DePrince soars in English National Ballet's "Giselle." Photo by Laurent Liotardo, Courtesy ENB.

Michaela DePrince on Tapping into Her Painful Past to Take on the Character of Myrtha in "Giselle"

As told to Amy Brandt.

Myrtha is a role I've always loved to watch, but when Tamara Rojo asked me to dance it for English National Ballet's Giselle last year as a guest artist, I thought she was crazy. The role is usually for a tall, strong dancer. I'm strong, but I'm also very petite. I thought people might criticize me for that. I also wore brown tights onstage, since I'm a brown dancer, and I was nervous people wouldn't understand that—but I got great comments on it.


I really enjoyed trying to find how I could become Myrtha. I worked closely with ENB associate artistic director Loipa Araújo, and I tried to soak up everything she said. She explained that Myrtha has already experienced what it feels like to have a broken heart. She doesn't want the other girls to dwell on those men who've hurt them, so she tries to show them how to be a strong figure.

I'm young, but I've experienced a lot of heartbreak in my life, so I could relate. I thought about how I would feel if I had the opportunity to show somebody else that those people who break your heart aren't worth it. Lately I've been trying to break down those walls and dredge up the things that I've been through in order to touch the audience. I tried to portray an almost arrogance towards Albrecht, because he's worthless to me. I needed to show Giselle that their love isn't real.

"Make the role your own, and make sure you're proud of it. Don't try to be like somebody else. Otherwise you'll feel really uncomfortable, and the audience will sense that."

Myrtha is an exhausting role. When I would get tired my shoulders tended to go up, so I had to find a way to lift above my rib cage to make everything look simple and easy. At the end, your feet feel floppy because they're cramping up, so I worked on the clarity of my footwork, the way I jumped and the way I landed. I tried to relax as much as possible, too; if I get too excited then it's hard to feel grounded. It helped to be sharp with the eyes, to really concentrate on where I'm focusing, to make the movement more fluid.

I had two shows with Alina Cojocaru as Giselle, and each one was a bit different. We'd use each other's energy, and I think it made it more authentic. If you think too much, you're not enjoying the moment. From what I've been told, Myrtha doesn't have a change of heart at the end, but I almost had tears in my eyes watching Alina.

Dancing Myrtha was really special—I was going through some things personally at the time, where I felt like I wasn't improving. But doing this role made me believe that I shouldn't give up on myself. It gave me the will to grow more.

Latest Posts


Getty Images

How Can I Stay Motivated While Training at Home?

Ethan Ahuero was having a good year: he was in his first season dancing with Kansas City Ballet II and had been presented with the opportunity to choreograph on the second company. "The day before we shut down I had a rehearsal, and I was so happy," Ahuero says. "The piece was coming together and this was the first time I felt really proud of my creative process."

Suddenly, the coronavirus pandemic brought everything to a halt. With the company's season cut short and the studios closed, Ahuero found himself attempting to continue dancing from home, with his choreography project put on hold. Like many other dancers around the world, Ahuero is dealing with disappointment while struggling to stay motivated.

Keeping up with daily ballet classes may feel difficult right now; inspiration can seem hard to come by when you're following along on Zoom and short on space at home. Below are a few simple tips for finding new ways to stay motivated.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
THE GINGERB3ARDMEN, Courtesy Complexions Contemporary Ballet

How Jillian Davis Created Her Own Path to Complexions and Learned to Believe in Herself

It's impossible to miss Complexions Contemporary Ballet's Jillian Davis onstage. Tall and glamorous, her commanding stage presence, luxurious movement quality and intuitive musicality have made her one of the company's standout stars. But her road to Complexions was anything but linear. The 6'2" dancer worked tirelessly over several years to find her place in the dance world, ultimately reinventing herself and creating her own path to success. At a time when many early career dancers may be facing uncertainty, her story shows the power of resiliency.

Davis grew up on a dairy farm in Kutzstown, Pennsylvania, where she studied dance at a local studio and in the Philadelphia area, and took private lessons at home. She also started growing, shooting up seven inches over one summer. At 13, she and her family decided to take her daily training up a notch, commuting 100 miles each way to the Princeton Dance & Theater Studio, where she studied under Risa Kaplowitz and Susan Jaffe. By then she was already 5'7", and she soon realized—especially as she started learning how to partner—that her height might be an issue if she wanted to dance ballet professionally.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Tulsa Ballet in Ma Cong's Tchaikovsky: The Man Behind the Music. Kate Luber Photography, Courtesy Tulsa Ballet.

Updated: Mark Your Calendars for These Online Ballet Performances

Updated on 5/21/2020

Since COVID-19 has forced ballet companies around the world to cancel performances—and even the remainder of their seasons—many are keeping their audiences engaged by streaming or posting pre-recorded performances onto their websites or social media channels. To help keep you inspired during these challenging times, we've put together a list of upcoming streaming events and digital performances.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks