Feature: Ballet / Ballet - General

Inspiration #01: Interview with Staś Kmieć (karma: 5)
By nycsylphmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Thu Mar 12, 2009 12:35 AM
Inspiration #01 The first of a series of interviews with professional dancers. Their personal stories will allow you to go behind the curtain and take a fascinating look into the world of professional dance.

Staś Kmieć
An accomplished dancer, choreographer, teacher and screen actor, Staś Kmieć has done it all. His educational background includes earning a BA from Tufts University and Maria Curie-Sklodowska University Studium Folklorzystczne. His performance career has included working with such diverse notables as Rudolf Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Chita Rivera, Luciano Pavarotti, Jerome Robbins, Bob Fosse, Rudolf Nureyev, Agnes de Mille, Tommy Tune, Mark Morris, Gilliam Lynne, Choo San Goh and Violette Verdy, Robert De Niro, Woody Allen, and Robert Redford. In his 25-year career, he has danced with Boston Ballet, toured with Rudolph Nureyev, danced on Broadway and worked with New York City Ballet in connection with their New York City Ballet Workout program.

I met Staś at a local Starbucks where we sat sipping apple chai’s and discussing his fascinating life.

Q: First, thank you so much for being here and consenting to this interview. I’ve read your bio and see that you have a very diverse background. It seems you’ve had your fingers in just about everything and have done it all. I’d like for you to start at the beginning and ask you how and when you started your training and whether it was something you wanted to do or your parent’s decision?

A: Well, I’ve wanted to dance forever – just like Fred Astaire. My family tells stories of me, at the age of four, watching a Fred Astaire movie with my parents. They say that when the television was turned off, I’d put my hands in my pockets and look at my reflection in the blank TV screen as I was jumping around! And from there, my fascination with dance continued. There are pictures of me doing the Twist with my cousin and then I’ve been told I used to dance under my mother’s feet in the kitchen. Rather than put me on any kind of drugs to calm me down, my mother decided to send me to dance school to work off some energy and get it out of my system.

Q: Were you the only one in your family to go to dance class?

A. No, I went with my brother, who my parents pushed to go. There were, these four boys in this one class. It was a tap class which is what I wanted to do. Then, we were told we had to take ballet.

Q: Oh, dear! How did you feel about that?

A: I did not like ballet, but I was told by the instructor that it was the foundation of all dance and that I needed to have that for technique. Silly me, I didn’t know what that really meant back then.

Q: And did your brother end up taking ballet also?

Yes, but only for one year. My brother conveniently dropped out because he had a knee injury which didn’t matter because he really didn’t want to be dancing. He was just there to keep me company. I ended up the lone male in a class full of girls. It was difficult and not the best atmosphere. I suppose it was almost like Billy Elliot, but I did my first duet that year with a little girl.

Q: Did you continue learning ballet this way? Surrounded by little girls?

A: No, at some point, it was decided to give me private lessons because it was rough being in the girl’s class.

Q: How did your peers at school feel about you taking ballet?

A: They didn’t know. The lessons were done undercover. The most anyone knew at school was that I did tap dance and that was it. Nothing else and that was bad enough.

Q: I see. At this point, were you only interested in learning to dance?

A: No, at the same time I started dancing, I also had already started putting dances together. At age eight, I put together a whole birthday performance spectacular for my teacher. I rehearsed the other students in the playground and the last time I saw her, which was about ten years ago, she said it was the one thing from her teaching career that she still remembered. From there I went onto choreograph other dances like the high school senior class show and different regional musical theater productions.

Q: Did you ever take additional classes like a Summer Intensive or did you pretty much stick with the one teacher?

A: I did occasionally go to Boston Ballet on Saturdays. My instructor had suggested it so I could study with other boys.

Q: How did you like those classes?

A: I really hated it just because the school was really strict and very disciplined and I was a rebel. To think that ultimately Boston Ballet where my first professional contract came from is very funny.

