As we vamp up for our next production of Don Juan at the Lyceum Theater on February 21st and 23rd, we welcome guest blogger and company member Zoe Marinello-Kohn to share her thoughts on goal setting and character development. See the artistic process from the dancers perspective:

by: Zoe Marinello-Kohn

When I was approached to write a blog entry for the San Diego Ballet I started to think over this past year and one moment really stood out for me. San Diego Ballet has a renowned outreach program. Before one performance we had an audience of local dance students come to observe our company class on stage. They were given the opportunity to ask us questions after the class. One student stood up and asked if we still had goals since we had completed training and joined the company?

The truth is every day dancing with the ballet is a new challenge with new goals. Every class and every rehearsal must be taken as an opportunity for improvement. Every performance must be given with the purest intentions, the striving for perfection. I can’t think of one artist I know who has ever been fully satisfied with anything they’ve accomplished. Yet, we all come back every day to make our craft closer to the ideal. The very nature of ballet as a live performance art is one that is dear to me in the way that it combines theater, music and the human body to convey a story or idea. I love the process in which I bring a character to life through dance.

Personally, I always try to find the originality and unique qualities of every role that I get to dance. This involves a process akin to the painting of a canvas, bringing forth the colors and highlights individual to the piece. Even the most abstract contemporary piece has a reason for being made. As a dancer it is my job to embody that concept. This season with San Diego Ballet I had two opportunities to dance in very different pieces: the Arabian in The Nutcracker and the solo female in Reminiscence. The process which I approached them began the same way, by asking who am I on stage and what am I trying to convey to the audience as this character?

As the Arabian I began by asking who is she? a Princess or a sultana? A slave? As a Sultana she holds her head high and looks everyone in the eye. She is adorned in her sparkling costume and knows she commands the stage. She must relate to her partner as a prince and she looks out into the audience as though they are her subjects.

In contrast, the piece Reminiscence deals with the loss of a loved one. A violinist accompanies the male and female dancers onstage and the music is slow and sad. This time I am myself instead of a character and as I dance I feel the longing for my love in my body. I see no one in the audience because of my grief. I do this because grief is felt so often in private, masked to others. As the piece closes I imagine my love reaching to me from behind. I look for him even as I know he is not there and I let the audience watch me in my hope.

Of course acting onstage is only one component of ballet. The physicality of ballet can be awe provoking in itself. However, it is the soul the performer gives to the dance that can resonate, lasting far from the time of the initial viewing. Ballet is the culminating of the two components: physicality and artistry.

The thoughtful preparations in character development are the jewels that give live performance its gleaming integrity. Nothing comes close to the fleeting beauty of a ballet. A movie recorded, can be enjoyed forever but all that is left after a single ballet are the memories and feelings the audience walks away with. Sometimes, this can be more poignant because it can never be relived. And so it is our goal to every day work our bodies, our minds, our souls and create performances that go beyond the restrictions of time. To make something memorable. To make something beautiful.