Thursdays are for Thinking Out Loud #4: Theater Week – Jitters and Joy

This week’s Thursdays are for Thinking out Loud is brought to you by Rachel of Clara’s Coffee Break. Check out the link-up here.

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This weekend, I am going to be in Birmingham Ballet’s production of Hansel and Gretel. I am very excited about it. Quite giddy actually. Today is our first dress rehearsal.

I am performing the role of a Village Mother and also a Flame in the witch’s forest (there are anthropomorphic parts like flames and shadows in this scene).  I feel that it’s more challenging to “get into character” when your character is something like a flame, but I am trying to draw inspiration from the Firebird. I’ve been watching a YouTube video of Maria Alexandrova dancing the Firebird and I love the quirky energy and power that she puts into it. Her dance is much different than ours, but I think it’s helpful to try to absorb the general mood of it and try to emulate the way she accents her movements (*try* is the operative word here!)

In both of my roles I’ll be doing more dancing than I have in past performances, but I’ll also get my “acting fix” since the part of the village mother is dramatic as well.

We will be performing in a smaller theater than we usually do and seeing the audience’s faces will be unavoidable. I guess this should not make me nervous, but, I confess that it does. Yet, on the other hand, I actually like the smaller size of the stage and wings. It has a cozy magic to it. And after watching some of the rehearsal from the house, I think it is special how the audience will be closer to the performers.

It always seems like theater week is going to be long, but it goes by so fast. Too fast. After this, there won’t be anything until Nutcracker rehearsals begin in September. Oh well…so long as you have another performance to look forward to, life is good.

Guest Post: Performing Character Roles

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 Party Scene in Birmingham Ballet’s Nutcracker

Adult ballet students often find themselves cast as party guests, mothers and fathers, royal court members, and villagers. On the surface, these can seem like “little” parts. But, as veteran performers know, character roles are challenging, rewarding, and worthwhile–not to mention being important to the plots of story ballets! Mikko Nissinen, artistic director of Boston Ballet, told Pointe Magazine, “In a character part, the dancer doesn’t have the technical framework of a traditional role to fall back on. It’s all acting. People really have to go deep into their emotional side, and it takes guts to get out there and do that.”

Ideas for Preparing for Character Roles…

Think about the “who, what, and why” of your character –what motives them, how they respond to different situations, and why they respond this way. If your character doesn’t have a name or back story, create one yourself.

In her video Becoming a Character – NutcrackerKathryn Morgan, a former New York City Ballet soloist, says that you should ask yourself the five key questions that actors are taught to inquire about their characters:

“Who am I?

“Where am I going?”

“Who am I going to meet when I get there?”

“What do I want?”

“What extent am I willing to go to get that?”

Morgan also advises that you consider, “What is the music telling me?” She says, “The music is your guide to your character.”

Watch movies with characters similar to one you’re going to play. 

When New York City Ballet soloist Georgina Pazcoguin was preparing for the role of Carabosse in The Sleeping Beauty, she turned classic childhood films for inspiration. She told Pointe Magazine, “I called my dad and asked him to send me tapes of every Disney movie that had an evil witch! I took a lot from 101 Dalmations’ Cruella de Vil in particular.”

The first year that I was cast as the feisty, flirtatious maid in the Nutcracker party scene, I used Audrey Hepburn’s Eliza Doolitte from My Fair Lady as inspiration for interpreting my part. Like my character, Eliza is working-class, spirited, romantic and enjoys dancing and chocolates. I also liked Eliza’s animated body language and I tried to imbue some of that energy into my performance.

If your character’s personality is more open to interpretation, such as a party parent or royal court member, period dramas or movies and tv series from the fantasy genre might be a place to find a character to inspire yours.

Remember, you don’t have to directly mimic every aspect of a film character, you can just take elements of their personality, expressions, and body language that you like best and that work well for your role.

Watch performances of ballet character parts on YouTube, DVDs, or live if possible.

Do strengthening exercises like Pilates. Movement is part of acting and greater strength will improve your overall movement quality. This will help your performance even if your character doesn’t dance or isn’t supposed to be graceful. American Ballet Theatre director Kevin McKenzie explained to PlaybillArts, “Character performances must be defined by energy—by how the dancer moves.”

Film yourself rehearsing at home. Experiment with different expressions, reactions, and gestures. See which ones you like best.

Have fun! Character roles are great opportunity to explore your dramatic side and become more fully immersed in the fairy tale onstage.

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Photo by Rachel Hellwig.

~Resources~

Pointe Magazine: Quite A Character

PlaybillArts: In Character with ABT: Exploring Character Roles in Ballet

Becoming a Character – Nutcracker | Kathryn Morgan:

Rehearsal of Carabosse for the Royal Ballet’s Sleeping Beauty:

Beginner Ballerina Profile: Rachel Hellwig of Clara’s Coffee Break

photo_me_3This week’s profile is  of Rachel Hellwig, who has danced since age 13 and runs a ballet-themed blog, Clara’s Coffee Break Stone Soup magazine published her ballet story, Nutcracker Dreams, when she was 13. Last month, Dance Advantage published her article The Sci-Fi Origins of the Nutcracker’s Snow Scene and Other Fun Facts.

 When did you start doing ballet as an adult? I actually started at age 13 in a ballet class designed for older beginners, but I have never trained beyond recreational level. I’m now in my twenties and take class once a week, so I consider myself an adult ballet student.

Did you ever take lessons as a kid?

Not before age 13.

Why did you decide to take ballet as an adult?

I decided to take ballet as a teenager after I read the classic children’s book Ballet Shoes. The story really captures the magic of performing and being in a theater. It makes you want to be part of that magic.

 Where do you take classes?

Birmingham Ballet Academy in Birmingham, Alabama.

 What is your favorite part about ballet?

I love how ballet teaches you to improve your overall quality of movement and isn’t just about “learning steps”. It’s so neat how you feel stronger and lighter and have more “spring in your step” when you finish a class. I also love that ballet classes are done to classical music or music that has been arranged for the piano.

What is your least favorite part?

My least favorite part is the occasional physical pain. Although, one benefit of non-intense training is that you are much less prone to injuries and wear and tear.

 Who/What is your ballet inspiration?

Listening to classical music and soundtracks is my inspiration because it immediately puts ballet scenes in my head and makes me feel like dancing. I am also inspired by watching other dancers. My current favorite ballerinas are (not in order): Sara Mearns, Alina Cojocaru, and Diana Vishneva.

What motivates you to keep dancing?

If I had to narrow it down to one thing, I suppose it would be music. Whenever I hear beautiful or exciting music, I feel like dancing. It’s amazing how an arrangement of sounds can create that response within you.

 Do you take any other dance classes?

No, just ballet.

 What are your hobbies outside of ballet?

Blogging, writing, animation, listening to music and audiobooks.

 What advice would you like to give to those who want to start ballet or have just started?

Listen to your body and don’t push it too hard or take unnecessary risks. No one can master ballet, so settle in and enjoy the wonderful process of learning instead of making goals about how soon you’ll be able to do a double pirouette. I think that only ends in frustration and needless feelings of failure.

 Do you have a blog?

Yes, I have a blog, it’s ballet-themed. Here’s the link: http://clarascoffeebreak.wordpress.com/

 

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