Q: And this continued until college?

A: Yes. When it came time to decide on a college, I really wanted to go to a performance arts school since I’d done musical and community theater, played an instrument and was singer, but my parents had different ideas. They thought it was time to forget about the frivolity of dance and become a doctor.

Q: A doctor? How was that decision made? Was it even possible?

A: Yes, my grades were really good. I was on the National Honor Society despite being so involved in so many other activities. I was always doing something. My junior and senior years in high school, I even choreographed the doctors and the nurses in a benefit show. Anyway, I sent in my applications and was put on the waiting list for Harvard accepted into Juilliard, the Boston Conservatory of Music, and Tufts University, which is outside of Boston. As soon I was accepted into Tufts, my parents decided that that’s where I was going to go.

Q: And did you go?

A: Yes, I was pre-med up until my sophomore year when having seen, It’s a Wonderful Life and been involved with musical theater and dance programs there, I decided I was going to be a drama and psychology major. The psychology was a way to appease my parents.

Q: At Tufts, did you end up continuing your dance training?

A: Yes, I took all the dance classes I could and even audited dance classes. I loved doing that. I improved and went from taking Modern I to Modern dance IV. At Tufts I founded my own company The Sarabande Repertory Dance Ensemble, which exists to this day. Now while there, the ballet instructor saw me and took me under her wing. She took me to Boston to Anna Roja’s School of Russian Style Ballet. It was the Legat system of ballet. My training up to that point was a mishmash of technique and this particular teacher was trained in the Russian style of ballet and so she suggested I go.

Q: And what were those classes like?

A: She was rather strict. She had the stick and would use her hand. I took there in my free time from the university and I even got in their company. They were just starting a little ensemble. It gave me some performance experience and the chance to do some partnering. Then in my junior year, I auditioned for the summer program at Boston Ballet. I was moonlighting from my Russian classes. They were not really fond of Boston Ballet even though they were the major company in the area. I auditioned and got accepted into their summer program.

Q: And you went?

A: Yes, I went to the summer program with other kids from around the world some of whom ended up being stars in New York City Ballet. Following that there was an audition for an apprentice program at Boston Ballet that included a scholarship. I auditioned and got into the program also.

Q: Were you still at Tufts?

A: Yes, I was in my senior year. I was a full-time student, rushing off and sometimes skipping classes to take my late afternoon classes and rehearse. I was also in productions of the Nutcracker and other performances that they had. These companies always supplement their corps with apprentices. Cheap labor!

Q: I understand that this led up to your meeting Rudolf Nureyev. How did that come about?

A: Well, Boston Ballet was preparing to do Sleeping Beauty. I was very excited about doing it, but that got changed because Rudolf Nureyev was going to be coming in and staging his Don Quixote for Boston Ballet. I was told by the director to go to as many of the rehearsals as I could and understudy everything, which I did. I did this with a wonderful ballet master, Mr. Novotny from Vienna. Rudolf Nureyev arrived when the company was pretty much prepared, but there had been some injuries. To explain, when Rudy comes and is dancing in a production, everyone is bumped down a level. All of a sudden the principals are doing soloist roles and the soloists are doing corps roles. I actually was front and center in the Seguidilla. the fisherman’s dance in Don Quixote. I took the place of an injured soloist. Rudy came and watched. He already knew the numbers needed for the number of dancers traveling with the company. They needed to be upped by two female and two male dancers. He watched me and said, “I want him to go with us.”

Q: Wow, then you didn’t have to even audition? He just personally hand picked you! That must have just been wonderful!

A: I was thrilled, but I was still a senior at Tufts University. I went to my Dean and the school said that you have to go and do it. They knew I’d regret it for the rest of your life if I didn’t go, but they made me promise to come back and finish. I left, at reading period with lots of books and went off a tour with Boston Ballet. We toured the southern United States and Mexico. I came back at the end of reading period and took two of my finals. I attended my graduation as a spectator, but did graduate about six months later.

