Victoria Hulland with Ricardo Graziano in Sir Frederick Ashton's Marguerite and Armand. Frank Atura, Courtesy Sarasota Ballet.

Sarasota Ballet Principal Victoria Hulland on the Tragic Romance of Sir Frederick Ashton's "Marguerite and Armand"

Sarasota Ballet was the first U.S. company to perform Sir Frederick Ashton's Marguerite and Armand. Principal dancer Victoria Hulland dives deep into the dramatic title role.

Iain Webb, our director, always educates us on the history of the ballets we're performing, so I knew what a big deal it was to be the first American to dance Frederick Ashton's Marguerite. Grant Coyle, who stages a lot of Ashton's works, taught it to us, but he only came three weeks before we opened. I learned it in the first week, then had one week to fine-tune it before tech rehearsals.

Knowing how little time I'd have to learn the ballet made me nervous, so I researched it beforehand. I read the book the ballet is based on, The Lady of the Camellias, and watched videos of Tamara Rojo and Sergei Polunin doing it to get an idea of the musicality.

Hulland is onstage in an arabesque pench\u00e9 with Graziano's arms around her waist. They both wear all white costumes.

Victoria Hulland and Ricardo Graziano in Sir Frederick Ashton's Marguerite and Armand

Frank Atura, Courtesy Sarasota Ballet

The ballet is an exhausting journey, but it's so gratifying. Physically, it's draining because I don't get a break; I'm either onstage or changing costumes. I have four different dresses, and the quick changes are the fastest I've ever done in my life. Emotionally, the most challenging scene is when Armand's father tells Marguerite, a courtesan, that she can't be with his son anymore. Her heart is breaking, but she has to be strong, accept it and go back to her old life to save Armand's place in society. There's really no dancing there, just acting and reacting. Since I've never been in that exact situation before, I tried to pull from other life experiences that might have evoked similar emotions, because acting has to come from a real place. If you don't believe it, the audience won't either. Marguerite stares out into the audience, clenching her fists and then closing her eyes. I love that moment because it's so…naked. Just you, no steps.

Marguerite is such a strong character, but physically she's weak—she's dying of tuberculosis. It's challenging to show her strength of will but also her fragility. During the ballroom scene when she and Armand are fighting, Grant kept reminding me not to do too much. The partnering is very strong—Armand's basically throwing her around and humiliating her—but she's really sick at that point. I approached the final scene a bit like Giselle's mad scene. She's on her deathbed and Armand is holding her. I'm trying to show her happiness that he's there, but also that she's fading in and out of reality. At the very end, right before she dies, she reaches up to a corner of the stage. I imagine what she might be looking at: Their past? Their present? A memory?

We do a lot of Ashton ballets, so I have a good grasp on his style. The big thing with his choreography is "more body, more bending," which when I first joined the company was hard to understand. But after 12 seasons here, I've grown to really love it. An Ashton ballet feels like home.

Latest Posts

Peter Mueller, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet

2020 Stars of the Corps: 10 Dancers Making Strides In and Out of the Spotlight

The corps de ballet make up the backbone of every company. In our Fall 2020 issue, we highlighted 10 ensemble standouts to keep your eye on. Click on their names and photos to learn more!

Dara Holmes, Joffrey Ballet

A male dancer catches a female dancer in his right arm as she wraps her left arm around his shoulder and executes a high arabesque on pointe. Both wear white costumes and dance in front of a blue backdrop onstage.

Dara Holmes and Edson Barbosa in Myles Thatcher's Body of Your Dreams

Cheryl Mann, Courtesy Joffrey Ballet

Wanyue Qiao, American Ballet Theatre

Wearing a powder blue tutu, cropped light yellow top and feather tiara, Wanyue Qiao does a piqu\u00e9 retir\u00e9 on pointe on her left leg and pulls her right arm in towards her.

Wanyue Qiao as an Odalisque in Konstantin Sergeyev's Le Corsaire

Gene Schiavone, Courtesy ABT

Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson, Houston Ballet

Three male dancers in tight-fitting, multicolored costumes stand in positions of ascending height from left to right. All extend their right arms out in front of them.

Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson (far right) with Saul Newport and Austen Acevedo in Oliver Halkowich's Following

Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet

Leah McFadden, Colorado Ballet

Wearing a white pixie wig and a short light-pink tunic costume, a female ballet dancer poses in attitude front on pointe with her left arm bent across her ribs and her right hand held below her chin.

Leah McFadden as Amour in Colorado Ballet's production of Don Quixote

Mike Watson, Courtesy Colorado Ballet

Maria Coelho, Tulsa Ballet

Maria Coelho and Sasha Chernjavsky in Andy Blankenbuehler's Remember Our Song

Kate Lubar, Courtesy Tulsa Ballet

Alexander Reneff-Olson, San Francisco Ballet

A ballerina in a black feathered tutu stands triumphantly in sous-sus, holding the hand of a male dancer in a dark cloak with feathers underneath who raises his left hand in the air.

Alexander Reneff-Olson (right) as Von Rothbart with San Francisco Ballet principal Yuan Yuan Tan in Swan Lake

Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB

India Bradley, New York City Ballet

Wearing a blue dance dress with rhinestone embellishments and a sparkly tiara, India Bradley finishes a move with her arms out to the side and hands slightly flexed.

India Bradley practices backstage before a performance of Balanchine's Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2.

Erin Baiano, Courtesy NYCB

Bella Ureta, Cincinnati Ballet

Wearing a white dress with pink corset, Bella Ureta does a first arabesque on pointe in front of an onstage stone wall.

Bella Ureta performs the Act I Pas de Trois in Kirk Peterson's Swan Lake

Hiromi Platt, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet

Alejándro Gonzales, Oklahoma City Ballet

Dressed in a green bell-boy costume and hat, Alejandro Gonz\u00e1lez does a saut\u00e9 with his left leg in retir\u00e9 and his arms in a long diagonal from right to left. Other dancers in late 19-century period costumes watch him around the stage.

Alejandro González in Michael Pink's Dracula at Oklahoma City Ballet.

Kate Luber, Courtesy Oklahoma City Ballet

Nina Fernandes, Miami CIty Ballet

Wearing a long white tutu and crown, Nina Fernandes does a saut de chat in front of a wintery backdrop as snow falls from the top of the stage.

Nina Fernandes in George Balanchine's The Nutcracker

Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Miami City Ballet

Evelyn Cisneros-Legate. Photo by Beau Pearson, Courtesy Ballet West

Ballet West Academy's New Director on Dream Building During COVID-19

Evelyn Cisneros-Legate is bringing her hard-earned expertise to Ballet West. The former San Francisco Ballet star is taking over all four campuses of The Frederick Quinney Lawson Ballet West Academy as the school's new director.

Cisneros-Legate, whose mother put her in ballet classes in an attempt to help her overcome her shyness, trained at the San Francisco Ballet School and School of American Ballet before joining San Francisco Ballet as a full company member in 1977. She danced with the company for 23 years, breaking barriers as the first Mexican American to become a principal dancer in the U.S., and has graced the cover of Dance Magazine no fewer than three times.

As an educator, Cisneros-Legate has served as ballet coordinator at San Francisco Ballet, principal of Boston Ballet School's North Shore Studio and artistic director of after-school programming at the National Dance Institute (NDI). Dance Teacher spoke with her about her new position, her plans for the academy and leading in the time of COVID-19.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Complexions Contemporary Ballet's Tatiana Melendez Proves There's No One Way to Have a Ballet Career

This is Pointe's Fall 2020 cover story. Click here to purchase this issue.

Talk to anyone about rising contemporary ballerina Tatiana Melendez, and one word is bound to come up repeatedly: "Fierce." And fair enough, that's a perfectly apt way to describe the 20-year-old's stage presence, her technical prowess and her determination to succeed. But don't make the mistake of assuming that fierceness is Melendez's only (or even her most noteworthy) quality. At the core of her dancing is a beautiful versatility. She's just as much at ease when etching pure classical lines as she is when boldly throwing herself off-balance.

"Selfish choreographer that I am, I want Tatiana to stay with Complexions for all time," says her boss Dwight Rhoden, Complexions Contemporary Ballet's co-artistic director and resident choreographer. "She has a theatricality about her: When the music comes on, she gets swept away." Not too shabby for someone who thought just a few years ago that maybe ballet wasn't for her.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks