BWW Interview: Carl Coomer, Paige Nyman of THE SLEEPING BEAUTY at Texas Ballet Theatre
Tchaikovsky's The Sleeping Beauty isn't the Disney version you grew up with- but it does have all the artistry, magic, and delight that we can expect from a classic ballet based on a classic fairy tale. Last week I had the pleasure to speak with Carl Coomer and Paige Nyman, two of the principal dancers with the Texas Ballet Theatre. Together we discussed the role of ballet in our culture, ballet abroad, and of course, how special The Sleeping Beauty is.
Tell me about the roles you have in Sleeping Beauty and how you prepared for them?
Paige Nyman: I play Aurora- and that takes a lot of preparation. She is onstage for three of the four acts. One thing we do is called the Rose Adage which is a dance with her four suitors, so I dance with each one of them, and do variations. There's also a lot of mental preparation- you take it home and you think about who Aurora is and how you want to portray her. She's only 16 and this is almost like her debutante ball. There's a lot to prepare for and a lot to make sure the audience reads and sees even though we don't get to speak.
It sounds like something that never stops- you're still processing everything at home.
Nyman: Honestly, that's the way you save yourself physically, is by preparing for it mentally. If all you did was physical preparation, you'd exhaust yourself.
Do you find it challenging to differentiate between the various characters and portray them in distinct ways?
Coomer: Yes, but we're used to doing that in the ballet. It's more fun. I think it would be a bit more boring if we were just doing the same role day in and day out.
Both you of you have been with Texas Ballet Theatre for at least 10 years each. What's special about this organization that has made you stay?
Nyman: Honestly just the incredible camaraderie. We want what's best for each other, we encourage each other, so that part of it is incredible. I think it's a combination of the dancing and the environment. As special as performing is, we spend a lot of time in the studio, so there's the balance between the thrill of performing and the journey- I keep being challenged, and I'm surrounded by people who I love.
Coomer: This company is like a big family and everyone sticks together. All the dancers that come here tend to stay here- I think that says a lot about director Ben Stevenson too, he creates this atmosphere that's fantastic to work in, and he's fantastic to work for. He gives a lot of freedom to us as artists to express ourselves and make us feel accomplished in the studio every day.
How do you think ballet is presented in our culture? Do you think it gets enough attention and exposure, and if not- how do you think that can be addressed?
Nyman: We're biased- we love what we do- but I think it's a fair bias. I think ballet is a very special medium. You have this combination of movement, music, communication of feelings, and impressions, so there's so many different ways that people can be touched by it. I think there's something very special about seeing a human body pushed to its limits that you don't see in other mediums. In terms of promoting ballet better, I think we need to reach people on a human level. We often do in-studio performances where the public sits 6 feet away from us. People always say, "Wow, it's amazing to hear you guys breathe, and see you guys sweat!" This way they get to understand more of what is put into it. I think it's really cool to be that connected to it, and then also to be able to see how the stage creates this magic barrier: You're not supposed to be this way, you're not supposed to hear us breathe- a filter is put on it. That's magic as well.
Coomer: I wished more people were exposed to it, especially when they're younger in this country. I've been to Cuba where the theater has literally every class of people- they're screaming and shouting- and I feel like it's because they've been exposed to it their whole life. I think exposing it to young people is important, otherwise when they get older they'll have no interest. Unfortunately, we have to compete with things like Netflix and YouTube- and I don't know what the answer to that is.
Why should people go see Sleeping Beauty?
Nyman: They should come see it because it's magical. It's a classic fairy tale story. You have the love, the drama, and there's so many engaging moments. It's also a lot of exposure to classical ballet. There's so much dancing as well as storytelling. Overall, you will be entertained- whether it's though our dancing, the set and the costumes, the score is Tchaikovsky and it's beautiful- you're truly in for an experience on every level. It's really fun for kids too!
Coomer: Sleeping Beauty is one of the most famous classical ballets. The set and costumes are beautiful and lavish, it has a little bit of everything.
Carl, what are the differences (if any) between the way ballet is done in the United States versus the United Kingdom?
Coomer: I was trained in London. I remember seeing the Houston Ballet perform when I was in London- it was mixed contemporary, and of course there was some classical ballet in there too. I was just blown away with how powerful the dancers were. They were a lot more energetic, had a lot more personality, and everything was so much bigger. They just looked like these animals onstage. The Royal Ballet school had wonderful dancers, don't get me wrong, but it was a lot more about technique. I was blown away by the energy and power and presence of the Houston Ballet and I hadn't seen anything like that before- and that's what drew me to come dance over here in The States. There's a lot more panache and a lot more tricks- more show for sure.
Performances of The Sleeping Beauty by Texas Ballet Theatre are as follows:
Dallas: September 6-8 - AT&T Performing Arts Center
Fort Worth: October 18-20 - Bass Performance Hall
Tickets can be purchased here.
Photo Credit: Steven Visneau