Welcome back to our “10 Questions With…” series where today we are featuring dancer Ashley Gilfix from Ballet Austin…
1. How did you become involved with dance?
My mom put me in ballet when I was 4 years old, and dance has been a part of my life ever since.
2. What are you currently doing in the field?
I am currently in my 9th season as a company dancer with Ballet Austin. I have been fortunate to be a part of the creative process of innovative new works by director, Stephen Mills, and many other choreographers who are making waves in the dance world right now. At Ballet Austin, we are constantly pushing the envelope, yet keeping the old traditions alive. Last season, I danced Swan Lake and Coppellia, and also premiered several new contemporary works by Mills, and Dominic Walsh. I feel so lucky to be a part of a company that performs such a broad repertoire of both classical and contemporary ballets.
3. Would you share a special moment or two from your career?
One of my most treasured experiences onstage was dancing Don Quixote with partner, Jim Stein in his farewell performance. It was my first “Kitri” and his last “Basilio”. I can still remember the electricity in the air that night. There were so many emotions. It was such a gift to share his last performance with him in that way, holding his hand while he took his last bow. 3 other colleagues retired that weekend. It was bittersweet. That ballet will always be sentimental for me.
4. What is the best advice you have ever received regarding dance?
My teacher always used metaphors to communicate corrections and words of wisdom. One of the things she often told us was, “You cannot paint with just one color. You need a palette with all the colors of the rainbow.” She was telling us that a good dancer needs to be versatile, to not only dance one way all the time, to be open to new ideas, and become good at everything.
5. Do you have any advice for those who would like to dance professionally?
Find a good school and teachers who can provide well-rounded pre-professional training in classical ballet and modern dance. Sadly, many aspiring dancers find out too late that their training has not prepared them for a professional career. If you are not training 5 or 6 days a week, it is probably not enough. Also, supplementing your classes with private lessons can help you improve at a faster rate. And, for those who have gotten a late start or are not quite ready to be a professional by the end of high school, attending a university with a solid dance program can be an excellent option.
6. What has been your biggest challenge in dance?
My biggest challenge has been working with an imperfect facility. I was not blessed with 180 degree turn out or much flexibility in my hip sockets and am constantly fighting for higher extensions and to appear more turned out than I actually am. In dance, it is a constant battle against nature. I am naturally a slow, fluid mover, so brisk movements and jumping have always felt uncomfortable for me. I have had to work very hard to become a faster mover, and to be more dynamic and versatile. I’m always looking for areas where I am weak, so that I can try to become a more balanced dancer. It is important to me to be able to do everything well, rather than being excellent at just one thing that comes naturally.
7. What is it that you love so much about ballet?
I love ballet because it is beautiful. I love the aesthetic and I love music. I love performing. It is such a gift to be able to express myself through dance. It is indescribable.
I also really love the quest for perfection, and constantly being challenged and pushed to the next level. You can never get bored because there is always that next hurdle ahead. It is not just the physical challenges, but the emotional and artistic ones too, especially when you are portraying a character and/or communicating a specific idea or message to the audience. There is hardly a dull moment because there is so much change. You are constantly rehearsing new ballets, and working with different choreographers. Even when we repeat old ballets, it is a unique experience. I’m always learning new things and looking at the world from different perspectives. It is such an interesting life.
8. Do you have a special routine that you go through before a performance, or is each one different?
There is usually an order in which I do things that I establish for each production. Depending on the show, I will usually eat a certain way, and do specific cross-training exercises, and do my hair and make-up in a certain order. If there is difficult partnering, or particular steps in the piece that stress me out, I usually like to rehearse them onstage either right after class, or right before curtain. I set a routine with my partner and we work on those steps before every performance. All that said, I am really not superstitious.
9. Where you do think dance is headed?
I think dance is continuing to move away from tradition. Many choreographers are re-working the classics or abandoning them altogether, and trying to please a younger audience. I have seen a lot of dance that is more of a theatrical or “performance-art” type of experience. Dance has always transported its viewers, but now it is based less on storytelling and more on making impressions. It is becoming a multidimensional, mixed-media experience that is reflective of the technological era we live in. Dance is also moving toward a more raw emotional experience, not just capturing classical beauty and perfection, but exposing pain and uncertainty and the beauty that can be found in unconventional places.
10. What is next for you?
I am very excited about graduating from St. Edward’s University in August of 2011! It has been extremely challenging to split my time between my personal life, dancing, and school. I look forward to being able to spend more time with my husband, Mike, and focusing more energy on growing as an artist. I am also interested in volunteering around Austin, and becoming certified in Pilates.
BIO: Ashley Lynn Gilfix is a native of the Chicago area, where she received her formal training from Ms. Sherry Moray. Ms. Gilfix performed with the Alabama Ballet prior to joining Ballet Austin in 2002. During her eight seasons with the company, Ashley has had the honor of performing in many world premieres by Stephen Mills, and touring with the company to Italy, Slovenia, The Joyce Theater, and The Kennedy Center, where she was featured in Balanchine’s Episodes in collaboration with The Suzanne Farrell Ballet. Ms. Gilfix has also danced a variety of roles by such choreographers as Sidra Bell, Thang Dao, Thaddeus Davis, Nicolo Fonte, Gina Patterson, Dwight Rhoden, Amy Seiwart, Twyla Tharp, Michelle Thompson, Septime Webre, and Dominic Walsh, and recently appeared as a guest artist with Dominic Walsh Dance Theatre, and the Califa Arts Collaborative. Ashley has especially enjoyed dancing the roles of Aurora in Sleeping Beauty, Kitri in Don Quixote, Ophelia in Hamlet, Cinderella, Odette in Swan Lake, and Swanhilda in Coppelia. Ashley was honored to receive a 2009 Austin Critic’s Table Award for Outstanding Dancer for her performance in Balanchine’s Episodes, Mills’ Hamlet, and Fonte’s Left Unsaid. Ms. Gilfix is currently pursuing a degree in Dance and The Humanities from St. Edward’s University.