Critical Dance

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 your dancing?
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 now.

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 either.

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 Stiefel?
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 anymore?
'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.


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Edited by Basheva.

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