Tag Archives: Stephen Mills

10 Things You Should Know About Hamlet

By Pei-San Brown, Community Education Director

1. William Shakespeare’s The Tragical History of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark is over 400 years old, more than 4,000 words long, and takes over 4 hours to deliver.

William Shakespeare’s The Tragical History of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, 1604

William Shakespeare’s The Tragical History of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, 1604

2. The first ballet version of Hamlet was choreographed by Francesco Clerico in Venice in 1788.

2.Francesco Clerico, 1795

Francesco Clerico, 1795

3. The most famous ballet version of the play in the 1900s was choreographed by Bronislava Nijinska, who also danced the title role in her Hamlet in 1934 at the Paris Opera Ballet.

3.Costume designs by Georges A. de Pogedaieff for the queen, Hamlet, and king in Nijinska’s ballet, 1934. From the Harvard Theatre Collection.

Costume designs by Georges A. de Pogedaieff for the queen, Hamlet, and king in Nijinska’s ballet, 1934. From the Harvard Theatre Collection.

4. Stephen Mills was inspired to choreograph a contemporary ballet version of Hamlet by Franco Zeffirelli’s 1990 movie version of the play.

5. In his version of the ballet, Stephen originated the role of the Ghost in 2000, reprised it in 2009, and will once again dance it in 2015.

The Ghost played by Stephen Mills and Hamlet played by Paul Michael Bloodgood (Photo credit Tony Spielberg)

The Ghost played by Stephen Mills and Hamlet played by Paul Michael Bloodgood (Photo credit Tony Spielberg)

6. Company dancer Frank Shott originated the role of Laertes in Mills’ Hamlet, and is responsible for coaching fellow dancers in the fencing sequences each time the ballet is staged.

Fencing rehearsal (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Fencing rehearsal (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

7. After dancing the role of Laertes in Mills’ Hamlet in 2000 and 2004, Frank was cast in the title role of Hamlet in 2009 and will dance that role again in 2015.

Frank Shott as Hamlet and Johnstuart Winchell as Laertes in Ballet Austin’s Hamlet, 2009. (Photo credit Tony Spielberg)

Frank Shott as Hamlet and Johnstuart Winchell as Laertes in Ballet Austin’s Hamlet, 2009. (Photo credit Tony Spielberg)

8. Frank’s wife, company dancer Jaime Lynn Witts, is dancing the role of Ophelia for the first time in 2015; however, her Hamlet will be fellow company member Paul Michael Bloodgood.

8.Ballet Austin Hamlet rehearsal with Paul Michael Bloodgood as Hamlet and Jaime Lynn Witts as Ophelia, 2015.

Ballet Austin Hamlet rehearsal with Paul Michael Bloodgood as Hamlet and Jaime Lynn Witts as Ophelia, 2015. (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

9. The first time Paul was cast as Ballet Austin’s Hamlet in 2009, his onstage love, Ophelia, was danced by his wife, Anne Marie Melendez.

9.Real life husband and wife duo Paul Michael Bloodgood and Anne Marie Melendez as the lovers, Hamlet and Ophelia in Ballet Austin’s Hamlet, 2009. (Photo credit Tony Spielberg)

Real life husband and wife duo Paul Michael Bloodgood and Anne Marie Melendez as the lovers, Hamlet and Ophelia in Ballet Austin’s Hamlet, 2009. (Photo credit Tony Spielberg)

10. Ballet Austin’s Hamlet will feature live musical accompaniment by the Austin Symphony Orchestra for the very first time in 2015.

Join us for Hamlet September 4-6!

Meet the Mad Men and Women of Hamlet

By Molly Morrow, HR & Accounting Associate

Famous for the skull, the bloodshed and those six little words “to be or not to be,” Shakespeare’s Hamlet has been revamped and re-imagined by countless artists over the centuries in a hundred different mediums, including dance.

Ballet Austin’s production is a gorgeous modern interpretation that uses the body to soliloquize and prefers the sound of water to the sound of words. We thought we’d give you a little background on the characters of Hamlet to help you translate Shakespeare into ballet this Labor Day weekend.

