How It's Done: Muse of Mime

Published in the December 2013/January 2014 issue.

Tricia Albertson rehearsing "Apollo." Photo by Daniel Azoulay.

George Balanchine’s Apollo follows three muses—Calliope, muse of poetry, Terpsichore, muse of song and dance, and Polyhymnia, muse of mime—as they teach Apollo, son of Zeus and god of music, about their art. Here, Miami City Ballet principal Tricia Albertson gives her advice on Polyhymnia’s fast, tricky variation.

1. Musical Strategy
Although the music is fast, you don’t always have to be right on top of the count, Albertson says. Coached by MCB artistic director Lourdes Lopez (a former Polyhymnia with New York City Ballet herself), she discovered moments where she could stretch the notes. “Lourdes helped me find where I could be more luscious, and hold things until the last second then jump into the next step, which gives more contrast. It also gave me a chance to breathe and made me feel like I had much more time than I did.”

2. The Character
“Polyhymnia is the youngest of the three muses, and her variation is the most lively. She’s flirtatious, but in a subtle, playful way. It’s like she almost doesn’t know how to hold in her excitement.”

3. Focus on Apollo
Most ballet variations are addressed to the audience, but not this one: The muses are in competition to make him fall most in love with their own art forms. “Really focus on him. Every step you do, it’s about showing him, not the audience.”

4. Dancing with One Arm
Since Polyhymnia represents mime, nearly the entire variation is danced with the left hand held in front of the mouth, with the forefinger and thumb positioned in the shape of an “L.” Keep your thumb pressed against your chin—it will make it easier for you to maintain the position.

5. Last Moments
At the end of the variation, Polyhymnia expands into an overstretched second position with her mouth wide open, then immediately curls into a squat, covering her mouth with both hands. “It’s like she finally gets too excited to contain herself. Her immaturity comes out, but then she is immediately embarrassed by her break in character.” Dismissed by Apollo after the outburst, Albertson avoids his gaze as she leaves the stage, slinking off as if disappointed with herself.