Tag Archives: Dance

Sneak Peek: The Taming of the Shrew

Just two and a half weeks until The Taming of the Shrew opens at the Long Center. In anticipation, enjoy this exclusive sneak peek of the production:

Would YOU take this woman? The Taming of the Shrew opens Oct 5-7. Get tickets today!

Dancer Preview #1: Romeo & Juliet

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.


Dancer Meals – What’s For Dinner?

Ever wondered how dancers fuel their body throughout the day, while still staying calorie conscious? Look no further than the recipes below.


Brittany Strickland:

A typical…

  • Breakfast: a piece of homemade bread toasted with peanut butter and jam, scrambled eggs, possibly some berries or part of a banana, and coffee
  • Lunch: a sandwich – turkey and cheese being a common go-to option – or dinner leftovers
  • Dinner: some sort of protein such as chicken or fish, accompanied by a grain and vegetable combo

Breakfast Recipe – 100% Whole Wheat Nut and Seed Bread

  • 1 1/3 cups lukewarm water
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 5 tablespoons honey, molasses or maple syrup
  • 4 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds, chopped*
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, chopped*
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast

To prepare the dough: Combine all of the ingredients, and mix them until you have a shaggy dough. Let the dough rest, covered, for 20 minutes, then knead till fairly smooth. Allow the dough to rise, covered, for about 2 hours, or until it’s puffy and nearly doubled in bulk.

Gently deflate the dough, shape it into a log, and place it in a lightly greased 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ bread pan. Cover the pan with lightly greased plastic wrap (or a clear shower cap), and allow it to rise for about 2 hours, till it’s crowned about 1″ to 2″ over the rim of the pan.

Bake the bread in a preheated 350°F oven for 40 to 45 minutes, tenting it lightly with aluminum foil for the final 20 minutes of baking. Yield: 1 loaf.


Anne Marie Melendez:

A typical…

  • Breakfast: coffee and oatmeal with a handful of blueberries or some other fruit
  • Lunch: sandwich with pesto, sliced mozzarella, Roma tomatoes, and something leafy on two slices of homemade whole wheat bread
  • Dinner: pasta with marinara sauce, ground turkey (or grilled chicken) and possibly some cooked broccoli or spinach mixed in at the end, a salad with crumbled feta and kalamata olives, and a baguette fresh out of the oven
  • Snacks: Greek yogurt, almonds and fruit are great for workday pick-me-ups

Lunch Recipe – Homemade Wheat Bread

  • 7 cups whole wheat all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Yeast
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt (increase or decrease to taste)
  • 1/4 cup Vital wheat gluten

Mixed into a food safe but not airtight container, add and mix in:

  • 3 & 1/4 cups lukewarm water
  • 1/2 cup of honey (You can also use only water instead of honey)

Don’t over-mix, this is a no-knead recipe!

Leave container of dough covered, out on the counter for 2+ hours to allow it to rise, and then put it in the refrigerator. You can use the dough piece by piece for up to two weeks.

Pull off a cantaloupe-sized chunk of dough, shape it into a ball, then elongate it a bit into an oval and toss it into a loaf pan. Let it rest (loosely covered with plastic wrap) for 90 minutes and then bake it at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes. Note: If you use only water you’ll have to adjust baking time and temperature, but the process is essentially the same.

After letting the loaf cool, slice it up to have sandwich bread for the week!


Ed Carr:

A typical…

  • Breakfast: a bowl of cereal, some juice, and a banana
  • Lunch: leftovers, or a sandwich or something else quick from a nearby restaurant. Can’t miss homemade Thai food from Royal Blue Grocery on Fridays!
  • Dinner: simple and quick meals for dinner, with enough for a few days of leftovers
  • Snacks: fruit, yogurt, trail mix, and chocolate milk

Dinner Recipe – Ed’s Simple Stir Fry

  • 6 tablespoons soy sauce (or to taste)
  • 2 tablespoons minced ginger
  • 2 (or more) cloves of garlic, minced
  • Optional: crushed red chilies, rice vinegar, teriyaki/Sriracha/hoisin/oyster sauce, etc.
  • sesame or other neutral oil (for use over high heat)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 lb. tofu (or another protein), cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 6 cups assorted vegetables chopped into similar shapes/sizes
  • A splash of water, stock or white wine

First, prepare the sauce by combining the soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and whatever else you like in a small bowl. Taste, adjust, and set aside to let the flavors meld.

