A Day's Work

A matinee in the life of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre corps de ballet dancer Eva Trapp.
Published in the February/March 2008 issue.

Eva Trapp in her dressing room

Photography by Michael Ray

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre corps de ballet member Eva Trapp danced her first full-length Don Quixote in October and enjoyed it, though she adds that she prefers more contemporary ballets that highlight corps dancers’ versatility. The 25-year-old Kentuckian joined the company in 2006, but is no newcomer, having previously danced four seasons with Ohio Ballet. Her advice to new company members? “Figure out your body and what looks good on you,” says Trapp. “When you are in school, you are taught the ideal way of doing things. When you join a company, however, you need to know how to make every step work for your body type.”

Sunday, October 28, 2007
After a shower and a breakfast of black coffee and a bowl of Peanut Butter Puffins, Trapp arrives at the Benedum Center just after 11 am to prepare for the afternoon’s performance at 2 pm.

To get a jump on her warm-up, Trapp sits on a heating pad while applying moisturizer, base, powder and lipstick, saving her eye makeup and blush until after company class. She pins up her hair and heads down for the warm-up.

A handful of company members are already sprawled stretching on the floor of the vast stage. Trapp, in a sweater and jazz pants with a black shawl tied around her waist, makes her way to her usual upstage right spot at the barre and drops into a split, chatting with her best friend and fellow corps de ballet member, Patricia Hachey.

Guest teacher Robert Sund, a former Pacific Northwest Ballet principal, begins the hour-and-15-minute class. The dancers gradually shed their warm-ups—the women eventually putting on pointe shoes as a group of school children eagerly files into the front rows of the theater to watch the rest of class in advance of a pre-performance talk by PBT Artistic Director Terrence Orr.

With class over, Trapp heads back to the dressing room and puts on her Act I “Spanish Ladies” costume. She jokes around with her dressing roommates while putting the finishing touches on her makeup, standing to apply eye shadow, liner, false eyelashes and blush. She then adjusts her headpiece, checking to make sure the fake hairpiece she wears to compensate for her short hair is secure. The stage manager calls, “15 minutes!” and Trapp heads back to the stage. 

In the wings, Trapp sits on the floor next to the rosin box trimming the “teeth” (frayed edges of satin), as she calls them, off the platforms of her pointe shoes. She then puts a shoe on each hand and grinds rosin into each tip. Finally, before putting on her shoes, she rubs a small amount of rosin onto the heel area of her tights to prevent her shoes from slipping off. She then wraps a piece of paper towel around her toes, puts on her shoes and ties the ribbons. Instead of sewing in her ribbon ends to keep them from coming out onstage, Trapp wraps Scotch tape over them after they are knotted and tucked.

Waiting for the curtain, Trapp gets in a few vigorous leg swings at a barre at the rear of the stage area and her customary short prayer, before the call for places.

In today’s matinee of Don Quixote, which is sold out, Trapp will dance “Spanish Ladies,” “Gypsy Female” and “Classical Ladies.” In one of the previous performances (there were a total of three), she alternated as a “Demi Dryad,” but she also understudied “Flower Girls” and “Mercedes,” a street dancer.

Back in the rehearsal studio, Orr, who staged the production, had emphasized the importance of character development, explaining to the cast the ballet’s background and setting as well as the impetus behind each character. Trapp also appreciated the additional coaching and cleaning ballet mistress and former American Ballet Theatre star Marianna Tcherkassky had given the female corps members. “I get a lot from Marianna,” says Trapp. “She has ideas on improving your dancing that are dead on.” 

The curtain rises on Act I. Trapp and the others in the corps add to the ambiance and give the scene life. The bulk of their time is spent supporting the action of principals Maribel Modrono (Kitri) and Christopher Budzynski (Basilio), along with reacting to a handful of secondary characters in the scene. “When I am onstage in a role like this, I am mostly thinking about staying in character and being attentive to the scene,” says Trapp.

Throughout the act, Trapp claps, snaps her fingers, fans herself, smiles and flirts and briefly dances with a few male villagers. As the act draws to a close, she and the five other “Spanish Ladies” break into a celebratory group dance, then a dance with Stephen Campanella who portrays Don Quixote’s sidekick, Sancho Panza.

During the 15-minute intermission, Trapp goes to the dressing room to change into her “Gypsy” costume, switches into to flesh-colored pointe shoes and applies dark lipstick. Carrying her “Spanish Ladies” costume and accessories with her, she heads to the wig room to have a long black wig put on.

Trapp pre-sets her “Spanish Ladies” costume in a quick-change area in the wings for later, does a few backbends to limber up, drinks a Dixie cup of the Gatorade the company provides and proceeds to the stage.

Trapp begins Act II pretending to awaken from a night’s slumber at a gypsy encampment. Later, she and Basilio dance a fiery and physically demanding duet, but she casts him aside to rejoin her gypsy partner, danced by corps member Alexandre Silva.

Her featured moment over, Trapp makes a quick change back into her original costume and finishes the second act. During the second intermission, Trapp is back in the dressing room; she puts on her final costume of the day and changes pointe shoes one last time. Because this is the last show, she begins to pack up her belongings. Just before “Places!” is called, she drinks more Gatorade and rubs a finger full of honey on her teeth to keep her mouth moist.

The ballet’s third act opens on the village celebrating the marriage of Kitri and Basilio, with Trapp now portraying one of Kitri’s six bridesmaids, or “Classical Ladies.” Costumed in pastel colors, Trapp and her five companions engage in a lively high-stepping dance with plenty of Spanish flair.

After a brief demi-solo for Trapp and a grand, whirling finale with the cast surrounding ballet master Steven Annegarn as Don Quixote, the performance comes to an end.

The final curtain is followed by an onstage reunion of PBT members, part of the yearlong “Pittsburgh 250 Celebration.” Former dancers and artistic directors from PBT’s 38-year past crowd the stage. By 4:30 pm, Trapp returns one last time to the dressing room, takes off her costume and removes her makeup. In a few days she will be back in the studio, this time to rehearse a rare lead role in Septime Webre’s Fluctuating Hemlines, and soon enough she will be back in the theater getting ready for another matinee.

Steve Sucato is a dancer-turned-writer/critic based in Erie, PA. He writes regularly for several newspapers.