SWAN LAKE 3D Special Interview: Nina Goldman
Today we are continuing BroadwayWorld's exclusive three-part series on SWAN LAKE 3D - an unprecedented movie theater presentation of Matthew Bourne's Tony Award-winning new 3D film adaptation of Tchaikovsky's legendary fairy tale ballet in Fathom-equipped movie theaters for one night only on March 20 - with prima ballerina and Broadway standout star Nina Goldman. Analyzing all aspects of her rich role as the Queen in the 3D film of SWAN LAKE, Goldman and I discuss her relationship to the role and to her director/choreographer, Bourne, and how she approaches taking on one of the most revered and adored roles in ballet and manages to make it all her own - and how - in this gender-bending new twist on the classic ballet. Also, Goldman and I take a look back at her impressive career on ballet and Broadway stages worldwide - from THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA to CONTACT to DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS, THE RED SHOES and beyond on Broadway alone - and take a look ahead to the future and what she is planning to pursue next. Plus, Goldman generously shares her insights into the ballet industry and Broadway itself, as well as offers her thoughts on contemporary representations of dance on stage and in film - BLACK SWAN, SUSPIRIA and THE TURNING POINT included - and she also details her ongoing collaborations with Tony-winning director/choreographer Susan Stroman and drops a clue or two about their upcoming project together. All of that and much, much more!
SWAN LAKE 3D will be shown in Fathom-equipped movie theaters nationwide on March 20. More information on SWAN LAKE 3D is available here.
Be sure to check out the previous entry in this special SWAN LAKE 3D series, featuring director/choreographer Matthew Bourne (available here) and be sure to stay tuned to BroadwayWorld for tomorrow's chat with SWAN LAKE 3D star Richard Windsor.
The Queen Makes Contact
PC: You have quite an impressive Broadway resume. I'd love to know what your memories are of working on THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA relatively early in the run?
NG: It's been a long time! For many ballet dancers, PHANTOM is the show you do to transition into musical theatre, if you can. You know, if you can segue-way into musical theatre, that is the best show to do. So, in 1990, I auditioned for the show and I got it and I did get to do some company rehearsals with Gillian Lynne and I think Hal Prince attended one or two rehearsals, too. [Pause.] You know, I was just a little lonely ballerina on the side, so I didn't get much special attention from Hal or anyone, really, but it was a great learning experience for me - to see how a Broadway show works.
PC: Hal is perhaps the greatest musical director alive, wouldn't you say?
NG: Yeah, he really is, and, he and Stro are doing a new retrospective of all of his shows coming up, so that is going to be really exciting.
PC: Have you been involved with THE PRINCE OF BROADWAY at all up until this point?
NG: No, I have been working with Susan on another project, but not the Hal Prince project. You know, my singing is a little bit of a struggle for me, so I tend to shy away from roles with lots of singing.
PC: You shine in your big dance roles though - in Stroman's CONTACT and your work with Matthew Bourne, especially. How did you get involved with the theatre scene in the first place?
NG: Well, you know, I grew up in New York City and I was very, very fortunate that, while working at the American Ballet Theatre, I also had the opportunity to study with the American Dance Machine under Lee Theodore. So, I got some great foundation for musical theatre training. The company is no longer around, but - just like American Ballet Theatre - it felt that its purpose was to resurrect and maintain great musical theatre numbers. So, training there, you learned Jack Cole and the Charleston and the Lindy and all of these different choreographic vocabularies. So, given that foundation, I chose shows with a strong dance component, but, also, shows where I didn't have to rise up and sing too much.
PC: Were you involved with Matthew Bourne prior to working with Susan Stroman?
NG: Well, actually, it's very interesting because SWAN LAKE came to Broadway in about 1998 and I was very fortunate to do that. Any openings that they had to fill, they hired Americans to come to London and then come with the company to bring it to Broadway. So, that London company was where I first met Matthew. I just went in and auditioned and it was like one of those blessed experiences that, while I was working on SWAN LAKE, I got the job for the workshop of CONTACT. I think I started the workshop for CONTACT while we were still performing SWAN LAKE, so one just led to the other.
PC: How fortuitous for you. What was the audience reaction like to SWAN LAKE in the 90s? It was more immediately edgy and controversial then than it is now, I would assume - a far cry from an audience-pleaser like PHANTOM, at least.
