Monday, 26 April 2010

Ellen Bar, Soloist with New York City Ballet, interviewed for 'Cupcakes & Conversation'

Cupcakes & Conversation with Ellen Bar, Soloist, New York City Ballet

'with my boyfriend, co-director Jody Lee Lipes
on the set of our film, NY Export :  Opus Jazz'
Photograph :  Joe Anderson

What motivates you at 8am on a Monday morning ?
That would have to be a Tuesday morning, since Monday's are our day off. I don't really have trouble motivating to get to class and rehearsal; it's just a part of life. I save my self-motivational pep talks for harder things!

What are you looking forward to dancing this year ?
I love the Balanchine leotard ballet repertory that New York City Ballet is so famous for. I feel the most comfortable in that stuff, so Concerto Barocco and The Four Temperaments are two things that I'm looking forward to in this upcoming Spring season. I'm also looking forward to the premiere of Melissa Barak's new ballet as part of the Architecture of Dance Festival. She's a good friend and a really wonderful choreographer, so I'm excited for her.

Who would you most like to dance with & what would you dance ?
I'd like to do any part in Dances at a Gathering or The Concert, with a cast full of all my friends, including ones that aren't in the company any more.

Ellen Bar as The Lilac Fairy with Joaquin De Luz as The Prince (from Sleeping Beauty)
Photograph :  Paul Kolnik

If you could dance anywhere in the world (not only in a theatre), where would you dance ?
I'd dance Viennese waltzes with the Angle brothers in a grand ballroom, preferably in a castle in Austria.

How do you prepare your pointe shoes ?
I put glue in the tips, I step on the box, and I bang them against a wall to reduce the noise. Besides sewing them, that's about it.

What is your daily routine at the moment ?
Breakfast; ballet class; rehearsals. Some days I go to Columbia University, where I take academic classes in my spare time. I also produced a modern day film adaptation of a 1958 Jerome Robbins ballet, which just premiered on PBS Great Performances' series, called NY Export: Opus Jazz so I'm busy with that as well.

You can ask six famous people to dinner - who would you invite ?
Jerome Robbins, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Julie Andrews, Warren Beatty, Larry McMurtry, and either Jenny Lewis or Neko Case. I think that would be a fun crowd.

Ellen Bar with Tyler Angle in I'm Old Fashioned
Photograph :  Paul Kolnik

What would surprise people about you ?
I love Korean ramen noodles, and the High School Musical series. I'm a sucker for movie musicals in general.

Who inspired you to dance ?
At first my mom – she was a ballet dancer in Odessa, and she is one of the best teachers in the world. Then it was all the dancers in New York City Ballet that I grew up watching; Kyra Nichols, Miranda Weese, Damien Woetzel, Peter Boal, the list could go on and on. Anyone dancing in City Ballet in the '90s, basically.

What is your best piece of advice ?
I believe in my friends and in their talent, so I'm usually telling people not to be hard on themselves and to just go for it. I don't usually listen to my own advice though.

'dancing the solo girl in Agon with Amar Ramasar and Seth Orza'
Photograph :  Paul Kolnik

How do you prepare in the hours before a show ?
I don't eat a heavy meal; I save that as the after-show reward. I like to warm up in a studio by myself, where I can concentrate. I don't know how people can warm up backstage while the performance is going on, it's too distracting for me. If I'm nervous, I usually just try to remind myself that I'm lucky to be doing what I'm doing, and that the most important thing is to have a good time.

Which role has tested you the most & how ?
Concerto Barocco (soloist) was a huge challenge for me, not in the individual steps, but because it's such a marathon and requires so much stamina. My debut was the first night of the season, too, so I wasn't in "season shape" yet. It was very intimidating to be dancing next to Wendy Whelan, because I've been admiring her since I was in the school. She's well established in the role and so it was my responsibility to "fit" into it with her. Luckily, she's one of the nicest, most supportive and most honest people ever, so it was a fun and positive experience.

If you were asked to design your own ballet costume, what would you create ?
I like simple costumes, like leotards and tunics; I like feeling unencumbered. So, probably something really boring, a leotard in a pretty color with a flattering cut.

