Behind the Ballerina
INTERVIEW OF AMY HERCHENROETHER
PHOTOS BY MICHELLE THOMAS
She’s gone in a little over a year. My baby girl is 17. She will begin the trek to schools this summer and have her foot out the door. So we started regular mother-daughter dates. November’s outing to St. Louis Ballet’s Giselle was a perfect way to connect to this teen who assistant teaches Theater Dance classes. We were mesmerized by the fluidity of the ballerinas and felt all smug with our accurate understanding of the story of Giselle without reading it in the program first. The ballerinas have to tell a story without words, and they did so, superbly.
Imagine my excitement when I learned that several of the ballerinas practice yoga at Yoga Six with me?! Having connected with one of the leads in Giselle – Amy Herchenroether – we got her in Michelle’s studio for a shoot and caught up with her to learn more about her and this professional dance company right here in our fine city of St. Louis. Enjoy…
Tell us about you… where you grew up, how many siblings, where’s home?
I grew up in Pittburgh, PA with my parents and older brother. I trained with some amazing teachers at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School for thirteen years before moving to Boston and studying as a trainee with Boston Ballet for two years. I go back to Pittsburgh around the holidays to visit family, but St. Louis is definitely my home now.
When did you begin dancing and when did you believe ballet would be your future?
I started dancing when I was three, and I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to dance. My mom used to read Angelina Ballerina books to me, and apparently I told her that I was going to be a ballerina one day! However I did struggle to find a job and started to doubt that I could actually make my passion a career. I’m 5’8”, which is relatively tall for a female dancer. I got a lot of rejections because of my height. I feel lucky to have found a job with St. Louis Ballet, because the dancers here don’t fit just one mold. There’s a really wide range in heights; I also love that we all have different training and backgrounds, yet we can dance cohesively as a group.
Was it your favorite ballet role to date?
The highlight of my career thus far was definitely dancing the title role in Giselle earlier in November. It was my first time dancing a full-length principal role, and it was so thrilling! Giselle is also one of my favorite classical ballets, so this opportunity was extra special. It was an amazing way to start my fifth season here in St. Louis. I joined the company in 2013.
Did you study dance in college?
I actually didn’t go to college. I’m interested in pursuing a degree at some point, but many dancers join companies or at least trainee/apprentice programs straight out of high school. I joined Boston Ballet’s trainee program as a senior in high school and completed my education through an online school.
You played Giselle after she dies right? Tell us a little about the story and your favorite aspect of the story of Giselle.
Yes; I loved playing Giselle, because the character changes so much between the two acts. In the first act, Giselle is so vibrant and full of love for dance and her man, Albrecht. However she has a weak heart, and is consumed by pain and betrayal when she finds out Albrecht is secretly a nobleman and engaged to someone else. This trauma ultimately leads to Giselle’s death. I really enjoyed getting to explore this character and do so much acting on stage. So often ballet dancers have to just appear beautiful, happy, and smiling, so it was interesting to find a more dramatic side to the performance. In the second act, Giselle is dead and appears as a ghostly spirit. All of her movements should look effortless and ethereal. I really loved this act in particular, because the movements felt more natural to me.
How many dancers make up St. Louis’ professional ballet company?
We have twenty-four dancers right now. It’s really incredible to see the growth in our organization though I haven’t been here long. We have more dancers, and we’re always expanding our repertoire and audiences. I’ve encountered a lot of people who didn’t know about St. Louis Ballet, then came to see a performance and couldn’t wait to see more! I think we’re starting to do a better job of educating people about our organization.
Do you audition for roles in the ballets as they’re announced?
Each dancer auditions to join the company, but we don’t audition for specific roles. Our director (Gen Horiuchi) makes casting decisions and posts them as we begin to rehearse each production throughout the season. He sees us in warm-up class and rehearsals every day, so he watches us and decides who will fit a specific role best.
Are you in the Nutrcacker?
Yes, I am in the Nutcracker. This year I will be performing Sugar Plum Fairy, Dew Drop, and some other corps de ballet roles. We have eleven shows and three different casts; each dancer usually dances in every performance, but we often do different roles in each one. It keeps things very interesting! The physical stamina to get through Nutcracker is always a challenge, especially because we often do two shows in one day. I like to start preparing my body with cross training early, so it isn’t too shocked by the workload when we finally get to the theater. Yoga and strength training has really helped with this. I enjoy all the classes at Yoga Six, and I train with Shauna Restivo who owns Lotus Fit in Maryland Heights.
When and where can we see you in it or other ballets?
Nutcracker performances are December 15-23 at the Touhill Performing Arts Center on UMSL’s campus. We usually perform there, but this season we will also perform at the beautiful Grandel Theater at Grand Center for the first time in our Go! series. Other productions this season include Love Stories February 10-11 and Cinderella April 13-15. We do a really nice variety of full-length and mixed bill performances. Audiences get a great mix of beautiful classical ballet as well as contemporary pieces from some really talented choreographers, and that’s a big reason why I love dancing here. It’s a wonderful challenge to dance a well-known classic like Giselle or Swan Lake one month and something with a completely different flavor the next.
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