Recently, I had the good fortune of sitting down with Ashley Lynn Gilfix of Ballet Austin. I spoke with her about her take on the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy in this 49th production of “The Nutcracker” as well as on life as a dancer in general.
She began dance instruction at age four, encouraged by her mother, but was first inspired by an Arie Crown Theater performance (Chicago) of “The Nutcracker”. By age 12, she was on point and studying in an academy. She made her debut performance in “The Nutcracker” as a soldier.
Q: What was the hardest or most meaningful role you’ve taken on as a dancer?
A: Most meaningful or “most difficult emotionally” was “The Holocaust & Humanity Project” (“Light”, 2005, also choreographed by Stephen Mills, Ballet Austin artistic director), billed as a “timely reminder that injustice to one is injustice to all” and as the “discrimination and triumph of the human spirit.” The most difficult technically was the role of Kitri in “Don Quixote”, and after watching a YouTube performance of the Adagio of the Grand Pas de deux (steps of two), I can see why one would be “puffing” during the second variation (her second solo).
Q: Any injuries suffered in relation to dancing?
A: A torn hamstring and calf muscle, ironically two years ago when dancing the Sugar Plum role, but she is healthy now.
Q: What is a typical day like for you?
A: At 7 a.m., I have coffee, breakfast and then walk the dog. Class is from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. There’s a break from 10:30 a.m. to 10:45 a.m. and then rehearsal until 5 p.m., with an hour for lunch in between.
Q: Any advice for non-dancers, in terms of overcoming internal censors?
Dance is universal and cross-cultural. “The way you dance is the way you are. Release the beast (within).”
Q: Advice to young dancers?
Work really hard. Give it everything — give it your all. Do everything your teacher tells you to do. Take every class. You have to love it, but then the focus you gain through dance can also be applied to the rest of your life.
Q: Aspirations? Goals?
Never stop learning. Keep improving — expanding artistically and technically.
She’s still looking for what other avenues she might become passionate about later in life. Maybe, being a mom. Of her present role, she sees the Sugar Plum Fairy as “regal, sweet, elegant and welcoming.” Some of the same characteristics she herself exudes. Of dance she says that it’s “most magical when you feel the music is in you, personally and subjectively, and when everything about this electricity is super connected.” In my opinion, a way we should always strive to be.
“The Nutcracker” ballet is based on The Nutcracker and the Mouse King written by E.T.A. Hoffman (1891). Tchaikovsky was commissioned to write the music the following year, and the ballet was brought to America in 1940 by Ballet Russe. This Ballet Austin production is the longest running in the state with a cast of over 200, including 160 Ballet Austin Academy students (ages eight and older). Musical accompaniment is by the Austin Symphony orchestra.
The Mother Ginger character completes a long-standing tradition for featuring a local celebrity. Look for “her” atop a short platform in an outlandish satin costume from which 16 bonbons appear. The Mother Ginger contest recognizes and celebrates an unsung community leader whose generous, respected, and influential presence goes above and beyond his or her regular station. Online voting continues through November 30th to decide who is selected for the December 22nd performance. You may enter one vote per day for your favorite nominee. A winner will be announced on December 1st.
Also, for ticket holders, arrive one hour early to the Long Center on performance day or night for an insider’s look at final preparations and last-minute workings of dancers and production crews. (Now also available in Spanish, as Illuminación.)
WHEN: December 3, 9, 10*, 16, 17, 21, 22 at 7:30 p.m.
December 4, 11, 17, 18*, 23 at 2 p.m.
*Audio described by VSA Texas
The Long Center for the Performing Arts
701 West Riverside Drive (at the corner of S. 1st Street)
TICKETS: Start at $15
Ballet Austin Box Office at 501 W. 3rd Street