Stanton Welch, Artistic Director
JUNE 7th - 17th, 2007
AT THE BROWN THEATER OF THE WORTHAM THEATER CENTER
501 TEXAS AVENUE IN DOWNTOWN HOUSTON
HOUSTON BALLET REVIVES ITS MAGICAL PRODUCTION
OF COPPÉLIA THE GREAT COMEDY OF CLASSICAL BALLET
Houston Ballet Principal Dancer AMY FOTE
ENCHANTING AMY FOTE GIVES A SPELLBINDING FIRST TIME PERFORMANCE
AS SWANILDA IN THE CLASSIC COPPELIA FOR HOUSTON BALLET
By Theresa Pisula
May 30, 2007
Houston, TX - From June 7th through June 17th, 2007 Houston Ballet presents the nineteenth century comic masterpiece, Coppélia. It is the perfect introduction for children as well as adults to the beauty of classical ballet. The ballet follows the lighthearted romance between Swanilda and Franz and their relationship with the eccentric toymaker Dr. Coppélius and his unusually lifelike doll Coppélia. Ben Stevenson’s production of this beloved classic ballet sparkles with Desmond Heeley’s breathtaking designs, transporting the audience to a charming Bavarian village. Houston Ballet will give seven performances of Coppélia in the Brown Theater at the Wortham Theater Center in downtown Houston. Tickets may be purchased by calling 713-227-2787 or by visiting www.houstonballet.org.
Principal dancer Amy Rene Fote (pronounced Fo-tee) gives her first performances in Coppélia in Houston. She depicts her character Swanilda as the MOST of everything, one who wants to be the most beautiful but then is the most mischievous. “She wants people to look at her, look at my beautiful footwork and look I have the most beautiful guy that’s in love with me. Everything is the MOST with her, that’s the word that keeps coming to mind,” describes Amy.
She will admit to you that her most favorite thing about dancing is the story-telling. “I love telling the story. And make it be as real and believable as possible, as true to character, listening to my inner dialogue.” Her expression of the piece in the art of dance is what she thrives on, how it comes across the body. She enjoys the full length ballets and loves the mixed reps as well. “Oftentimes, it’s just full on dancing and that is something I love I guess, because of growing up dancing. I always enjoyed it, always loved it and always had a passion for it,” she says.
I asked her to tell the Houston audience about the part that she is playing in Coppelia. As if it were part of the normal conversation or maybe within her inherent nature, Amy proceeds to weave the tale of this 19th century ballet. “And do you know the story? There’s a guy that is set to be engaged but they’re both intrigued by this doll in the window. And he ends up blowing kisses to it and she sees this and she’s extremely jealous. So she turns out to be the MOST jealous in the village.” As she describes the story of the ballet, including the part where the priest is scolding Swanilda for her mischief and the Wheat Dance which decides if the lovers will have a long and happy marriage, one can’t help but picture the beautiful costumes and gracefulness of the ballerinas onstage.
Ultimately, Swanilda finds the key to Dr. Coppelius’ house where Coppelia the doll is stored. Swanilda doesn’t quite understand why the doll is ignoring her. As Dr. Coppelius shooes everyone out of his workshop, Swanilda decides to put on Coppelia’s doll costume. Dr. Coppelius, who is totally enamored of the doll, busies himself wanting to make it real. He attempts to make the shoulders move and reads on how to make the eyes blink, trying to figure everything out. He finally gives it a heart and it comes to life! But then Swanilda sees that Franz, her fiancé, has also crept into the house.
Dr. Copppelius gives him a drink or two with the swishing potion, so Franz is knocked out cold in the bed. Dr. Coppelius steals the heart from Franz and he uses him to make his dolls come to life. In the meanwhile, Swanilda, at the end of the Second Act, reveals to Dr. Coppelius that she is not the living doll that he presumed and that Coppelia is just a doll that’s kind of in a heap in the corner. “And he’s heartbroken. And from that comes the truth, and Swanilda apologizes to Franz. He forgives her and their wedding goes on,” as Amy tells the story.
Principal Dancer AMY FOTE in Clear choreographed by Stanton Welch. Photographer: Drew Donovan
Amy Fote joined Houston Ballet as a first soloist in 2005 after having danced for Milwaukee Ballet for 14 years. “Well, it has to do with Madame Butterfly,” Amy recalls. When she was with Milwaukee Ballet in 2003 she was invited by the Royal New Zealand Ballet to perform as a guest artist in Stanton Welch’s Madame Butterfly in 2004. “Steven Woodgate who is the Ballet Master here was sending dancers to Madame Butterfly. I think one thing led to another and during that year, I came down to Houston and they offered me the first soloist job.” For that season Amy came to be with the Houston Ballet. Last December 2006 they promoted her to principal dancer.
She was born and raised in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, which is an hour north of Milwaukee. She began studying ballet with Jean Wolfmeyer whom her nieces now take dance lessons from. “She just had a way of making me so interested in dance. From working even with, you know she would hold her hand over her mouth and just use her eyes. She would instruct me to hold the audience with your eyes. Or to use your eyes when you’re trying to say ‘Don’t look at me’ or ‘I’m afraid’. She started already teaching about the FACE which I think is something that a lot of teachers forego. She was really into the stage presence,” explains Amy.
Later, after a number of dance classes, she was sent away to a performing arts high school where she learned to be on her own and grow up fast. Amy continued her training at the National Academy of Arts and later became a graduate of the Harid Conservatory. But she considers Manitowoc as just a very simple town. “I guess, I don’t even think twice about it. It was just what I knew. Winters were cold but then we would go and put on snow suits and build forts and snowmen.” When I asked her if her mom was a ballerina, she admitted that no one in her family before her was inclined toward the professional arts. Her family owns a gift business which they decorate during Christmas. Her sister, who is 4 years older, danced when she was growing up. Both were enrolled in dance lessons by their mother. “My sister would come home from practice and I would copy her. Somehow I found it fun and really enjoyed it. If somebody tells you you’re good at it, you enjoy it even more,” she laughs.
Photo courtesy of www.uwmanitowoc.uwc.edu
Amy fondly describes her performance as Swanilda in Coppelia as something she enjoyed watching when she was a little girl. “When I saw Coppelia, the part I remember the most was the Second Act with the doll, that’s when the magic happens. That’s what people will remember most when she (Swanilda) is acting like the doll and the stiff movement is accentuated. You know wobbles when she stops, like a wooden doll. I think the little kids especially will like it and I think the magic really happens in the second act.”
Not unlike the living “girly” doll Coppelia, she playfully describes how ballet has affected her life. “I had no idea it would lead to this. That was just a dream, you know? And somebody said, ‘Oh, I saw you onstage and I picked you out right away!’ from some performance and then all of a sudden there’s this huge review about it.” She confesses that she was never one who craved attention. And that her shyness would eventually creep up during family gatherings. “I do remember having my relatives come over one Christmas and they would ask me to do a dance and I was highly embarrassed by that.” Especially now, being a professional, she doesn’t quite know how to react when someone asks her to do an impromptu performance outside of the ballet stage. When people ask to show what she does onstage, she replies, “What? This isn’t what I wear to dance. This isn’t the right floor. In the right situation, I would love to show you what I do.” But she confesses, “I love what I do. I’m very proud to be with the Houston Ballet.”
Although the Houston Ballet does keep her busy with such a rigorous schedule. The professional ballerinas have to individually maintain a high level of discipline to manage each of their own incredibly hectic calendars. But Amy accepts the routine. “It’s a lot on our plate. But I think sometimes that’s what feeds dancers, you know, just the challenge. Just having to have your head so organized as well, just having to totally focus, you really have to be with it on each rehearsal,” she explains.
When I asked her on how she manages this juggling act, Amy admits, “Sometimes I wonder the same thing. But for me this end of the season has been extremely productive. I did Don Q (Don Quixote) also a few weeks earlier. So after working on Don Q and Coppelia at the same time, two full length ballets that are very demanding as the leading lady I have to take it day by day, hour by hour. I think that’s the only way for me. If I look too far ahead I think I’d get overwhelmed and I’ll get tired. For me, it’s mind over body.”
She performed Don Quixote outdoors at the Miller Theater. She was one of the 3 performers who played the leading lady named KITRI. How does she keep up with all the different characters and then perform them all onstage? “It’s interesting because I also note that how I would walk and stand as Kitri is very different than how I would as Swanilda. Your whole thought process has to change. I often have an inner dialogue and when I was Kitri, it might be much more mature, strong and fiery. She just has a way about her. She just could take your attention with anything, using her fan and beads. The way she would use her eyes, it’s just very different. And when I think of Swanilda, she’s just the best of everything, she’s much more immature. She’s much more of a little girl, more of a doll. So, it’s kind of actually interesting to work on these different styles almost back to back. They’re both challenging.”
