The following is an article from
our special section, San Francisco
Ballet in London.
"I enjoy more dramatic
pieces because to me
the performance presentation of dance
is more important than technique."
An Interview with Amanda Schull
San Francisco Ballet Corps Dancer and Film Actress
August 16, 2001
By Petra Tschiene
Petra Tschiene: When did you realise
you wanted to become a dancer and where did you train?
Amanda Schull: When I grew up I always
loved to dance. I trained in Honolulu where my parents still live, but
I did not know I wanted to be a professional dancer until I left high
school. I went to Indiana University to major in ballet. After completing
two years, I attended the San Francisco Ballet School Summer Intensive
and by the end of it I was offered a scholarship to stay for a year.
Since I still wasn't sure I really wanted to be a professional dancer
I continued my studies in San Francisco, going to school in the morning
and dancing for the rest of the day. The credits I got this way I transferred
back to Indiana University. By the end of the year Helgi Tomasson offered
me a contract to join San Francisco Ballet as an apprentice which I
accepted. I still continued with my studies, in fact I have my books
in my dressing room, but I have now reached the point when they won't
let me study away anymore. To finish my two degrees, a Fine Arts Degree
in Ballet and a Degree in Journalism, I will have to go back to Indiana
University for one more year and I would like to do this at some point
but not now.
How do you like touring? Are you enjoying the London
season so far?
I love touring. It's great that we get to see the world while dancing
and getting paid for it. The first time I came to Europe I was only
two months old. My parents used to travel a lot and they took me to
Germany. Once I decided I wanted to dance more seriously, I went away
to summer intensives every year and I did not have the opportunity anymore.
The first time I came to London was during SFB's last visit when we
performed at Sadler's Wells right after I had joined the company. London
is wonderful. I've done a lot of shopping with my girlfriends this week.
What is your average day like?
Hopefully busy. Dancers want to be busy even if we dread
having to work. After class in the morning we have usually six hours
of rehearsal on a non-performance day. If we do have a performance we
only have two hours of rehearsal. This week I am in only one ballet,
Balanchine's Symphony in Three Movements and I am covering the
other ballets. So, I watch rehearsals for the other pieces but as long
as nobody injures themselves, I have time to see something of the city.
In the afternoon I go back to the hotel, take a shower and rest for
a while before coming back to the theatre and signing in so that they
know I am here and available if they need me. It is wonderful when your
schedule leaves you time to have a closer look at a city. Last May we
went to Paris for two weeks and I was only covering so it was a little
bit like a vacation.
Are there any dancers you admire; and who have influenced
I enjoy more dramatic pieces because to me the performance
presentation of dance is more important than technique. I would rather
watch somebody who is really expressing emotions than a more introverted
dancer with flawless technique. My teacher back home in Honolulu always
taught us, if you are out there you might as well present yourself,
even if something went wrong technically. Joanna
Berman is breathtaking to watch on stage and I also admired Evelyn
Cisneros who used to be a principal with the company but is retired
SFB has a vast and varied repertoire. Are there any
choreographers whose work you particularly enjoy?
There is a difference between what I like to watch and what I like
to do myself. Swan Lake is so wonderful to watch every time but
if you are a swan in Act II you have to stand for what feels like hours
on one foot without moving. It is uncomfortable, it hurts and after
twenty minutes you have to jump on that foot. My favourite ballet in
all the world is Giselle. I think there is very little that could
be more haunting than the mad scene if done well but if you are in the
corps in that scene, it is not so interesting. If you are a Wili in
Act II, and you have to pretend to be dead, that is not so much fun
I love Jerome Robbins' Glass Pieces. The choreography
is modern and unusual and goes so well with the music that you always
feel yes, that is the way it should be but it would never have
occurred to me when seeing it. It is definitely modern ballet
though not modern in the sense of modern dance in bare feet. I also
like that it is an ensemble piece that depends on all the dancers working
together. This week I am only covering it but I really hope to be in
this ballet soon.
How did you come to star in the movie Center Stage?
