Cupcakes & Conversation with Chinatsu Owada, Alabama Ballet

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Cupcakes & Conversation with Chinatsu Owada, Alabama Ballet

ballet dancer in orange dress

Photograph : Billy Brown

What motivates you at 8am on a Monday morning?

To remind myself that I have my body to dance and that I have supportive family who understand me living with my dream job makes me feel thankful and motivated. It makes me think “Let’s enjoy dancing while I can, now at this moment!”

Why ballet?

I have been interested in a lot of things but ballet was the only thing that kept my interest and motivation for a long time – since I was four. It is hard and challenging, but it gives me a great feeling of achievement when I get better after some hard work. Also, I am glad I chose ballet, because ballet is a global language and there is no borderline in the ballet world. It can make people happy or move their heart. Ballet has led me to meet so many great people in my life.

ballet dancer as black swan

What are you looking forward to dancing during 2012 & what are the big challenges likely to be for you?

The full length productions of both La Sylphide and Sleeping Beauty. The second act variation in Sleeping Beauty is one of my favorite parts of classical ballet and that has been my dream to perform on stage. Both ballets will be very challenging and hard on my stamina because I’ve also got to make it look light and pretty. But I love challenges and they fire me up, so I am excited.

Who would you most like to dance with & what would you dance?

This is about just my fantasy world.

It must be wonderful to dance dramatic ballet like Giselle or any Kylian piece with Mr. Manuel Legris. He is a great dancer, actor, and partner.

Also, I cannot tap but it would be so much fun to dance anything with Mr. Gene Kelly.

If you could dance anywhere in the world (not only in a theatre), where would you dance?

Under the clear and beautiful ocean somewhere. Or just by any beautiful water. (Beach, lake, river, etc…)

How do you prepare your pointe shoes?

I order my shoes with lower sides. They already come with 3/4 shanks but I cut the three layers of shank in different lengths to make the shoe gradually flatter to my heels, and duct tape on top to smooth them. And I spray water lightly all over the shoes when I first wear them.

What is your daily routine at the moment?

Right now I am on summer break so I take class or do some exercises whenever I can and enjoy the rest of the free time doing stuff that I cannot do during the season.

ballet dancer stands on pojnte in a wood

Photograph : Arden Ward

What do you eat during the course of a typical working day?

I eat cereal with almond milk or bagels or oatmeal. I drink coffee only when I badly need it to wake me up! I eat a banana and a protein bar in between rehearsals. For dinner I try to eat real food with meat and veggies as much as possible but when I teach from 5pm to 8pm after rehearsals, I am so tired that the only thing I can cook is pasta.

To make sure I have enough protein and vitamins, sometimes I make smoothies with frozen fruits, banana, soy milk, and whey protein powder in a blender. It’s easy and healthy and makes me stay strong without injuries and sickness.

You can ask six famous people to dinner – who would you invite?

Sylvie Guillem, Maurice Bejart, Jiri Kylian, Christopher Weeldon, Princess Grace Kelly, and Miyako Yoshida.

What would surprise people about you?

People often tell me that I look taller on stage performing than when they see me in person after the show.

ballet dancer on stage as Giselle

Photograph : Arik Sokol

Who inspired you to dance?

All of the ballet videos I watched when I was younger; famous ballet companies that came in town like The Royal Ballet. I used to watch all kinds of ballet videos like the Bolshoi Ballet’s full length Swan Lake & Sleeping Beauty, documentaries about Sylvie Guillem, Darcey Bussell, class video of the Paris Opera Ballet School, and I just tried to copy them. I remember dancing in front of the TV while watching a video of the Vaganova Ballet School as if I was taking class with them, when I was little.

What is your best piece of advice?

“Believe in yourself.”

How do you prepare in the hours before a show?

Our company’s studio where we rehearse has a nice soft floor, but we perform in a theater with a very hard floor and we only get to start rehearsing during the week of the shows. Dancers have to carefully adjust the body.

So during a warm-up class, I try to get used to the feeling of dancing on stage. While I am on stage before or after the warm-up class, I try to choose a pair of pointe shoes for the day from the many pairs that I carry with me, depending on my body condition on that day. I keep my legs warm in snow pants while putting stage makeup on and while going over some stuff on stage. I put my costume on and I’m ready to perform.

How do you deal with the stress of performing?

I take a lot of deep breaths, and remember how much I rehearsed and trust myself, and just be ready to enjoy the most fun and delightful part of the job!

I also picture the faces of my family in my head. I sometimes feel calm when I perform as if my family is in the audience even when they are not. I can feel their support and it gives me a positive energy.

Which role has tested you the most & how?

I enjoyed acting a girl in a tragedy like Giselle, and Caroline in Tudor’s Lilac Garden, but Odette/Odile in Swan Lake was difficult for me because it was hard to portray a princess who is trapped in a swan figure during the daytime waiting for a true love to break the spell. But slowly I tried to develop my own Odette and Odile as the rehearsals went and it became another great experience for me.

ballet dancer on stage with partner

If you were asked to design your own ballet costume, what would you create?

I love colors, designing and sewing. I would try to make sure the costume matches with or helps the image of the choreography and the music, and be in harmony with the lighting. And also from my experience as a dancer, it has to be light, fitting, and fun to dance in.

What do you look for in a dance partner?

Mental and physical strength, thoughtfulness and receptiveness, a positive attitude and just the right amount of confidence, and a smile!

What is your favorite quote?

“There is no genius that bests hard work.”

Do you have a ‘signature step’ – one that comes naturally to you?

No ballet steps come naturally to me! But I love adagio movements using a lot of upper body and arms nicely.  I also love big jumps like grand jete attitude croise.  I feel more comfortable and free when dancing more contemporary stuff actually.

A phrase I use far too often is…?

“I think so…?”

What’s been your best on-stage moment so far?

In Christopher Bruce’s Rooster, I was cast as Ruby Tuesday. There is a part where I get to be thrown in the air quite high a few times by four male dancers and I also roll in the air. It was a little scary at first but I actually enjoyed it on stage.

Do you have a secret skill which no-one knows about?

It is a secret….

In terms of your ballet career, where would you like to be in a year from now?

I want to keep learning and improving as a dancer and a human every day. Wherever doing my best takes me to, I would be happy.

What is your exit strategy, for the time when you stop dancing, and how did you plan it?

No strategy yet. I will know when the time comes.

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