I asked her how these characters compare to her dance in Stanton Welch’s Clear, which is more of a modern dance. “Clear is beautiful. The music is gorgeous, I dance with Randy Herrera. And the other day I actually did one performance with Connor Walsh.” She explained that as she is still performing Clear and she is in preparation mode for Coppelia almost at the same time. “Absolutely, I just had a run of Coppelia earlier today and tonight right now, as we speak dancers are onstage going through Coppelia. And this will happen tomorrow night as well, which for me is so strange. When I was with Milwaukee Ballet we would work on one show – period. And when I first came to this company, I remember thinking ‘Wow I am doing Western Symphony tonight and tomorrow night I’m going to be doing Odette and Odile on the same stage, almost the same time.’ It has really got my head spinning.”
Of course, this type of intensity would drive a normal person insane. “It’s pretty full on, I would say. More extreme than what I have known.” But for someone who has had the optimum training, she and every member of the Houston Ballet are tough. They are properly trained to be able to handle this kind of stress. Amy explains that the company organizes the scheduling to accommodate the ballerinas’ needs. There is always a different ballet each week that takes priority. “We started working on Coppelia, oooh, maybe about 6-7 weeks ago. But we were also putting together Don Q. And at that time, it was a good solid week that was focused virtually all on Coppelia. Then, the next week came and we started putting together another piece called Svadebka. And then the other studios, you may be called on and that’s when you may work on let’s say Clear. Hopefully we’ll work on everything you do during that week. But there are rare cases where you may not touch something for a bit.”
As part of the discipline, one must do their homework. “So that when you walk back in the studio you don’t have to start on zero again, where you kind of pick up where you left off,” she notes. In reality, because of the fact that they have to perform onstage, they can’t slack off at any point in time. Amy agrees, “Right. It’s absolutely true. And also in some of the ballets, we’ll split up because for me, I was the mother of the groom in one cast. And in the other cast, I’m the bride. And this is something that happens quite a bit in the dance world. I know some of the men are dealing with this. For Clear, you’re dancing to the same music but you maybe doing a completely different set. You really have to give it a lot of thought before you step out onstage as to what you will be doing.”
Why does she do it? “It’s tremendously challenging but I think it’s almost something that dancers thrive on. I don’t know that I do. I love to be very comfortable,” she laughs. “I just like to present what I’ve been working on to the audience. That’s just what I’ve been used to.” What is it then, I ask, that motivates her? “I just love dance. I love expressing myself through movement. I love the music, the physicality of it.”
Her repertoire includes contemporary works by Jiri Kylian, George Balanchine, Christopher Burce, Jerome Robbins, Alonzo King, Choo San Gohhas and Christopher Wheeldon. Ms. Fote has performed the lead roles in many great classical ballets including Romeo and Juliet, Anna Karenina, Giselle, Cinderella, Carmen, Swan Lake, Onegin, Dracula, and of course Coppelia and Don Quixote. This is quite a motivation.
Principal Dancer AMY FOTE in Clear choreographed by Stanton Welch. Photographer: Drew Donovan
I inquired about how she is able to obtain and maintain that “to die for” body. I expressed my admiration of her six-pack stomach, much like Brad Pitt’s in the movie Fight Club and Snatch or Angelina Jolie’s in the Lara Croft movies because quite frankly it is very difficult to get. In today’s society, it is something that the kids can live up to and a lot of adults are trying to have. If people just trained as vigorously as a principal ballerina, we would all have this desired body. She laughed and thanked me for the compliment. “I don’t deny myself of what I want to eat. But I’m somebody who eats in moderation. I’m not an extremist in anything. I certainly start with a bowl of fruit in the morning, then something with protein and I eat meat.” She says that a lot of it just comes from a very active lifestyle. Her schedule is five days from Tuesday thru Saturday for six hours a day of pretty intense rehearsal.
“And when I say 6 hours, we also before that had an hour and a half class. So you’re constantly stressing your body which lengthens your muscles but then you’re also toning them with all the stress that we do. I think it just comes from being lean and active every day. And I also eat well. I try to have something green every day whether it’s broccoli or salad or something. So I do try to be healthy because for me if I eat like crap all the time that’s how I feel. I would want to actually give my body something good that I know will replenish me when I’m tired or completely exhausted,” she says. Make a mental note, just in case, for future reference you should wonder what it takes to have that prima ballerina physique.
Because of how lean and athletic her body is, she is more in tune with her body of what to eat that’s good for her rather than someone who just sits around the office all day. “So as I listen to my body it often tells me what I’m craving,” admits Amy. One who possesses the athletic body type would often think of dances and exercises that are very in tune with their body. They instinctively know what they have to do to make it feel better. She also considers herself very lucky and she credits her mom for her high metabolism. She laughs about the fact that her nickname was “Twiggy” when she was growing up.
