LEANN UNDERWOOD

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LEANN UNDERWOOD

Mesaj  Admin Bir Perş. Tem. 08, 2010 3:50 am

Leann Underwood was born in California and began dancing at the age of 7. In 1998, she began her training with the School of Oregon Ballet Theatre. She has studied on scholarship at the Naha City Ballet in Japan, New York City Ballet’s School of American Ballet and at American Ballet Theatre’s school.


Underwood became an apprentice at Oregon Ballet Theatre in 2003 and joined the company in 2004. Leann has been a guest artist at the Lafayette Ballet Theatre in the role of the Lilac Fairy in The Sleeping Beauty. She has performed principal roles in classical and contemporary works by choreographers including George Balanchine, Christopher Wheeldon, Yuri Possokhov, Christopher Stowell, Mark Morris, James Canfield, Brian Reeder, Marius Petipa and Stephen Mills.

Underwood joined the Studio Company in August 2005, joined American Ballet Theatre as an apprentice in November 2006 and the corps de ballet in August 2007.

Her repertoire with the Company includes a Lead D’Jampe and a Shade in La Bayadère, an Odalisque in Le Corsaire, Zulma in Giselle, the Spanish Princess and the Spanish Dance in Swan Lake, Ceres in Sylvia and roles in Airs, Ballo della Regina, From Here On Out and Overgrown Path. She created a role in Everything Doesn’t Happen at Once.

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Mesaj  Admin Bir Perş. Tem. 08, 2010 4:13 am


SUMMER BREEZE Underwood performs Ballo della Regina.
Photograph: Gene Schiavone
By Gia Kourlas
Leann Underwood—a drop-dead-gorgeous member of American Ballet Theatre—has broken out this season performing variations in Le Corsaire, La Bayadère, Swan Lake, as well as a starring turn in Twyla Tharp’s sumptuously satisfying The Brahms-Haydn Variations. Born in California and raised in Portland—she trained and was a member of Oregon Ballet Theatre under two directors, James Canfield and Christopher Stowell—Underwood moved to New York at 16 to join ABT Studio Company (now ABT II). At 21, this member of the corps de ballet is where she wants to be: “I love ABT as a company,” she says. “I like the people—it’s not an environment that you feel you have to wear armor.” Once you know who she is, Underwood, no matter the part, is hard to miss. She spoke in between rehearsals at the Met.

It’s so strange because you’ve become one of my favorite dancers, but I know little about you: When did you start dancing?
I was about seven and I started not because I wanted to but because my best friend went to ballet school and she was kind of my idol. So I started copying her, and I asked my mom if I could do it. It grew into doing all sorts of things like ballet and jazz and tap. As I got older, and there was more homework, my mom was kind of like, “Okay, you need to choose something, because you can’t do everything all the time.” There weren’t enough hours in the day, so I chose ballet, because that was my favorite. And I would say that my professional ballet schooling started when I went to Oregon Ballet Theatre. I was nine then.

Why was ballet your favorite?
I think it came most naturally to me. I always loved dancing, but that was the one I looked forward to the most out of all the other classes I was taking. I’d spend two hours doing my hair. There was a school uniform–black leotard, pink tights—and I would spend hours deciding which black leotard to wear. [Laughs]

Did you have to audition in Oregon?
Yeah. It was a serious ballet school with a company attached to it and it was when James Canfield ran it. I auditioned and I think we paid for the first year and after that they offered me a scholarship. It was such a blessing—my family, we were fine, but we weren’t super well-off. I don’t think I would have had such good schooling without the scholarship. I would say that all my training was from the teachers there—Elena Carter, Haydee Gutierrez and James Canfield.

What was the style?
It was kind of a mix of everything. They wanted us to be well rounded. It was a little bit of Russian and Cecchetti and a little bit of Bournonville. We had modern and flamenco and character dancing, which is very good because at ABT we do a lot of character dances. I think the flamenco was because of Haydee—she’s Cuban. But that was good, too! We actually had to play the castanets. I started dancing with the main company at 14 and then I did a year there. And then came to Studio Company.

How did it happen that you were dancing with the company at 14?
Slowly I started doing Nutcracker. Sometimes they would hire some of the students for Nutcracker, just for all the corps spots, and then the directorship changed over to Christopher Stowell, and I did a year as a corps member under him. They don’t have ranking systems, actually, but it was a year there, and at 16 I came to the Studio Company.

Was Stowell cool with letting you go?
It wasn’t the best parting. And I understand it, too, from his point of view. He’s just come into this new company and is trying to get it going. He had promised a lot of good things for me there, but I just felt like if I didn’t take the chance of coming to New York and seeing if something could happen that I would probably always regret it. And I was very happy at OTB. I was doing a lot, I was dancing, it was a good environment and that was where my family was, but since the offer was there, I had to try.

What were you dancing at OTB?
I did all the leads in Nutcracker. We did Balanchine’s version. We danced a lot of Balanchine, which I liked.

