This is part two of a three-part preview series about Nashville Ballet’s family-friendly production of Cinderella, running Sept. 16 – 18 at TPAC’s Polk Theater. Read part one here. Pictured above: Christopher Stuart (Stepsister #1), Katie Vasilopoulis (Stepmother) and Jon Upleger (Stepsister #2) rehearse a scene. Photo credit: Myl Pack.
Men dancing in point shoes? That’s right! Toes wrapped in lamb’s wool and all, it’s happening in Nashville Ballet’s new production of Cinderella.
Actually, since the very first production of Prokofiev’s time-honored ballet at Russia’s Bolshoi Theatre in 1945, it has been customary for men to perform the roles of the evil stepsisters, bringing a humorous element to the stage as the male dancers perform the roles en pointe.
Nashville Ballet incorporates this tradition again with its production of Cinderella this weekend (the company’s first full-version of the ballet was in 2011; a shorter version dates back to 2001). “I got a few panicked calls when the casting went up this summer,” says Paul Vasterling, Nashville Ballet artistic director and CEO.
Filling those stepsister pointe shoes for this current production is Christopher Stuart (every performance) along with Judson Veach and Jon Upleger who alternate roles between Stepsister #2 and Prince. We caught up with Veach to get his take on learning to dance in pointe shoes.
“When I found out, my honest reaction was immediate panic because I’ve never worn a pointe shoe in my life,” says Veach. “I asked my wife, Sarah (who’s also dances for Nashville Ballet), if I was going to be able to do it, and she said, ‘Yes, it’s just going to hurt!”
This particular role for Veach comes full circle in a way, going all the way back to training in his youth. “What’s really unusual about this is when I was growing up I had a teacher who was a guy. He said we should practice everything we do in pointe shoes, and we would laugh at him and say, ‘We’ll never have to wear pointe shoes!’ and he said, ‘No, it happens! It happened to me!’ It just so happens that his name is Scott Brown, and he was one of the original two stepsisters in Cinderella with Nashville Ballet, and I’m taking over his part. I guess some karmic reality has hit me, and I have to dance en pointe. It just goes to show you, listen to your teachers!” Veach laughs.
A lot of the humor of casting men as the stepsisters comes simply by way of the guys’ lack of technical training for how to dance en pointe. “I think it lends itself to be very comical because you don’t understand what it’s like to dance en pointe until you see somebody who’s never done it before,” says Veach. “It seems so effortless when you see a ballerina do it who been doing it for years, so there’s many moments if we just try our best, it gives all the comedic effect that you’re going to need,” he adds.
Training for and playing two vastly different characters throughout the run of the show gives Veach a unique perspective to the opposite role, and it’s an entirely new experience he’s enjoying. “I’ve never done anything like this where you have two roles that are so different. You’ll do some performances where you have multiple roles, but they’ll be similar at least least in regard to doing traditional ballet technique,” Veach says. “This is just a chasm between the Prince, which is the epitome of being regal, calm, nice, presenting yourself well, doing a pas de deux, working with a partner, doing a variation … and on the other side, you have a character who is in pointe shoes who is a woman who hates Cinderella. Every turn, you’re almost the exact opposite, which I think is a really interesting tool to use, because you get to see the production through the lens of another character that you occasionally interact with on stage. When I’m the Stepsister, I know what the Prince is thinking at any given moment, and that helps me as a performer,” he adds.
Aside from being entertained by the comedy and being moved by the sets, lighting and dancing, Veach says he hopes kids (and adults) can see themselves in a character on stage, and that doesn’t have to be a lead character or any one of them in particular. “What we try to do when we craft a character in the rehearsal process is to make them real,” Veach shares. “So, if there’s a boy out there who sees himself in the Prince when he makes his entrance, then that’s the most important entrance I’ve ever made. If that makes a person, especially a young person, see a little bit of themselves or what they could be, that’s the beauty of the arts — there’s a little bit of everybody in every character.”