Q: Were there any other special conditions about you leaving school and touring?

A: Yes, one of the things they had me do is keep a journal of my trip. It’s an interesting account. From back-to-front, it tells what happened on each day in quick sentences. And reading it now, it’s very humorous to look at – particularly when we get into Rudolf Nureyev’s behavior because from front-to-back, it reads as a psychological analysis of something that happened that day. It was one of the things I needed to hand in, but now it’s a wonderful memory because actually reading about Rudolf Nureyev – and he has had quite a few biographies written about him – I always flip straight to the section about Boston Ballet. I’ll read it and say, “Yeah, no, it wasn’t like that.” I mean, you had to be there to actually experience what was happening.

Q: Did you ever consider turning your journal into a book and having it published?

A: Well, mine is written from a slightly different perspective, but, hey, maybe at some point. In particular, I’d like to write about the politics of being with a dance company. That was an education in itself. I think going to a university was great and anyone going to a university is getting an education of life – of living away from home. Being with a ballet company was a whole different kind of education. I would never give up that for the world.

Q: Can you be more specific on what you refer to as the company politics?

A: Well, I mean, watching the older dancers in the twilight of their career and the younger dancers that were waiting for their big break interact. A lot of the principals were the sweetest, dearest people under the sun, but you’d have a corps or soloist clawing their way to try to be a principal. They’d have any entirely different perspective on how they viewed this person and dealt with things.

Q: Did you continue with Boston Ballet?

A: Yes, I stayed with them for a while. We ended up traveling to many other countries with Don Quixote and a second ballet. It would be Don Quixote and Swan Lake or Don Quixote and Giselle.

Q: What point was this in Nureyev’s career? What year was it?

A: It was 1982. Nureyev was not in the peak of his career, but it was still fascinating to watch him perform – his charisma and his command of the stage were still evident.

Q: Were there things that surprised you?

A: Well, his height. I thought he was about my height – which is 6’0”. Having seen all those Royal Ballet films, he was the one I loved. I’d seen Baryshnikov, but Nureyev was the one I most emulated in my style because he looked like he had that tall, elegant style. When I actually met him, I found out he was shorter than I am. He was just a little bit taller than Baryshnikov, but Nureyev still had a very tall presence. He also did one thing that added to his height. When he walked across the stage, he would walk in demi-pointe so that made himself even taller. There were all sorts of these little things.

Q: And his personality? What was he like?

A: He was eclectic to work with. There were mood swings. He was either the most genuine and lovely person to be around. Other times he would snap. Sometimes there would be incidents that happened on stage. I remember doing the Fisherman dance and him sitting in the wings – right in the wings where I was dancing – and having his assistant massage his calves and drinking tea. He had his robe on to keep warm watching his choreography and his production and there I am having to do a double pirouette to the knee on the right and double pirouette to the knee on the left.

Q: Was this usual? Reversing steps and doing movements on both sides?

A: Yes, he loved to do things to both sides. I think many of us who dance with companies realize that for the most part, if you do a pirouette it’s usually to the right, but everything for him was to the right and then to the left. He made himself do that also. He even did his double tours to the right and to the left. That was amazing!

Q: And how was he as a choreographer?

A: Some of his choreography was absolutely incredible. Some people have a problem with his choreography being complex. It is very complex, but it’s very musical. There are times when I feel there are too many steps to the music – every ‘and’ count is choreographed, but his choreography for the most part is very, very rich. I feel it’s a shame that his Don Quixote wasn’t filmed. I thought we would get a PBS televised segment out of it. There’s only one movie of it with the Australian Ballet, when it hadn’t been fully developed., but Don Quixote was an incredible piece. Have you seen Nureyev’s Romeo and Juliet?

Q: Oh, yeah! Gorgeous!

