Cupcakes & Conversation with Carli Samuelson, Corps de Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet

ballet dancer on stage
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Cupcakes & Conversation with Carli Samuelson, Corps de Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet

ballet dancer on stage
Photograph : Angela Sterling

What motivates you at 8am on a Monday morning ?

It can be very difficult to find motivation on a Monday morning, but my motivation comes from the fact that I’m a part of this amazing professional ballet company (Pacific Northwest Ballet) and I feel so fortunate to be where I am.

Why ballet ?

Even though none of my relatives ever danced, ballet has always been a part of my life.  I started ballet at the age of 4 after seeing a performance of The Nutcracker and since then I’ve always known that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.  I can’t imagine my life without it.

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

PNB is currently working on our New Works program that runs from March 16th to the 24th.  In this program I am working on a piece called A Million Kisses to my Skin by David Dawson and it is by far the most strenuous dancing I’ve ever done.  I may not get the chance to perform it since I am third cast but even being in the back and dancing as full out as possible, it still requires as much energy as one can obtain.  If I do get the opportunity to perform it, it is definitely going to test my stamina as well as challenge me to break out of my comfort zone.

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

I have to admit that I’ve never thought about whom I would want to dance with the most.  But if I had to choose one person, it would have to be Sascha Radetsky and I would love to dance Juliette in Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Romeo et Juilette.

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

There are many places I would want to dance now but when I was younger I always thought it would be amazing to dance on Lincoln Center Stage in New York City.

How do you prepare your pointe shoes ?

I don’t do a whole lot to prepare my pointe shoes but besides sewing on ribbon and elastic, I do like to three-quarter the shanks and cut the satin off the tips of the shoes because if I don’t it feels like I’m slipping all over the place.  Since I have the “wing block” spec, I have to use rubbing alcohol to soften the box around my bunions or else it can be very painful while breaking in new shoes.  I also like to step on the top of the box to allow for more space for my toes.  That is basically all I do to prepare my shoes but some people need to do other things like darning or applying glue before they wear them.

What is your daily routine at the moment ?

Since my schedule is so different from day to day, it’s hard to have a daily routine.  Depending on what program we’re working on, some days I have a full day of rehearsals and some days I’ll only have an hour or so.  My morning routine consists of waking up around 8:30am and getting something to eat.  I don’t like to eat heavy in the morning so I usually have a banana and a breakfast shake.  After getting ready and driving to the studios, we have warm-up class everyday at 10:15am until 11:45am.  Rehearsals run from noon to 7:00pm with an hour lunch break from 3:00pm to 4:00pm. When rehearsals are over, I drive home and have dinner, relax and watch some TV before bed.  Then it starts all over again!

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

In the morning, I have a banana and a breakfast shake that usually holds me until lunch, which is at 3:00pm.  If I need a little something to hold me until lunch, I usually have some kind of protein bar like a Luna bar or a Builder’s bar (Clif), which is high in protein.  For lunch I usually have soup or salad, some kind of fruit like an apple or an orange, a yogurt and occasionally I like to get a latte for a caffeine boost.  For dinner I like to always have some kind of protein, whether it be a steak or chicken or some kind of fish.  When I’m really lazy and don’t want to cook dinner I will resort to a pre-made frozen meal from Trader Joe’s.  These meals will vary from day to day depending on what I’m in the mood for this is basically what I aim to eat everyday.

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

Tom Hanks, Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Anniston, Sandra Bullock, Anne Hathaway, and Julia Roberts.

What would surprise people about you ?

If I weren’t a dancer, I would want to either be a professional swimmer or a professional soccer player.

Who inspired you to dance ?

Alessandra Ferri.  I saw her perform Romeo and Juliet once and it was just so beautiful that I hoped someday I would be able to inspire someone like that.

What is your best piece of advice ?

My best piece of advice is if you don’t have the drive or passion for ballet and aren’t willing to make sacrifices in your life then ballet is not for you.  It’s best to find something you do have passion for because ballet is just too hard, mentally and physically.

How do you prepare in the hours before a show ?

When preparing for a show there’s not a whole lot I do.  If there’s time, I like to take a nap so I have some energy for the show.  I also try not to eat a lot because I tend to feel weighed down if I do so I like to wait until after the show to eat dinner.  After applying stage make-up, if I have time, I sometimes get some physical therapy to make sure everything is moving well and everything feels good.  Finally, once my costume and shoes are on, I like to do a few things to warm my body up as well as trying a few things out on stage before curtain.

How do you deal with the stress of performing ?

When I’m feeling really nervous or stressed for a part I’m going to be performing, I try to focus on my breathing to calm myself down.  I tend to constantly go over choreography in my head because I’m afraid I’m going to forget something and blank out on stage, which is a common fear among many dancers.  But most of the time everyone is very well prepared and there is no need for that fear.

Which role has tested you the most & how ?

When I was a student at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet in Carlisle, PA, I had the opportunity to perform the principal role in Alan Hineline’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and it has been by far the most challenging role I’ve ever done.  The ballet was 3 acts long and I was in almost the entire thing.  It tested me in many different ways.  It tested my stamina, my technique, my ability to connect with my partner on an emotional level and my confidence.  It definitely made me grow as a dancer and I am thankful for that. 

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

I am by no means a costume designer or ever will be but if it were a classical ballet I was designing for I would want something simple and elegant.  Maybe a chiffon type fabric that was long and flowy.  If it were for something more contemporary I have to admit that I would need help coming up with something because I would have a hard time coming up with something creative or original.

What do you look for in a dance partner ?

Someone who is strong, confident, emotional and a good listener.

ballet dancer on pointe
Photograph : Angela Sterling

What is your favourite quote ?

“Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”

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

The petit allegro step, jete.

A phrase I use far too often is … ?

“I’m tired.”

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

My best on-stage moment so far with PNB was when I performed Melancholic from George Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments.  I was one of the two demi girls and that was by far the most fun I’ve had on-stage.

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

I do not have a secret skill which no one knows about.

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

A year from now I will still be dancing with PNB and hopefully I would have gotten some opportunities that helped move my career forward.

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

As of right now, there is no exit strategy for me.  Besides very little brainstorming, I have not thought about what I would do after I retire.  I’m not sure yet if I want to stay in the world of ballet, whether it be teaching, choreographing, being a massage therapist for dancers or even a physical therapist.  There’s a possibility I won’t do anything that involves ballet at all.  For example, I’ve thought about becoming a marine biologist.  There is just so much to think about when it comes to life after dance and since I’ve only just begun my journey, I haven’t yet thought about what I will do when it ends.

Watch Carli Samuelson demonstrate the techniques of stage make-up

Watch A Million Kisses to my Skin by David Dawson