NG: Yeah, it was definitely different - much different. I think that the people that did come to see SWAN LAKE were overwhelmed by it. It appealed to a certain type of theatergoing audience that just embraced it. I think the problem was that they didn't market it beyond the normal New York theatergoing crowd, whereas PHANTOM was such a huge marketing machine.
PC: You can say that again.
NG: You know, anybody and everybody knows PHANTOM. So, I guess that near the end they tried to open up the marketing more for SWAN LAKE so that it didn't appear to just one segment of the population, but it was probably a little too late.
PC: There were not a lot of big hits in the 1990s, anyway, besides the Disney shows.
NG: And, the thing with SWAN LAKE was that people were like, "What is it? Is it a musical?" But, if you called it a musical, there was still no singing!
PC: It was very difficult to categorize - and, thus, market.
NG: Critically, it was a huge hit, and, then, it was nominated for a ton of Tonys and Matthew won for Best Direction Of A Musical. So, people were like, "What is it?" It's similar to what people were saying about CONTACT.
PC: Similar is right.
NG: Yeah, it's like, "What is it?!" Well, what are the elements that make something a musical? SWAN LAKE is a story told through music and dance - it tells a story, there just isn't any singing.
PC: There have been very few serious adult musicals since CONTACT and THE PRODUCERS won the big prizes at the Tony Awards. Those shows seemed to signal a shift in popular style.
NG: I know! Once again, it comes down to, "What is going to sell?" Do people come to the theatre to be entertained or do they want to be moved? It's such a shame. There have been some great musicals that have not made it recently - I thought THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS was another one that was a brilliant musical that I can't believe was so short-lived.
PC: John Kander did this column when that show was up. Have you ever done any Fosse shows?
NG: No, I don't think so - I've never done CHICAGO.
PC: Not yet!
NG: Not yet! [Laughs.] You never know what might be next.
PC: Michael Bennett's work certainly doesn't get done enough, I don't think.
NG: I know! I agree. I know we recently had CHORUS LINE back for a little while and that brought Michael Bennett's name back a little bit. But, I agree - I think it's so important that this new generation is continuously exposed to the great innovators of choreography; Jack Cole and Fosse and Michael Bennett and Jerome Robbins and Peter Gennaro and Michael Kidd and Agnes DeMille. They are so vital to musical theatre. We need to bring back their work continuously and give it new life, I think.
PC: What are some of your favorite dance-heavy theatre scores?
NG: I have to say that WEST SIDE STORY is one I will never tire of - that's one I can do forever. Recently, I have been listening to PIPPIN, too. One of the great things about having grown up in New York City is that I have lots of memories of going to see musicals - I loved seeing them. I love SWEENEY TODD, too.
PC: How do you approach being a chorus member versus featured performer versus a lead, particularly in a dance role? Stro gives every chorus member a specific role, correct?
NG: Well, yeah - and, CONTACT was very special in that it was very much an ensemble piece. Of course, there were clearly The Girl In The Yellow Dress and Karen Ziemba and the main, featured performers of each piece, but, the thing that you realize early on is that your character is feeding the life of the story, even if the audience may not be focused on your part of the story. It all helps create the life of the story.
PC: It's a community effort.
NG: Working on SWAN LAKE, for instance, I started out in the ensemble and I kind of worked my way up to the Queen. Just observing some of the other dancer's work from a different perspective, it's very... you just know you are an invaluable part of a whole. While it's so lovely to get a final bow, there is something just as gratifying to be a part of that whole and to know you are creating a life onstage and you are an integral part of the show. When we did the workshop for CONTACT, Susan really gave us the space to create characters.
PC: To experiment.
NG: Yes. I remember in the restaurant piece - the second scene, with Karen Ziemba - when we were rehearsing, I said to Stroman one day, "Umm, can I do her pregnant?" Just for fun, I proposed that idea. And, she said, "Sure! Why not?" And, all of a sudden, she became the pregnant lady. And, so, I created this track.
PC: You had a hand in the story's development.
NG: There's something very satisfying knowing that - that you have contributed something.
PC: Contributed to the collaboration.
NG: Yes! Exactly.
PC: Were you in the live filmed GREAT PERFORMANCES presentation of CONTACT?
