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A Conversation with Jordan Nelson
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What is your favorite role to dance and why?

My favorite role thus far was probably Hilarion from the ballet Giselle. He is hopelessly in love with a girl who has no eyes for him. It was a great experience trying to be a lover/big brother figure and also dancing to your death.

What do you like to do when you are not dancing?

I'm always biking and finding biking events to participate in. Besides that, I like to hang out in coffee shops or play Frisbee with my friends.

How do you prepare yourself for the physical challenges of rehearsing, performing, and touring?

Healthy eating is a must with lots of veggies and lean protein.

What is it like to work with Ms. Farrell? Any fun and memorable stories or anecdotes about working with her?

One day I was having trouble with a rond de jamb combination at barre. After class Ms. Farrell came up to me and handed me a napkin with an image of the pattern for that combination she had drawn on it. She just said, "Now you can understand what I did." It was a really sweet gesture.

What do you think is the most common myth about being a ballet dancer? What do you wish people knew about what it's really like to be a ballet dancer?

It's a pretty even split between dubstep, punk, and old school hip hop.

What is the biggest reward in your career?

Dance has allowed me to travel the country and see places I would otherwise have never been able to see.

To read more about Jordan Nelson and The Suzanne Farrell Ballet, please visit www.suzannefarrell.org.

A Conversation with Amber
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What is your favorite role to dance and why?

I'm not sure that I have danced my favorite role yet. My dream role would be Giselle. The depth of emotion that the role requires is what intrigues me so much. The dancer really has to fully commit to the madness and heartache of the character. To me, that's what dance is really about; being able to lose yourself completely in order to embody whatever is being asked of from the choreography. I have been lucky enough to be a "Willy" in both Boston and Richmond Ballet's productions of Giselle, and I would have to say that those have been my favorite roles yet.

What do you like to do when you are not dancing?

I am into all arts. I particularly love photography and anything culinary.

How do you prepare yourself for the physical challenges of rehearsing, performing, and touring?

It's mostly about having the right mind set. Being excited and enthusiastic for what you're going to be doing is so important. You have to love what you're doing. Other than that, lots of good food and good sleep!

What is it like to work with Ms. Farrell? Any fun and memorable stories or anecdotes about working with her?

It is a huge honor; she is a true ballet legend. Her class is unlike any other. It not only gets your body going, but she also has a way of challenging your mind.

What music do you like to listen to when you warm-up?

I don't like to put headphones in, I feel too disconnected. I like hearing the sounds of the studio as everyone around me is warming up.

What do you think is the most common myth about being a ballerina? What do you wish people knew about what it's really like to be a ballerina?

I am a huge tomboy, so nothing frustrates me more than when people think ballet is all about wearing frilly pink tutus and spinning around. It's our job to make it look easy, but it's a very, very hard career. It's both physically and mentally demanding, and most definitely not always pretty. A ton of blood and sweat goes into what gets put on stage, but that is what makes it so rewarding. You absolutely have to love it do it. Otherwise, it's just not worth it!

Do you feel an affinity for any particular choreographer?

I had the amazing opportunity to work with Jorma Elo while I was training at Boston Ballet and have since fallen in love with his work. I really like how he works with the dancers to find movement, while still keeping true to his theme. It ensures that the dancers look their best and you can really tell that the movement is natural to them. His works are very avant-garde and hugely inspiring.

What is the biggest reward in your career?

The biggest reward in dance is that feeling you get at the end of a long day of rehearsals. You're exhausted and sweaty, but you pushed through everything that was asked of you. The pieces feel and look better, but you know that you get to come in again tomorrow and push them even further. It's about pushing the limit, and then some.

Read more about Amber at www.suzannefarrell.org.

 

A Conversation with Melissa Reed
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What is your favorite role to dance and why?

My favorite thing I have ever performed was "Russian Girl" in Serenade. Besides dancing to such a moving and iconic piece of music by Tchaikovsky, I loved it because it is a role that requires precision with every step, as well as the ability to make it look ethereal and effortless. Performing that ballet on stage was so fulfilling as a dancer.

What do you like to do when you are not dancing?

