by bill biss –
A little girl from Maine, U.S.A. dreams of being a professional dancer. Over many years and with a lot of hard work, she trains, devoting her time and talent to the art. Sara Esty has her dream come alive as a ballet dancer.
This is where the Broadway musical An American in Paris enters in and her lead role as “Lise” in the show’s national tour. The famed musical is up on its toes and on the stage at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa from Tuesday, April 25 through Sunday, May 7.
You’ve been in this production as both an alternate and a standby since the inception. When did they decide to have you lead the touring production?
There was some talk while we were on Broadway and about the rumors of there being a tour. All that stuff, the normal chatter. But, I remember one of the lead producers sat me down before the New Year and said, “We’re set for the tour and we would really love you to lead it.” It was a huge honor being bestowed upon me and I felt a really strong sense of responsibility to my director and to the family that we had created, to carry on the vision of the show.
I wanted to go back in your career and ask you about receiving a Princess Grace Fellowship Award for Excellence in Dance.
It was in 2006 and I had been in the Miami City Ballet for a couple of years. I got a letter saying that our artistic director, Edward Villella had nominated me for this award. I did some research on the foundation and discovered this was a big deal. A lot of up and coming artists, dancers and playwrights… all sorts of people from the artistic world were nominated.
If I were to win the fellowship award, the foundation would provide the ballet company with the years’ worth of my salary, which was amazing. I wrote an essay and put together a dance video with different choreographers and sent it in…I’ll never forget it. I was at home in Maine and I got a phone call from a number I didn’t recognize. Sure enough, it was the lady I had been working with, saying, “You won. You won an award!” I remember my mom crying. It was a whole big thing and we got to attend a gala in New York City which was incredible. A surreal moment and a real turning point in my career.
That’s excellent. I’m very familiar with all the music in An American in Paris but have not seen the show, yet. Is your introduction when you perform “The Second Prelude?”
It is! They kind of meet Lise in the opening ballet but she doesn’t talk at all. You see her and you get intrigued as to “who is this girl?” Then, she disappears again until “The Second Prelude” and there’s a ballet studio scene where you meet her officially.
People will come and think, “I’m not really a ballet fan, I don’t know if I want to sit through that.”
Then, they leave and say, “Oh my gosh, I didn’t know that I love ballet.”
Is there a musical number in An American in Paris that you most get a kick out of?
I actually adore doing “The American in Paris Ballet,” it’s kind of what I’m used to. It’s a seventeen-minute long ballet and just strictly dancing at the end. It’s such a release and it is so much fun. The audience has been through this essentially, two-hour long musical and with all the elements and then we’ve added another element of ballet. It’s just such a ride. We pull out our ballet technique and show another side of ourselves.
Please share your thoughts on the choreography of Christopher Wheeldon.
Honestly, it is just a joy to dance and it is just so organic and feels wonderful. I think he’s done a remarkable job in showcasing the time period, where art was starting to be more modern with Picasso and all of those artists. He took a very traditional but neoclassical approach to this and it really shows. People will come and think, “I’m not really a ballet fan, I don’t know if I want to sit through that.” Then, they leave and say, “Oh my gosh, I didn’t know that I love ballet.” He has done something remarkable to make non-ballet lovers, love ballet with his choreography. It’s breathtaking and I’m so honored to be able to do it. He’s a big deal in the ballet world and becoming a big deal in the Broadway world, which is awesome. The show requires a lot of energy and a lot of stamina. It is so gratifying.
An American in Paris plays at Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa. For tickets and more information, call 714.556.2787 or go to: scfta.org.