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My Nutcracker Moment

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

A few weeks ago, we premiered this video at Fete 2012 – our annual gala and biggest fundraiser of the year. Watch below to learn a little bit more about what The Nutcracker means to the Central Texas community.

For more information on how to make a difference with Ballet Austin, visit www.balletaustin.org/mygiftatwork.

Dancer Preview #2: Balancing Swirly Spins with Comedic Timing

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

Company Dancer Michelle Thompson reflects on the musicality and hilarity of The Taming of the Shrew. Let us know if you can hear her laughing from the audience.

Tonight we are going to the Long Center to prepare for Stephen Mills’ The Taming of the Shrew, and I am looking forward to putting this production on the stage again. I was in the original cast 10 years ago, toured the production to Washington D.C., performed it again 7 years ago, and now will be performing it this coming weekend – making this my fourth opportunity. There are so many things that make this production special. The story, the humor, the sets, the music, and the joyful movement are all lovely ingredients for an extremely entertaining evening.

The choreography is filled with quick jumps, swir­ly spins, humorous gestures, and intricate patterns. Mills’ choreography relates directly to the music, which swoops and swirls around you encouraging you to jump, spin, bend, and run with energy. I am one of the Commedia dancers, and there are very few times of stillness throughout the ballet. The Commedia dancers form intricate patterns and lovely movements, but they also shift the scenes and become part of the narrative that helps drive the story forward. It is important when dancing in a corps de ballet and when moving sets that your timing be precise. Musicality and awareness are essential as you move through the ballet, but all this must be done with a mask on that includes a large beak. So not only do your toes have to be in line, but so does your beak. Ha!

I am also excited to perform as one of the Street Women who starts off as a thief and then ends up happily ever after with one of the suitors. Playing alongside Beth Terwilleger, we get to take off our beaks and put on outrageous wigs creating a rush of excitement for Petruchio. Our Petruchio, Paul Michael Bloodgood, falls for our flirtatious moves and silly trickery and loses all his money. Our journey doesn’t end there, though. We come out later in the third act without the wig and dance happily at the Garden Wedding. The third act is extremely joyful and full of celebratory dances and my suitor, Jordan Moser, partners me in many twirls and jumps as we happily dance the evening away.

Throughout this ballet the steps and patterns must be precise, but the acting and comedic timing are vital. Our bodies and faces must communicate the frustration, the joy, the disgust, the flirtation, and the joke so that the audience can fully appreciate the story unfolding. It is important to be aware of your fellow Commedia dancers, your partner, the music, and the audience to communicate the story and to capture the greatest laugh. I always find myself cackling loudly during Petruchio’s house. I hope you will join my cackle this weekend at the Long Center.

The Taming of the Shrew opens FRIDAY, for one weekend only. Tickets available here.

Rehearsal Preview #2: Where is Petruchio?

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

It’s not nice to leave a lady waiting…

The Taming of the Shrew opens Friday. Tickets start at just $15.

Dancer Preview: The Shrew and her Suitor…

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

Company dancers Frank Shott and Jaime Lynn Witts discuss comedy, chemistry and what it’s like to dance together as Kate and Petruchio (when they’re already married!)

ballet austin the taming of the shrew

There is always a sense of anticipation just before casting is posted for any show. Story ballets, like The Taming of the Shrew, hold a particular excitement, and the chance to develop and portray a character on stage can be incredibly rewarding. There are so many different things to think about besides just the dance steps. The story needs to be clear and in the case of Taming, so do the jokes – everything from slapstick to sarcasm needs to read all the way to the back of the audience. It is no easy feat to be believable, funny and dance well all at the same time.

So much of comedy is onstage chemistry between the two leads. The chance to do this with someone that you already share so much with is an indescribable joy. While Jaime and I have had a couple of other opportunities to dance together before, this is the first time that we have gotten to do so in a story ballet. I have always wanted to play a part opposite her in a character-driven piece. She has a sense of comedic timing and theatricality which lights up the stage. Jaime also has a strong personality (just ask around) that when coupled with my own particular “charms” makes The Taming of the Shrew seem like a natural choice.

