Performance Story: Once Upon a Ballet

The walls of the theater look like the walls of a castle, don’t they? And scenery is like the page of a storybook…

“She sleeps: her breathings are not heard
  In palace chambers far apart.
  The fragrant tresses are not stirr’d
  That lie upon her charmèd heart.”

-The Sleeping Beauty by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Stepping inside a fairy tale never gets old.

Growing up, I loved getting so lost in a book that I felt like I was in its story. I went on to major in English in college.

But, with narrative ballets, I discovered a more thrilling way to be lost in a story—by becoming a character in it.

I also love music, particularly classical music. So, I find it special that, in this form of storytelling, music plays a large role in creating your character’s feelings within you, sweeping you into the plot and inspiring expression in motion.

Sleeping Beauty is, thus far, my second favorite story ballet to perform in after The Nutcracker. I’ve been in it three times now, most recently this past winter when I entered the tale as a member of the royal court and as a villager.

 My costumes! Garlands and flowers for the village Kelly Milam as the Queen

 1. My costumes 2. Village garlands and roses 3. Kelly Milam as the Queen

Being absorbed into a drama is also liberating on a personal level, because, like many performers, I’m rather reserved in real life.

During rehearsals, it’s harder to come out of my shell and act in the studio than onstage. In the theater, the atmosphere of fantasy created with costumes, sets, lighting etc. helps dissolve feelings of self-consciousness. In the studio, that alchemy of elements isn’t present.

One little thing I found that helped the dramatic process this time though was giving my rehearsal look a makeover.

In the past, I typically wore everyday clothes to rehearsals for character roles. But it was time for a change. My fellow adult ballerina Kelly Milam usually wears a lovely, long dance skirt to practice in. I used her as my fashion inspiration.

I looked for character skirts online, but the reviews of most available styles said the sizes ran very small. So, I ended up purchasing a Body Wrappers worship dance skirt to wear with a leotard.

The movement of the skirt’s fabric as I rehearsed formed its own dance, simulating the sensation of wearing the kind of costumes I would wear in the performance. It helped me be more immersed in the story and feel freer.

A new look.

The week before we transitioned to the theater, I thought I knew pretty much everything I’d be doing in the show: attending a royal christening, birthday, and wedding, whirling through village merriment…

Then, I got a last-minute surprise.

I found out I was going to be dancing with one of the professional male dancers who were guesting from Madison Ballet in Wisconsin.

Phillip Ollenburg and I would dance together in a passage of the “Garland Waltz”– which just happens to be my favorite part of the ballet. (As Disney fans know, the song Once Upon a Dream is based on the music used in this scene.) Our dance was composed of balletic folk/historical type-steps: natural, uncomplicated choreography that allows you to enjoy the movement and the moment. Yes, it was as fun as it sounds!

Sleeping Beauty unfolded during the last weekend in February.

Yes, it was all over too soon, as always.

Inevitably, with any performance, there are things you wished you’d done better, but that’s the nature of live theater. And, by the end of the week, you feel like you’re ready for your own hundred-year nap! At the same time, you’re wishing you could come back and do it all again the next weekend and the next weekend after that.

Post-performance blues? Ouch, they hit hard afterwards. To any performer, I highly recommend Dance Spirit’s article Coming Down Easy. It’s a great breakdown of the slump you feel following a show, why it’s normal, and how to deal with it.

Still, coming out of that slump is different for each performance. This one proved more difficult than others. Well, I guess that’s a good thing. It means it was that much more enjoyable!

Hopefully, it won’t be long before it’s time for “once upon a time” again…

Adult Ballerinas in The Nutcracker

Performing in The Nutcracker isn’t just for kids or professional dancers. I’m excited to report that there were five adult ballet students in Birmingham Ballet’s 2014 Nutcracker! Meet the cast below. Maybe you’ll be inspired to try performing yourself!

ABP- KellyKelly Milam

Role: Clara’s Mother

How long have you been dancing ballet as an adult?

I took ballet classes as a child, but didn’t pick it back up until I was 26 or 27. I was assisting a teacher at the dance school where I now teach and decided to get back into ballet since I have always loved it so. I was excited to be in the recital numbers along with the teenagers. I just never revealed my age. I guess they just wondered. Now that I am 48, and have been dancing ever since that first recital, I still don’t reveal my age. I still want people “wondering.”

What inspired you to start performing in Nutcracker as an adult?

My mother saw a poster advertising auditions for Birmingham Ballet’s Nutcracker back in 1999. Knowing how much I loved to dance, she told me about the audition and encouraged me to attend. I was so excited to be a part of the performance and loved every minute of it. I was a party mom and encouraged a friend of mine to be a party dad. He only did that one performance, but I was hooked from then on!

Did you ever perform in Nutcracker in K-12 or college? If so, what were some of the roles you had?

I never performed in the Nutcracker as a child or teen, but I remember seeing it one time when I was about seven years old. I remember wishing I could be on the stage.

Continue Reading