They sent a casting agent who used to be a dancer herself across
the country all the way from New York to San Francisco. They wanted
professionals for a few of the lead roles because they did not want
to use body doubles. When the casting agent came to San Francisco she
initially looked only at company members. I was still at school at the
time but one day she came downstairs and saw me in rehearsal. I was
getting the same corrections from my teacher that Jody is getting in
the film and I also fit the description of what they wanted the character
to look like.
Other company members and I were given parts of the script
to read and the agent video taped us. After reading Jody's part, she
asked me if I would also like to read [the part of] Maureen. She gave
me some time to look over the script and I thought she is mean
it; would be fun to play such a character. Later, the casting
agent told me that when I left the room to prepare 'Maureen,' she had
called her boss and told him, I found her. She had wanted
some more footage of me on tape. Some time later they flew me to Los
Angeles to meet the director and a few weeks after that I went to New
York for a screen test. I did not hear anything for a few weeks and
I had thought that I had not gotten it, but eventually I had a phone
call that I had been chosen as Jody. When they offered me the role,
I thought Why not? and accepted.
I suppose filming has been a different experience from
dancing. What was it like?
It was great. Suddenly I was in New York with my own apartment.
I had drivers picking me up and all sorts of people arranging things
for me. They even flew my parents to New York to visit me on the set
and they were allowed to watch me shoot a couple of scenes. I spent
my twenty-first birthday filming the movie and it coincided with my
parents fortieth anniversary so we had a big party. All that more than
made up for having to get up at four am every morning. Sometimes I think
I should have enjoyed it even more. I treated it like a summer job since
I knew I would join SFB as an apprentice afterwards. It was the most
fun I have had in my entire life.
What was it like to work with a big star like Ethan
Ethan was very nice. He is a much different person in real life
than he is on stage. I had not seen him dance before and at first I
was not very impressed. Ethan does not rehearse full out, he does not
point his feet, he does not really jump. He says that he gives maybe
sixty percent in rehearsal and up to about one hundred and twenty percent
on stage. I remember one day when we took class at Steps, a famous dance
studio in New York, he actually pointed his foot to the full extent
in tendu I could not believe my eyes. In retrospect it was good that
he was not doing things full out. I would have been overwhelmed by it
and not have been able to cope. He is such an amazing dancer.
What do you do outside of work?
I go to school and I try to see my family as often as possible.
I have a brother and a sister who both have children, so I have five
nieces and nephews whom I try to visit as much as possible whenever
I get time off. We are performing on Christmas Eve and the day after,
so I do not get to go home for Christmas. In fact we have a long Nutcracker
season, three weeks with two performances per day. But last year, for
example, after touring the Midwest we got a week off and I went to visit
my sister. It was Halloween and we all dressed up and 'trick or treat'ed
together which was great fun.
You just mentioned the yearly Nutcracker season.
Do you ever get to the point when you do not even want to hear the score
'Snow' and 'Flower' are something I have done regularly ever since
I started studying ballet seriously. I think every woman in the corps
has done it so often we could do it with our eyes closed. Last year
I got to be the 'Dancing Doll' in the party scene and the maid who is
a bit of a comical part. It is a lot easier to get through all these
performances if you know that by the end of the week you get to do a
solo as a treat.
What are your hopes for the future?
I hope to keep dancing for as long as I am happy. If I get to the
point that it turns into a job and it does not make me happy anymore,
I hope I will have the good sense to quit. Right now, I love it so much
and enjoy it so much, even just taking class in the morning and rehearsing.
Ballet is so life consuming, it is not at all a nine-to-five job. You
take it home with you. It is with you constantly. I have seen dancers
for whom dancing had turned into a job and deep down they were unhappy.
Right now I cannot imagine that ever happening to me but I know if it
does I would not want to go on. That is what I hope for the future.
Please visit our special
section, San Francisco
Ballet in London, for previews,
reviews and more interviews related to San Francisco's Summer 2001 tour
For the latest news, reviews and gossip,
please visit our SFB in London forum.
Edited by Basheva.