I love being outdoors when I'm not dancing; particularly, I enjoy relaxing at the beach with friends or family. I am also learning to cook and I love traveling. There's something very exciting to me about being in a new, foreign place.

How do you prepare yourself for the physical challenges of rehearsing, performing, touring?

With the rigorous schedules we have as dancers, we need to take extra care of our bodies. For me, I need to get enough sleep every night; I can't function without it. I also arrive early to the studios to stretch and make sure to eat well throughout the day.

What music do you like to listen to when you warm-up?

Music is so important to me. I need it every single day before I dance to help me focus. I love music that is upbeat before I perform to get my adrenaline going. I am open to almost any kind of music, but one of my favorite artists is Kanye West.

What do you think is the most common myth about being a dancer? What do you wish people knew about what it's really like to be a dancer?

A big misconception is that ballet is easy. This art form requires much more physical and mental strength than most people realize. As dancers, we spend our lives constantly seeking perfection. The reality is, in our eternal search for perfection, we are striving for something that is highly elusive. It is because of this however, that we are unceasingly motivated and left desiring more, day after day.

What is it like to work with Ms. Farrell? Any fun and memorable stories or anecdotes about working with her?
Working with Ms. Farrell is such a unique experience. The most significant thing that comes to mind when I think of dancing in her company is that she has encouraged me to work in ways that I never knew were possible for myself. She enjoys creating new, exciting challenges for her dancers every single day, and her expectations from us are set to a very high standard. I find it inspiring to know that I am working for someone who believes in my ability, and cultivates my need to grow. Working with Suzanne is an invaluable experience for me.

Do you feel an affinity for any particular choreographer?

I have always loved performing Balanchine's work. I think that his style of movement suits me better than other choreographers and it feels the most natural to me. I love the idea that everything is much exaggerated; lines are longer and you must move and travel bigger.

What is the biggest reward in your career?

The biggest reward of my career has been getting my first professional job! All of the hard work and dedication I have put into my dancing has led up to this moment and I am ecstatic and thankful to have been given this opportunity.

A Conversation with Lauren
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What is your favorite role to dance and why?

I have two favorite roles to dance. One is "Myrtha" from Marius Petipa's Giselle. I love this role because of the technical physicality that it takes to dance this part with the jumping variations and also the weightless bourrees. I enjoy the immense undertaking of the personality and acting challenge that it requires to captivate and convince the audience. I also love the principal role in George Balanchine's Valse Fantasie. This ballet in general is one of my favorites because of the beauty that it portrays and the essence of joy that I feel when I perform it.

What do you like to do when you are not dancing?

When I am not dancing, I love to cook and host dinner parties with friends. I enjoy experimenting with foods and I would like to study food science when I retire from the stage. I also love to swim and take hikes or nature walks with my family. In my leisure time I love to decorate and study fashion. I also find great joy in being involved in my church in Richmond and serving the community in various ways.

How do you prepare yourself for the physical challenges of rehearsing, performing, and touring?

When I am rehearsing, touring, and performing, I find it very important to stay in shape both physically and mentally to produce my best performance on and off the stage. I always try to get plenty of rest when I am dancing full-time, as well as eat a nutritious and balanced diet. I find it relaxing after a long day of rehearsals to read and wind down so that I am fully charged for the next day.

What is it like to work with Ms. Farrell? Any fun and memorable stories or anecdotes about working with her?

Working with Ms. Farrell is an honor and a joy. I worked with her several years ago for the fall season and it was a very great pleasure. In some companies, the director wants very cookie-cutter dancers that all look the same and dance similarly, but I found that Ms. Farrell wants good dancers with hearts and souls that dance to the best of their ability and do what she is seeking. I have found that there will always be someone with their leg higher than mine, or with better pirouettes, but dancing with Ms. Farrell showed me that I can be the dancer that I am at my optimal level and give that to my audience with confidence. I also learned that she has a wonderful sense of humor alongside her professionalism, which makes the working environment light and enjoyable.

What do you think is the most common myth about being a dancer? What do you wish people knew about what's its really like to be a ballet dancer?