A: Rudolf Nureyev’s Romeo and Juliet just sears you straight through. It’s absolutely beautiful.

Q: So you actually got to watch him perform?

A: Oh, yes! We danced Don Quixote with him. And he never missed a performance.

Q: And how much control did he have over the company? If someone did something wrong, would he be the one to say something?

A: Yes, he would be the one. He had no bones about that. He brought in his ballet master to set it on us and we had our company ballet master to keep it going because Rudy couldn’t watch everything, but oh, yeah, if he saw something, it would be him to say something.

Q: Now you said he danced every performance? What about his ballerinas?

A: Yes, he would work with a multiple group of ballerinas, but he would dance every performance. I don’t know how he did that, but he’d alternate the ballerinas. We brought in Eva Evdokimova, Monique Loudieres, the ballerina in the Romeo and Juliet DVD and Yoko Morishita – she would drink a pint of beer before each performance to relax her muscles… I would advise that to all ballerinas out there. We had all these other famous ballerinas that he knew and danced with come in also.

Q: Did you tour anywhere else?

A: Yes, we went twice to Italy, France, Belgium, the Nureyev Festival in London, Los Angeles and we even performed on Broadway. It was Nureyev on Broadway and we performed for five weeks at the Uris Theater, that is now the Gershwin Theater where Wicked is playing. It got incredible reviews – Anna Kisselkoff gave us a great one and it gave me the New York bug. Living at the Sheraton which is basically in Times Square – right close to the theater – I caught some New York shows. They were matinees of Dream Girls, Cats and 42nd Street. I still didn’t know. New York was so fast-paced and I didn’t know if it was too fast-paced for me so I went back to Boston.

Q: I also see in your biography that you got to work with Baryshnikov. Did you have much interaction?

A: No, there was really no interaction other than to see him pick the people he wanted to use and see him dancing on stage. I also got to see Fernando Bujones and Cynthia Gregory. Oh, my God, Cynthia Gregory! I mean, those balances that she does are unreal.

Q: There was a discussion recently on dance.net about technique vs. artistry. Since you’ve worked with, and seen so many great artists, it seems apropos to follow-up on that discussion. Many of the young dancers feel that technique is being stressed and being placed above artistry. That somehow the ability to kick yourself in the back of your head is more important than making the audience care about you kicking yourself in the back of the head. It seems that the artists you’ve been talking – Nureyev, Baryshnikov, Bujones and Gregory – had both. What is your opinion on this subject?

A: I think artistry is important. I remember something Violette Verdy told us once about being in class and transferring what you learned to being onstage. She said, “Once you’re onstage, you’re not going to get anymore technique than you already have, so don’t be dancing as if you’re looking in the mirror fixing things along the way. You’re there now to perform for the audience.” The way you work in class is kept in class, and I know a lot of dancers can’t differentiate the difference between class and being onstage. That’s where my acting classes gave me a different outlook on performance – particularly when you’re doing mime scenes in a story ballet. You have to remember there is an audience there. Sometimes it’s presentational and sometimes it’s an inner thing. I know that’s something Jerome Robbins and George Balanchine tried to instill in their dancers. They felt dancers should experience more to give them something inside to draw from. They encouraged dancers to go to museums, to look at art and try to have an education – even if it wasn’t a formal one. Dance is much more than just technique. Otherwise, it becomes like Dance Olympics. You know, some of it is great. I just watched Superstars of Dance recently. They had a ballerina dancing something from Don Quixote and I was appalled. Technically, she was brilliant, but she had no musicality and she had no artistry. Having seen so many ballerinas dance and having seen Nureyev be so precise about accents and musicality and believing that dance is a marriage with the music – which I’ll get into when I talk about the New York City Ballet Workout – to see that something completely devoid of all that – just seeing a wonderful technician out there with no artistry – it was disappointing.

Q: Would you say that technique satisfies one’s intellectual capacity, but that artistry is needed to satisfy the emotional one?