The Ghost

The Ghost played by Stephen Mills and Hamlet played by Paul Michael Bloodgood (Photo credit Tony Spielberg)

The Ghost played by Stephen Mills and Hamlet played by Paul Michael Bloodgood (Photo credit Tony Spielberg)

The Ghost sets the story in motion. As soon as the Ghost is alone with Hamlet, he drops a pretty heavy bomb on our leading man: he was murdered by his own brother, Claudius, who is now married to Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude. Logically, the Ghost charges Hamlet with avenging his death.

Fun fact: It is frequently written that Shakespeare himself played the Ghost in the Globe’s productions of the play. Stephen Mills carries on that tradition and will play the Ghost in Ballet Austin’s production.


The poster child for Prozac in the Elizabethan age, the Prince is also a comedian: playful, clever and full of wit. In the text, Hamlet’s first line even contains a pun – “A little more than kin, and less than kind.” Less than kind is right: Hamlet proves Claudius’ guilt by reenacting the murder with a troupe of traveling actors, accidentally kills Ophelia’s father (maybe check behind the curtain next time,) eventually returns home to confess his undying love for the now-conveniently-dead Ophelia and murders Claudius.

In Ballet Austin’s production, Hamlet’s conflicting desires and descent into madness are expressed through three alternate Hamlets that appear to him as visions. Hamlet will be played by company dancers Frank Shott and Paul Michael Bloodgood, and Hamlet II-IV will be played by James Fuller, Oliver Greene-Cramer and Orlando Canova.

Both Hamlet and Ophelia casts in rehearsals. (Photo Credit Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Both Hamlet and Ophelia casts in rehearsals. (Photo Credit Anne Marie Bloodgood)


Claudius is a man of pure and unspeakable evil. He murders Hamlet’s father, marries Hamlet’s mother, and then, like any good sociopath, convinces everyone that Hamlet himself is to blame for all the dying and suffering. Lucky for us, Shakespeare’s sense of justice and blood-lust is dead on, and Claudius ultimately gets what’s coming to him. Claudius is played by Ballet Austin company dancer Edward Carr.


Gerturde and Hamlet dance by Aara Krumpe and Paul Michael Bloodgood. (Photo credit Tony Spielberg)

Gerturde and Hamlet danced by Aara Krumpe and Paul Michael Bloodgood. (Photo credit Tony Spielberg)

The woman who brought Hamlet into this world is of course complex, heartbreaking and infuriating. Once married to Hamlet’s noble father, she chooses with inexplicable and breathtaking speed to marry her dead husband’s brother, who is also her dead husband’s murderer. Her failed attempt to explain herself and her actions to Hamlet inadvertently leads to Polonius’s murder. Gertrude dies, as does most everyone in this play, from being poisoned. She is played in this production by Aara Krumpe and Rebecca Johnson.


Ophelia is a doomed woman if ever there was one. In love with a man who is existentially preoccupied at best, and suicidal at worst, she is driven mad with grief from the news of her father’s death and drowns herself. Ophelia’s drowning is a scene of surprising beauty in Ballet Austin’s production, as Ophelia dances in a track of real water on stage. This fall she is played by Ashley Lynn Sherman and Jaime Lynn Witts.


Brian Heil as Polonius and Frank Shott as Hamlet during rehearsals. (Photo credit Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Brian Heil as Polonius and Frank Shott as Hamlet during Hamlet rehearsals. (Photo credit Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Polonius is the pompous, long-winded armchair poet of this tragedy (there’s at least one in every Shakespeare play). Ironically, for all his advice on being true to one’s self and having a method to one’s madness, Polonius is a coward: he hides behind a curtain when Hamlet confronts his mother Gertrude about her marriage to Claudius, thus sealing his own fate. Polonius is played by Ballet Austin II dancer Brian Heil.


Fencing rehearsal (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Fencing rehearsal (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Laertes is vengeance personified. His whole reason for being is to rain on Hamlet’s parade, just because Hamlet may or may not have killed his sister and his dad. Laertes also happens to be quite handy with a sword. Claudius poisons the sword, of course, and then – just for good measure – poisons a goblet of wine as a kind of Shakespearean Plan B, because you can never have enough poison. Ballet Austin brings the magnificent swordfight to life with a fencing match that dances across the stage, an unusual and distinctly inspired element of this ballet. Laertes is played by Christopher Swaim and Jordan Moser.

Purchase tickets today to see Stephen Mills’ modern interpretation of Hamlet, guaranteed to leave you thankful for your seemingly undramatic family drama.

The Third Day Theory

By Anne Marie Melendez, Ballet Austin Company Dancer

The third day is always the worst. Your alarm goes off in the morning and the simple action of rolling over to shut it off is painful. Your neck is stiff,  your arms are aching, your back spasms, and your abdominal muscles feel torn. And then, you try to stand up.

First day back in the studios (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

First day back in the studios (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

First Day Back

Coming back to work as a professional dancer after a three month layoff (sometimes longer!) can be similar to your “First Day of School.” It’s both exciting and slightly scary. The whole crew is back together, there are lots of hugs and “How was your summer?” inquiries, as well as welcoming the few new faces. You’re a little bit worried about how out of shape you might be and wonder how well your legs are going to hold you up as the day goes on. But on Day 1, there is always a buzz of energy that comes with the beginning of a new season. The excitement of new repertoire to work on, new opportunities, and the new goals we have set for ourselves. And we’re not tired yet.

Company class starts promptly at 9 am and is always taught by Artistic Director Stephen Mills. Day 1 feels familiar, regardless of how much dancing you did over the summer, Day 1 is the time to ease back into the daily grind. This season was no different.

Frank Shott during company class on the first day. (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Frank Shott during company class on the first day. (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

What Do You Do All Summer?

Every one of us approaches our summer layoff differently, while always trying to stay in shape in some form or another. A handful of the dancers teach at the Ballet Austin Summer Intensive, including Orlando Julius Canova and Christopher Swaim. Some dancers take on other dance projects or opportunities, whether local, or off to some other parts of the world. For instance, this summer Oren Porterfield, Jordan Moser, Jaime Lynn Witts and Ed Carr performed in Asheville, North Carolina with Nick Kepley’s Motion Dance Theatre. Ashley Lynn Sherman just returned from an intense three weeks at the National Choreographers Initiative in Irvine, California, while Preston Patterson co-directed and choreographed for the Southern Illinois Music Festival.

Some of us take on other projects outside of the dance field, such as my husband Paul Michael Bloodgood, who continued finishing up his first feature length documentary film, Trenches of Rock, which is currently undergoing sound editing/mixing as well as color correction. And others, while still trying to stay in shape, incorporate huge life events into our summers, such as Grace Morton and Ian Bethany who were married in a beautiful Seattle ceremony this past July.

The 2015/16 Season

(Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Season Opener, Hamlet, includes several fencing scenes as part of the ballet. (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

The 2015/16 season starts us off with Stephen Mills’ Hamlet, one of my personal favorites. For most of the company, rehearsals start off with a bang. Associate Artistic Director, Michelle Martin, usually starts rehearsing the larger group sections right away. For a production like Hamlet, this meant starting with scenes like Ophelia’s Funeral and the opening Wedding scene. We need time with these scenes to get the material out to the dancers, but also to have time to clarify and clean steps. Sometimes Stephen takes the opportunity in these early rehearsals to make small adjustments and changes to choreography. The nuts and bolts of the ballet remain the same, but the nuances evolve and grow with each restaging.

From Day 1, the men cast as Hamlet (Frank Shott & Paul Michael Bloodgood) and Laertes (Christopher Swaim & Jordan Moser) start fencing rehearsals. Since not all of the ballets in our repertoire involve fencing, and since it involves swinging sharp objects, it’s a good idea to start these rehearsals early… And slowly.

Week one is generally about getting a good bulk of the material laid out and to slowly work through it before we start layering our characters on top of the movement. Week one often times also includes our first costume fittings. Though the costumes for Hamlet are already built, wardrobe has a limited amount of time to make repairs and adjustments for specific dancers.

A photo posted by Ballet Austin (@balletaustin) on

The Third Day

My Third Day Theory is basically that the third day of new movement or choreography is the day you are the most sore. This seems to remain true whenever we start a new rep or have a new visiting choreographer. With new material you inevitably are using new muscle groups that you may not have been using the same way a week ago. Or the high probability that there is lots of repetition as we learn a new phrase of choreography. Nothing prepares you for dancing all day, like dancing all day. And this isn’t the type of gym where you might have a “leg day,” and then focus on a different muscle group the next. Everyday is “leg day” in ballet.