I love to listen to all kinds of music when I warm up. On my iPod right now I have some Christian rock, classical music, pop, alternative, and classic rock. I like to switch up my music choices or just read while I stretch and prepare for class.

What do you think is the most common myth about being a dancer? What do you wish people knew about what it's really like to be a ballet dancer?

I believe one of the biggest myths about being a ballet dancer is that we all are crazy and have eating disorders. That is very false and sadly a prominent stereotype. Dancers are very unique individuals and although it is true in some cases that we can have body image issues that lead to eating disorders, most dancers are intelligent and know that we need fuel to be athletes. I also find it humorous that people judge dancers based on movies like "Black Swan" in which we are viewed as crazy when we study certain roles. I find it very important and enjoyable to analyze the role that you are dancing in a healthy mind-set in order to perform the best quality of that part so that your audience can enjoy it as much as you do. However, I have never known a case where analyzing a role is taken to the extreme of having nightmares or harming oneself or another!

Do you feel an affinity for any particular choreographer?

One of my most enjoyed choreographers would be Ma Cong. He is a native of China and performed professionally in Tulsa Ballet for many years before retiring to focus on choreography. His works that I have seen and performed have always been very beautiful and they show off each dancer's potential, passion, and perfect femininity or masculinity gracefully. He is a joy to work with as a person and artist.

What is the biggest reward in your career?

The biggest reward in my career has been to hear the responses that audience members have said to me after performances. It is such a pleasure to know that what I do onstage touches one or many people sitting in the theatre and that they can feel and experience the joy and beauty that I live for onstage. There is nothing like being able to feel the audience holding their breath in captivation.

Photo: Lauren Garside

Read more about Lauren at www.suzannefarrell.org.

A Conversation with Audra
Posted by Audra Johnson
What is your favorite role to dance and why?
I have a few favorites. George Balanchine’s Serenade is truly amazing to dance. I have had the opportunity to dance the Russian soloist and corp in this ballet. Each role was extremely rewarding and fun. I also love Concerto Barocco. There is something special about dancing together with a group of ladies, completely unified and connected to such brilliant choreography and music. I have also enjoyed several works by Twyla Tharp.

What do you like to do when you are not dancing?
I love family walks with my husband and son. I also enjoy refinishing furniture and home decorating.

How do you prepare yourself for the physical challenges of rehearsing, performing, and touring?
I find that taking good care of my body is extremely helpful. I try to eat good foods, stretch regularly and be wise with how I work and how much to push.

What is it like to work with Ms. Farrell? Any fun and memorable stories or anecdotes about working with her?
Ms. Farrell is an inspiration. She hears the music in a way that always intrigues me and it’s amazing. I find myself being able to move quicker and do things I didn’t think were possible. It’s always rewarding and a pleasure working with her. She inspires me to push myself to find new depths in my dancing.

What do you think is the most common myth about being a dancer? what do you wish people knew about what it's really like to be a ballet dancer?
Dancers are hard workers and it goes beyond just our dancing. It carries into every day life. I know so many dancers who have had wonderful careers while going to school at the same time. Most of them have successful second careers. We have this drive in us to work hard and perfect whatever we are doing.

What is the biggest reward in your career?
I have had many opportunities to dance some amazing featured roles, but I think the biggest reward would be returning to the stage after having my son. I am still in awe of this and so grateful to be dancing. I remember that first performance of Episodes thinking this has to be the best thing ever and feeling like the luckiest girl in the world.

Audra Johnson in Seranade. Photo by Linda Spillers.

Read more about Audra at www.suzannefarrell.org

A Conversation with Amy
Posted by Amy Saunder
What is your favorite role to dance and why?
My favorite ballets to perform are Petipa's Swan Lake and Balanchine's Rubies. I love Swan Lake because the music is beautifully heart breaking and the emotion, especially in act II, is so powerful, yet so vulnerable. In contrast, the soloist in Rubies is flirty and fun and every step is a perfect reflection of the music. 

What do you like to do when you are not dancing?
I love to cook, hike, and travel to new places.  

How do you prepare yourself for the physical challenges of rehearsing, performing, touring?
I find that yoga helps prepare me physically and mentally for these challenges. It keeps my mind in a good place and helps me to connect to my body while simultaneously stretching and strengthening my limbs and core. 