A: Yes, I think that’s true. I think it’s the way everything has progressed. We used to have records, then we went to tapes, and now it’s cd’s and digital. With all of our advances, we’re striving to be better and better and better. Anyone that looks at the Olympics and watches the skaters or the gymnasts, it’s now gone to the ridiculous. It’s the same thing happening in dance.

You know, I think the differences are, the young girls that started dance from seeing The Red Shoes, did so from an artistry feel. Then came The Turning Point, where we saw a lot of technique. And then we kept on seeing the technical levels upped. I know the dancers in Poland were fascinated by White Nights and Baryshnikov’s 11or 12 pirouettes. They were all trying to do that and now all the young dancers trying to match all these technical feats. I see the young girls at Nutcracker time. They’re all doing the Sugarplum variation in the wings or downstairs in the rehearsal room while they hear the music because they’re all wanting to be onstage. Some of them can probably do the variation better at 12 than the ballerina onstage because they’re young and daring – invincible, but it’s another thing to sustain a career. And I got to see some incredible older dancers as their artistry came into full-force and they were forces to be reckoned with when you saw that artistry. One dancer that comes to mind is Elaine Bauer. She was not in the first cast of Rome & Juliet because they were looking for dancers as close to the ages as possible and the ones they picked were great. They were wonderful, but when I saw Elaine Bauer dance – I stood in the wings with tears welling up in my eyes. To see her, particularly the final scenes, I mean, that was artistry. And we hear the stories of Ulanova and the various Russian dancers that were at the peak of their artistry when they were older. I mean, Margot Fonteyn! She had a whole other career after so that’s when the artistry comes up, and if you don’t have both, your career is going to be shorter. When your technical abilities start to go, you’d better have that artistry to take over.

The only thing I encourage young dancers is to try to seek both and also to be well-rounded in their dance as possible. That means learning other styles of dance. As you can see from my background, I tried everything under the sun. I started Polish folk dancing at 10. I went to Poland to study there, and started my own company outside of Boston. I can tell you that it was my folk background that probably got me into Nureyev’s Don Quixote – because I had the character background. That’s something we don’t get a lot of now – even at Boston Ballet. They brought me in a few times to teach character classes. Baryshnikov was trying to instill that at ABT after seeing how bad American dancers were at character dance. Nureyev also loved character dance. We did this fandango which was high Spanish-style dance and to have someone that could have that stance and that pride in the chest – it’s very much about the chest and the footwork – and it required having someone who can do those intricate steps. We even had a gypsy dance in Don Quixote. The character dance got me the mazurka in Swan Lake and parts in Coppelia and The Nutcracker. What I’m saying is it gave me another aspect to my career and allowed me to do a lot of different types of style. Like with Agnes de Mille’s Rodeo, I can’t tell you how many dancers had trouble with the little tap time step because they’re not used to using their ankles and having that type of fluidity. Ballet gave me technique, but tap gave me rhythm. That’s where my musicality comes in also. To anyone I would stress those two – especially for people who aspire to a career in musical theater.

Q: I wanted to ask you a little about folk dance and how it relates to ballet. I was privileged to see the Kirov when they appeared in NY recently. I guess I was expecting something different than what I saw. I imagined them to be bigger, bolder and brasher than American ballet companies and it was the reverse – they were so subtle – so beautifully understated. Every detail was attended to and I thought maybe it had something to do with folk dancing. In folk dancing you’re telling a story and that’s what they did. Every gesture, every look, every movement meant something and was instrumental in telling the story. They didn’t just stick their arm out there somewhere without it having a reason in the story for it to be out. It cut down on movement and also drew you in to the story. Do you feel there is this folk dancing connection to ballet story telling?