At this point it’s best to prepare all the other ingredients and have them ready by the stove.

Heat a tablespoon or so of oil in a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook for a minute or two, stirring occasionally. When the onion begins to soften, add the protein and cook until the tofu begins to brown or the meat is almost fully cooked.

Add a splash of the sauce and cook, stirring frequently, until the tofu is nicely browned or the meat is done. Remove the onion and protein and set aside. Return the pan to the heat and add another tablespoon of oil. When the oil is hot, add the vegetables and turn the heat to high. Add the splash of liquid and cook, stirring constantly, until the vegetables are tender.

Turn off the heat and return the onion/protein mixture to the pan along with the rest of the sauce. Stir until evenly mixed and heated through. Serve immediately over rice or noodles, and save the leftovers for lunch!


You can see Brittany, Anne Marie and Ed in all of their well-fed glory, May 11-13 in Romeo & Juliet. Tickets here.

Romeo & Juliet by the Numbers

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.

Romeo (Paul Michael Bloodgood) is actually married to Juliet’s friend (Anne Marie Melendez).

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.

Reserve your seats today.

Hansel and Gretel – Dancer Preview #2

Ballet Austin II dancer Sarah Hicks lets us into the world of  creative “workshopping”.

As a young dancer, you don’t often have the privilege to be choreographed. The opportunity to have a completely new work of art created for you is perhaps one of the most exciting parts of being a dancer. The fact that I have experienced this with Nelly van Bommel’s Hansel and Gretel is absolutely thrilling, to say the least.

Every choreographer works and creates movement differently. In Nelly’s case, we went through an exhilarating, entertaining and, at times, completely hysterical process we called “workshopping.” In these creative brainstorm sessions Nelly would give us a simple idea, such as pretending to run through a room full of shattered glass, and have us show her our physical interpretation. From there, she would take the movement we gave her and morph it into something quintessentially “Nelly.”

After much manipulation and innovation on Nelly’s part, we ended up with movement that could easily be described as playful, energetic and even mischievous. Her choreography is largely based on a tribal-like community feeling in which moving as a group and being comfortable with your fellow dancers is crucial. She challenged us to create games, to be shamelessly verbal while dancing, and to spend a lot of time rolling, stomping, scooting and crawling on the floor (activities we “bun-heads” generally find mortifying!).  Despite all this, the challenges paid off and we ended up with a piece that is funny, charming and truly unique.

Another notable quality of Nelly’s work is her use of props. As an audience member, you will quickly find yourself thrust into a world of spinning tables, four wheel drive shopping carts, and velcro cupcakes.  Nelly created a full sensory experience in her fabulously comical interpretation of a fairy tale classic.

Hansel and Gretel is entertainment for the whole family, sure to please audience members of all ages. Don’t miss it!

Hansel and Gretel opens Feb 25. Tickets available here.

Hansel and Gretel – Artistic Preview

Associate Artistic Director, Michelle Martin, discusses how one choreographer’s personality, background and constant curiosity combine to make Hansel and Gretel a ballet you won’t forget.

Nelly van Bommel’s Hansel and Gretel, is one of those rare examples of a work that appeals across generations, and its success is as much a reflection of her energy and sense of humor as it is of her choreographic talent. Nelly’s curiosity provides her with a limitless pool of inspiration, and she draws on her background in street theater, and modern dance technique to express her discoveries.

I came to know Nelly through Ballet Austin’s biennial choreographic competition, New American Talent/Dance. She was one of the three finalists in 2010 and I spent two weeks in the studio with her as she created a new work, Fanfarneta, for our main company.  As she worked, I was fascinated by her interest in human interaction and her eye for nuance, particularly within interpersonal  encounters. I thought her highly theatrical aesthetic would be a wonderful match for a narrative work, and her collaborative approach would provide a rich experience for the dancers in Ballet Austin II. I was thrilled when she accepted our invitation to create Hansel and Gretel.

