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A Midsummer Night's Dream

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Program overview from the press release:

SEATTLE, WA– Pacific Northwest Ballet continues its 2013-2014 season with George Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. A complete delight for all ages, this full-length ballet is based on William Shakespeare's comedy about the romantic adventures, quarrels and reunions of two pairs of mortal lovers and the king and queen of the fairies. Balanchine’s Midsummer, which New York City Ballet premiered in 1962, was the first original evening-length ballet he choreographed in America. Staged by PNB Founding Artistic Director Francia Russell, PNB's production is an enchanted landscape where misunderstandings and mayhem weave tangled paths through the opulent layers of Martin Pakledinaz's designs and Balanchine's marvelously crafted partnerings. All ends well in Act II's wedding festivities with the recognition of ideal love, tenderly portrayed in an exquisite pas de deux. A Midsummer Night’s Dream plays for eight performances only, April 11-19 at McCaw Hall at Seattle Center Tickets start at $28 and may be purchased by calling the PNB Box Office at 206. 441.2424, online at PNB.org, or in person at the PNB Box Office at 301 Mercer Street.

“As a child, I remember sitting in the New York City Ballet’s audience as George Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream cast its spell,” said Artistic Director Peter Boal. “PNB’s production, staged with care and texture by Francia Russell, is unique. Other productions use Balanchine’s choreography and the enchanting score by Felix Mendelssohn, but only PNB’s production boasts the whimsy and spectacle of set and costume designs by Martin Pakledinaz. A fantastic frog and looming spider balance bulbous mushrooms and august roses. The senses are satiated with scale and color. PNB’s signature production with its winning combination of Francia’s staging, Marty’s designs and our amazing dancers – not to mention Balanchine, Mendelssohn, and William Shakespeare – promises to once again enchant audiences of all ages.”

PNB’s newly-designed production premiered in 1997 and toured to great acclaim at the Edinburgh International Festival in 1998. [/color]In 1999, PNB toured Midsummer to England, where the production was performed and filmed by the BBC in high-definition before a live audience at London's Sadler's Wells Theatre. The DVD is available through PNB’s gift shop at McCaw Hall and online at PNB.org/GiftShop


Music: Felix Mendelssohn*
Choreography: George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust
Staging: Francia Russell
Scenic and Costume Design: Martin Pakledinaz
Lighting Design: Randall G. Chiarelli
Premiere: January 17, 1962; New York City Ballet
PNB Premiere: May 16, 1985; PNB’s new production: May 27, 1997

Balanchine’s fondness for Shakespeare's tale of love's delusions and mishaps dated from boyhood when he had performed as an elf in a St. Petersburg production of the play. As an adult he still remembered many lines (in Russian) and loved to quote them, especially those enchanting ones of Oberon that begin, "I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, /Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows ..." But Balanchine's desire to bring this favorite theater piece to the ballet stage waited more than 20 years for fulfillment while he searched for music with which to expand Mendelssohn's original score to suitable length.

Although Balanchine is famous for his rejection of the evening-long story ballet tradition that dominated the 19th century, he was not, in fact, opposed to story ballets per se, only to their excesses. In Midsummer, which dance writer Anita Finkel has called "possibly the greatest narrative ballet of all time," he demonstrated brilliantly that the pace of a story ballet can be fleet rather than ponderous, that mime can be delicate and to the point, and that the tale can be told almost entirely through dance.

Perhaps most inspired is Balanchine's sustained employment of ballet's central metaphor of love—the pas de deux—to embody the play's subtle insights into the many permutations of the love relationship. The cloying embraces of Hermia and Lysander, the distraught pleadings of Helena with Demetrius, the thrashing resistance of Hermia to Demetrius and of Helena to Lysander—all are distortions of the ideal partnership between lovers, traditionally conveyed by the ballerina and her cavalier. This human game of power is also played out in the fairy realm where, tellingly, the disputing spouses Titania and Oberon never dance together but instead perform self-celebratory solos for their admiring retinues. When Titania does condescend to take a partner, it is either the non-descript cavalier, who functions more as prop than peer, or, in the work's most charming episode, an artless ass. Only in Act II, which is pure dance, do the battles and imbalances, the self-indulgences and self-deceptions give way to a genuine dance partnership. In the magnificent Divertissement pas de deux which crowns the wedding festivities, competition has no place, and restraint, mutuality and trust define the mature ideal of love.