A: Yes, I know there is a difference between folk dance and character dance. Character dance is the ballet version of folk dance only a little more theatrical. If you have a good character teacher that knows both sides of it, it’s sort of like knowing the rules and knowing when to break them. There’s a reason why you put your hand out, or your presentation with your chest. Even dancing with your eyes comes from Indian dance. Indian dancers dance a lot with their eyes. To just be a technician with nothing going on in the face and nothing going on the inside. There’s so much of the body and all aspects of the body should be used in dance. It’s almost like cutting you off from the waist down if you’re just a technician.

Q: Yes, sort of like just dancing with your legs and not your upper body.

A: Right

Q: And I also see you’ve done film and worked with Robert Redford and Woody Allen. I guess Robert Redford was Quiz Show and Woody Allen was Don’t Drink the Water?

A: Yes, that’s right. And Robert DeNiro was The Good Shepherd although my part ended up on the cutting room floor.

Q: Oh, no!

A: It did. I went in to screen test for the part of a Russian spy. He ended up telling me later why I didn’t get the part. He said I was too good-looking which in reality meant I was much younger than the one they cast, so he said he’d find something for me in this film. I ended up as a Russian guard and I had these lines in Russian. I didn’t find out until I got invited to the cast screening, but I still get residuals.

Q: Well, that’s good.

A: It’s in the contract.

Q: There’s a lesson – get it in writing. Any other films?

A: Yes. Then I got to do dancing in Mona Lisa Smile and The Thing About My Folks which is country line dancing.

Q: You also worked with Pavarotti? How did this come about?

A: That was with Metropolitan Opera. Virginia Williams, the founder of Boston Ballet had just passed away. In her last years, she was co-director with Violette Verdy and Violette Verdy only stayed with Boston Ballet for one more year following Virginia William’s death. When the year was over, there were a lot of changes being made and it was the point I felt I needed to go. I decided to go to New York City and to go into musical theater, which is what I really love. After five auditions, I got my Actor’s Equity Card with American Dancemachine. Actually, I belong to four professional unions, Actors’ Equity, AGMA, SAG and SSDC – the director/choreographer’s union.

Q: That’s so impressive! Now what is American Dancemachine?

A: American Dancemachine was a dance company that performed the best choreography from Broadway shows. It was put together Lee Theodore because she realized that all these wonderful Broadway dances were being forgotten. Unless a musical was going to be filmed, and usually it was filmed with a different cast, all these dances were lost. The music was recorded on a record. The libretto was recorded with a print form, what got lost was the dance. The dance only was recorded in the memory of the dancers and the dance captain. She set out to rediscover, document and save these wonderful dances so she brought in Agnes de Mille, Bob Fosse and Jerome Robbins to restage these dances. The show consisted the best of these dances. From there I went back into ballet.

Q: Full circle.

A: Yes, I danced at the Met where I did Aida and Faust and many others and got to be on the stage with Placido Domingo, Pavoratti and Kathleen Battle. I worked with some wonderful choreographers and learned to dance opera ballets. However, I was told by some people that were still with Boston Ballet not to get too comfortable there. It was referred to as “the dancer’s graveyard,” because it was easy to stay there salary-wise. So I stayed there and left to do more musicals. And, of course, choreograph. I did The Nutcracker for Staten Island Ballet then went off and did Funny Girl. I got 2-year tours of Fiddler on the Roof. That was 1994-96 and again in 2000-2002. After that, I was in several smaller productions of Fiddler on the Roof. Again, folk dance came into play. When I was in the audition for Fiddler on the Roof, I was amazed how many dancers couldn’t drop down to the knee and do the Russian kind of walk – low to the ground. I was an oddity because I could.

Q: Yes, I saw a version of that dance when I was watching America’s Best Dance Crew. It was incorporated into hip-hop.

A: That’s our new folk dance.

Q: I think if it isn’t already, it will be which brings us to now. What are you doing?

