It’s not nice to leave a lady waiting…
Company dancers Frank Shott and Jaime Lynn Witts discuss comedy, chemistry and what it’s like to dance together as Kate and Petruchio (when they’re already married!)
There is always a sense of anticipation just before casting is posted for any show. Story ballets, like The Taming of the Shrew, hold a particular excitement, and the chance to develop and portray a character on stage can be incredibly rewarding. There are so many different things to think about besides just the dance steps. The story needs to be clear and in the case of Taming, so do the jokes – everything from slapstick to sarcasm needs to read all the way to the back of the audience. It is no easy feat to be believable, funny and dance well all at the same time.
So much of comedy is onstage chemistry between the two leads. The chance to do this with someone that you already share so much with is an indescribable joy. While Jaime and I have had a couple of other opportunities to dance together before, this is the first time that we have gotten to do so in a story ballet. I have always wanted to play a part opposite her in a character-driven piece. She has a sense of comedic timing and theatricality which lights up the stage. Jaime also has a strong personality (just ask around) that when coupled with my own particular “charms” makes The Taming of the Shrew seem like a natural choice.
When casting was posted for The Taming of the Shrew, I was stunned. Not only was I going to get the opportunity to play Kate, but I was going to get to dance with my husband, Frank, as Petruchio. I could already hear the jokes from our friends and co-workers. I guess I have a strong personality and am the oldest of three girls, so Kate and I have a couple of things in common. It has been so much fun getting to work on this with Frank. Comedy is challenging, but we have been able to take advantage of the chemistry we have while working on our characters in the studio. Frank and I have a particular way we banter back and forth, a little like Kate and Petruchio toned down, and it’s so fun to look over and see him making a face I know I would see at home. Sometimes there’s just not that much acting involved – it’s just like us!
We do go home and discuss the scenes we rehearsed that day when we get a second after school, teaching Academy class and putting our daughter to sleep. We talk about what is working, what isn’t working, and where we would like to go with our characters. Jaime’s insights and impressions always give me new ideas of where I could go. Frank sees things from a very different place than I do, so it’s great to have his opinion. It has been such a fun and unique experience so far. We do both have to laugh at the situation sometimes, particularly when I keep telling him I won’t marry him. We can’t wait to see where exactly our characters end up when we get to the shows!
(Oh, and by the way, thankfully Jaime didn’t laugh in my face when I asked her to marry me!)
Don’t miss The Taming of the Shrew Oct 5-7 at the Long Center. Jaime and Frank perform Saturday at 8pm. Tickets here.
We hope you’ll join us this weekend for Not Afraid of the Dark: The Show that Glows!® at the Paramount Theatre.
For more information on the production, click here.
With Romeo & Juliet opening in just a few days, we asked our company dancers about THEIR first loves. Hopefully the stories aren’t as tragic…
My first love was a girl named Celeste that I dated for two years. Then she dated my best friend and I at the same time before breaking up with us on the same day. I was 8. [Ed note: Paul will be tweeting during this weekend’s performances. Follow him at www.twitter.com/balletaustin. Look for tweets signed ^PB.]
My first love was the childlike empress from the Never Ending Story… Turns out I just wanted to be her.
My first love is my husband of 9 wonderful years, Ambrose Krumpe. We met when I was 18. I knew he was ‘the one for me’ when he used a coupon on our first date!
I met my first love at a music store. Upon first sight, I knew immediately she was to be my first love… She was an Everett Upright Piano. We’ve been together for 3 months.
Todd, my best friend. He is my first and only love. We met two years ago, fell in love a year after that, and four weeks ago he proposed. [Ed note: Congrats, Beth!]
Most people would say that “ballet” was my first love, but in all seriousness I would have to say my husband Rhys Ulerich. [Ed note: Michelle will be tweeting during Sunday’s performance. Follow her at www.twitter.com/balletaustin. Look for tweets signed ^MT.]
I thought my first love was JTT (Jonathan Taylor Thomas). Little did I know, I would finally find true love years later in my husband… also named Jonathan!
Don’t miss Romeo & Juliet this weekend, May 11-13, at the Long Center! Get tickets here.
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.
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.
Romeo & Juliet marks the end of the 2011/12 season, and with elaborate sets and costumes it is certainly a grand production. Read on for a behind-the-scenes look at some of the most interesting production stats.
Costume and Set:
80 costumes and 25 head pieces are worn throughout the production, including period style handcrafted leather boots which cost around $450.
4 wardrobe crew members and special changing booths constructed backstage allow for the dancers’ quick costume changes.
So what is the production budget for all the costumes? Approximately $100,000 when Ballet Austin first acquired them. Replacement costs in today’s prices would range from $200,000 to $250,000.
Lady Capulet’s ballroom gown, worn by Associate Artistic Director Michelle Martin, weighs 30 pounds.
The costumes were made from fabrics like silk chiffon, linen, wool and cotton to give them the realistic look and feel of the clothing worn during the Italian Renaissance.
Ironically, the first person to wear (and sweat in) the Romeo costume was not Romeo himself, but current Company Manager Eugene Alvarez!
Dancers will go through roughly 80 pairs of pointe shoes during Romeo & Juliet rehearsals and performances.
The tomb scene once used live candles. Due to fire codes this is no longer allowed, and now 360 lighting instruments illuminate the stage throughout the production.
3 truss spot operators are suspended over the stage during the performances. Truss spots are follow spotlights manned by operators on a rig above the stage.
Romeo & Juliet has 45 characters, which means some of the dancers play multiple roles and require many costume changes.
In real life, Friar Lawrence is a Pilates instructor, Lord Capulet is a theater dance instructor, and Benvolio is a Harvard grad.
Romeo from the other cast (Frank Shott) is a massage therapist when he’s not dueling, and helped choreograph the fencing scene.
2006 was the last time Ballet Austin performed Romeo & Juliet. Prior to that, the world premiere of Stephen Mills‘ version of the ballet was in 2001.
From the dancers to the stage crew, everyone’s hard work goes into making the production a success. See the magic come to life this Mother’s Day Weekend, May 11-13, at the Long Center.
Company Dancer Jaime Lynn Witts at Fête 2010
Photo by Tony Spielberg
We hope you can join us tonight at fête*ish 2011 for a dazzling night of dancing and dining. Check back on Monday for a handful of party pictures – featuring not only YOU but our beautiful Company Dancers, all dressed to the nines.