NG: Yes, I am in the film. That was so, so exciting. I actually had left the show because Matthew Bourne had called me to do the national tour of THE CAR MAN. So, I wasn't really ready to leave CONTACT in any way, but, as a performer, you're always like, "I need new experiences." And, so, I left the show very, very sad and I went to do the tour of CAR MAN. Then, the woman who replaced me in CONTACT - Mary Ann Lamb - ended up getting the film of CHICAGO, and the CAR MAN tour happened during 9/11, so the tour was cut short. It coincided with my replacement going to do the CHICAGO movie and the CAR MAN tour being cancelled and I called Lincoln Center and my original spot had opened up again in CONTACT, I found out. I went right back into the show, and, so, I was able to finish the show and do the filming for PBS. It was very special for me to be able to come back to the show and close it out with that cast, in my original part.
PC: How lucky.
NG: Yeah, it really was - it was one of those kind of coincidental, fabulous, the-universe-is-supporting-you kind of times. [Laughs.]
PC: What do you think of the recent resurgence of movie musicals? A DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS film has been tentatively announced - another show you did on Broadway.
NG: Oh, really? I didn't know that. I think that's great - and, I think the whole thing is great. As long as they are done well, I am completely supportive of them. I mean, we grew up on these wonderful musical films - not even mentioning all the Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly movies before my generation - we had FIDDLER ON THE ROOF and WEST SIDE STORY and on and on. I can watch any of them to this day. So, I have to say that I guess I love them as long as they are done well.
PC: When did you create this 3D film of SWAN LAKE?
NG: We filmed this last April. It was put together pretty quickly - the company had done our season at City Center, we had done a little bit of touring in Europe, and, then, the contract finished and we all went our separate ways.
PC: How did you become involved in the film?
NG: Well, it was sort talked about for a long time, but it came up quickly. Sadler's Wells in London had an opening to use the stage, and, so, how it was done was that we filmed with 3D HD cameras. They wanted to upgrade the quality of the original DVD - the original company; they wanted an HD version of the film. So, we had two sets of cameras and we filmed the show during the day, stopping and starting, and, then, in the evening, we had a live performance with the audience in there and they filmed it all again, uninterrupted.
PC: And the finished result is the two cuts edited together.
NG: Right. So, they had closer shots and close-ups from the afternoon, and, then, they had actual performance footage from the evening - that's the film. It has already aired in London and supposedly they did a really great job from what I have heard from everyone I know who has seen it.
PC: SWAN LAKE 3D is an unprecedented event for ballet with a wide release in cinemas like Fathom is providing.
NG: I just think it is such a great way to make live theatre more accessible. Nothing will ever replace live theatre, but this makes it so much more accessible - it's $15 a ticket as opposed to $75 or $85 or more a ticket; it, also, can bring the show to places where the show may not be able to go. It just makes sense, you know? It makes total sense to want to expand your audience and film it like this in an exciting way.
PC: The 3D component makes it particularly intriguing, even for those new to ballet.
NG: You know what? I have always been really disappointed with the way dance translates on film, and, seeing PINA - the 3D Wim Wenders film - I was suprised to see that the 3D really, really served dance. The images didn't pop out all the time, but, just a little bit creates that three dimensional quality that is just so invaluable for dance.
PC: What is your interpretation of Matthew Bourne's approach to this production?
NG: Well, he came at this as a "What If?" - what if this swan was a man? How would that change the relationships between the main characters? It has been labeled as the male SWAN LAKE or the gay SWAN LAKE, but I think it can be interpreted on so many levels. I think what the Swan broadly represents - beyond gender - is beauty, flight, perfection, purity, strength, aggressiveness; all of the qualities that the Prince is struggling with in his own life. So, the Prince reaches towards this idea of freedom and flight.
PC: What a beautiful depiction of it.
NG: I feel like it can really be analyzed and looked at from so many different perspectives and that's what I really love about this production so much.
PC: Were you involved with the 1996 film version?
NG: No, I was not involved with the original version, but, hopefully the DVD of the new version we just did will be released shortly after the movie theater showing.
PC: It has changed significantly since then, correct?
NG: Yes. He has made changes over the years and it is not a show that has been frozen. I have performed it several times over the years and performed different roles in it over the years and I've seen Matthew tweak it and change it as we worked on it.
PC: Did you ever work with Fiona Chadwick on the role?
NG: I did not work with her on the role, but I did see her in the role when I was in the ensemble. It took me from '98 to 2010 to get to play the Queen.
PC: What roles have you played in SWAN LAKE?
