Elena Zahlmann has enjoyed a dance career that has included being a member of the American Repertory Ballet’s junior company, productions at The Muny and Theatre of the Stars as well as being awarded the Byer Fellowship twice. Now she takes the stage as Cinderella in New York Theatre Ballet’s production of the fairy tale.
When did dance become the way you expressed yourself?
I started dancing when I was three years old, but by the time I was 8, that’s when I decided I had to be a dancer. I had seen the Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall and my teacher was a Rockette, so I thought I was going to be a Rockette when I grew up. When I was 12 or 13, I realized the height requirement wasn’t going to be met so I decided to focus on ballet instead.
When you’re focused on one thing for so long, it can become passé. How do you keep dance from becoming just another rehearsal you have to attend?
Dance keeps evolving. Seeing what’s out there in terms of other artists and other dancers, but also all forms of art influence me. Everything lets me evolve myself. The older I get, the more life experiences I have and I’m able to bring that into my work as well. That keeps me changing so I’m not doing the same thing, even if it’s the same ballet. I’ve been in the company for 16 years so I’ve been doing some of the same repertory ballets over and over, but living my life keeps it fresh.
You mention you’ve been in the company for 16 years. What makes Cinderella special to you?
I really love this ballet. For just an hour, it really tells the story in a succinct way. The message of true love conquering all and being true to yourself – I’ve been dancing the role of Cinderella for almost 10 years now, so it’s one of my favorite ballets we do here. It’s a role I really connected with the first time I did it. The movement was very classical but there’s a lot of sweeping and swooning. It’s a ballet I look forward to.
How do you bring a sense of newness and freshness to something you’ve been doing for a decade?
A lot of the other cast has changed over the years so I’m reacting to someone else’s interpretation. That’s different. The step-sisters and fairy godmother, they’re different and that keeps the acting new. I can’t do the same thing every time because the cast is different. Also, music is a big part of it for me. I try to find different things I’ve never heard before in the score. I’ll hear an instrument that I didn’t hear the last time and that gives me something extra.
Where does your grounding and your inspiration come from?
We were performing at NY Live Arts and before one of the ballets, all of the women start on stage. We were standing there, waiting for the lights to come up and I had this weird sense of feeling like I was home and where I belonged. After doing it so long, you can feel tired some days and wonder what else you could be doing. It was a feeling that came over me that calmed me down and told me I was where I’m supposed to be. I also stay inspired by being around all kinds of art and not getting stuck just being around dance.
Beyond Cinderella, what else do you have coming up?
We are doing a performance of Alice-in-Wonderland Follies at the beginning of May and a short tour to North Carolina in April. The company will be at the Jacob’s Pillow Festival in August. We were there last summer for the festival and we got invited back. That’s exciting for all of us.