pictured above: Dawn Kelly’s tidy bun at one of last season’s Ballet and Beer previews

Cincinnati Ballet soloist Dawn Kelly, a twelve year veteran of the company, is one of my favorite dancers. This weekend, she will be dancing in choreographer Val Caniparoli’s “Vivace,” one of three works on the program including Adam Hougland’s “Rite of Spring.” The program takes place at downtown Cincinnati’s Aronoff Center, and features the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra under music director Carmon DeLeone in two of the three ballets on the bill.

Because of injuries in the company (principal Sarah Hairston is babying a recovering knee, and principal Janessa Touchet has a broken toe) and another mishap that’s prevented a Tulsa Ballet dancer from filling in for them, there has been a last minute shuffling of roles amid the more healthy dancers.

Dawn is one of them.

“It’s a little stressful,” she acknowledges, “but it’s kind of what we do – it happens.

“In ‘Vivace,’ I was originally cast in the corps, but there are three pas de deux couples. If I had been an understudy, I would have at least known the role, but I wasn’t . . . so I learned my role just last Friday. Oddly, the corps was physically harder in a way. Yes, the pas steps are more difficult, but in the corps, you never stop, you just keep going and going and going . . .

“I learned it and now I’m doing every show – so, you know, it’s a bit of pressure all of a sudden to be doing opening night with something you just learned on Friday. But again, that’s part of the excitement, I guess, and I guess filling in for the unexpected injury is part of our job description.

“’Vivace’ means a lot of energy. [The short ballet is said to be an elegant, non-narrative nod to ballet classicism set to Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 2 in B flat.]  Val Caniparoli is a fabulous choreographer.”

Energy is certainly what it takes for the cast members to get through the final rehearsals before opening. Listen as Dawn describes yesterday (dress rehearsal):

“We did class at 11:45 until 1:15 at the theater. Then we had a fifteen minute break. From 1:30 to 4:30 with no costumes or makeup, we teched everything with lights and just ran the show in our normal dance clothes that we wear every day. Then, between 4:30 and 6:30 was our dinner break. Depending on what you have to do, you can’t always eat a lot. You have to be careful what you eat, too, because you only have two hours to digest! 

“Then we went through the whole thing again at 6:30 with costumes, lights, makeup, and orchestra. That’s the dress rehearsal. And then . . . we come home, go to bed, and Friday morning wake up and do it all again. Except there’s more pressure:  Friday is opening night! And Friday afternoon also includes a dress rehearsal for a couple of people who switch out in roles. It is like Cast B’s dress rehearsal.”

Wow, I tell her. You guys are right on the edge, aren’t you? Then I ask a key question, one that is very interesting to me, because in my own dancing career the moment before I stepped onto stage was almost always fraught with anxiety. Yes, I was a victim of horrible stage fright until I got out there. My mind was in a panic, as I desperately thought of anything that might get me out of having to perform.

So what goes through her mind in those same moments?

“For me, when it’s showtime, I tell myself to relax and let go and trust that my body knows what to do, and I tell myself I have perfect strength and confidence in myself. I cross my fingers and say to myself ‘let me have a great show.’”

Gee, if I had only known how simple it could all be!


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