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.