BWW Interview: Q&A with National Ballet's Hannah Fischer on THE WINTER'S TALE
Being a ballet dancer is not easy. It takes daily practice, talent, sheer determination and an unwavering work ethic. Hannah Fischer, a recently promoted First Soloist with the National Ballet of Canada is taking on the leading role of Hermione in the company's production of Christopher Wheeldon's THE WINTER'S TALE.
Recently back in Toronto after receiving rave reviews with the National Ballet's tour to Paris and London, BroadwayWorld's Taylor Long was lucky to get a few minutes to chat with Fischer about life as a dancer and her role in the production.
PROFILE: Hannah Fischer
Zodiac - Gemini
What are you listening to? Top 40s
Favourite winter activity? Coffee with friends during the holiday season
Motto - "One step at a time"
Tell me something about you that I wouldn't learn from reading your bio.
I had to overcome quite a serious health issue as a child, and I think that's giving me a lot of backbone, but also more of a reason to be afraid of certain things in life. I don't mention it a lot, but it's a big part of how I grew up and how I live my life.
I'd say that's probably one of the things that will stick with me and shape me to be a better person, but it's also something that I have to keep an eye on. I find I get afraid of health risks and numbers, and you can get really wrapped up in (almost a bit obsessive) with your health, for good reason - but it's not a way to live your life. It's not life or death, but being a ballet dancer, it had its complications for sure.
Congratulations on being promoted to First Soloist! How has your new role changed the focus of your work?
It's funny, it's not a huge shift. It's not like I walked into the studio and suddenly everything was different. You still take class every morning, you still work hard. You are offered more featured roles, and that's more accepted by the company and the staff - and also yourself - it's to be expected.
In terms of day-to-day life, there's more pressure because the roles are harder and more featured, so you want to do well obviously, and there's a big difference from working in a group. Not that it's any harder, working in a group can be equally as difficult, it's just different and the stress increases when you're doing a featured role, because of the nature of it.
Also the honour of really realizing that I deserve the title and I will work my hardest to prove that I deserve it. I'd say that's probably the biggest shift in being a First Soloist.
Were you a part of the recent National Ballet journey to Paris?
I was - and I went to London after with The Dreamers Ever Leave You.
What was that like? Talk about that.
I've never been to Paris. It was stunning, I loved it. I'm so happy that Canada gets to go to all of these amazing places. I mean, we tour to Ottawa often, and that's really great and it's great to get our name out there, but to go to Europe is something completely different. It's a completely different way of life, different appreciation for the arts - the whole culture is different. It was really beautiful to see the city as well - and it was super well received.
And then London - I've been to London before, but we were more immersed with the company, The Royal Ballet. [Dreamers] was a co-production using six of our dancers and four of their dancers, and they were so lovely and so welcoming. We danced in a huge warehouse and the audience could walk through the panels that we were dancing on. It was a really intimate, up-close experience and it was also, again, really well-received - it was just a great trip.
Now let's talk THE WINTER'S TALE. I can read a summary, but what does the ballet mean to you?
It's definitely a complicated story - you could spend hours talking about it. But I think the key points that it covers are loss, love, jealousy, betrayal and family. Those are all emotions that people can relate to when they're sitting in the audience. Even though the story was written a long time ago by Shakespeare, there's something that everyone can take away from the ballet.
It's a really touching story. I think it will make people cry or feel uplifted, or cathartic. I think people come away from the theatre feeling very inspired.
I love playing Hermione. The role is dramatic, which I always enjoy, I think it's so much more fun to dance a story, rather than just steps.
She's a beautiful character and a beautiful woman. She's innocent, pure and she has this wonderful life - she has children, a husband whom she loves. But in one moment of Leontes going insane, her whole life changes. She's put on trial - she has to fight for her honour and her dignity. You realize what a passionate and strong women she is. She's got real girl power - she fights for what she believes in.
How do you connect with a character like Hermione? Do you pull emotion from your own life?
For sure, I mean I haven't had quite the same life - but I've experienced loss and love, regret and betrayal - in milder forms, for sure.
And you can work with that.
You can definitely work with that. You know, I don't know what it's like to have a child and be pregnant, but I think that every woman has a motherly instinct and every man has a fatherly instinct, and maybe this sounds weird, but that's something really nice to experience.
Hermione has a fake tummy in the ballet, and even though it's utterly fake, it's nice to feel what that would feel like. That's part of being a human, and from what I hear from all the mothers in the company, it's the best thing that life has to offer - to give life to somebody else.
That's something that you don't see (or I haven't seen) in any other ballet. It's pretty unique to this story and it's also done really well - she's still able to dance, she's not just standing there, pregnant.
Have you worked with Christopher Wheeldon before THE WINTER'S TALE?
I have. We did Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, which was also a co-production with The Royal Ballet. We did his Carousel as well.
What are some qualities that are unique to his style of choreography or his creative process?
He remains a classical ballet choreographer, but he has a whole new style that brings everything to the 21st century. There's some new bending and arm movements that he creates that aren't strictly tradition, yet you wouldn't come away from it thinking "that was a contemporary ballet". That's really unique to [Wheeldon].
He's incredibly musical, so that shows in the dancing, like the pas-de-deuxs and solos, but he's also musical in the acting moments. He's pretty genius. The way some of the lighting cues are put together and the way some of the sets and props work together, it makes the whole story really clear, which is hard to do with a really complicated story.
I think it helps if you read the synopsis, but I also think you could go to this ballet without reading it and come away not being totally confused. [Wheeldon] makes still moments around something big that is happening so that you absolutely see what is going on. There's nothing worse than going to a play, or a ballet, or an opera, and you're just lost...
[Wheeldon] has a knack for making it make sense, and that's hard to do when you're doing full-length, three act ballets.
In dancing this ballet, THE WINTER'S TALE, what has been the most rewarding part for you, as a dancer?
The first time I danced THE WINTER'S TALE, I was a newly appointed Second Soloist. I hadn't done any principle work before. Revisiting it, you realize how much you grow as a person.
I always thought I deserved what I got, but it's a different feeling altogether to really believe that you can do this and that you deserve this and that you love ballet for a reason, so that's why you're going to go onstage and show the audience that this is what you do. That comes with, I think, maturity and getting over your fears, which is not easy to do.
We also premiered THE WINTER'S TALE in New York, and I did it there as well, which was a lot of pressure.
So all of these experiences kind of accumulated. I've been able to find my voice and find what I believe in - and that always comes through in people's dancing - their thoughts and ideas, their beliefs and their principles. Your true being comes through when you dance - it's inevitable. It's part of what is so beautiful about the art form.
Through this process of THE WINTER'S TALE, I've learned to find my voice and believe in my abilities as a dancer.
THE WINTER'S TALE is presented by Tiffany and Co. and the National Ballet of Canada and runs from November 10th to November 19th, 2017 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.
The production is choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon. Hannah Fischer will be dancing the role of Hermione on November 10th, 15th and 18th matinee.
For a complete cast list and to buy tickets, visit national.ballet.ca
*this interview has been condensed and edited for clarity*
All photos by Karolina Kuras