Sarah Wroth of Boston Ballet: Living Her Art with Passion and Skill

To celebrate 50 years of dancing seasons Boston Ballet heads to New York City to perform challenging and visually intriguing ballets.

For their 2014 celebration at Lincoln Center, Boston Ballet will be performing The Second Detail by William Forsythe, Resonance by José Martinez, Cacti by Alexander Ekman, Symphony in Three Movements by George Balanchine, Afternoon of a Faun by Vaslav Nijinsky, Plan to B by Jorma Elo and Bella Figura by Jirí Kylián.

We spoke with Sarah Wroth, a dancer finishing up her eleventh season with Boston Ballet. Sarah began her training at the Frederick School of Classical Ballet in Frederick, Maryland, studying under Joyce Morrison. In 2003, she graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Ballet and Education from Indiana University and joined Boston Ballet where she also served as a teacher for Boston Ballet's School and adaptive program.

Sarah spoke with us about the preparations and performance excitement for the New York City 50th celebration of Boston Ballet.

Photo: Altan Dugaraa, Sarah Wroth, and Yury Yanowsky in Kylián’s Bella Figura; Photo by Gene Schiavone

How do you prepare yourself for a role?

Different works require different mental and physical preparation. When I dance Symphony in Three Movements, I prepare my body with a classical ballet warm up and review the counts and choreography while remembering my technique and placement. Symphony in Three [Movements] is very much a "show your stuff" jazzy stage experience. Whereas, with a ballet like Bella Figura, I try and find a more grounded warm up. I feel the floor and try to be as calm as possible so the purest of my human emotions can be present onstage. We all, in Boston Ballet, are so used to switching styles rather quickly during the rehearsal day, it makes switching styles onstage that much easier.

Which ballet do you look most forward to performing and why?  

I look forward to seeing what New York thinks of Bella Figura. It is a piece that means a lot to me personally, and I feel like it was a bit of a risk dancing it in Boston when we first did, but audiences loved it. I hope New Yorkers do as well.

What do you feel Boston Ballet brings to these ballets?

Our company is full of energy and enthusiasm. Our repertoire changes so frequently and Mikko [Nissinen, Artistic Director of Boston Ballet] is always pushing the limit with more exciting works, so you are NEVER watching dancers simply go through the motions onstage. Everyone is living their art with passion and skill. Our company also demonstrates such a wide range of ballet styles each informing the other until they create this wonderfully stage-consuming movement.

What is it like to leave your city and perform outside of your comfort zone?

SO FUN!!! My husband, not a dancer, always says that we get paid to go on vacation when we tour. While it's not quite vacation, we do get to share our passion with another culture, another city of ballet support. Seeing new sites is always a great touring plus as well.

What do you think about while performing?

It really depends on the ballet. Sometimes it's just counts and steps, especially when there is tricky musicality involved.

"I find that the best ballet moments are the ones when I am thinking no think at all. In a perfect performance mode, the music plays, I say a silent prayer before I leave the wing, and then the dance flows forth. It's the same as riding a roller coaster, during the clicks to the top, you think so many things, but then once the cars let go, the ride is best if you are just EXPERIENCING it." - Sarah Wroth, Boston Ballet corps de ballet

Then afterwards you reflect on how it was. I don't want to be thinking anything, just living the movement communicating joy.

What was the rehearsal process like for this New York performance?

Well, it's the end of an EPIC 50th anniversary season, so the phrase "pull through" does seem appropriate. Basically, following the tour to DC (2 weeks ago) we began rehearsing hard-core for New York. We rehearse six hours every day, five days per week. We fine tune a little bit each day so that we will be all set with all seven ballets freshly polished for New York.

What is the best part of the show for you?

My absolute favorite moment is the warm up improv of Bella Figura. There is a point before the ballet when the curtain goes up on the audience as they are still settling into their seats. We are all warming up for the unsuspecting, slightly confused crowd. The lights are on still and I can see faces and reactions from the house. It is a fun moment, an interplay before the curtains are drawn and we experience Bella for everyone in the outside world beyond the stage.

What do you feel is challenging about performing these ballets?

They are all extremely physical and VERY different. The challenge is being true to all forms and not getting too exhausted in the process.

How do you describe the difference between movement styles of Forsythe, Balanchine and Nijinsky?

Well, Nijinsky's [Afternoon of a] Faun was the first "modern" form of ballet so, in a way, he was the first Forsythe or Balanchine. If I had to answer in terms of style, I'd say Nijinsky in Faun was creating a two-dimensional picture of dance. Balanchine took classical ballet forms and made them his own style within the neo-classical ballet he developed. Forsythe took ballet form to a whole other intellectual level with a full-body form of classical ballet exploration. It's ballet interpretation done three ways.

Photo: Boston Ballet’s Symphony in Three Movements ©The George Balanchine Trust. Photo by Gene Schiavone

What do you hope to deliver to the audience during the performance? What do you hope they take away from the performance?

I always hope that any audience watching our show leaves feeling that they have been transported; that for those two hours of their life they weren't thinking about problems in their own life but captivated by the movement onstage. I want them to leave wanting more and wanting to know more about this great art. Of course I also hope that they realize the powerful dance force we have in Boston.

What do you do to help calm your nerves?

I pray. The feeling of being all alone and everything depending on you is a lot. It always helps to recognize that there is someone on your side, no matter what you believe.

What advice do you have for ballet dancers in training?

The harder you work to refine your technique now, when you are young, the easier it all becomes later.  Listen to EVERY teacher you have. Even the worst ballet teacher is an outside eye looking at your ballet form, therefore they are able to give you corrections you might not see yourself.

"Enjoy every dancing moment. It is a fleeting career, fly while you can." -Sarah Wroth, Boston Ballet corps de ballet

What is your favorite ballet barre exercise?

I would have to say pliés. They are the root of all technique and the source of all movement power.

Did you always want to be a ballet dancer?

I always loved to perform. I was a bit over the top growing up. I also loved the pursuit of better technique in class, I still do. I feel like I just worked hard on improving until one day I realized that I could actually be a professional ballet dancer. It was an option I never thought I would actually have.

What do you love about ballet?

The list could go on and on for this answer. I suppose most of all I love the outlet of expression it affords. Every day that I get to dance is a better day for me as a human being. Moving to the music, interpreting steps is fun, and can transform any life trouble into a beautiful piece of expressed art. It is a peaceful freedom everyone should feel.

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