A Midsummer Night's Dream has been in Pacific Northwest Ballet's repertory since 1985. In 1997, with the approval of The George Balanchine Trust, PNB commissioned set and costume designer Martin Pakledinaz to re-design the entire production—a "first" for a Balanchine story ballet. Staged by PNB Founding Artistic Director Francia Russell, with every step, movement and gesture as Balanchine intended, this freshly-designed Midsummer brings the choreographer's dramatic ideas to life scenically as never before. [/size]

[Program Notes by Jeanie Thomas, 1997]

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Special events from the press release:

SPECIAL SEMINAR: A “Midsummer Night’s Dream” for the Pacific Northwest
Saturday, April 5, 2014, 3:00 pm
The Phelps Center, 301 Mercer Street
PNB’s 1997 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream was the first re-design of a full-length Balanchine ballet authorized by the George Balanchine Trust. Designed by Martin Pakledinaz and inspired by Northwest flora and fauna, the production became a calling card for PNB, which toured it to Edinburgh, Istanbul, and Hong Kong, as well as London, where it was filmed by the BBC in 1998. Hear from the artists involved in building PNB’s Midsummer, view a display of costumes, scenic designs and models, and watch excerpts from the award-winning DVD. Tickets are $25 and may be purchased through the PNB Box Office.

Tuesday, April 8, 12:00 noon
Central Seattle Public Library, 1000 Fourth Avenue, Seattle
Join PNB for a free lunch-hour preview lecture at the Central Seattle Public Library. Education Programs
Manager Doug Fullington will offer insights about A Midsummer Night’s Dream, complete with video excerpts. FREE of charge.

Thursday, April 10 2014
6:00 pm Lecture, Nesholm Family Lecture Hall at McCaw Hall
7:00 pm Dress Rehearsal, McCaw Hall
Join Artistic Director Peter Boal and a panel of artists during the hour preceding the dress rehearsal to discuss PNB’s version of George Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and its unique place in the Company’s history. Attend the lecture only or stay for the dress rehearsal. Tickets ($12 for the lecture, or $30 for the lecture and dress rehearsal) may be purchased through the PNB Box Office.


Special activities for children and families – including crafts and dance classes – begin one hour before all matinee performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. FREE for ticket holders.

Listen to the Ballet!
Saturday, April 12, 2014, 7:30 pm

PNB partners with 98.1 Classical KING FM to bring listeners some of the world’s greatest ballet scores, featuring the mighty Pacific Northwest Ballet Orchestra direct from McCaw Hall. Tune in on Saturday night, April 12, for a live broadcast of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Only on 98.1 fm or online at king.org/listen


Friday, April 18, 2014, 10:00 pm (following the performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
When the curtain goes down, the party gets started! Join hundreds of fans backstage at McCaw Hall for some Midsummer Mischief on Friday, April 18! Mix and mingle with Company dancers while enjoying drinks, delicious eats, and an onstage dance party. Tickets ($25 in advance and $30 at the door) may be purchased through the PNB Box Office. (Ages 21+ only; performance tickets sold separately).

Nesholm Family Lecture Hall at McCaw Hall
Join Education Programs Manager Doug Fullington for a 30-minute introduction to each performance,
including discussions of choreography, music, history, design and the process of bringing ballet to the
stage. One hour before all performances. FREE for ticketholders.

Nesholm Family Lecture Hall at McCaw Hall

Ship the post-show traffic and join Artistic Director Peter Boal and PNB Company dancers for a lively question-and-answer session following each performance. FREE for ticketholders.

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I'm going to the April 13 Matinee, plenty of debuts: Kyle Davis as Oberon (with the very tall Laura Tisserand), and Leslie Rausch and Jerome Tisserand debuting the Divertissement ppd.

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Jayne, please make sure to report back here on that performance -- I can't get there, and am very sorry to miss that set of debuts. I'll be seeing the rest of that weekend, though, and am looking forward to it. Saturday matinee is especially full of firsts!