I asked her if she drinks sodas. “Very rarely,” she responds. “I probably had 2-3 sodas all year. I would say my drink of choice is water. I drink water more so than anything. Also when I go out to a restaurant I would prefer to have a glass of water with no ice than a soda. Sure, I’ll have a drink every now and then. But for me, I’m most refreshed with water.” Oftentimes, knowing what you have nourished your body with will get you through the exhaustion of a rigorous work-out. “I think that has a lot to do with my physique, eating the foods that I crave, especially when I’m working and listening to my body, eating only when I’m hungry.”
What would she consider are her weaknesses? “You know my problem is I eat a lot of sugar,” she laughs. “I eat gummie bears and hard candy. I like chocolate but I crave it only at certain times but almost every day I can do what I call the hard sugar. So I get plenty of sugar that way so if I don’t get it from a soda, all the better,” she confesses.
And what about those dreaded carbohydrates, does she eat carbs? “Oh yeah, absolutely, at the grocery store, I buy a lot of fresh fruits and produce. I prefer things fresh, whether it’s broccoli there or a salad here. A lot of people come through and buy a couple of apples. I always buy, you know, 5 of each, 5 apples, 5 apricots, 5 peaches. For breakfast in the morning, I’ll cut up 3-4 pieces of fruit in a bowl and then either have oatmeal or cereal. For oven cupcakes - that’s kind of my staple, I always eat before shows. I have a recipe for that,” she laughs. “I don’t eat red meat that often. But I had a burger last week and I ate meat with my dad’s spaghetti sauce.”
For that six-pack stomach, she admits to doing sit-ups when she was younger but not anymore. “We do certain things that activate your stomach muscles,” she explains. “So if I do something called the GRANDE JATTE ENT which is when I throw my legs in front and throw it high, if you do something like that - that engages your stomach.” She will admit that during a performance, when she is being partnered with a gentleman, there are often things that she does that they are not dead weight when they are being held or carried. “We are engaged as well where we are constantly flexing all these muscles and pulling up and thinking tall. So as to look tall and that makes you look light and that’s what a ballerina wants to be. Depending on the role, you know? For a Spanish person, you want to be down on the ground more. But oftentimes, that’s what you want to achieve, looking light. It’s disengaging your muscles in a light way.”
For now, she is working mostly for the Houston Ballet. “Our contract is 44 weeks so anybody that is with the Houston Ballet, this is their primary priority over anything. Our director Stanton Welch is wonderful because he allows us to go and guest often. And right before I did Don Q, I went with Nick Leschke to Midland, Texas. We performed Madame Butterfly, just the end of Act One, a 12-minute pas de deux for the Midland Festival Ballet.” She looks forward to the weeks off on vacation, but pretty much Houston Ballet schedules her whole season.
For her time off, she goes back to Wisconsin where she bought a house after graduation immediately after taking a job with Milwaukee Ballet. She still lives in the house which is an hour away from her family’s home. At the time, she considered it to be the ideal to be doing what she loved so close to home. She could share her love for ballet with friends and family she loves. “That’s one thing I do miss. In Houston, I have a great group of friends especially outside of ballet that come to shows and what not. But it’s so different when it’s your family, you know? People that care about what you’ve been working on your whole life. When I’m in town in Milwaukee I stop by and say hello because I do have quite a few friends there still.”
But for now Houston is home. I told her that Houston is very lucky to have her here. Amy laughs, “Oh, thanks. Thank you. I feel lucky to have been accepted like I have here. You never know how it’s going to be especially later in your career. I thought my whole career was going to be with Milwaukee Ballet. But once I got the opportunity, I really enjoyed the choreography and I thought, I would like to work with Stanton more. So that was something that definitely pointed me towards this direction.”
She admittedly has gotten used to the weather in Houston, except maybe well, for the humidity. But she feels fortunate to be in the warm climate during the freezing cold winters up north. “I know it gets a little extreme but probably around January and February, I think I was calling home and thinking, ‘I feel so lucky.’ These times are so worth it to be away from home because you do have beautiful weather here. Actually my mom and dad came down for a few weeks this year as well. That was nice and they got to see Madame Butterfly which we did in the spring.”
