Cupcakes & Conversation with Joseph Phillips, Corps de Ballet, American Ballet Theatre
What motivates you at 8am on a Monday morning?
My passion for dancing has been my main motivation and drive ever since I can remember. Attending class is my favorite part of the morning it sets me up for the whole day. The night before class, I assess myself by appreciating my strengths and identifying areas for improvement. This way, I can empower myself to focus on improving myself further.
I have been quite athletic since I was a child. I distinctly recall my mother telling me that I have always had strong legs because I could crawl faster than she could walk. As a young boy, I was active in playing soccer and ran track in middle school. In South Carolina, I was the State Champion for 3 consecutive years.
At a young age, I watched a ballet performance with male dancers. I was amazed at their strength and agility. Their leaps and movements were truly powerful yet graceful. I began taking a keen interest on ballet and attended an all-boys class once a week, although my focus was still on soccer and track.
After about 1 ½ years into learning ballet, a famous Russian male ballet dancer named Stanislav Issaev came to my University to teach. My dance teacher at the time suggested that I take private lessons with him. This is where my passion for ballet began. When the Houston Ballet came to South Carolina, I went to watch it with my mother and Stanislav. I watched in awe as Carlos Acosta danced the Grand Pas de Deux from Don Quixote. I was very fortunate to learn from Stanislav, a world class dancer and superb teacher. He saw a lot of potential in me, and soon became my mentor and father figure. Soon, I made a solid commitment to learning ballet – and I was grateful to be under the wing of an inspiration as great as Stanislav who I have learned so much from.
Who would you most like to dance with & what would you dance?
I wish to dance with my girlfriend Ana Sophia Scheller. We shared a very natural and emotional experience when we performed the balcony Pas de Deux from Romeo and Juliet. I believe that dancing as Romeo is any male classical dancer’s dream. And it would even be more of an impact if you dance with someone you share passion and love with. We hope to perform Romeo and Juliet in full length one day.
If you could dance anywhere in the world (not only in a theatre), where would you dance?
The past summer brought me to Argentina. I am still at awe with the beauty and amazing architecture of Theator Colon. This is one place I visualize myself performing. I once danced at the Bolshoi in Moscow. It was a dream come true that was complimented with so much history and an audience of ballet advocates.
What is your daily routine at the moment?
As a professional dancer, a daily routine needs to be followed with commitment and determination. I make sure my body is at its optimum fitness level, waking up early and having a nutritious breakfast. I attend company class and practice on my jumps and turns to further develop my flexibility and grace. I make sure that I stretch for around 30 minutes to help avoid injuries or pulled muscles. I continue with a full day of rehearsal and apply what I have tediously practiced for. Every other day, I go to the spa and do the cold plunge so that my body heals faster from all the activity during rehearsal.
How do you prepare in the hours before a show?
First of all, I make sure I arrive 2 hours before the performance. As I begin to put in my make up, I visualize myself dancing the role with the utmost grandeur and precision. I also empower myself with a small class and have that feeling of positivity and confidence. If my teacher Stanislav is present, I make sure he gives me a small class. I then practice my techniques to enhance proper body coordination, such as rehearsing my turns. As I do this, I make sure I reserve my much needed energy for optimum stage performance. I then get my adrenaline pumping 5 minutes prior to stage time. I do this by executing my high jumps and do powerful breathing exercises. Right before I step onto the stage, I picture my past performances that were well executed. I do my best to re-create that overwhelming feeling on stage. For more challenging performances, I take Jack 3-D. It is a supplement that helps enhance my energy and endurance.
What are you looking forward to dancing in 2012?
I am eagerly looking forward to dancing Bernardo in the full length production of Le Corsaire. Aside from technical ability, this role requires some acting skills. This is an advantage for me because it enables me to add my own flare to the role.
You can ask six famous people to dinner – who would you invite?
I would be honored to have Vladimir Vasiliev for dinner. I have watched him dance Spartacus numerous times and he never ceases to amaze me how his talent makes his persona adjust to the role that he portrays. I grew up admiring Baryshnikov and Nureyev, watching their tapes over and over, even playing them in slow motion by mimicking and learning the jumps. Another would be Russell Crowe because of his admirable acting ability. He is a contributing factor to why Gladiator is my favorite movie. Another icon I wish to invite would be Jean-Claude Van Damme, a martial artist with a powerful presence. I would also appreciate the presence of Gordon Mel Young, a Maximum PC reviewer, and Victoria’s Secret model Adriana Lima, for her Brazilian beauty and grace.
What would surprise people about you?
I am a very tech-savvy person, who loves discovering the latest electronic gadgets. I built my own supercomputer and love spending time customizing it.
Who inspired you to dance?
My mentor Stanislav Issaev has always been my inspiration. Being an amazing dancer, he won multiple gold medals and has performed globally. He taught me at a very young age, being a strong influence and continually guided me through the promising path towards being a professional dancer.
How would someone else describe you?
People often describe me as very shy, and that I don’t talk much. But people who just see me on stage think I’m must be a very out-going guy.
What is your best piece of advice?
Every day that passes is a day you will never have again, so live life to the fullest and never waste it.
Which role has tested you the most & how?
When I first performed Albrecht in Giselle, it was a very challenging role with a lot of technical and acting ability. There are many meticulous details that make up this role. I had to give the impression to my audience that I actually was devastated, making my every gesture and step properly calculated. I also did my best to make the audience feel my pain and sorrow in the role, making a more lyrical approach. This proved to be a very challenging yet helpful learning experience for me.
If you designed your own stage costume, what would you create?
I have always intended to design a new La Bayadère costume, simple because this is my favourite role to portray and it was one of my key variations that helped me when I was competing.
A phrase I use far too often is …
“Oh my days!”
Who would play you in the film of your life?
A lot of people say I have a strong resemblance to Ryan Philippe, so I would think he would be appropriate to portray me. Another possibility would be Jet Li, because of the dedication he shows towards his craft.
What is your favorite quote?
“That which does not kill you makes you stronger.” –Neitzsche
What’s in your iPod?
I often listen to country music and occasionally a bit of pop music.
Who would you most like to dance for, and why?
I would love to perform for the President of the United States. That would truly be an honour for me and show my pride in being American.
What makes you a good dance partner?
I make sure I am reasonable and show flexibility towards my partner. I do not show I know everything; I adjust instead and guide my partner throughout rehearsals and performances.
Do you have a secret skill which no one knows about?
I can bake really good biscuits, a very delicious recipe that I learned from my grandmother.
Describe yourself in just three words.
Dedicated, hard-working, romantic.
If you could dance in front of anyone, who would it be and what makes them special to you?
I love to dance in front of my mother. She is such a wonderful person and I see her truly happy when she sees me dancing.
In terms of your ballet career, where would you like to be this time next year?
I wish to continue being a part of the American Ballet Theatre, dancing more leading roles. I also see myself starting my own business revolving around dance, specifically ballet. My passion for dance will surely be a big contribution to the success of the business.
Watch Joseph Phillips in Don Quixote
Watch Joseph Phillips in Romeo & Juliet Balcony Pas de Deux with Ana Sophia Scheller
Follow Joseph at his website