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Both weeks of casting are up on the website; as always, the list is subject to change:


Major debuts among the gods, demi-gods, and creatures:

  • Titania: Leah Merchant (Sat 19 Apr matinee)
  • Oberon: James Moore (Sat 12 Apr matinee), Kyle Davis (Sun 13 Apr matinee), Price Suddarth (Thu 17 Apr)
  • Puck: Kyle Davis (Sat 12 Apr matinee), Matthew Renko (Fri 18 Apr)
  • Hippolyta: Chelsea Adomaitis (Sat 12 Apr matinee), Elle Macy (Sat 12 Apr evening), Lindsi Dec (Sun 13 Apr matinee)
  • Butterfly: Liora Neuville (11 Apr), Carli Samuelson (12 Apr matinee), Leta Biasucci (12 Apr evening)

Major debuts among the mortals:

  • Hermia: Elizabeth Murphy (12 Apr matinee), Margaret Mullin (13 Apr matinee), Leta Biasucci (19 Apr evening)
  • Lysander: Kiyon Gaines (12 Apr matinee), Ryan Cardea (19 Apr evening)
  • Helena: Lindsi Dec (11 Apr), Jessika Anspach (12 Apr matinee),
  • Theseus: Charles McCall (11 Apr), Joshua Grant (13 Apr matinee)
  • Cavalier: William Lin-Yee (12 Apr matinee)
  • Bottom: Steven Loch (12 Apr matinee), Matthew Renko (17 Apr)
  • Divertissement: Lesley Rausch/Jerome Tisserand (13 Apr matinee)

Saturday matinees: both weekends, starting at 2pm. The second Saturday matinee, 19 Apr, is a non-subscription performance.

Sunday matinee: starts at 1pm and is scheduled for the first weekend, not the second, when it usually is performed.

Here's the Excel spreadsheet:

MSND April 2014.xls

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Alongside Nakamura, Andrew Bartee and Liora Neuville will also be leaving the company at the end of the season. Bartee will be joining Ballet BC (though he will continue to work at PNB on his National Parks commission from Wolf Trap into the summer) and Neuville will be heading to nursing school.

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With that in mind, tomorrow night, Saturday, 19 April is the last chance to see Kaori Nakamura in the Act II Pas de Deux and Liora Neuville as Butterfly (unless these ezxcerpts are scheduled for the season-ending Encore program.)

Also, Matthew Renko is doing two Pucks in less than 24 hours, first tonight, and then at tomorrow's matinee. At the Q&A Peter Boal told us that Renko's mother had told him when he was a student at SABl that if he ever danced Puck, she would be there, and she surprised him after tonight's performance. Boal recalled that he had a long call with Renko's mom to convince her to let her then 15-year-old son to move to NYC to study at SAB, and he told her that Renko would be successful as a ballet dancer and would be able to earn a living from dancing.

He also said that when Benjamin Griffiths, who danced Oberon tonight and dances Puck tomorrow night and was the Q&A guest tonight, came to SAB, he and Jock Soto looked at him and wondered what they could teach him. What made that even more remarkable was that Griffiths said that in Idaho where he first took ballet, there was one other boy for a short period, but otherwise, he was the only boy, and had to leave to learn the male steps/jumps, etc. He told us that he was always the shortest boy in class, and that he didn't learn to partner in class, but had to work hard to learn it when he was hired by Boston Ballet, where he danced until he learned that Boal was going to be AD of PNB. He said he went to NYC and took class at SAB and volunteered. Boal didn't know how many people he could bring, if any, and his appointment hadn't been announced yet. Three weeks later Boal was able to make Griffiths an offer, and he was one of three dancers, with Anton Pankevitch and Carla Korbes, that Boal hired for his first season. Boal lauded his partnering skills.

When discussing partnerships, Boal said that Griffiths has the right personality as a partner, in addition to the skills: he's calm, he talks it out, and he tries to find a solution. [Considering the range of ballerinas of all heights he has partnered -- he's sometimes paired as if he's among the tallest men in the company -- that kind of problem-solving and flexibility is critical.]

