Frances Chung and Vitor Luiz in Balanchine's Coppélia
(Photo by Erik Tomasson, courtesy SFB)

Dream Role: Frances Chung

In Balanchine's comedic Coppélia, San Francisco Ballet's Frances Chung brings out Swanilda's playful side.

All of Swanilda's actions come from a place of pure fun. She's kind of sassy, but I like bringing out her playfulness instead of taking a more bratty approach. The role comes quite naturally to my personality. When my partner and I are in the studio, we're very playful even though we're working hard and refining everything. I try to have a good time and I think that it translates onstage.

As Swanilda, my love for Franz is very youthful, like when you hit someone because you like him. I'm quite confident in myself and in our love, even though I see him blowing kisses at another girl (really a doll). I get mad for a second, but at the end of the day I know he's going to choose me. That's my underlying feeling. When I finally make the connection that she's a doll, I think it's hilarious!


One short pantomime scene says a lot about their relationship. We're chasing a butterfly, and Franz catches it with his net, puts a needle through it and pins it to his lapel. He thinks he's making himself look handsome for me, but I'm appalled that he killed the butterfly! He says, “I love you. Will you have me?" and I smirk and say “no" before stomping off. We worked on that scene a lot. It's only five 8s, but it's a very telling moment and you have to get all the details right. The musicality is huge—it goes hand in hand with the comedy's timing and informs a lot of the dance.

Swanilda goes through a transition between Acts II and III. She's just been swept off her feet, then all of a sudden she's growing up and getting married. The serious dancing is in Act III. Even though the steps don't necessarily convey young happiness, I try to keep that playful feeling while fulfilling the choreography's technical aspects.

My coaches usually tell me to exaggerate my acting so that it's conveyed to the back of the theater. I love subtlety in dance, but it only works on a smaller stage or in the studio. Of course, sometimes I feel like I'm being cheesy. But if I practice, it feels more natural onstage. It's different from stand-up comedy—there's so much more to the ballet than trying to be funny. I'm trying to embody the character and have fun. But when the audience laughs, it just propels me to keep up the energy.

As told to Julie Diana.

Latest Posts


Gregory Batardon, Courtesy Prix de Lausanne

The 2021 Prix de Lausanne Prepares for a Year Like No Other

In an ordinary year, early February marks an exciting time in the ballet world: the return of the prestigious Prix de Lausanne competition. But this is no ordinary year, so this is no ordinary Prix. Due to the pandemic, the 2021 edition will run from January 31 to February 7, completely via video.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Photo by Mena Brunette, XMBPhotography

Inside Washington Ballet Artist Ashley Murphy-Wilson's Dance Bag

Ashley Murphy-Wilson, an artist at The Washington Ballet, is all about making things personal. Well, personalized, that is. "My best purchase ever was a label maker," she says. "Everything I own is labeled. My phone charger is labeled. My roller is labeled. Everyone knows: If I leave something in the studio, I'm coming back for it—because my name is on it."

The TWB dancer adds a personal touch to almost everything in her dance bag, be it with her label maker, her "signature" leopard print legwarmers or her bedazzled (yes, we said bedazzled) booties. It's the mark of an experienced dancer; Murphy-Wilson, now in her sixth season at TWB after 13 years with Dance Theatre of Harlem, knows better than to let her belongings get lost to the dance studio "black hole" effect.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Charlene Gehm MacDougal as Lead Nursemaid in Petrushka. Photo by Herbert Migdoll

In Memoriam: Joffrey Dancer Charlene Gehm MacDougal, 69

Former lead dancer with The Joffrey Ballet, Charlene Gehm MacDougal died of ovarian cancer on January 10 at her home in New York City, age 69.

Gehm illuminated the inner life of each of the varied characters in her extensive repertoire. Whether she was the gracious hostess in George Balanchine's Cotillon, the riveting Lady Capulet in John Cranko's Romeo and Juliet, or in the tumult of William Forsythe's Love Songs, she drew the viewer's eye and heart to the essence of the role.

As Forsythe puts it: "Charlene was certainly one of the most elegant dancers I have had the privilege to work with. Her striking countenance flowed into her work and, joined with her wicked sense of humor and intelligence, created thoughtful, mesmerizing and memorable art."

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks