It’s been a big year for dancers Chisako Oga and Melissa Gelfin. Oga was promoted this year to Principal Dancer and Gelfin was promoted to Senior Soloist, both after dancing lead roles in full-length ballets last season such as Swanilda in Coppélia and Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker. This season, both Oga and Gelfin are tasked with taking on the complex and dynamic role of Juliet for the first time in Victoria Morgan’s version of the classic Shakespearean tale, Romeo & Juliet. We sat down with them to learn about the process of becoming Juliet…
How physically demanding is the role of Juliet?
Chisako: It’s physically demanding in many ways, especially because of the length of the ballet. Juliet appears throughout the entire ballet, so keeping up your energy is a big part of it. There has been a lot of choreography to learn, but I have found it to be one of the most rewarding processes I have had in my career!
Melissa: The role of Juliet is demanding technically and artistically throughout the entire ballet. There are many moments as Juliet where you must make very difficult steps look bright and easy, as if you were truly a young 14 year old girl. There is also a lot of pas de duex work, as well as solo variations, that are danced without leaving the stage, so stamina is a big part of rehearing for this role.
In what ways has learning the role been emotionally demanding?
Chisako: The role is also emotionally demanding as the character moves through a whirlwind of emotions on stage, from love and happiness to tragedy. From a theatrical perspective, you have to learn to move quickly between bright, youthful scenes, to very sad ones. You may be in love in one rehearsal, and crying in the next.
Melissa: The role of Juliet is just as demanding emotionally as it is physically. Her character transforms throughout the ballet, from being wide-eyed and naïve, under the protection of her nurse and parents, to finding her truest love, experiencing heartbreak, defying her family and eventually dying for her Romeo. It’s a lot to take on in one performance.
Can you walk us through what your day will look like before taking the stage as Juliet for the first time?
Chisako: For a lead role in a full-length ballet like Romeo & Juliet, I go into my day already preparing myself and trying to become the character I am taking on. The day of the performance, I start with going into the theater about 2.5 hours prior to the show to start my hair and makeup while listening to music that will get me into the right mindset and mood. After finishing up my makeup and hair, I go onto the stage or backstage and do my own warm up preparing for the show. Once I am warm, I do my final touchups on my hair and makeup before getting into costume, and then I’m ready for the show! Throughout that whole process, I try to stay calm and get more into the character I am about to become.
Melissa: The night before opening night I try to get as much sleep as possible! The morning of a performance, I’ll stretch and do a small workout in order to get the blood flowing and my muscles warmed up. Because this ballet is physically demanding, I’ll make sure I drink a lot of water during the day, make a protein shake, and eat my favorite pre show lunch: sushi! About two hours before curtain I’ll take class and try on all my options of pointe shoes to make sure I have the right ones for each act (I wear a different pair for each of the three acts). An hour before is usually when I start to do my makeup and hair. I also drink some Gatorade which I keep by my mirror for some added sugar boost. 15 minutes before the curtain I’ll put my costume on and make my way to stage. This is my time to try out any steps that make me nervous and also the final few minutes where I completely lose my self and become Juliet. Melinda the stage manager will call “places,” and the curtain goes up on opening night!
Romeo & Juliet leads Cincinnati Ballet’s return to the newly-renovated Cincinnati Music Hall, October 26-29. Tickets are on sale now.