Griffiths was taking gymnastics and ballet at the same time, until there was a time conflict, and he had to choose. He said his strengths were floor and vault, and no so much the rest. Of long practices several times a week, 2 hours would be spent doing conditioning, and that wasn't his interest, although now he works out with weights and incorporates rehab exercises from when he's had injuries into his training routines.

His parents and some cousins were in the audience to see him dance. After this run, he is going on vacation. [Hopefully it's long enough to be a honeymoon.]

Griffiths is adding his voice to the to-date unanimous enthusiasm about next year's programming. He's looking forward to "Jewels," the Justin Peck premiere -- he said Peck was younger than he at the school, but he knows them, because the SAB network makes for cross-generational relationships among the dancers -- the Forsythe rep -- he mentioned wanted to revisit "in the middle" and having seen SFB do "Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude" -- and Concerto DSCH. He said that Peck and Ratmansky are innovative while being ballet, and it took every ounce of self-control for me to not yell out "Amen, Brother!" He also said that mothers-to-be Maria Chapman, Kylee Kitchens, and Rachel Foster were taking company class, and were looking good and enjoying their pregnancies.

At least part of the Peck will be previewed at the Joyce, but the actual premiere will be in Seattle. Peck contacted Boal to say he respected PNB as a company and wanted to do a piece for PNB.

On other topics, Boal mentioned that the school has 1000 kids, between Seattle and the Francia Russell Center on the East Side, and that there were two casts of bugs, including one boy. One person asked about what the company was doing to attract minority dancers. Boal cited the Dance Chance program, in which 75 local third-graders are chosen each year and are a representative sample of the community; some continue and feed into the school, and one so far has made it into the company. Boal said that Eric Hipolito's three siblings have gone through the program. [His brother Enrico was featured in last year's graduation program, and assuming he wants to dance when he graduates the PD program this year, some company is going to be very lucky to have him.] Considering how few local kids make it through the school and become professional dancers -- Anspach and Rollofson have, both from the East Side school -- that isn't such a bad percentage.

Last night's Q&A guest was Price Suddarth, who made an auspicious debut as Oberon. His mother, father, maternal grandmother, and parents-in-law were at the performance and Q&A. Suddarth said he started to take dance because he was doing musical theater as a teenager, and the director of a production of "The King & I" told him he was terrible in the dance, and that he should take ballet. He said at first he said, I'll take dance but not ballet. Then he started to take ballet, but he said he wouldn't wear tights. Then he started to wear tights. He was 15 when he started in ballet, and he said that it was a great time for him to start, because he pushed himself, knowing what he wanted to accomplish, and was focused. Had he started earlier, he might have been burned out. After studying in Indiana, he studied at SAB for two years, and then in the Professional Division for one year.

He was excited about next season, and speaking about "Don Quixote," he said it was great to be in it, no matter what role you're doing, like "feeding the homeless guy in front of the inn." When asked about his take on Oberon, he said he wanted to project nastiness and to be as horrible as possible. Boal was quick to add that this was contrary to his nature, and Suddarth said he liked trying to channel the bad guy. He sprained his ankle a couple of weeks ago, and as one of the last casts, didn't have that much rehearsal running it through with everyone. [Considering the patterns in the Scherzo that need Air Traffic controllers, it's amazing that everything was so smooth.]

Peter Boal was asked how he chose Suddarth. Boal said he pegged Suddarth for it four years ago, and Suddarth performed it at a Discover Dance program. He said the role was made for a shorter dancer who could turn, and that he looks for a turner who dances musically, cleanly, and had quickness. Equally important is being a good actor, but he chooses first on the ability to do the Scherzo.

About A Midsummer Night's Dream, Boal said that there is very quick turn-around time between the March and April rep. While they rehearsed a little before the last rep was over, most of the rehearsals were in the two-week period between shows. He said many people returned to roles they'd done before -- on the other hand, there 28 named-role debuts -- and that the ballet falls together naturally. The company is suffering from a number of injuries. Some dancers, like Korbes, could dance some roles but not others. (She could do Titania, but not Act II PDD.) Imler was injured and has done both of her roles second weekend. Karel Cruz, Steven Loch, and Carli Samuelson are also injured. (There were a couple of other mentions, but didn't jot them down quickly enough.) He joked that they haven't bothered to make announcements this time, and that one injury could cause nine changes. Boal mentioned doing a lot of one-on-one coaching for the Oberons, in small studios with a recording.