What music do you like to listen to when you warm-up?
The music I listen to varies depending on what mood I'm in but I tend to gravitate toward happy music with a nice beat. Right now I can't get enough of Fleetwood Mac. 

What do you think is the most common myth about being a ballerina? What do you wish people knew about what it's really like to be a ballerina?
People tend to think ballerinas can't do contemporary or that they don't need to know how. I think being grounded is a very important asset to the ballet technique and that contemporary dance can help ballerinas explore different ways of connecting to the floor and connecting to their own body's movement. To me, ballet and contemporary have an ever growing symbiotic relationship.

I wish people knew how hard it is to be in a constant search for perfection when perfection doesn't really exist. Ballet never gets easier and there will always be that lingering desire to be better, stronger, more ethereal, etc. 

Do you feel an affinity for any particular choreographer?
Although I've never performed his work, I am very drawn to Ma Cong's choreography. The fluidity and artistry of his movement is so beautiful and it translates so well into his choreography. 

What is the biggest reward in your career?
The moment when I can absorb myself in a role and completely let go on stage is the biggest reward for me. This doesn't happen every single time I perform but when it does happen the feeling is euphoric. I also really love rehearsing in the studio because I can go even further with my movement and it's always rewarding to challenge what I think my limits are.

Read more about Amy at www.suzannefarrell.org

A Conversation with Miriam
Posted by Miriam Ernest
What is your favorite role to dance and why?

I love Balanchine’s Serenade. The music is beautiful, and dancing in the corps de ballet of any Balanchine ballet is gratifying. My dream role is Juliet. I would love to dance to that Prokofiev score and make the movement and the story speak to and reach an audience.

What do you like to do when you are not dancing?

I love hot yoga—it helps me to stay balanced, mentally and physically. I also read, write, hang out with friends, and play the piano.

How do you prepare yourself for the physical challenges of rehearsing, performing, touring?

I cross train to ensure my body is as strong and as balanced as it can be, eat healthy foods, and make sure I get an adequate amount of sleep.

What is it like to work with Ms. Farrell? Any fun and memorable stories or anecdotes about working with her?

Working with Ms. Farrell is incredibly fulfilling. She is a beautiful person and gives so much of herself in classes and rehearsals. She has an innate sense of musicality and passion for dance that she shares with all of us. She often says, "We know what we can do, but we do not know all that we can do." I leave each season feeling inspired and remembering why I love to dance.

What music do you like to listen to when you warm-up?

I don’t always listen to music before class, but when I do, it is usually upbeat and ranges from classical to more alternative. I love Bach and Dvorak and also Owl City, Marina and the Diamonds, and Tune-Yards. If there is a piece in the repertoire that has a challenging score of music, I often listen to it while working out or during my down time to gain familiarity with it.

What do you think is the most common myth about being a ballerina? What do you wish people knew about what it’s really like to be a ballerina?

I think people don’t realize how demanding ballet is, mentally and physically. It is extremely athletic and takes so much coordination and strength. Dance is such a beautiful art form, and dancers are so committed to their work. I wish more people could see ballet and truly be inspired by it.

Do you feel an affinity for any particular choreographer?

I definitely feel an affinity for Balanchine. His choreography is timeless and so musical. I also admire Alonzo King and his approach to dance and life. I love contemporary movement and value the time I have spent working with Andrew Bartee. He is such a kind, creative, and inspiring person, and I find so much to express through his movement.

What is the biggest reward in your career?

This career is short, and I really try to enjoy the time that I am given to dance. Ballet has given me opportunities to travel and make incredible friends across the country. I love to move and perform. But most of all, I want to be a light in the dance world and the world in general. I firmly believe that dance can be selfless and giving and that there is something deeper to express through this art form. If I can inspire someone that I work with or an audience member, that is the ultimate reward.

Miriam Ernest in Agon. Photo by Linda Spillers.

Read more about Miriam at www.suzannefarrell.org

A Conversation with Bethany
Posted by Bethany Lowrie
What is your favorite role to dance and why?
There are many ballets I have yet to experience and I am still waiting to discover my favorite role. Each ballet is unique and special and I enjoy each of the roles given. As of right now, I would love to dance the lead role in Balanchine's Mozartiana and Kitri in Don Quixote.
 