NG: I have played a lot of different roles. The second time I came back to the show, I played the Queen twice a week and then I would play other roles in the show. The third time I came back to it, I played the Girlfriend who is the unacceptable girlfriend of the Prince who is an added character not in the original. She is a funny character, so I really enjoyed playing her. That time I was in it, I got to play her four times a week and the Queen four times a week. The last time I came back to the show, I just played the Queen for the whole run. So, I have kind of worked my way up and it took me quite a while, but it was very gratifying to have a dress a made for me and everything. [Pause.] I have to say, my red dress was made just for this filming and it is just exquisite - I can't move in it very well, but it looks good! [Laughs.]
PC: Are you looking forward to seeing the SWAN LAKE 3D Fathom presentation in theaters?
NG: Oh, you know, I haven't even seen the final product, so I don't know what is going to come across! I am just terrified of seeing myself in 3D - I don't know what's going to pop out! [Laughs.]
PC: What was the process of filming it like with the 3D cameras, which are known for being quite clunky and cumbersome?
NG: Oh, it was very interesting - you know, you are performing, but you are not on location; we are in a theater and we have an audience there. But, then, you have this camera that you know is going to be more close up in the afternoon when you film it, too. When you have a camera close up, you don't want to make freaky clown faces like you might in performance to convey something, since it is a theatrical performance for an audience, you know?
PC: It's tricky to strike the balance between dialing it down for the camera and still conveying the performance you give in the theater.
NG: Yeah - it was really interesting to strike the balance between being aware that we are in the theater and we are not denying the fact we are doing a theatrical performance, but, at the same time, you don't want to do too much and scare the people watching it onscreen in the film; it was tricky to strike that balance, I must say. Matthew was so great in guiding us in that way, I must say.
PC: Is Matthew a taskmaster in your experience or does he allow you to experiment a lot?
NG: He is very hands-on and he guides you so much - and he has a great team with him and there is always an associate director watching. The productions are always well taken care of and you are never left alone and you never feel like you are scrambling. If we are reviving a piece, we are always making it more personal and making it different in certain ways and what not.
PC: What was the most elemental insight he gave you into playing the Queen in SWAN LAKE?
NG: Oh, there are just so many! [Pause.] You know, Matthew is very musical and he always reminded you that, if you allow yourself to be with the music and follow it, the music will help you tell the story. You don't want to work against the music, you really want to work with the music - and, I think that was just invaluable to me. The music helped guide me through the scenes - so much is gestures and wordless communication and the music can help you tell that so well. So, there was continuously that reminder from Matthew to go back to the music. And, as you said, the Tchaikovsky score? You can't get much better than that!
PC: How do you juxtapose your work with Christopher Wheeldon and Matthew Bourne, having worked with both?
NG: I think that - and I realize even saying this is a generalization - I look at Matthew as a storyteller. Even though I have not seen Christopher Wheeldon's ALICE IN WONDERLAND for the Royal Ballet that he did last year, from the other pieces I have seen of his, they are not really character-based; they are a little bit neo-classical. So, if I would have to put a label on it, I think of Christopher as a more abstract, neo-classical choreographer and Matthew is more of a narrative storyteller. That's giving them just one word labels and that could definitely change. I am sure Christopher will continue to explore some storytelling in the future.
PC: Wheeldon's work on SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS was divine, I thought.
NG: Yeah, it was - there's another show that I thought was a really great show and it just didn't have a life.
PC: BLACK SWAN proved that there is a considerable audience for ballet-themed entertainment. What do you think of the film?
NG: You know, BLACK SWAN I could appreciate - I think there were some really great moments where it created the life of being in a ballet company; the dressing rooms, the hallway scenes and the class scenes, especially. But, I feel like there were parts that were a little too cliché for me and that I couldn't take it seriously, so, I ultimately didn't end up caring about the characters because I have had my own experiences in a ballet company.
PC: A lot of it is presented at a fever pitch and totally surrealistic - and it's all a little camp, too, undeniably.
NG: Yeah, yeah - exactly. But, when people come up to me and they say, "So, is that what it's really like?" I'm like, [Pause.] "Umm, no - that's not what it's really like." [Laughs.]
PC: It's not a documentary, right?
NG: Right. You know, look - hopefully it brings dance more to the forefront, but not in such a negative way that people are turned off by it. Maybe they will be more intrigued by it! Maybe they will say, "Oh, we liked that so maybe we'll go see SWAN LAKE in 3D."
PC: It serves Tchaikovsky well, too - bringing his work to a whole new audience, most likely.