Someone asked what dancers who left the company are doing. Between Boal and Suddarth they mentioned that Jeff Stanton is loving being a Ballet Master at OBT. Stacy Lowenberg visits with her son, Cody. Mara Vinson and Ariana Lallone take company class. Patricia Barker has been hiring a lot of PNB students for Grand Rapids Ballet. Kari Brunson has a business, Juicebox, on Capital Hill.

This is not Q&A-related, but I have one request for the universe: I love all of Martin Packledinaz's designs for "A Midsummer Night's Dream" except one: the Act II tutu for Hippolyta would make Kate Moss look like Peter Wing Healy in "The Hard Nut." I don't think I've ever seen another ballet costume that made a dancer look a minimum of three times bigger than she is.

On the other hand, the costumes in the lobby for the upcoming "Giselle" look simply stunning. The fabric palate for Giselle's friends is to die for, and the silhouettes are marvelous.

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I somehow missed this during the run. I was privileged to see Imler's Hippolyta last weekend:

Korbes danced Titania, here in the Act I PDD with Seth Orza:

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I know we're almost at Giselle, but it took me awhile to get this finished...

I was there for most of the first weekend, and so heard Peter Boal’s curtain speech several times. It’s always a challenge to find something fresh to use in a fundraising pitch – this time out they’re connecting the traditional pointe shoe appeal with Kaori Nakamura’s retirement. Apparently she is often the winner of the “who used the most pointe shoes this season” category, in part because she likes to customize her shoes to the role she’s dancing (going through 3 or 4 pairs for a performance of Sleeping Beauty) but also because she’s rarely injured and so dances more frequently than many other women in the company. The average for a woman in the company is 80 pairs (for a 42 week season) – Nakamura usually tops out at over 100 pairs in a season. Boal went through the usual comments in front of the curtain at the top of each performance, but then challenged the audience to guess the number of shoes that Nakamura has used during her 17 years with PNB. (“write your guess on your donation form” – not subtle, but hopefully effective!) The winner will get two tickets to the season-ending Encore performance and a signed pair of Nakamura’s shoes from that show. And since she’ll likely go through at least a couple pair, that will still leave her with a souvenir.

PNB has had Midsummer in their rep since 1985 – opening night was their 101st performance of the work. (I’d have to do the math, but I have a feeling that’s more than any other work in the rep besides Nutcracker) Boal mentioned in one of the Q&A that it comes back every three years, and it is indeed a long-term part of the company’s identity. While there were some people who returned to familiar roles, this time out the company seemed to use the work to give younger dancers new opportunities – there were 28 debuts over the course of the run. There were three new Oberons, Butterflies and Hipolytas; two new Pucks, Hermias, Helenas, Demetrius’s, Theseuses, and Bottoms, and one new Titania, Lysander, Cavalier, and couple in the Divert pas de deux. Add two casts of new bugs (the kid roles are almost always done from scratch) and that’s a lot of first nights to deal with.

I didn’t get to see them all, but I did see some – most everyone made a good first impression, and a few did really wonderful work. James Moore and Price Suddarth both had a good outing as Oberon. Moore often approaches classical challenges with power – it’s how he articulates his Bluebird and it’s how he presented the king of the fairies. Suddarth danced cleanly, and seemed to have really thought about his relationships to Titania and Puck – they were specific and detailed. Davis’s Puck was fleet and funny. He’s got lovely elevation in general, and uses it in Puck’s signature ‘flutter-kick” jump, so that he’s very high, and then immediately very low in a lunge.

Carli Samueulson, Liora Neuville and Leta Biasucci all made excellent debuts in the Butterfly role, with Biasucci just a bit more sparkly, especially in the port de bras. On its own, the choreography for this part is a lovely showcase for travelling allegro, but when you factor in the traffic jam that is a stage full of child performers, it’s even more impressive that they move as big as they do.