Of all the characters she has played, her most favorite, the one she identifies with the most is Anna Karenina. “There are so many I love. Anna Karenina, the story for me, I really enjoyed the story but she throws herself in front of the train at the end. In Madame Butterfly, Cio-Cio San it’s really beautiful to fall in love and have all these feelings but he never comes back for her. And she’s at the summit,” she laughs, “And she has to get away from all of it in the end. Again, this amazing love…I don’t know if you would always like to have the feeling of intense love but to always wonder…”
The truth of the matter is, sad as it may be, that the more tragic the story, the more it will attract the audience. The more pain that the leading lady endure, the more she is considered a heroine. “Well the lesson for me that prevails was Onegin. She killed herself. She went from a young girl into a woman throughout the course. And at the end, she tells him, ‘You leave! Leave!’ And then she stands there going, ‘Oh, what have I done?’ But she knows that it was the right person. That’s a hard choice to make. And she’s just standing there just completely…oh you can just see her emotion so intense at the end of the ballet. I enjoy doing all of them. I love to tell stories so that’s the reason why I dance, to express it in movement. If the audience gets it, I’m even more excited.”
Amy explains that the role of Juliet is the one that she is cast in the most. She has done 3 different versions of Romeo and Juliet already. It’s the role that she gets picked to do often. She remembers of her experience in Chappaqua which is a place in upstate New York. “And there, there were always people that might be from the Boston Ballet. Right now it’s like the second home to the North Carolina Dance Theater. They often go there in the summer. But it was very Balanchine and that was very exciting. I’ve had a lot of firsts there. When I was an apprentice in Milwaukee Ballet, they gave me a lead role in Chappaqua and it was an acting ballet performance and that gave me a lot of confidence. It made me believe in myself even more.”
When asked how it is like to be working with Stanton Welch, the Artistic Director for the Houston Ballet, she admits “I enjoy it very much. He is somebody that definitely knows what he wants,” says Amy. And similar to the Xmas interview with Bridgette Zehr for The Nutcracker, they both admire his artistic skill in choreography. Amy points out, “He’s very musical and you can definitely see that in his choreography. And he has a lot of great ideas. He choreographed a full length Swan Lake while I was here and that was an exciting process. One of the things I love about him is that for the females, he always does something that’s very flattering to you. From his costuming, to the make-up with big lashes and gorgeous beautiful hair up to here (depending on the ballet), that’s a favorite thing, I would say, that he always make the women feel more feminine. But I think that’s always fun. The tutus are all so a little extreme. Something that are a little unnecessary in the ballet vocabulary that he has in his vocabulary, certain movements that we do. That has been an enjoyable process. I’ve certainly enjoyed working on Clear with him.”
What would you like to say to the Houston Theatre-going audience? “Anything that can take you away from what’s happening in your life at the moment is wonderful and the fact that Ballet is a live Art form, you never know what’s going to happen. I’ve always enjoyed going to the theatre when I was younger. It was something different than TV or playing video games. It just takes you away from life and you can go somewhere else. And because it’s a story ballet, let the dance tell it to you and just enjoy the experience. It’s a lot of beautiful dancing, the costumes are gorgeous, the sets are beautiful and the music is pretty. It’s Eye Candy All Over!!! It is actually what you expect to see when you see a Ballet.”
COPPELIA choreographed by Ben Stevenson. (R-L) Dancers: Sara Webb, Phillip Broomhead and Laura Richards. Photographer: Drew Donovan
WHAT: COPPÉLIA (1992)
Music by Léo Delibes (1836-1891)
Choreography by Ben Stevenson,O.B.E., after Arthur Saint-Léon
Set and Costume Design by Desmond Heeley
Lighting by Duane Schuler
Generously underwritten by:
Vinson & Elkins L.L.P.
The Wortham Foundation, Inc.
ABOUT THE PROGRAM:
Considered the great comedy of classical ballet, Coppélia tells the story of a doll so enchantingly lifelike that she mesmerizes an entire village, captures the heart of a young swain named Franz, and inspires the eccentric toymaker Dr. Coppélius to attempt to transform her into a living, breathing human being. The production features breathtaking scenery by Tony Award winner Desmond Heeley, including a picturesque German village and a magical toy workshop whose treasures include a goat, a ballerina, and a wizard.
WHEN: At 7:30 pm on June 7, 9, 15, 16, 2007
At 2:00 pm on June 10, 16, 17, 2007
WHERE: Brown Theater, Wortham Theater Center
501 Texas Avenue in downtown Houston
TICKETS: $17 - $125. For tickets call (713) 227 2787 or 1 800 828 ARTS.
Tickets are also available at www.houstonballet.org and the Houston Ballet Box Office at Wortham Theater Center.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Visit Houston Ballet on the World Wide Web at www.houstonballet.org
COPPELIA choreographed by Ben Stevenson. Dancer: Laura Richards. Photographer: Drew Donovan