NG: Oh, yeah - it does. I think that a lot of the side characters - the ballet master, the rehearsal pianist, the teachers - they are the real deal and that is what they do in their real life, so I think that that adds a certain element of reality to the situation. Not everybody in it is an extra or someone who has never been in a ballet performance in their real life - you've got people who are really working as part of the company and they are in the movie, so I think that adds a little bit more weight to it and adds to the reality of the environment.
PC: Have you ever seen SUSPIRIA, a 70s horror film that takes place in the ballet world?
NG: Yes! I have. It's so funny, but, yes, I have seen it! [Laughs.]
PC: What do you think of that depiction of ballet?
NG: Oh, I do laugh at it because it's so sort of camp - I remember one scene is from the perspective of a tray coming at the person; and, then, there's this scene with the girl where she is en pointe and she is fainting that was very kind of dramatic. [Laughs.]
PC: What is next for you following the cinema showing of SWAN LAKE?
NG: Well, I have been in the studio working on a bunch of different projects in development. I have been working with Susan Stroman on a project she has been working on with Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty about Degas.
PC: How interesting. A new SUNDAY IN THE PARK in a way?
NG: Yeah, but, she has another project happening now so that will probably revisited, hopefully, in the Summer. I have been working on another project that is a play with movement involved with it. The creators for that project are Jonathan Bernstein and Susie Misner. I am also involved in a lot of education projects, as well - the name of the program is Intention Of Movement: Exploring Acting In Dance and I am presently working at the Joffrey School working on the program. I developed the program with a couple of great colleagues of mine - Susie Misner, Mary Ann Lamb and Charlotte D'Amboise - and we designed it to start to work with dancers to develop a deeper connection with their dancing.
PC: That sounds wonderful.
NG: Yeah, we are really excited about it and we think there is a place for it - you know, nowadays, dancers have to do everything! So, this will help them explore a little emotional intention behind their movement and stuff like that. I am a little all over the place with these projects, but it is all very exciting for me.
PC: Is there a great role you would like to take on in the future?
NG: [Sighs.] Oh, there are quite a few pieces I would like to do, but, I think it's more like I am in my 40s, and, as a performer, I can kind of get how it works now. I had so many great opportunities in my career, but, now, I think I am able to handle things in a way I couldn't handle them when I was younger. I come at things from a place of experience and curiosity, but, unfortunately, it feels like there is less available to me the older I get. Physically, it's the reality of life as a dancer that you can't do as much as you could do in your 20s, and, now, dancers are asked to do a lot more acrobatic stuff. So, doing a role like the Queen comes once in a lifetime - it requires you to have a groundedness in being a mature person, and, yet, it was just enough dancing that, physically, it was fine for me to do it. So, as you get older as a dancer, it always gets harder and harder. That's just the way it is and I accept it.
PC: Or else it can turn into THE TURNING POINT, right?
NG: Right! As much as I love THE TURNING POINT, that's definitely not where I want to end up!
PC: What do you think of that film?
NG: You know what? I love that movie! If somebody says to me, "What's a good dance movie?" I say, "THE TURNING POINT!" That's the one - it's better than BLACK SWAN and all the rest. Everything about it is so true to life and the way they depict the dancing in it is just beautiful.
PC: The new RED SHOES Criterion Blu-ray is exquisite. Have you seen it yet?
NG: I haven't seen it yet myself, but I keep hearing that! I will have to check it out.
PC: You did the Broadway musical version THE RED SHOES, of course - I'm sure that could be an interview in itself.
NG: [Laughs.] You are absolutely right! I can't even tell you how much incredible talent was involved in that team, but it was just so unfortunate for everyone involved that it turned out the way that it did. I was in the ensemble and I was so grateful because the choreographer did beautiful work in that show. I really think Lars should be choreographing for musical theatre because he did some really fantastic work in that show - it's really a shame.
PC: It really is. So, SWAN LAKE 3D in movie theaters, a new play with movement coming up, a new Stroman Degas project and your educational endeavors, as well? You are one busy ballerina!
NG: I am! I am. I also wanted to mention that this past fall I performed in London in Arthur Pita's THE METAMORPHOSIS and the show will be coming back to the Linbury Theater at the Royal Opera House and a tour will, hopefully, follow. Arthur, by the way, is Matthew's partner and the piece was just nominated for an Olivier Award for best Dance Production.
PC: How exciting! Your incomparable presence in the Bourne universe and the Stroman universe continues - with new worlds to conquer! Thank you so much for this today, Nina.
NG: It was so great to talk to you today, Pat - you make it really fun and really easy. Thanks so much. Bye bye.
Photo Credits: Meg Goldman and various.