A: I am doing a lot of choreography. In 2006, I was selected for DanceBreak. That is a Broadway industry showcase. They select six choreographers each year and you have to submit a reel of your work. I was one of the ones selected. What they do is invite directors, composers, producers, and agents from the Broadway community to see a new generation of choreographer. I got to work with Scott Schwartz and Stephen Schwartz – Stephen Schwarz is the composer of Wicked. I worked with him on a new piece that premiered in Los Angeles last year called My Antonia. It is not a musical, it’s a play with music and dance. I’ve done plays before, but this is a totally different kind of relationship you’re working with actors instead of dancers and you’re get a lot of the artistry from them because of their ability to act. Working on the dances with these actors, I knew they were nervous about dancing. In the end, I said for them to forget the dancing. You’re an actor who just happens to know this dance and if you’re a bad dancer it’s your character. You learned all these dances, and now all I want you to do is dance with your heart and your eyes because the eyes needed to be the interaction between the people they were dancing with. If they did that, I could care less what was going on with their feet.

I’m also working with a couple of composers and trying to bring those projects up to the next level. And I have some missions as well. One is to do a dance drama for a NY musical theater festival. Then I’m going to Poland to do four Broadway suites for a company called Teatr Sabat. It’s a Warsaw theater revue with vocalists, dancers and their version of Rockettes. When I was in Poland in November, I saw another production they’d done. I was brought in by a friend of mine who is directing another dance company. I spoke the director of Teatr Sabat who begged me to come back and teach her dancers Fosse-style to her dancers in a two-hour class which I did. After that, she asked me to come back and do the four Broadway suites. After that, I’ll be going to Buenos Aires and Amsterdam so I’m doing quite a few things including teaching. I’m also teaching New York City Ballet Workout.

Q: Yes, you mentioned that earlier. Exactly what is the New York City Ballet Workout?

A: It’s a mix of ballet and fitness. It was put together by New York City Ballet and New York Sports Club. They worked on it together to make a user-friendly class for dancers that are still dancing, dancers that haven’t danced in twenty years, or people that haven’t ever danced at all to come and take this class. Because the dance experience of the students is diverse, I give various options. There’s the basic option – simpler – and the “power” option for people that are more advanced and need more of a workout. The class itself focuses on traditional ballet moves and incorporates high-impact choreographed dance combinations, inspired by the New York City Ballet repertoire in a fun and sweaty format. There is a movement class and a technique class. The “movement” class is considered a Part II companion to the “technique” class and is more advanced. The pace is quicker and the level is more difficult. Gym workout clothes are fine. Footwear can be aerobic sneakers or dance footwear. Both classes are 55 minutes.

Q: Is it segmented like a ballet class?

A: Well, there is no barre which makes it very interesting and in some ways it makes you stronger. I kind of wish I had this when I was working with a ballet company because I remember those days when you’re tired and pushing on the barre for support. Well, there is no barre so you really have to use your legs and back and support yourself with proper placement. It also includes a mix of warm-ups that dancers use. These consist of Pilates and yoga. The class starts off with a moving warm-up with stretches. That’s followed by a floor barre which also has a lot of stretches. Then we have a standing center and two variation exercises. And there then are two types of classes: a technique class and a movement class. I currently only have two classes at NY Sports Club so I’m teaching movement classes which are my forte. I love movement and I’m a choreographer. I make sure my variations are a marriage of music and dance. And I should add the movement sequences are taken from New York City Ballet’s repertoire. These are done repetitively and in a very aerobic manner.

Some of the ballets I’ve extracted and used are Ballo del Regina, Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, Chaconne, Tarantella, and Romeo and Juliet. Actually as soon as New York City Ballet included Romeo and Juliet into their repertoire, I included the music. I have three Romeo and Juliet sequences. Then during Nutcracker season, I stop the presses and just do Nutcracker variations: Snow, Polichenelles, Spanish, and Waltz of the Flowers.

Q: And what is the schedule for people interested for people in taking your classes?

A: It would be best to get in touch with New York Sports Clubs for that information.