There were a bunch of new mortals as well – Lindsi Dec and Jessika Anspach took on Helena, who in the text of the play tells Demetrius to use her as he would his dog. It’s a part full of rushing and thrashing, with a significant amount of off-center work – both women really dug into the physicality, which made them legible even at the back of the theater. As the disdainful Demetrius, William Lin-Yee and Joshua Grant managed to show frustration without it becoming actual violence (that was a topic of conversation in the post-show Q/A, with some discussion about changes in male/female relationships since the work debuted in the 1960s) Hermia is a gentler role, both Elizabeth Murphy and Margaret Mullin worked with less abandon, but Sarah Orza, who was returning to the part, found the place for sharpness when she discovers Lysander trying to romance Helena – her doubletake when she realized what was happening was really clear.

Lindsi Dec, Chelsea Adomaitis and Elle Macy had their first go at Hipolyta, joining Brittany Reid and Carrie Imler. Of the debutants, Dec was probably the most vivid, but Imler still owns this role, where technical virtuosity is a direct expression of her power as the Amazon queen. Theseus is an underwritten character here – he doesn’t seem to have the same agency in the ballet that he does in the play, so that when Hipolyta agrees to marry him, she seems to lend him some of her gravitas.

I was sitting in front of a pair of women who weren’t sure they wanted to stay after the intermission – “the story is finished, maybe we should go now.” I don’t usually give advice in the theater, but I turned around and told them they should stay if they could – if they left, they’d miss the Divertissement pas de deux. Nakamura danced it twice the first weekend, and the audience was holding its collective breath for most of it. Seth Orza was her partner, and seemed to gain aplomb from her – their long diagonal with the swimming arms was full of breath. Both Sarah Orza and Laura Tisserand danced with Bakthurel Bold – he is such a steady partner that they really were able to take their time with the unfolding changes of direction and shape – it was really a pleasure to watch. I didn’t get to see Leslie Rausch’s debut the second weekend, but heard good things from the grapevine.

The Q/A sessions were very informative – Boal spoke in detail about long-term planning. There are so many items that come into play when you make up a season (I keep remembering Stewart Kershaw’s admonition “what about the trumpets” after seeing one of Boal’s draft schedules early in his tenure). I mentioned in a different thread that we get Tide Harmonic back in September 2015, and that Romeo et Juliette and Tharp’s Waiting at the Station will return in the spring of 2016. The big trouble is always the need to keep developing the company: adding new work and reviving old work, balancing opportunities for company veterans while bringing up new artists. Currently they have a 40 week contract, which means just barely enough time for 6 reps and a Nutcracker (the April rep usually has to get mounted in a couple of weeks – Midsummer filled the slot this year in part because it’s already familiar territory). With a bigger budget, they might be able to get to a 42-44 week contract (which Boal mildly said “would be nice.” I don’t know if that would make room for another rep, or just a slightly less manic approach to the current schedule.

Kiyon Gaines was a guest opening night, and spoke about his work as a mentor for the Next Step program (his job seems to be a slightly simpler version of Paul Gibson’s monster scheduling challenge, finding space and time for all the choreographers and their casts, squeezing in-between classes and rehearsals for the school and the company, alongside giving actual feedback about the dances). Gaines himself is still making work: a new Bolero for Ballet Arkansas and a new Four Seasons for Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet.

Laura Tisserand was asked how it felt to be a queen as Titania – “I could do this every day.” This is her third time out as Titania, and is feeling confident about the choreography. I asked about the difference between her two big dances in the first act, and she said it was mostly a question of amplitude. The first feels sharper and “more assertive,” while the section in her bower is more of a straight lullaby. She’s a very articulate speaker – this time out she got a couple of questions about her height, and she mentioned that when she was a student at SAB her mother, who is 6’, didn’t want the faculty to see her with her daughter, in case they thought she’d also grow that tall!

William Lin-Yee and Eric Hippolito talked about conditioning – they both go to a gym to supplement their dance training. Hippolito said he started going more frequently to prepare for Puck – the costume is fairly revealing) Lin-Yee spoke candidly about learning to dance for himself, rather than focusing on promotions and other kind of external distinctions. After coming back from an injury, he said he’s come to a place where he’s just grateful to dance.

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