Nelly’s work on Hansel and Gretel began with a series of facilitated games for the dancers. Some were based on movement and others involved vocalization. Through this process she began to know the dancers as individuals, in terms of both physicality and personality; and from this foundation, she matched each dancer with her ideas of the characters from Hansel and Gretel.  Using the movement from her games, she crafted the dance portions of the piece first. Set to a series of traditional German folk songs, they’re high energy and playful, establishing her whimsical perspective on the story and its characters. The narrative scenes, particularly with the Witch, Hansel and Gretel, and their parents, were made in a very collaborative way – the dancers contributed to the development of the characters and the progression of the story. Nelly’s unique perspective is interspersed throughout the ballet with quirky interjections of props that are brilliantly out of context and absolutely hilarious – a wildly retro vacuum cleaner, baskets of apples and mountains of marshmallows .

Hansel and Gretel – Dancer Preview #1

Kody Jauron, “Hansel”, lets us in on why Hansel and Gretel isn’t your mother’s fairy tale.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being a part of the creation of Hansel and Gretel! Working with choreographer Nelly van Bommel has been an enjoyable and memorable experience. Nelly is whimsical, playful, theatrical, and innovative. Her sprightly personality is reflected in the choreography of this production, the theatricality she built into each individual character, and the fantasy world that she invented.

This is not your mother’s Hansel and Gretel. For starters, the story takes place in the 1950s.  Hansel and Gretel are not expelled from their house because their parents cannot afford to feed them; instead, the two run away from home after accidentally breaking their mother’s most prized possession; her vacuum. Children can also look forward to a newcomer to the story, the forest fairy!

Perfect for the entire family, Hansel and Gretel has something for everyone. Kids will enjoy the fun-loving characters and seeing a familiar fairy tale translated on stage. Adults will appreciate the cutting edge choreography and unique movement quality.

This is definitely a Hansel and Gretel you won’t forget.

Get tickets to Hansel and Gretel here.

NAT/D Dancer Preview #2

Improvisation, “ugly” movements and commands. James Fuller discusses Loni Landon’s choreography style.

Loni Landon started her choreographic residency at Ballet Austin by asking me and the other dancers in her piece to close our eyes and explore our feet. I turned my feet out and in, rolled my weight onto my heels and then onto to the tops of my arches and crossed my feet so far that I could barely move. In ballet class, all of these positions would have been horribly wrong, but Loni wanted us to find ways of moving that would normally feel awkward or ugly. She explained that movements that feel awkward and ugly can be fresh, interesting and beautiful in ways that traditional steps can’t.

From our feet, we moved up gradually into our knees, hips, torso, head and finally arms. After giving each part of our body its due, we started to work with each other, first in pairs and then as a group. One of us would call out a command like “freeze”, “collapse” or “rescue”, and the other dancers would respond. We soon discovered that much of Loni’s choreography was like these commands: very specific but also open to many interpretations.

The last exercise Loni gave was to perform a short solo about ourselves. She encouraged us to both speak and dance. Everyone was nervous, but the results were magical. We danced and talked about our childhoods, our years of training, our relationships and our quirks. In just a few minutes, I learned things about my coworkers that I would never have dreamed. Loni gave us this assignment because she wanted to get to know us. She wanted our personalities to be part of her piece.

For the next few days, we learned phrases and created short group dances. I found this part of the process difficult both because of the volume of material and because Loni’s approach to movement is very different from ours. Loni approaches movement holistically, and wanted us to grasp her material’s shape, dynamic and intent simultaneously. At Ballet Austin, we usually approach movement more analytically. We break down the mechanics of each step, figure out when each step happens, and after all that work is done, we think about intent. I found it very hard to break myself out of this pattern. Loni would ask me to perform her movement with full dynamic and intent before I had had a chance to break it down and assimilate it.

Fortunately, as the piece gradually came together, I started to feel more comfortable in Loni’s movement. The piece is dark and smooth, but I can see glimpses of our jagged improvisations and cheerful solos in it. It’s fascinating to see two weeks of improvisation, tension and sharing woven into a piece.

Tickets on sale now for New American Talent/Dance.