Dancer shares Juilliard tips

02:32, Jun 24 2014
Hannah Roche
POISED: Lead dancers Hannah Roche from Blenheim, left, and Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson, a New Zealand student at  the Juilliard School in New York, rehearse for the Marlborough Dance Centre’s production of The Nutcracker.

New York-based dancer Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson has the lead role in The Nutcracker ballet opening in Blenheim on Friday.

The fairytale winter Christmas story is told through music by Tchaikovsky and the ballet is the main 2014 production for the Marlborough Dance Centre.

Last year its students did Swan Lake and Guillemot-Rodgerson wooed audiences then as the lead dancer, says centre co-director Jeannie Mark.

She says the 18-year-old's moves have advanced after a year's study at the Juilliard School in New York and her students are excited to watch and rehearse with him.

In the countdown to opening night for the three-day season, rehearsals are being held almost daily with extra pressure on Guillemot-Rodgerson and lead female dancer Hannah Roche.

Mark says the routines Hannah, 15, is learning for The Nutcracker are a good introduction to a three-week dance scholarship she will attend at the Interlochen Centre for the Arts in Michigan, United States.


She leaves in 13 days and Guillemot-Rodgerson has been telling her what she can expect. A former Blenheim boy, he was living in Christchurch when he got a scholarship to attend the same intense programme at Interlochen.

An invitation to enrol fulltime followed and for the next three years he combined dance studies with general academic subjects.

"It was a spring board for what I'm doing now," he tells Hannah.

She smiles and confides it would be a dream come true if the same opportunities come her way.

She is dancing as Clara in The Nutcracker and when the curtains open for Act One, uncle Drosselmeyer (portrayed by Guillemot-Rodgerson) arrives at a family Christmas party and casts a spell on her.

Clara then dreams a nutcracker doll turns into a prince (Guillemot-Rodgerson again) and the love that grows between them is portrayed in Act Two.

Dance centre student Elly Molloy, 17, is the second female lead, the Sugar Plum Fairy, and her, Clara's, Drosselmeyer's and the prince's dance steps are the same as those originally choreographed for The Nutcracker.

Mark says Guillemot-Rodgerson has been invaluable in helping the younger dancers complete the often difficult sequences. Dance information and sequence exercises are taught to Juilliard students from 9am to 7pm, five days a week, he says. In the weekends there are dance rehearsals and choreograph sessions to attend.

"It's a big commitment," he acknowledges. "[Dance] pretty much becomes your life."

He says New York still feels new and he remains bewildered by tall buildings. "When I go to explore the city I still feel like a tourist."

Hannah is tasting life as a serious dancer as she learns her steps for The Nutcracker. Getting home after a four-hour rehearsal the other day, her whole body ached. A long, warm soak in the bath followed by gentle stretching exercises helped soothe her sore limbs.

Baths and warm-down exercises are important, Guillemot-Rodgerson agrees. The different steps done by male and female dancers mean different parts of their bodies need extra care, though.

Females dancing on pointe shoes need to look after their feet, while males, who do lots of jumping and lifting, must keep their legs and upper bodies strong.

He started dancing when he was 5 and attended tap classes. It was nine years later before he started learning ballet, though, and he says it isn't easy for boys in New Zealand, where male heroes usually play rugby, to show an interest in dance. "But you're doing something energetic and skilled and being creative at the same time."

His advice? "If you are feeling like you want to have a go, do it."

The Marlborough Express