BWW Interviews: Dancer Sergio Diaz Talks About U.S. Premiere of French Story Ballet BLANCHE NEIGE
Sergio Diaz stars as Prince Charming in the U.S. Premiere performances of Ballet Preljocaj’s "Blanche Neige" (Snow White). Read BroadwayWorld's interview with the dancer below!
Blanche Neige is the first full length story ballet by French choreographer Angelin Preljocaj. The story is based on the Grimm fairytale and is set to music by Gustav Mahler with costumes by fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier and set design by Thierry Leproust.
Blanche Neige opened in France in 2008 and won the 2009 Globes de Cristal award for the best Dance Spectacle of the Year. The ballet has toured throughout Europe, and will visit the U.S. for the first time this spring. The company will be in residence for an entire week and it will take a full four days to load the immense and technically demanding production into the venue.
Describe the ballet for those who aren’t familiar with it.
Sergio Diaz: Snow White is the story of a young girl becoming a woman, and as her beauty is enhanced through discovering true love, her stepmother grows more and more jealous, leading her to try to get rid of her by any means possible, including murder. But fate saves the young princess, and of course the story ends happily for her...
How is this Snow White different from other versions?
SD: This version of Snow White is quite close to the version of the fairy tale by the Grimm brothers. Much darker and mysterious than the Disney version and with a psychological twist to it.
I know it’s a lot darker and more provocative with nudity and such. How do audiences typically take that? What’s the artistic reasoning behind it? And how does it enhance the ballet?
SD: It is a bit provocative, maybe through the S&M costume and character of the evil queen, and through her relationship with the king, and Jean Paul Gaultier's costumes enhance it. Also, Snow White's costume is as childlike as it is sensual, between a draped diaper/dress and the purity of it's white color and fabric. There is only one scene with part nudity, also brought by the deer's costume: a girl goes topless in a stunning jerky solo, with furry legs and hooves. There is no particular reaction from the audience, it is very well suggested, and, representing an animal, it seems quite natural. And we mustn't forget Jean Paul Gaultier's glamorous touch.
What’s it like being the only U.S. dancer in the company? How did you get involved with a French company?
SD: The company is very cosmopolitan. There are dancers from all over the globe, so it's actually interesting being a part of the ethnic melting pot. It's true that when I joined the company in 1999, I was almost the only foreign dancer. Now it just feels normal. I've been living in France since I was 8 years old. I went through practically all my academic education here, and I did all my artistic education here. I was planning to move back to the states when I finished school, maybe go to New York and join the Ailey company or work for Merce Cunningham, but when I discovered Angelin Preljocaj's work when I was 16, my goal was set. There was no other company and no other choreographer I would rather work for. After seeing his version of Romeo and Juliet, or other "Paysage après la Bataille" ("Landscape after the Battle" show created in 1997 based on duality between instinct and intellect, which I toured in the US with in 2001) I was absolutely amazed by his work. The musicality and sharpness of the movement, the acute precision, and the electric and animal energy emanating from the dancers on stage. I just knew this was where I was supposed to be.
Are you a principal dancer? What’s your role in the ballet?
SD: We don't have the hierarchy of classical ballet companies. So we don't really use those terms. Each and every one of the dancers that form the company are chosen for their own different values or qualities. So everyone is part of the team. However, it's natural for Angelin to develop a working habit with a few dancers that will be the same ones over a few creations. But in the end everybody gets their turn, and feels integrated.
On this show, I am lucky to be one of the principal characters. I play the role of Prince charming.
What does it feel like to dance on the stage in front of audiences?
SD: Dancing in front of audiences is one thing, being able to make them escape their everyday lives and dream is another. That's mostly why I chose to dance. It is one of the artistic choices I made that will have that effect on people. Bringing them dreams, questioning on a social or political subject, abstraction, minimalism or straightforward happiness or technical awe, that's what feels the best when you're dancing for an audience.
