Fort Worth — With her girl-next-door looks and sweet disposition, Carolyn Judson is the obvious choice to play the female lead in story ballets such as Giselle, Cinderella, Romeo and Juliet and The Nutcracker. In addition to her physical attributes, Judson’s penchant for softer, more pliable body positions, delicate foot work and beautifully drawn out leg extensions also make for easy casting decisions. But this weekend she will be trading in these sweet roles for something more seductive in Texas Ballet Theater’s (TBT) Cleopatra at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth.
Transforming into this powerful temptress has been a fun challenge for Judson who also played the part in TBT’s 2009 production of Cleopatra. But because back then she only got the role last minute, Judson says she was more focused on learning the steps than working on the characterization, something she hopes to rectify this time around.
“This time around I really wanted to try and capture that strong woman human quality that I think is Cleopatra,” Judson says.
As to how she accomplished this task Judson says timing both in the literal sense and where she is artistically speaking played a pivotal role in the rehearsal process. “Well, for one thing I have had more time to devote to the character. I also have more experience to pull from and richer character development than I did years ago, which has really helped because this role is so emotionally draining.”
Judson is the type of dancer who learns by doing the movement as it materializes from the choreographer. So, when rehearsing for Cleopatra she says she retains movement best when she is copying what TBT Artistic Director Ben Stevenson is doing alongside her. But when it comes to understanding a certain feeling or emotion, Judson says she will usually watch Stevenson from the front so she doesn’t miss any of his nuances.
For this weekend’s performance Judson will be reunited with her former Cleopatra partner Andre Silva, whom she says she used to partner with all the time before he left the company only to return a couple of years ago. “Other than doing the sugar plum fairy variation in The Nutcracker last season this is our first full-length ballet together since he has come back, and we’re just really excited to be working together again. That we have been building on things that we’ve experienced in the past 16 years here has made our bond even stronger and we’re really enjoying our work together.”
Another beautiful bonus of TBT’s Cleopatra performance is the live accompaniment provided by the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra and conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya. Judson points out that the majority of rehearsals have been to recorded music and it wasn’t until two weeks prior to the show that the conductor came to the studio to lay the music out on the piano.
“This way he can get used to our tempos and we can get used to doing something that’s not going to be always the same.” She adds, “This is important because it does takes quite a bit of rearranging your brain when dancing to live music since our minds kind of go on autopilot with a recording a lot of the time. So, it’s really helpful for us to have those two weeks before to get used to the music for both the dancers and the conductor.” She also notes that the company will not get to perform with the full orchestra until the Wednesday before the show.
A fun fact I learned about Judson is that during performances with live music she likes to find moments in the show to make eye contact with the conductor. “I think there are times when it’s appropriate to look at the conductor during a performance. For example, whenever I’m taking a bow I end up looking at him as sort of a thank you because this is such a nice collaboration between musicians and artists and so it’s much more enjoyable for us to feel like we are all working on the same project and not just two separate entities.” She adds, “I don’t look at the conductor all the way through the ballet, but I think there are times when you can really bring him in to the action on stage.”
It’s hard to talk to any professional ballet dancer nowadays without bringing up the lawsuit against New York City Ballet and Principal Chase Finlay and other scandals involving the company over the last year. With this in mind I wanted to know what steps, if any, has TBT taken to ensure that its dancers and staff feel safe and supported. “Actually at the end of last season we did have a company come in and work with us on just being mindful of how we talk to each other and how we treat each other. We also have our school here in the same building and just being aware of treatment of the children as well especially since some of the company dancers are also teachers at the school.”
She adds, “So yes we did go through a program with tests and educational information just to make sure that everyone is on the same page. And we are so lucky that we have a really great working environment here and we all consider each other family and in fact most of us are married to other people in the company.”
You can see Judson in Texas Ballet Theater’s production of Cleopatra Sept. 28-30 at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth.
» Katie Dravenstott is a freelance writer and dance instructor in Dallas. Visit her blog at www.kddance.wordpress.com