Pirates don't typically pirouette. But next week, they'll do just that for Boston Ballet's North American premiere of Ivan Liska's Le CorsairePointe spoke with Ashley Ellis about her debut as Medora, a woman separated from her true love, the swashbuckling Conrad.

Ellis with Paulo Arrais. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy Boston Ballet

 

You've danced the ballet's famous pas de trois at galas and competitions, but what's it like in this context?

It's really nice to bring the virtuoso dancing into the story. There are these small details that make it more meaningful. Like the way I look at Ali: I don't love him, I'm more gracious and thankful that he's there. And then Conrad, of course, I look at him differently.

What's unique about this production?

At the end of other versions, Conrad rescues Medora and Gulnara. But in this one, Gulnara decides to stay with Pasha and live with all of his riches, and Medora goes to be with the person that she loves. I like that difference between the two lead female characters, that they have different values.

Do you do anything special to get into character for a story ballet?

For me, it comes gradually. The more we work on it, the more a character gets under the skin. When I get to the theater, I feel it even more with the costume and makeup and the sets. It brings it a level where I really feel like I'm in that world. Before that, connecting with my partner helps a lot and just thinking about the character and what they're feeling before a rehearsal.

Do you have any tips for dancers learning a full length like Le Corsaire?

Do your research. It's always valuable to see how other dancers have performed the role. Now, it's so accessible to watch YouTube videos, not to copy them but to get familiar with the character and how it can be interpreted. You should try to always bring as much as you can from your own ideas and personality, but if something in a video sparks your interest and really resonates with that character, brainstorm about it.

Boston Ballet's Le Corsaire runs Oct. 27-Nov. 6. Enter our giveaway now for tickets to the Nov. 5 performance! 

Photo by Liza Voll

Boston Ballet principal Ashley Ellis has a crafty side. When she started making herself legwarmers a few years ago, her colleagues took notice and started asking her to make some for them, too. “I started creating a design and realized I wanted to do it more professionally," says Ellis, who officially launched her legwarmer website, RubiaWear.com, a year and a half ago. “I have a little following now," she says. “I post my designs on Instagram, which is mostly how I've gotten the word out."

One of the perks of being a designer, of course, is that she can pack her dance bag with fun assortments of legwarmers. “I always have different options with me to wear," she says. Ellis also keeps a collection of homemade skirts on hand, as well as an extra sweater. And while she fits all of her essentials in a Betsey Johnson shoulder bag at the studio, she's more innovative at the theater. “I recently bought a small pink backpack to use backstage," she says. “It's great for when I'm wearing tutus, since it hangs a little higher."

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Boston Ballet principal Ashley Ellis with Eris Nezha in Mikko Nissinen's Swan Lake. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy Boston Ballet.

Dancers are arguably harder on themselves than any other performing artists. And because their instruments are their bodies, that self-scrutiny can become ruthlessly personal. By definition, classical ballet requires adherence to a strict lexicon of rules dictating turnout, elongated lines, balance, ballon, coordination and musicality. Straying from that ideal can lead to a charge of flawed dancing, of not living up to classical perfection. Pointe asked five professional dancers to elaborate on what they regard as their own “imperfections"—physical, technical, psychological or artistic limitations they have overcome to achieve success in their careers. In some cases, they're still working on those problem areas. In others, they have embraced their quirks and learned how to work with them. For most, their imperfections have become blessings in disguise. Without those challenges, they might not have become the dedicated, singular artists they are today.

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