Cupcakes & Conversation with Cecilia Iliesiu, Corps de ballet, Carolina Ballet
What motivates you at 8am on a Monday morning ?
I am motivated by the thought of knowing I am going to dance and my body is healthy enough to push beyond its limits.
Why ballet ?
Ballet is a particularly special art form for me because I am always striving for more – more grace, more strength, more precision, more everything. But pushing myself out of my limits is what makes ballet so enticing and exciting. A dancer can always learn more about their craft.
What are you looking forward to dancing this year ?
I look forward to going back to parts I have already performed and making them better and more developed. Last season, our resident choreographer Lynne Taylor-Corbett created a production of Dracula on the Carolina Ballet and I was cast as the lead Twisted Sister (aka. Dracula’s bride). This part helped me step out of my comfort zone in being seductive and sleazy (both are not my personality at all).
Another part I love and have done every year since I joined the Carolina Ballet is the “Coffee” solo in Robert Weiss’ The Nucracker. There are so many details that can be carefully executed and thought about. An example would be like where my eyes should be focused when executing a diagonal of steps. Each year I feel as if I have grown more as a performer, which in turn makes the solo more mature and developed. I can’t wait to see how I grow in both parts this year.
Who would you most like to dance with & what would you dance ?
As a tall dancer (of 5’ 10”) I have a limited amount of parts I can perform. According to my height though, one of my favorite roles is the tall soloist girl in George Balanchine’s Rubies. It is a part that I reach towards. It is hard for me to find tall, strong partners, but I would love to dance Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo & Juliet. I would be the happiest girl dancing his choreography to such fantastic music!
If you could dance anywhere in the world (not only in a theatre), where would you dance ?
I would love to dance at the Vail International Dance Festival and the Fire Island Dance Festival someday because of their beautiful backdrops. How fabulous it would be to turn around and see nature at its most beautiful. Also, I would love to dance in Europe and feel the stage of an Opera House.
How do you prepare your pointe shoes ?
I am lucky enough to get Freed Specials made for me, so there isn’t much I have to do to them. I put them on to decide which is right and left. Then I force my arch while holding the barre to enhance the support. Usually after those two steps they are good to go. After one wear I take the satin off the tips. If the shoes are worth saving I put a little jet glue inside the tip, but I usually try to not because they become too loud.
What is your daily routine at the moment ?
7:20am: I wake up and make a protein shake.
8:30am: I am at the O2 Fitness gym (membership sponsored by Carolina Ballet) on the elliptical for stamina and on the mat doing Pilates mat for strength/core. My workouts last an hour or less.
9:40am: I am at the Carolina Ballet studios warming up, breaking in shoes, and getting ready for class.
10am-6:30pm: The company has a 1.5hr warm-up class and then a 6 hours day of rehearsals.
After my day, I go home, do some schoolwork (I take distance education classes at NCSU), eat dinner, hang out or call friends, and ice if necessary. I try to get eight hours of sleep and start it all over.
What do you eat during the course of a typical working day ?
I always try to have a healthy balanced meal with a particular focus on protein in my diet. I rarely eat out because I enjoy cooking and preparing meals. (I would love to go to culinary school some day.) I have recently gotten into the phase of protein shakes, even green shakes with kale. My friends give me a hard time about drinking green shakes, but they are good and have great nutrition.
What would surprise people about you ?
I love to cook and bake. I usually bake a dessert once a week and bring it into the studios for the company to share. Also, I am an online shopping addict. I have a bookmark list of about ten fashion sites I check regularly. It is a little embarrassing.
What is your best piece of advice ?
My best piece of advice is that you have to take life as it is thrown at you. You might have your mind set on one thing, but what is given to you instead is much better.
I speak from experience. I had my hopes set on getting into NYCB straight from my ten-year SAB training. During my last month at the school I was told I did not get the job due to “money problems,” so that summer I was trying to figure out where I was going to go. All of a sudden, I got invited to audition for the Carolina Ballet in Raleigh, NC. I got the job and now I am going into my third season with the company. I have grown more as a dancer here than I think I would have elsewhere. I am so grateful for all of my opportunities I have been given here.
How do you prepare in the hours before a show ?
I have to eat a substantial amount of protein about two hours before a show and then I am set to go. The meal can’t be too big otherwise I get a stomach ache. It is very important to eat before a show because otherwise you will lose energy – been there, done that; not fun.
How do you deal with the stress of performing ?
The best solution is not to be stressed! What is the worst that will happen? If I fall, I fall – people will remember me for it.
If you were asked to design ballet costumes would you?
I would love to go into costume design someday. I saw the McQueen fashion exhibit at the MET this summer twice and it was so fascinating. There are so many details in clothing design I didn’t realize. The biggest difference between fashion and dance costume design is that the latter must be able to move with the body. There are certain fabrics that work and have the stretch and strength to hold up.
What do you look for in a dance partner ?
Height, strength, and motivation. All three are a must. I have had partners with the first two characteristics, but then nothing much comes of it because they don’t have the drive.
Do you have a ‘signature step’ – one that comes naturally to you ?
I love to turn and jump since both come pretty naturally to me, on most days. As for a particular step, I love entrechat six – when you jump straight up and beat your legs three times.
A phrase I use far too often is … ?
“That is amazing!”
What’s been your best on-stage moment so far ?
It didn’t happen to me personally, but I was present backstage. Carolina Ballet was doing Robert Weiss’ production of Romeo & Juliet and Romeo forgot the marriage scene. He was just standing in the wings (opposite the one he had to enter from) drinking water and catching his breath. Juliet, the nurse and the priest were on stage making up choreography and all of a sudden Romeo realizes, sprints behind the cross-over and makes it just in time to get married and run off the stage. The cast was laughing in the wings.
What is your exit strategy for the time when you stop dancing?
I plan to retire from dancing whenever my body tells me to stop. I hope to never have any surgeries or major injuries to hold me back from a fruitful career. I have been very lucky in that realm of things. Knock on wood!
Read Cecilia IIiesiu’s blog called Explore the Ballet