What’s ballet like compared to the other things you’ve done in your career?
SD: I come from an artistic family, my mother is a jazz singer, my uncles were tap dancers, my cousin is in Hollywood, so I have had many different approaches to the arts. I also sing, I studied theater in school, and I also do some modeling. I love all these things, but it's really through movement that I feel the real exhilaration. The thrill. Not to say that I won't come back to music or theater, but you can't dance as long as you can sing or act....
What’s it like working with choreographer Angelin Preljocaj? What can audiences expect choreography-wise?
SD: For me it's great. We've come to an almost supernatural understanding over the years, sometimes it only takes a look from either one of us to know exactly who's thinking what. It's funny, in a positive way or the other way round (laughs) just ONE look... As I was saying earlier, Preljocaj's musicality is unquestionable. He is remarkably precise and good in structuring the way the dancers move as a group on stage.
The U.S. tour brings you back home. How’s that feel? Any plans while you’re home?
SD: Yes. I'm coming home. Actually it's funny, because Europe has been my home now for over twenty years. But my whole family is living in the U.S. My mother lives in France; that's all. So of course, it's going to be quite crazy, but good. I can't wait to be reunited with my family. I don't get to see them very often. Every two years approximately. So whenever I know there's a U.S. tour coming up, I make those phone calls, send those emails, and you can be sure that they'll be there. I love them so much. Actually, a big part is coming to L.A, and another big part are coming to D.C. Looking forward to that.
Were you a part of the earlier productions of this in 2008 and 2009?
SD: I am lucky to be part of the original cast. To be quite honest, it's quite funny how Jean Paul Gaultier created the prince's costume. I don't know if he randomly decided Prince Charming would be styled with torero inspiration, or if he was influenced by my Mexican descent. I am half Mexican by my father. So yes, I've been dancing in Snow White since the premiere in Lyon in September 2008.
What’s next for the ballet and for you after this tour finishes?
SD: Well we are also touring the last show we created in collaboration with the Bolshoi theater in 2010, based on Saint John's Revelations, And then, One Thousand Years of Peace (Suivront Mille Ans De Calme in French).
We are also preparing a new creation starting in May 2012 and premiering in September. For approximately 8 dancers. And the Stockhausen program featuring Helikopter and Eldorado (Sonntags Abschied), both pieces with a score by Karlheinz Stockhausen and one dating from 2001 and the other 2007, starting in August. And in 2013, a creation based on one of the tales from the thousand and one arabian nights. So we have a lot going on right now. A real beehive!
What are the tour dates and cities?
SD: Here is the tour Schedule of the Ballet Preljocaj until this summer:
15 Cremona, Italy Teatro Ponchielli > And then, one thousand years of peace
17 and 18 Milan, Italy Teatro Arcimboldi > And then, one thousand years of peace
26 Ludwigsburg, Germany Forum am Schlosspark > And then, one thousand years of peace
29 Remscheid, Germany Teo Otto Theater > And then, one thousand years of peace
02 and 03 Bonn, Germany Theater Bonn > And then, one thousand years of peace
17 and 18 Davis, California, USA Mondavi Center > Snow White
23 > 25 Los Angeles, California, USA Los Angeles Music Center > Snow White
30 and 31 Washington, Columbia, USA The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts > Snow White
01 Washington, Columbia, USA The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts > Snow White
04 and 05 Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA Carolina Performing Arts > Snow White
13 and 14 Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA University of Minnesota, Northrop Auditorium > Snow White
19 > 21 Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA University Musical Society > Snow White
03 and 04 Mexico City , Mexico "Teatro de la Ciudad ; programmed by fmx - Mexico City Festival 2012" > Snow White
10 > 13 London, United Kingdom Sadler's Wells Theatre > Snow White
30 and 31 Seoul, South Korea "National Theatre of Korea ; programmed by FranceDanse 2012 and Modafe 2012 festival" > And then, one thousand years of peace