The tools are still all there, but what we lack most is stamina. I think general stamina problems like jumping for long periods of time, and calf endurance are pretty common across the studio. For the men, it’s also often lifting/partnering stamina. Lifting weights at the gym isn’t quite the same as lifting a woman all day long. A human body’s weight distribution isn’t as evenly balanced as free weights, and free weights don’t change shape and position when you lift them. 

And for the ladies, it’s the pointe shoes. “Little Pink Coffins,” as I like to call them (thank you Allisyn Paino for that one,) are really brutal that first week back. By Friday afternoon you can usually find the ladies lying on the floor with their swollen feet up in the air and looking forward to their evening ice bucket.

(Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood

Ballet Austin dancers recovering after their first week in their “Little Pink Coffins” (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)


As the week rounds up, we’re still sore, but usually not as bad as Day 3. But I find it a welcome fatigue. A reminder of the muscles I still have and the years of experience and training behind me. There is something gratifying about working your body that hard and feeling like you really earned your weekend rest, or your Friday night pizza, or your glass of wine, or whatever it is you personally look forward to on Friday. The first week back always reminds me that what I do for a living is quite a special and remarkable thing.

So, cheers to surviving Week 1! Get some rest, ice your feet and we’ll see you back at the barre bright and early Monday morning!

Swan Lake: Then and Now

We’re all familiar with some version of Swan Lake. But there is so much more to this timeless ballet than the inner angst portrayed in the most recent pop-culture rendition, Black Swan. The Swan Lake that we all know and love, choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, initially had a rough start. Let’s take a look at where it began how we arrived to the acclaimed ballet of today.

The World Premiere in 1877

The first premiere of Swan Lake was actually choreographed by Julius Reisinger, ballet master at the Ballet of the Moscow Imperial Bolshoi Theatre (now the Bolshoi Ballet.) “When the premiere of Swan Lake took place, it was a disappointment to everybody, especially its composer [Tchaikovsky].” famed choreographer George Balanchine comments. “The choreographer was a hack ballet master who possessed neither the talent nor the taste to choreograph a work to the music of a major composer.”

Anna Sobeshchanskaya

Anna Sobeshchanskaya

The Russian ballerina intended for the role of Odette, Anna Sobeshchanskaya, was replaced by Pauline Karpakova. “Karpakova was a run-of-the-mill dancer past her bloom, who insisted upon interpolating sure-fire ‘numbers’ from other ballets in her repertoire to replace some of Tchaikovsky’s music which she could not appreciate, understand or even count,” Balanchine continues.

It wasn’t until 18 years later when the famed choreography of today was pieced together.

The 1895 World Premiere

In November 1894 Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov agreed to work together to revive Swan Lake. Petipa choreographed the acts that took place in the castle and castle garden, and Ivanov choreographed the lakeside acts, including the corps de ballet of swans.

Ivanov was the first to base his choreography on the structure and emotional content of the music, rather than displaying how technically brilliant his lead dancers were. Ivanov also was one of the first to use the corps de ballet to its fullest potential and to help tell the story of the ballet. He excelled in making patterns and shapes on the stage with the corps as shown in the lakeside acts in Swan Lake, as well as the snowflakes’ dance in The Nutcracker.

The premiere of this new work took place at the Mariinksy Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia on January 17, 1895. Unlike the Moscow premiere in 1877, it was a huge success.

Pierina Legnani

Pierina Legnani

The occasion was also a testimonial gala for Pierina Legnani, who danced the double role of Odette/Odile and could not restrain herself from injecting her 32 fouettes from Cinderella, this time as the coda of her black swan pas de deux in the ballroom scene.

Swan Lake of Today

Since then, over 155 versions of Swan Lake have been performed by at least 115 companies based in 25 countries. Few other ballets from the 19th-century have had such lasting and widespread popularity.

The Petipa-Ivanov production has formed the basis of most subsequent stagings around the world. Most current versions of Swan Lake retain the core of what is considered the original Petipa-Ivanov choreography, though with some new choreography added.

Ballet Austin prepares to perform the famed ballet once again Mother’s Day Weekend, with the Austin Symphony Orchestra with live accompaniment. Join them as they close the 2014/15 season. Now is the time to check off that box on your “ballet bucket-list.”

Reference: Balanchine, George, and Francis Mason. 101 Stories of the Great Ballets. New York, NY: Doubleday, 1989. Print.


Dancer Preview: Taking “Light” to Miami

Today, Ballet Austin heads to Miami to perform Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project. See what’s going through Company Dancer Anne Marie Melendez‘s head as she prepares.

There has been a buzz of excitement around the Ballet Austin studios over the past couple of weeks. There is something about touring that charges us dancers up like few other things. The idea of traveling somewhere, all expenses paid, sounds glamorous at first glance. But going on tour can definitely bring its own set of challenges, obstacles, and concerns especially when it involves a ballet such as Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project.

Having performed Light as recently as March certainly aided in putting the ballet back together rather swiftly. Still, we took it section by section, reviewing the mechanics of the movement as well as the musicality. These elements are so important when presenting a ballet like Light because those pieces have to be so clear and must lay the foundation for the narrative and the emotional element that comes with performing the ballet.

In addition to rehearsing Light, we have also been busy revisiting The Nutcracker, as it will be fast on our heels once we return from Miami. The two ballets couldn’t be more different from each other as I literally spent a few days going from being the Snow Queen in a tutu, to running around barefoot and being dragged across the floor by my arms. It was quite confusing for my body – my calves and ankles would be tight and sore from the classical work, and my back and neck would be stiff from the more modern movement. Let’s just say there were quite a few hot baths, ice buckets, yoga sessions, etc…

As we prepare to leave for Miami on Thursday, I have a list of logistical concerns. What do I pack? In addition to what I would normally pack for any other trip like clothing and toiletries, I also need to bring an entire list of things that are dance and performance related. Outside of the obvious leotards and tights, I need my performance shoes, extra shoes for my understudy duties (which of course I won’t need – *knock on wood* – but they must be packed!), stage makeup, dance bag and all associated peripheral devices like my calf roller. And yes, yoga mat, you WILL fit in my suitcase. I have a list, and I’m checking it twice!

My other concern is food. Yes, clearly there is food in Miami, great food no doubt, but this is not a vacation. Just as most sports athletes have their eating, sleeping, and training routines leading up to events, dancers are quite similar. I normally take into consideration what I eat, but I am never pickier than I am during performance week. It’s not so much of a superstition as it is a need to efficiently fuel my body so that it can function as best it can when the time comes. Performance week is not the time to try something new, so my concern, being out of my element and out of my own kitchen, is how to maintain my routine. So far I’ve decided to bring Clif Bars, instant oatmeal, and head to the market once we get to Miami to stock up on some bananas and other easy to grab snacks.

All of these logistics are not unlike the mechanics of the choreography – they are the foundation of what we are ultimately trying to present. Overall, I am both nervous and excited. I think a certain amount of nerves is healthy, it means you care about the outcome of something. I’m excited to share Light and Ballet Austin with a new community, and I’m curious how both the company and the work will be received.

This evening, Paul, Ashley, and I just finished watching the documentary “The Last Days.” I think continuing our education is an important way to prepare before we leave on Thursday, as it continually informs the work we are doing in the studio and on stage, and most importantly, it reminds us of how vital it is to keep telling this story.


In Miami? You can see Anne perform Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project on stage this Saturday and Sunday. Tickets here.

“Light” in Miami

This weekend, Nov 3-4, we are presenting Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project at the Arsht Center in Miami.

The past few weeks, our Company Dancers have alternated between rehearsing the siren-filled Light and joyous Nutcracker. If you, friends or family are in Miami, you will not want to miss this:

“Art can only start a conversation; people solve problems. But hopefully art can be a catalyst to get people thinking about things in a way they don’t ordinarily.” – Stephen Mills in this Associated Press article.

Below, watch our two :30 video promos, “From the Darkness” and “Into the Light”:

For tickets and information, please visit the Arsht Center‘s website.

My Nutcracker Moment

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

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.