What was it like to go from Canfield to Stowell?
Well, I was young. Maybe at the time, I didn’t realize how different it was going to be. I was just happy and excited to do anything. A lot of people didn’t like James Canfield’s stuff because it was very kind of out there; I didn’t see a lot of it because I was younger, but I loved what I got to do because it was exciting. And then Christopher was much more trying to get the company moving into a more classical direction, so we did the Balanchine Nutcracker and a lot of works by Christopher Wheeldon and Trey McIntyre. It was more structured, and it was good to get to work with those choreographers.





Did any of those choreographers say that you should be in New York?
No, no. I didn’t have a personal relationship with any of them. I was much younger and shy. They were there to teach me and I would do my best, but I didn’t really talk to them outside of that environment.

How did you end up at ABT Studio Company?
During the summers, I was doing intensives. I went to the School of American Ballet one summer, and they had offered me [the opportunity] to go there during the year, but I think my parents weren’t really ready for me to leave yet. I don’t think I was either. But I loved it; it was a good experience. During the summers after that, I went to ABT summer intensives and it was there that I learned of the Studio Company. I was really hoping that would happen for me. And it did! It was hard on my parents; they were thinking, Okay, we’ll have her until she’s at least 18, so it caught them off guard. They were also like, “Where are you going to live? You’re 16. Who is going to rent to you?” Luckily, Angela Snow—who used to be in ABT—trained at the same school that I did in Oregon, and she’s five years older than me. She needed a roommate. It couldn’t have worked out better.

Who was the director of Studio Company?
Well, it was listed as John Meehan, but he wasn’t really there. It was mostly Clinton Luckett. I loved Studio Company. I always feel it’s hard when people come into the main company without having had those close ties. You also dance a lot, you learn what it’s like to go on tour—you get a lot of personalized attention. It’s good.

Because you became a professional so early, did you have an advantage over the other dancers when you got to New York?
I felt it helped me. I was used to working every day, waking up in the morning, going to work, taking class, doing rehearsals all day—I was already in that mode. I think I was there for a year and a half. I had a meeting at the end of the year and they said “We don’t want to hire anybody too young—you’re only 17, and it can be too much for a young person to handle,” and shortly after that they were like, “Well, actually, we do need you.” [Laughs] I think my first tour was D.C.; my first international tour was London and Paris, which was amazing. I feel like I meshed pretty easily. There wasn’t any drama or there was never anything said to me, “You need to pick up the slack.” It’s difficult to learn the rep, but you can do it. [Cheerfully] People do it. And you can always watch the videos and study on your own and I had Angela as well, so if I had a question, she was a senior corps girl and I could always go to her.

What were some of the ballets you danced in the Studio Company?
Gray Davis and I did The Sleeping Beauty pas de deux. I danced with Tom Forster.

I love Tom Forster. I always watch him, even when he’s just standing on stage, because he’s so funny.
He’s hilarious. And he’s my boyfriend, so that’s lucky! We did Eyes That Gently Touch. I loved that—by Kirk Peterson. We did a lot of works with Brian Reeder.

What did you learn by working closely with those choreographers?
I think you learn that it’s definitely a good trait to be able to pick things up fast. [Smiles] Really fast. And to remember the latest thing they want. To be versatile—choreographers don’t want to deal with somebody who’s stubborn. You want to be able to do everything and be easy to work with. And also to learn how choreographers can be different, too, in terms of how they communicate and what they want.

You have to be able to read them before they read you?
Yeah. [Laughs] And know what they’re like and not take things personally.

It’s hard to be a dancer. Half of the job isn’t even physical.
Oh, a lot of it is mental. Totally.


How has the adjustment been at ABT?
I was so excited and thrilled to be in ABT. Doing corps work and all of that didn’t bother me—of course, you always want to do more dancing roles, but I felt honored. I can’t believe I’m even here—and I’m going to be doing something on stage where it’s just me? Everybody wants that. Everybody wants to be promoted, and it doesn’t always happen. You always hear people talking about that, but you can’t force things, and if it happens, great, and if not, you just do what you’re given to the best that you can. You can’t control things. Or at least, I wouldn’t want to be somebody who goes in and demands, “Promote me.”

Do people do that?
I think so. It seems like it, but I’m not there, so I don’t know.

And half of it’s timing. You never know.
Exactly. And if there’s a contract available, people get injured—a lot of it is timing, and there’s politics involved too, as there always are, in any work environment.

Why was ABT your dream?
I don’t know. It wasn’t when I was younger. When you’re young, you’re just dancing because it’s fun; and then you get older and you learn about companies and also [Laughs] that people actually do this as a job. I was one of those dancers with posters of Paloma [Herrera] and Julie Kent in my room and I kind of liked the style of their dancing better than I did other companies. At one point you are kind of hoping that will work out but you don’t know so you have to keep your options open. It doesn’t always work out. Studio Company even isn’t a guarantee. People do that for one or two years and then they’re not offered something and they have to go somewhere else.

