Ballerinas are a mysterious breed of dancer. They have unusually fit and slender bodies, hair pulled back so tight it looks painful, and more grace than a pond full of swans. I dressed up as a ballerina for Halloween a couple of years ago. I wore a shiny black leotard with a turquoise ribbon laced up the front and a black tutu, and I thoroughly enjoyed pretending to be a fabulous sugar plum fairy for the evening. While some little girls (and grown-up girls) dream of becoming professional ballerinas, it is only for a select few that the dream becomes reality. I recently had the opportunity to interview Courtney Elizabeth, corps member of the San Francisco Ballet, in honor of the ballet's 75th anniversary.
KF: Can you take us through one of your typical working days?
CE: During this time of year when we're performing, it all depends on the program! Generally, I wake up two hours before class with a bowl of cereal and a huge cup of green tea, and arrive at the theater twenty minutes before class to give myself a chance to stretch. After class, I might have three to five hours of rehearsal for different ballets that are going to be performed either that night, that week or the following week. It's always interesting when you're rehearsing a very contemporary ballet like Eden/Eden or West Side Story (Read a review of the SF Ballet tribute to Jerome Robbins) during the day, and then going to perform the second act of a classic like Giselle later that evening! Between rehearsals and the performance, I try and take a few hours to relax and stay off my feet. I'll do some schoolwork (currently I'm taking a Children's Literature course) or watch a rerun of the X-Files. I allow myself about an hour before the ballet I'm dancing to warm up and do my hair and makeup. After the show, I might grab a quick bite to eat with my boyfriend (Matthew Stewart) and then head home for my favorite time of day -- bedtime!
KF: What is your favorite ballet to perform?
CE:That's like choosing my favorite dessert -- I have so many! A few of my favorites have been Val Caniparoli's Lambarena, Lar Lubovitch's Elemental Brubeck, Paul Taylor's Company B, and the current pieces we're doing, Jerome Robbins's Fancy Free and West Side Story Suite.
KF: Are there elements of everyday life that inspire your dancing?
CE: Any offhand comments from audience members always inspire me. When I know that others were moved in some way by what they saw and experienced at the ballet, I am refreshed and renewed in my dancing, because I know that every audience member has a fresh perspective. Spontaneity in my life also reminds me that no matter how much you rehearse every last detail of something, a performance should always still have a spontaneous feel. I love childlike things, too: parks, playgrounds, and cartoons!
KF: Who is your favorite band or musician?
CE: Such a tough question -- Jars of Clay has wonderful music and lyrics with meaning, as does David Crowder Band and Sarah Groves. Dave Matthews Band is always wonderful. And I absolutely love all the music that Matt writes and plays, too.
KF: What would you be doing for a living if you weren't dancing professionally?
CE: I love reading and writing, so I've thought about being a children's book editor, or perhaps a dance critic.
KF: Tell us a little bit about your dance education. When and where did you train?
CE: I started at the age of four in a small local studio in Charlotte, North Carolina. When I was 13, Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux and Patricia McBride (NYCB) assumed directorship of NC Dance Theater; I got great experience in their school, as well as dancing with their company. And they also happened to be old friends and colleagues of Helgi, so that was my connection to come out here. I trained at San Francisco Ballet's school for two years before I received an apprenticeship with the company.
KF: What would people be surprised to know about you?
CE: My real full name is Courtney Elizabeth Wright. When I joined the company, though, there was already another Courtney Wright, so I decided to go by my first and middle name, instead!
Many thanks to Courtney Elizabeth (Wright) for taking the time to share her thoughts, especially during this busy SF Ballet season.