When casting was posted for The Taming of the Shrew, I was stunned. Not only was I going to get the opportunity to play Kate, but I was going to get to dance with my husband, Frank, as Petruchio. I could already hear the jokes from our friends and co-workers. I guess I have a strong personality and am the oldest of three girls, so Kate and I have a couple of things in common. It has been so much fun getting to work on this with Frank. Comedy is challenging, but we have been able to take advantage of the chemistry we have while working on our characters in the studio. Frank and I have a particular way we banter back and forth, a little like Kate and Petruchio toned down, and it’s so fun to look over and see him making a face I know I would see at home. Sometimes there’s just not that much acting involved – it’s just like us!

ballet austin the taming of the shrew

We do go home and discuss the scenes we rehearsed that day when we get a second after school, teaching Academy class and putting our daughter to sleep. We talk about what is working, what isn’t working, and where we would like to go with our characters. Jaime’s insights and impressions always give me new ideas of where I could go. Frank sees things from a very different place than I do, so it’s great to have his opinion. It has been such a fun and unique experience so far. We do both have to laugh at the situation sometimes, particularly when I keep telling him I won’t marry him. We can’t wait to see where exactly our characters end up when we get to the shows!

(Oh, and by the way, thankfully Jaime didn’t laugh in my face when I asked her to marry me!)

Don’t miss The Taming of the Shrew Oct 5-7 at the Long Center. Jaime and Frank perform Saturday at 8pm. Tickets here.

 

Sneak Peek: The Taming of the Shrew

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

Just two and a half weeks until The Taming of the Shrew opens at the Long Center. In anticipation, enjoy this exclusive sneak peek of the production:

Would YOU take this woman? The Taming of the Shrew opens Oct 5-7. Get tickets today!

Taming of the Shrew casting

Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

Welcome back, everyone! Our 2012/13 season kicks off in a little more than four weeks with Shakespeare’s hilarious Taming of the Shrew. Don’t worry – you’re allowed to laugh in the theater. See below for casting.

austin dance ballet austin taming of the shrew

Kate
Aara Krumpe / Jaime Lynn Witts

Bianca
Ashley Lynn Gilfix / Anne Marie Melendez

Petruchio
Paul Michael Bloodgood / Frank Shott

Suitors
Christopher Swaim
James Fuller
Jordan Moser

Baptista
Vincent Sandoval

Street Women
Michelle Thompson / Oren Porterfield
Beth Terwilleger / Chelsea Renner

Commedia
Elise Pekarek
Rebecca Johnson
Brittany Strickland
Kirby Wallis

Ian Bethany
Michael Burfield
Edward Carr
Orlando Canova
Preston Patterson
Ben Wetzel

Dancer Preview #1: Romeo & Juliet

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

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.

Have you read Dancer Preview #2? Read it here.

Paul, Ashley and Michelle Thompson will be live-tweeting backstage during performance weekend. Follow us (and them) at twitter.com/balletaustin.

 

Inside the Costume Shop

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

Romeo & Juliet is without a doubt a beautiful production – expressive emotion, mesmerizing movement and, of course, bejeweled costumes. Take a peek…

ballet austin romeo and juliet costumes

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.

ballet austin romeo and juliet costumes

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.

romeo and juliet ballet austin costumes

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.

romeo and juliet ballet austin costumes

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.)

ballet austin romeo and juliet costumes

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.

ballet austin romeo and juliet costumes

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.

ballet austin romeo and juliet costumes

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.

ballet austin romeo and juliet costumes

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.

ballet austin romeo and juliet costumes

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.

Dancer Meals – What’s For Dinner?

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

Ever wondered how dancers fuel their body throughout the day, while still staying calorie conscious? Look no further than the recipes below.

 

Brittany Strickland:

A typical…

  • 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.

 

Anne Marie Melendez:

A typical…

  • 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!

 

Ed Carr:

A typical…

  • 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.

Hansel and Gretel – Artistic Preview

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012
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 .

 
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