What do you like to do when you are not dancing?
When not dancing, I enjoy hand embroidery and sewing. Cooking has also become an interest over the past couple of years and I also enjoy sipping tea and reading books.

How do you prepare yourself for the physical challenges of rehearsing, performing, touring?
I try to stick to my normal routines as much as possible. It can be hard because schedules sometimes change to accommodate theater rehearsals and performances, but I find I am both mentally and physically more relaxed and prepared when I treat it as an average day. For me this means staying as close as possible to my normal eating and sleeping routines, and making sure I properly stretch out and warm up.

What is it like to work with Ms. Farrell? Any fun and memorable stories or anecdotes about working with her?
It is an honor, a privilege, and a joy to work with Ms. Farrell. She is such an inspiring person and often pushes me beyond what I thought was my very best work without me even realizing it. Coming home and going back to ballet classes always proves to be an eye-opening experience as I realize how much I have grown by working with Ms. Farrell. Ms. Farrell cares deeply for each of her dancers and I completely trust her judgment in classes, rehearsals, and performances. Her memory and knowledge of Mr. Balanchine's ballets and his technique continues to amaze me and I look forward to learning more from her this season.

What music do you like to listen to when you warm-up?
I enjoy quite a variety of music and I mix it up depending on my daily preference. Inspirational music is the most common choice although I also listen to Country, Classical and Sound Track.

What do you think is the most common myth about being a ballet dancer? What do you wish people knew about what it's really like to be a ballet dancer?
I believe many people underestimate the hard work and discipline of ballet. Ballet dancers are often acquainted with tutus and tiaras, lean figures, and performing. What goes unnoticed is the fact that we work on the same steps and rehearse the same ballets almost every day for weeks at a time to create the lines, movements, and gestures seen onstage. We must also train our minds to quickly pick up all of the choreography given to us, since we often learn more then one ballet at a time.

Do you feel an affinity for any particular choreographer?
I absolutely love Balanchine's choreography. His choreography is brilliant and beautiful. The vast range of his pieces from soft and elegant to sharp and unique is marvelous and I am continually impressed with the precision, strength, and especially the musicality present in all of them. While the counts in the music can be challenging to learn at first, exploring the music is an enlightening experience and very rewarding once understood.

What is the biggest reward in your career?
For me the biggest reward in ballet is the performances. In performances, dancers possess the ability to draw the audience completely into the world of whatever ballet being danced, through lines, movement and motions. In this way, we are able to draw people away from reality and into another world, giving them respite from their daily lives and allowing them to walk away with a fresh perspective on reality.

 

A Conversation with Melanie
Posted by Melanie Riffee
What is your favorite role to dance and why?
As cliché as it may sound, every new role that I take on becomes a favorite in the moment.  I think it's the process of reading into each character, era, or role that really makes you feel this current role is who you are.  I'm not sure if it's possible to choose just one favorite, because I have loved so many roles that I have had the opportunity to dance!  Then of course there are always so many dream roles...for me a few are Juliet, Balanchine's Chaconne,, and Waltz girl in Serenade.

What do you like to do when you are not dancing?
Outside of spending time with loved ones and friends, I am typically exploring other art forms of expression.  I have always loved writing, curling up with a good book, painting, sketching, photography, scrapbooking and other spontaneous art projects, as well as visiting museums and galleries.  I'm also working towards my English degree from Northeastern University, so I get to spend time exploring quite a bit of great literature.

How do you prepare yourself for the physical challenges of rehearsing, performing, touring?
I think the mental preparation plays an equally important role in being physically prepared for these challenges.  Having the mind focused in a positive light sets every rehearsal and performance day up for great possibility.  Physically, there is a lot of strength-building conditioning and cross training involved, and also just knowing your body's strengths, weaknesses, and needs can really help in preparing for the day-to-day physical challenges.  As far as touring goes, it's all about defeating the jet lag and keeping the body and mind focused while absorbing all of the incredible new experiences around you...and always remembering to take your vitamins!

