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Dancer Preview #2: Romeo & Juliet

Friday, May 4th, 2012

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.

Did you miss Dancer Preview #1? Read it here.

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


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.

 

 
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