Cupcakes & Conversation with Allison Miller, Corps de Ballet, Houston Ballet
What motivates you at 8am on a Monday morning ?
I have to admit that I’m not a morning person, but once I get up and going I think about how lucky I am that “going to work” means dancing all day.
Why ballet ?
Ballet challenges me like nothing else could. When I was growing up I played a few sports at school, but they weren’t as satisfying or all-consuming as ballet.
What are you looking forward to dancing this year ?
I always look forward to our Balanchine rep – this year is Theme and Variations!
Who would you most like to dance with & what would you dance ?
Angel Corella! He is such an exciting dancer and wonderful person. We would dance the Black Swan pas de deux.
If you could dance anywhere in the world (not only in a theatre), where would you dance ?
I would love to go back to Chautauqua and dance again someday. I spent a few summers studying there and it’s such a beautiful setting with a charming amphitheater. Also Paris… I’d love to dance in Paris.
How do you prepare your pointe shoes ?
First I rip out the sole and take out the nails. I step on the box with my heel to soften it a little, then I bend the shank back and forth a bit to make it more flexible for demi-pointe. When I first wear the shoes, I spray the box with a little bit of rubbing alcohol or water to help them form to my foot.
What is your daily routine at the moment ?
Right now we are in the middle of performances of the Nutcracker, so a typical day includes class at 11:30 at our beautiful new building. The first performance is at 2, so I go across the street to the theater and prepare. After the show I make it home to spend some down time with my puppy and have dinner. Around 6 I hop back in the car for performance number two, which finishes around 10.
What do you eat during the course of a typical working day ?
A lot! I have to have some breakfast, either cereal or some yogurt and fruit to accompany my coffee. I have snacks throughout the day like trail mix, and lunch usually includes some kind of sandwich and fruit. After work, I make sure to get some protein and good vegetables for dinner and obviously some kind of dessert.
You can ask six famous people to dinner – who would you invite ?
Fred Astaire, Audrey Hepburn, Barbara Karinska, David Sedaris, Jon Stewart, and Valentino Garavani.
What would surprise people about you ?
I seem very agreeable, but many people don’t know that I have a stubborn side.
Who inspired you to dance ?
I watched ballet videos constantly as I was growing up, so they certainly inspired me. My teachers from home (Diane Partington and Rey Dizon) inspired me the most; they believe in me and pushed me every day to work harder and try new things. I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today without them.
What is your best piece of advice ?
Never stop working hard, and maintain a positive outlook.
How do you prepare in the hours before a show ?
It really depends on what role I have that evening. But I like to get to the theater plenty early (you never know what could go wrong!) so I can begin to relax and focus on the show. I usually put on some music and begin by doing my hair and makeup. Once it’s close to half hour, I’ll get into my costume so I can try some things onstage with my partner and warm up. Then, it’s just patiently waiting for my entrance!
How do you deal with the stress of performing ?
Performing is tiring physically and mentally, but I try to stay cool. I make sure I’m eating well and sleeping enough. I don’t get terribly nervous for most shows (I’ve done enough Snowflakes to last a lifetime!), but more difficult shows or new parts can be nerve-racking. I’ve found that deep breaths and double checking the choreography help me through.
Which role has tested you the most & how ?
MacMillan’s Song of the Earth. The style and tone of the ballet were difficult to pick up, and working alongside singers provided an interesting element.
If you were asked to design your own ballet costume, what would you create ?
If the Diamonds costume was pink, that would be it. I love the floppy tutu and the gorgeous jewels that adorn the bodice.
What do you look for in a dance partner ?
Especially when you get to the stage, it’s nice to have a calm partner. It makes me more confident if I know the man will be there even if something goes slightly wrong.
What is your favourite quote ?
“In order to be irreplaceable once must always be different.” Coco Chanel
Do you have a ‘signature step’ – one that comes naturally to you ?
I really like to jump, so I’d say grand jete.
A phrase I use far too often is … ?
What’s been your best on-stage moment so far ?
It might be fresh because we’re in the middle of Nutcracker, but there’s nothing better the very beginning of the snow scene, when the Snow Queen is first revealed upstage center. It’s a beautiful and captivating moment that I love to be at the center of.
Do you have a secret skill which no-one knows about ?
I don’t have any super-secret skill, but aside from dancing I really like to sew. I just started a year ago and I now make dresses and leotards and have even made a practice tutu!
In terms of your ballet career, where would you like to be in a year from now ?
On stage, captivating the audience.
If you could dance in front of anyone, who would it be and what makes them special to you?
I would certainly choose my family! Growing up they were all so supportive to me, and now that I’m in Texas they don’t all get to see me dance very often.
What is your exit strategy, for the time when you stop dancing, and how did you plan it ?
I don’t quite have an exit strategy yet, but in consideration of the future I’m working on a degree with St. Edward’s University as I dance. I also recently worked with Houston Ballet’s wardrobe department to design and build a costume for our gala. Perhaps costuming is something I could transition into when I have to stop dancing.