What is it like to work with Ms. Farrell? 
She is an inspiration.  Whether it is exploring from within the studio or in the outside world, Ms. Farrell always finds a way to discover the beauty and artistic value that everything in life has to offer.  She pushes the boundaries of the mind just as much as the body, but always manages to leave you feeling enriched, enlightened, and with a smile on your face!

What music do you like to listen to when you warm-up?
The biggest variety...my iPod sounds like it could belong to 15 very different people.  I don't always listen to music while warming up in the mornings, but before shows I definitely have some playlists with enough of a blend to get pumped up and relaxed, without riling the nerves. ;)

What do you think is the most common myth about being a ballerina? What do you wish people knew about what it's really like to be a ballerina?
Well as of lately, that all ballerinas must be as crazy as the movie Black Swan portrays. Prior to that, the general assumption was that we spend all day prancing around on our toes in tutus to Fantasia-like music while eating nothing and waving a magic wand.  In case you're still skeptical, this is not true.  In regards to sanity, I really believe dancers are some of the most perceptive, intelligent, and focused individuals-it would be impossible to be in such an intricate, demanding and discipline-based art form otherwise.  Though I do wish people knew just how much goes into building this career!

Do you feel an affinity for any particular choreographer?
I would have to say, Balanchine.  The energy, the attack, his musicality...it's infectious!  There is just so much to take in during a Balanchine ballet; even the slightest movement, pattern and accent change happens with such purpose that it leaves both the dancers and the audience breathless.  One of my favorite things is the way Balanchine could highlight several different instruments at once within an orchestration of the same phrase of music, all by choreographing multiple sequences for groups of dancers to be simultaneously performed.  In this way, he makes every single performance such an exhilarating challenge.  I think he always leaves the audience wanting more, and the dancers wishing they could just keep going!

What is the biggest reward in your career?
Performing-it really is a gift.  From the moment the curtain goes up, that divider between audience and stage is taken away and you can just feel the two worlds mesh together.  There is nothing comparable to the freedom you have as a performer onstage, or to the way it feels having given everything you possibly could to the audience.  Just knowing you have the opportunity to make even one person really feel something from your performance, and to share this art form with the world is an incredible reward.

Read more about Melanie at www.suzannefarrell.org

A Conversation with Paola
Posted by Soloist Paola Hartley
What do you like to do when you are not dancing?
I love to crochet! I have made blankets, scarves, cushions, and shawls. I brings me so much joy. I also enjoy spending time with my fiancé and our dogs.

How do you prepare yourself for the physical challenges of rehearsing, performing, touring?
I always make it a point to get enough sleep! And, to eat well for energy. Epsom salt baths and ice buckets are a must.

What is it like to work with Ms. Farrell? Any fun and memorable stories or anecdotes about working with her?
It has been such a pleasure and a true learning experience working with Ms. Farrell. It is very exciting when she shares stories of her work with Mr. Balanchine.

Anecdote: My birthday fell on my first week of work with The Suzanne Farrell Ballet. Somehow Ms. Farrell knew it was my birthday and during barre, she created a tendú combination where no other music but the "Happy Birthday" song would work. When I realized what I was hearing I couldn't contain the emotion and started crying. It was very special and I appreciated her thoughtfulness.

What music do you like to listen to when you warm-up?
I have never gotten into the swing of listening to music while warming up. I much rather chat with my colleagues!

What do you think is the most common myth about being a ballet dancer? What do you wish people knew about what it's really like to be a ballet dancer?
The most common myth that I can think of is that we don't eat. When in reality we need all of the energy that we can get. I wish people knew more that this is really a vocation. We live and breathe ballet all over.

Do you feel an affinity for any particular choreographer?
Definitely Mr. Balanchine. I feel challenged, pushed but at the same time free and happy to be onstage.

What is the biggest reward in your career?
What has satisfied me the most out of all of my years dancing has been the opportunity to reach out to the audience and give them a nice night out where they can forget their problems and daily life issues for a couple of hours. To receive their applause is my biggest reward.

Paola Hartley in Tempo di Valse Photo by Linda Spillers.
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