"
l love the repertoire and the athleticism
of this Company.
"

 

 

 

An Interview with Maia Wilkins,
Principal Dancer, The Joffrey Ballet of Chicago
May 16, 2002

By Basheva

 


As a little girl growing up in the small California town of Trukee, Maia Wilkins loved to listen to the words and music of Tina the Ballerina as she looked at a picture of a dancer in a tutu. From a very early age actually as long as she can remember she always wanted to be a dancer. “I wanted to be Tina the Ballerina,” she says. Her earliest classes were in tap but at the age of nine or ten years old her family was told of her potential and ballet was recommended. She was enrolled in the classes of Maggie Banks, in Reno, Nevada, about one hour away from the family's home. Then her parents were advised that she would benefit from further training on a professional level. A variation was videotaped and sent to the Joffrey Ballet School. In return she was offered a scholarship to attend the school's summer program.

Wilkins credits Tina Bernal at the Joffrey Ballet School with making her analyze placement and the basic structure of ballet technique. She danced an entire year at the barre, without using her arms, just to work on alignment. Though there is no particular dancer Wilkins would like to emulate she very much admires San Francisco Ballet ballerina, Tina LeBlanc. On a visit to England, Wilkins also enjoyed watching the Royal Ballet. “They were wonderful,” she says.

Wilkins told me of a particular turning point in her career. When she was a younger member of the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago, she reached a time in which she was trying to determine in her own mind how to handle corrections and advice from the many people in her professional life. She says, “I didn't know who to listen to. And then I decided that I had to find the joy of dancing and the answers within myself, and I couldn't be someone else. You take corrections and think about them, but when I am on stage, I have to be myself.”

I asked her if she feels a connection to the audience when she is dancing and she said that it depended upon the ballet. “In a pas de deux like Sea Shadow, it's just the two of us at a cove, with water. No one else is there. We are all alone. But, there are some ballets that go back and forth, sometimes the audience is there and sometimes not. Jeux is one of those ballets, and so is Taming of the Shrew. It's like a window opens and closes, like the audience can see through a window.”

Wilkins doesn't have any particular pre-performance habits. “Because I wouldn't want to become dependent on them and then get upset that I forgot one. I just take a quiet breath before going on.” Then after some further thought, she added, “Before Nutcracker I take vitamin C candies. I like the pink ones. Everyone else knows where to find them and can take one, too.” She also is very careful about rosining the heels of her pointe shoes and always sews the ends of the ribbons inside the knot so that there are no untidy ends to come loose. She once saw a ballet in which the ballerina's ribbon ends came loose in every act. She finds that distracting.

After a performance she feels very “quiet and mellow. I go home, read, eat something and go to bed.” Wilkins loves flowers and takes them home too, cutting them down and keeping them as long as possible. However, if she gets flowers after a new ballet, she says, “I keep them at the theater so I can see them day after day.” She still has her first pair of pointe shoes and shoes from other significant performances. She later inscribed the dates in the shoes.


"You take corrections and think about them, but when I am on stage,
I have to be myself."


Her affiliation with the Joffrey Ballet goes back to the Joffrey Ballet School and she says, “The road just naturally led to dancing with the Company.” After the scholarship to the summer session she was asked to stay and eventually asked to join Joffrey II. She did go to see other companies in the United States and Europe. She attended performances and rehearsals and realized she was “an Arpino dancer. I love the repertoire and the athleticism of this Company.” In a workshop after doing some classical pieces, including some Bournonville and a contemporary dance, she realized she was good at contemporary and enjoyed dancing it.

Wilkins has danced the role of The Chosen One in Nijinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps. The solo is eight or nine minutes long and she feels totally drained by the experience. “I was so excited when I was still in Joffrey II and I realized they were going to remount this ballet. Then there was the premiere. And then I got to dance it.” She says that when she performs this role she feels so much support from the other dancers, “the Company is so together, everyone is rooting me on. It's a wonderful experience.” It has also given her insight into how the original dancers must have felt about it. “It's so interesting and so foreign, so turned in. It's timeless, absolutely timeless. The music, the colors, the costumes, swirling colors, yet it all connects.” Wilkins related that the score was taken by a rock band and played with electrical guitar. The band was asked to play for a Company rehearsal. “Though it was still Stravinsky, we found it shocking to hear it played that way. It's how it must have been for the original dancers when they first heard the music.”

Wilkins loves to spend time outside just being outside and enjoying beautiful weather. She also likes to walk, read, swim, hike, cross-country ski and roller blade. However, she is very careful with the more strenuous activities. “I just can't take a chance with my body,” she says. “I was a fair weather skier and I don't do that anymore.”

Maia Wilkins is married to Joffrey Ballet dancer, Michael Levine, and she feels this makes life easier. “He understands the pressures. He is also very helpful and is a great coach and has a good eye for what 'reads' and what doesn't 'read' to the audience.” They get to travel together in the Company and also dance as partners. She says, “That's very special.”

When I asked her what she saw in her future after dance, she frankly couldn't answer the question specifically. Dance has been part of her life as long as she can remember. At the same time, she sees “so many incredible opportunities, like having kids, being a mother.” Though she feels that teaching could be rewarding, she wonders if what she will have to offer will be important, and hopes it would be. She would also like to return to school and take classes in art history, philosophy and any number of other things. “There's so much out there,” she says enthusiastically. However, Wilkins feels that dance will always be a part of her life in some way. “I am addicted,” she declared.

 

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Edited by Azlan Ezaddin


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