What do you look for in a dance partner ?
I don't dance pas de deux’s very often, I usually dance on my own. I like dancing with partners who are much more experienced than me, who instead of getting annoyed about it, take the opportunity to teach me something new. When I did Episodes with Philip Neal, he made it this amazing learning experience, when he would have been well within his rights to just roll his eyes and tell me what to do. People who are really good at what they do, I'm talking exceptional, are usually like that; they've gotten beyond ego, and care more about the art than about acting important.

Ellen Bar as The Lilac Fairy in Peter Martin's Sleeping Beauty
Photograph :  Paul Kolnik

What is your favourite quote ?
"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." Eleanor Roosevelt.

Do you have a ‘signature step’ – one that comes naturally to you ?
I'm a natural jumper, and that's what I feel most comfortable doing.

A phrase I use far too often is ... ?
"No good deed goes unpunished."

What’s been your best on-stage moment so far ?
That's a really tough question. Last year I debuted in Vienna Waltzes with one of my best friends, Jared Angle, and that was just pure delight. I love not having to worry about technique or pointe shoes; in something like Vienna, your only job is to enjoy the music and feel beautiful and elegant. In 2008 we went on tour to Copenhagen and Paris. It was my first tour back after a long injury. I would have felt lucky just to be able to go, but on top of that, I was given the opportunity to do some of my favorite roles ever. I danced the solo girl in Agon at Tivoli, and at the Bastille I danced the "Elegie" section of Tchaikovsky Suite #3 with Robert Fairchild (my favorite onstage love connection); and one of the principals in Episodes alongside Wendy Whelan, Maria Kowroski and Darci Kistler, who are all ballerinas I grew up admiring. I had Wendy's husband take a picture from backstage for my mom, I knew she was going to freak out when she saw me bowing alongside those incredible women!

'bowing in Episodes beside Wendy Whelan, Darci Kistler & Maria Kowroski'
Photograph :  David Michalek

Do you have a secret skill which no-one knows about ?
I'm a good cook, and I have a really good memory for wine.

In terms of your ballet career, where would you like to be in a year from now ?
I'd like to be doing exactly what I'm doing now; going to class and dancing with my best friends, performing roles I love at the company I love.

frame grab from NY Export : Opus Jazz
Photograph :  Jody Lee Lipes
danced by members of New York City Ballet


  1. Great interview! She is so dedicated and talented and a great inspiration. I love Concerto Barocco and I would love to see her and Wendy Whalen dancing together. What a treat!

  2. I was particularly interested in what she had to say about fitting in with other dancers, often more experienced ones. It was lovely to print the photo of her bowing alongside ballerinas she admired! A heart-warming story.

  3. Really great interview, I loved reading it. I can imagine that dancing in a castle in Austria would be one of the most beautiful ideas to dream of most definitely! Also, having dinner with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart would be on my list as well.

    As always, a very inspiring and beautiful post! :)


  4. what a great interview, thanks for posting. i love what she said about how simple costumes, i definitely agree that they give the dancer a lot more freedom physically and artistically.

    also i think its so cool that she has the time to help produce a film, i'll definitely have to check that out!

  5. Lovely interview, very inspiring.
    Also wanted to say thank you for your dress advice & kind comments on my blog for my date! I wore a different dress in the end!! But the grey silk was perfect for a fairy tail wedding in a castle that I was a guest at. Oh an my lovely date is now my boyfriend.
    Keep up the great blog xxx

  6. great sharing, thanks so much. Sandi

  7. Dancing Branflake - me too !

    Anne - thank you. I'm in agreement with you there. Fitting in, is something most dancers are used to by the time they reach a company, but that doesn't mean it's easy - imagine having to fit in with those you've looked up to during all of your years training !

    Inspiration in Italy - yes, I thought he was a good choice of dinner guest too. Wonder what sort of food he'd like ??

    Inspiration in Italy - thank you ! I like the simple costumes too, but I am also partial to a really dazzling tutu.

    Butterfly - way to go ! Thank you

    CelticWoman - thank you Sandi


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