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"I've had such a warm welcome," says Ashley Ellis, right, of her first month on the job. Danielle Brown, left, was promoted to principal this season.
Arts and Entertainment Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2010 7 years ago

In the dressing room with Sarasota Ballet's 'Firebirds'

by: Heidi Kurpiela Contributing Writer

There is good news for Sarasota Ballet attendees who might be in the mood for something light and fanciful following the company’s performance of “Anne Frank.”

Yuri Possokhov, the San Francisco Ballet’s choreographer in residence, has spent the last few weeks working with dancers on his version of Igor Stravinsky’s 100-year-old ballet, “Firebird.”

The fairy-tale ballet, which is based on a series of Russian folk tales about a bewitching bird in an enchanting land, will follow James Buckley’s “Anne Frank.”

Principal dancer Danielle Brown, 24, and soloist Ashley Ellis, 27, will the share the role of the temptress firebird. In between rehearsals last week, the two dancers sat down to share their excitement over the role and their newfound friendship.

What is it about ‘Firebird’ that gets you fired up?
Brown: “I like playing a bird, as stupid as that sounds. I’ve done ‘Swan Lake,’ but that was just in the corps. It’s fun to be something exotic and out-of-the-ordinary. Plus, the music is great and Yuri’s choreography is excellent.”

Ellis: “Yeah. I like that aspect, too. You get to push your body more in places you wouldn’t normally go. This bird is more of a sexy bird than what you see in ‘Swan Lake.’ You get to play the hips more.”

What are some of your favorite roles from previous ballets?
Brown: “My first year with the company I got to dance in ‘Las Hermanas.’ It was a really moody ballet, and I got to be the jealous, evil sister. It was a really dark, aggressive role.”

Ellis: “I got to do ‘Swan Lake’ in Spain, which was really challenging. I pushed myself a lot. One of my favorites, though, because it was different, was Gamzatti in ‘La Bayadère.’ I got to be evil, which was nice, because I’m always given the softer characters. I got to escape into a different emotional world.”

Do you prefer to play the wicked girl or the damsel in distress?
Brown: “That’s hard. I get a lot of the evil roles. There’s the lead, the pretty girl that everyone loves, and then there’s me. I don’t know if it’s because I have red hair or what. I actually think I prefer more sweeter, innocent roles, the more Giselle-type roles.”

Ellis: “Before I did Gamzatti, I didn’t think I had the confidence to pull off the wicked girl. I’m more on the quiet side, and I think because of my features and my blond hair I tend to get those classic good-girl roles. But now that I’ve played something darker, I’d say either type is fine with me.”

The company members are so young. Do you two feel wise beyond your 20-something years?
Brown: “Last season I felt like I was one of the oldest girls! At 23, you’re usually the youngest. It is a bit strange, but the energy is really nice. Everyone is eager to learn and grow. There are no big egos yet, no diva behavior. This year is really great because Ashley is here, and I’m loving that. I look up to her. It’s so nice.”

This is Ashley’s first season, yet you two seem like old friends. Did you hit it off immediately?
Ellis: “Yes. I feel like everyone here is really open. They don’t hold up a wall and make you feel uncomfortable. It’s not cold and competitive, which is common at a lot of ballet companies. Everyone here is so nice. There’s no negativity in the air.”

Brown: “It’s refreshing, right?”

Ellis: “Definitely.”

How do you think the audience will react to a program that includes a heavy ballet followed by a magical fairy tale?
Ellis: “I think it will work. If somebody doesn’t like an aspect about ‘Anne Frank,’ they’ll probably find something they like in ‘Firebird.’”

Brown: “I think our audience likes a mix of serious, dramatic art and fairy-tale stuff.”

Sarasota Ballet will perform “Anne Frank” and “Firebird” at 8 p.m. Oct. 29, 2 and 8 p.m. Oct. 30 and 2 and 7 p.m. Oct. 31, at the FSU Center for Performing Arts. For tickets, call 359-0099, Ext. 101.

Contact Heidi Kurpiela at [email protected].


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