When the Joffrey Ballet appears at the Detroit Opera House this
weekend, the dancers will perform choreography they learned from onetime
Michigander Charthel Arthur.
danced in the original production of "Reflections," a pure classical
piece from company cofounder Gerald Arpino. Also on the bill will be the
intense "Age of Innocence." "It's inspired by Jane Austen's novels and
the repression of women in the 19th Century," Arthur says.
left her starring roles at the world-renowned Chicago company in 1983
for Grand Rapids, where she was artistic director of the Grand Rapids
Ballet Company until 1998. She returned to the Joffrey and now is one of
the company's three ballet masters.
talked with us about working with the dancers and why life at the
Joffrey is not like the Natalie Portman movie "Black Swan."
QUESTION: What is a ballet master?
We are like coaches. We teach classes, we warm up the company for
rehearsals and we learn the ballets. We teach the dancers how to carry
out what the choreographers want. It's up to us to make sure the ballet
company is ready for performance.
Portman's character in "Black Swan" has a lot of physical problems. She
vomits; she breaks out in a rash. How does the Joffrey keep its dancers
in good health?
We all work with them. We're very careful with anorexia. We've only had
one case since I've been back. Of course, the dancers are under a lot
of stress. They really need to have that discipline. There are great
disappointments, when you don't get that big role, and there are
injuries. It's a very individual thing. We say, "You have to tell us
when it's too much."
Portman trained for a year before shooting "Black Swan" and had a dance
double. When Neve Campbell came to the Joffrey to make the 2003 movie
"The Company" with James Franco, how was she?
She really became part of the Joffrey Ballet. She took class with the
company for three months before filming started, and she did her own
dancing. Working with (director) Robert Altman was so fantastic.
Everything came from real life -- except that no one ever ran across the
stage during a performance the way James Franco did in the movie!
Portman's character is told she's a beautiful dancer, but not a good
enough actress to be the Black Swan. How do dancers learn to act?
When you're learning a ballet, the choreographer gives you very
specific coaching. You are taught very specifically what the role
entails. I teach the children in "The Nutcracker." I tell them: "Now
you're scared. Now you're happy to get your presents." But when they get
onstage, they put themselves into the performance.
Q: Being a ballet dancer takes so much dedication. Why does anyone want to do it? Why did you?
I wanted to express myself through music and movement. I love being
onstage. I love getting immersed in a part. When you're performing, you
go beyond the work, beyond yourself.
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