Cupcakes & Conversation with Jo-Ann Sundermeier, Soloist, Royal Winnipeg Ballet
What motivates you at 8am on a Monday morning ?
A bright sunny morning always helps! Thankfully, even though it’s sometimes awfully cold outside, the sky remains blue, and the sun is shining! Also, knowing my schedule in advance helps to put me in the right mind set. If I know what I’d like to accomplish in the day, it’s a bit easier to keep me motivated.
Why ballet ?
I was put into other styles of dance when I was younger, but I think I was just attracted to the discipline and movement quality of ballet. Nowadays, I have a whole new respect for it.
What are you looking forward to dancing this year ?
I’m looking forward to performing in Giselle. I’ve never danced in that ballet, so finally getting this opportunity is very exciting to me.
Who would you most like to dance with & what would you dance ?
If I could dance with anyone, I’d dance with my long-time friend Matthew Golding who was recently promoted to Principal Dancer with the Dutch National Ballet. We met each other when we were both studying at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School, and have kept in touch since. I think I would want to dance Manon with him. It’s a tragic love story… I remember watching The Royal Ballet perform it….just gorgeous!
If you could dance anywhere in the world (not only in a theatre), where would you dance ?
On our recent tour to Israel, we went to visit Cesarea National Park, and there they have a gorgeous Amphitheater. It is outdoors, over-looking the Mediterranean Sea. A stunning site, and somewhere I would love to perform someday!
How do you prepare your pointe shoes ?
I wear Gaynor Minden pointe shoes, so they don’t really need much preparation, just sewing on ribbons and elastics. Depending on the role, I would usually wear my shoes for a few weeks before show time, alternating between a few pairs. I never like to go out on stage with a new pair of shoes.
What is your daily routine at the moment ?
On a typical day, I wake up around 7:30am, have breakfast and coffee, out the door by 8:20, arrive at the studios and take class at 9:30am. Rehearsals begin at 11:00am. Lunch is from 2:00-3:00pm. Back to rehearsal from 3:00-6:00pm, then head home for dinner and some downtime with my husband and doggy! I usually try to get to bed around 10:30 or 11:00pm.
What do you eat during the course of a typical working day ?
I start off with 2 cups of coffee and cereal. We have a few breaks throughout the day (between rehearsals) to grab a quick snack, so in that time, I usually have yogurt, fruit, almonds, a granola bar, etc… For lunch, it’s either leftovers from the night before, or I’ll go out and grab some food from the local cafe. At dinner time, I have to have meat and veggies. I love steak and chicken, and I always accompany my meals with a big salad and another vegetable on the side. Do I eat dessert? Yes. I love sugar! But I try to keep it to a minimum. I won’t have it every day, but on the occasion I will!
You can ask six famous people to dinner – who would you invite ?
Lady Gaga, Ellen Degeneres, Natalia Osipova, Matthew McConaughey, Prince William and Kate Middleton.
What would surprise people about you ?
When I’m not dancing, I’m very lazy. I like to watch TV, and sit around and do nothing.
Who inspired you to dance ?
I don’t remember who was the first person who inspired me to dance, but I have many people that I look at every day that inspire me to go that next level, and really push myself. I also like to watch videos of amazing artists around the world, to remind me that, although ballet is a small world, there’s so much more out there! I find watching great dancers inspires me to be great!
What is your best piece of advice ?
“Just have fun! You know, life is short…make the most of it.”
How do you prepare in the hours before a show ?
I like to have a bit to eat, nothing too heavy, but just something to tie me over till the end of the show. I also like to stay relaxed by listening to music, while I do my hair and makeup. I usually warm-up about an hour before I have to be on stage, and then I get into costume about 15 minutes before curtain. I’m not one to “practice” things on stage before the show, but I do like to just move around, and feel the floor.
Which role has tested you the most & how ?
I was given the opportunity to dance the roles of Odette and Odile in Swan Lake. I wasn’t originally cast, but a fellow dancer got injured, and I got the opportunity! We had left for a 5 week tour, performing 4 different ballets on the road, and every chance I got, I would try to find time and space to rehearse. When I was on the bus, I’d watch videos, and just practice imagery, to have a story in my head of what I want to portray on stage. I really thought that this was my “make it or break it” point, because I wanted to go out there and be a fabulous dancer, but also an amazing artist. I was a wreck for those 5 weeks before opening night, but I got back to Winnipeg, and Leslie Browne was in town coaching me for the week before show time! It was an amazing experience. I learned a lot!
If you were asked to design your own ballet costume, what would you create ? This is a hard question, because it would have to depend on the ballet itself. I think I would typically go for a design that would flatter the body.
What do you look for in a dance partner ?
I love a guy who can dance! But most importantly, I look for chemistry. There has to be a connection between us, and he has to feel comfortable to look me in the eyes. I also like it when they have an understanding of how to partner. One sign of a great partner is making the girl look good. If he makes my job look easy, then he’s a great partner!
What is your favourite quote ?
“Everything happens for a reason.”
Do you have a ‘signature step’ – one that comes naturally to you ?
People will say that I’m a natural turner, but I like to think that I’m a well-rounded dancer. I’m not AMAZING at one thing, I just like to think that I’m GOOD at a lot of things.
What’s been your best on-stage moment so far ?
When I got to dance the roles of Odette and Odile in Swan Lake. It was the first time I got to dance in a major classical Principal role, and I only got one show, but it was incredible! I will never forget the feelings I had that day.
In terms of your ballet career, where would you like to be in a year from now ? Everyone wants to be a Principal Dancer, but I guess because that’s the next step in my career, that is what I want. Getting promoted to Principal is definitely in my near future…
If you could dance in front of anyone, who would it be and what makes them special to you?
My parents. My dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and has been fighting it for a very long time, and my mom has been taking care of him throughout. They live in the United States, and it’s hard for them to come up to Winnipeg to see me, let alone, see any shows. Every opportunity they get, while we are on tour in the south, they try to come see the shows I’m dancing in, but it’s not very often. So to be able to dance for them would be lovely.
Watch Jo-Ann rehearsing Swan Lake
Watch Jo-Ann talking about The Nutcracker