and Gretel! Working with choreographer Nelly van Bommel has been an enjoyable and memorable experience. Nelly is whimsical, playful, theatrical, and innovative. Her sprightly personality is reflected in the choreography of this production, the theatricality she built into each individual character, and the fantasy world that she invented.
This is not your mother’s Hansel and Gretel. For starters, the story takes place in the 1950s. Hansel and Gretel are not expelled from their house because their parents cannot afford to feed them; instead, the two run away from home after accidentally breaking their mother’s most prized possession; her vacuum. Children can also look forward to a newcomer to the story, the forest fairy!
Perfect for the entire family, Hansel and Gretel has something for everyone. Kids will enjoy the fun-loving characters and seeing a familiar fairy tale translated on stage. Adults will appreciate the cutting edge choreography and unique movement quality.
This is definitely a Hansel and Gretel you won’t forget.
Get a glimpse of Ballet Austin behind the scenes and read more about our upcoming performances, as well as get an inside look into the lives of company dancers and Artistic Director and Choreographer Stephen Mills.