What do you think you would have done if you hadn’t been offered a contract?
I really don’t know. I wasn’t being very smart about it. I didn’t audition anywhere else! Thank God it did. But I guess I had a feeling, too; you get an idea from meetings. If I had had that feeling, Oh gosh, I don’t know if this is really going to happen for me, then I would have auditioned elsewhere. From what they had told me I felt like I didn’t need to. If they tell you, “You really need to work on this and you’re kind of not making it here in these areas,” I would have been like, Okay I’ll do that—and also go to other places. But they had said, “You’re doing really well, you’re improving and things are looking good.” I asked them, too: “Is it looking like there’s going to be a place for me here?” and they were like, “Yeah. It does look like that.”

Could you talk about some moments when you’ve been able to step out of the corps de ballet?
The first special thing I got to do was the Shades trio in Bayadère. That was huge; Natalia Makarova worked with us. Sometimes her accent can be a little hard to understand, but she’s a very good coach—particular about what she wants, but in the end the result is beautiful. It’s hard, but what she wants out of you is beauty. I worked with Georgina Parkinson [who died in December] on that variation, too. I miss having her around so much. She would always try to get me to give everything more value; I always thought of that variation as heavenly. It’s very slow and controlled, and there are a lot of moments when you’re reaching up, so I always thought of it—it maybe sounds silly to some people—as reaching up to God, instead of thinking of it as, Okay, I’ve got to nail this and I’ve gotta do that. Giving it more meaning than just holding a balance. It’s kind of funny. If I’m thinking about something that’s more artistic, it usually works.

If you go with the poetry of ballet?
Yeah. That’s what dancing is! Nobody in the audience is thinking, Let’s see if she nails this. They want to see somebody really dancing.

What came next? You were an Odalisque in Le Corsaire?
I love that one, too, and I remember seeing the video when I was younger as a student. It was Gillian Murphy. So the fact that I got to do the same variation as Gillian? It was amazing. I kind of knew the choreography a little bit so that was helpful. And I feel that one of my strong points is turning and there are a whole diagonal of turns so that was exciting to do and it feels good—jumping and turning, which are both things I feel like I’m strong at. And it’s fun because it’s a great costume. I don’t think it gets any better. I mean I’m sure it does, but I loved that one.

What about Ballo della Regina?
That was amazing, too. Merrill Ashley came and set that on us. That’s really hard. Balanchine is so specific. At City Ballet, it seems that they hire people mostly from their school, and I feel it’s so particular. They don’t put their heels down when they jump and it’s very fingery. They move really fast





You did Paul Taylor’s Airs too.
It’s good to be versatile; I wouldn’t say that I feel like the most confident about my modern dancing, but I think it’s good to do everything because you want to be able to do everything if you have to.

Who else do you work with in terms of coaches?
Usually with Irina Kolpakova. She is amazing. Before, I worked with George [Georgina Parkinson]. I loved George. She pushed me a lot, as Irina does.

Did she push you in the same way?
I wouldn’t say the same way. Similar. But they’re completely different personalities.

Of course: One is Russian and the other English. You can’t compare.
Right. George was always a little bit more on a personal level, just because I’m with Tom and Tom is English so they had that connection. So she was always more into your personal life a little bit. [Laughs] And she would push you more physically. “Do more! More, Leann, more!” Irina is very detail-oriented, which is good too. I adore her. I think she is so funny and cute. She was an amazing dancer. She gave me a Sleeping Beauty video of her—and she was Sleeping Beauty. And I couldn’t believe it. She’s the same! The eyes and the face?

What roles do you want to dance?
In the future, I’d love to one day be able to do Romeo and Juliet. Or Giselle. It seems far away. I’m only a corps member, but I would really love to do those two in particular.

You like drama. Why?
I don’t know. I think we’re all pretty dramatic people—artists and dancers in general are very emotional, and those two are just my favorites. I love to watch them, and the acting the girl gets to do is something I can relate to. Other ballets you watch and think, Oh, that’s not my favorite. Swan Lake would be amazing too. I love Swan Lake. I was actually thinking about that this morning walking here. I would say those three are my favorites.

What kind of dancer do you want to become?
I don’t know. I tend to not always be as confident and forward as I should be. I wouldn’t say I’m a very aggressive person. That was something Georgina was always trying to pull out of me. She said, “You need to stand up tall. You need to go to the front of the room in class. You need to show what you can do. Otherwise, if you’re always standing in the back, you blend and people don’t notice you.” It’s not my personality. I’m not aggressive and I don’t necessarily want to be like, “Look at me,” but sometimes you can do that without being pushy or mean. For me in the future, I need to become a little bit more…I wouldn’t say confident. I am confident. I need to push myself forward a little bit more than I would like to.

Are you doing that?
I am trying to. They don’t want to cast people in things that they’re not going to be comfortable in. I think it’s an attitude, too: I’m ready, I can do this and I want to do this.

Because that Met stage is lonely. You have to want to want it, right?
Exactly. And I think the more opportunities you get, the more comfortable you feel. With everything I’ve done, I have more confidence. I’m more excited. [Smiles] And I’m ready for more.



Read more: http://newyork.timeout.com/articles/dance/86817/leann-underwood-interview/4.html#ixzz0t5Gztbx2

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