Q: You mention you only two classes. Why only two?

A: Budget cuts, I guess. You know I really love that workout and would love to teach that class more often. I studied originally with Peter Frame who was a founder of the New York City Ballet Workout and a principal dancer with New York City Ballet. I came off of a tour, very one-sided. Having toured with Fiddler on the Roof for two years, everything was done on only one side. I needed get that fixed so I took Peter’s class and stood in the back. After a while, we began to talk and he said, “If you teach regular ballet classes, you need to be teaching this.” I got hooked and infused my own background into the classes and have come up with my own special brand of New York City Ballet Workout.

Q: Does this workout differ from the New York City Ballet Workout DVD that most people are familiar with?

A: Yes, it does. I think the DVD was done with the thought that the person wasn’t taking the actual classes, so they made everything a little safer. I know my class is a very sweaty class. I tell you, I go to the gym, but it’s the best workout I ever put myself through. I am totally drenched by the end as well as my class participants – my dancers as I call them. I’ll tell you that it’s amazing watching the group when I’m teaching the class because they are so in sync. Not only are the focused on me, but the combination. I watch them in the mirror! They’re like my own corps de ballet. I keep joking that I’m going to bring in Peter Martins to hire potential NYCB members.

Q: Are there different levels of this class?

A: You know, as I said earlier, the technique is considered the companion to the movement class. There was a time when I used to teach eight classes a week at New York Sports Club and then on Monday a technique class and then on Wednesday a movement and now with some the cutbacks I’m only teaching the movement classes. I have plenty of people asking me of whether there is a way I can teach an advanced New York City Ballet Workout class. Hopefully, it will come to pass. If you’re interested, please put your inquiry in to the New York Sports Club. Sometimes, if I only have my seasoned dancers in class, I up the level, but it is difficult. We do have people walking in and it is their first-time dancing and we need to accommodate everyone. I think the difference from a ballet class is that a ballet class works from the foundation, so you’re working for a very long time on the tendu and the turnout. If you equate it with building a house, ballet classes slowly build a foundation and then you have the house. We plop the house down and through repetition, the foundation comes. We leave out the nitpicking so our dancers really move. The speed of New York City is what’s articulated in our class as well.

Q: Everyone loves ballet stories. Could you end the interview with a couple of Nureyev ballet stories?

A: Sure! There was a ballerina at Boston Ballet, originally from the Paris Opera Ballet, Marie Christine Mouis. She was taller than Nureyev and one of the Kitri’s. There was a particular movement where her arms are held over her head and she does a front developpe and then he winds her in for multiple pirouettes. What happened in one of her very early performances with Boston Ballet, is he brought her in for a pirouette and dislocated her shoulder. She ran off the stage in pain – obviously – and we basically had a lot of acting to do because there was music playing and no ballerina – only the corps was left onstage. The first cast Kitri, Laura Young, was sitting in the audience watching when it happened because this was the premiere performance of Marie Christine in Boston. Laura saw what happened, ran backstage, threw on her pointe shoes, threw on her costume, didn’t put on her wig because in Royal Ballet style the entire female contingent all wore wigs, and came out for the variation. It was amazing. Afterwards, Marie Christine went through acupuncture and physical therapy to get herself better again and return to dancing. She healed and when were in Italy, she joined the tour. This was her long-awaited return. She was dancing and it got to the exact same part in the ballet where arms are held in a high fifth position, Nureyev brings her arm in to do the pirouettes and don’t you know that he dislocated her shoulder again! This time when she left the stage, Nureyev followed her. He took her shoulder relocated it. She came back out and did her variation, but from that point on they changed the choreography as it was an angling issue because she was taller than he was.

Let’s see, another story is that the first-cast Kitri, Laura Young, a born and bred in Boston ballerina, was having trouble holding a balance. It was the part she had to take her arm away from Nureyev’s support and hold a back attitude position. She kept falling over. Nureyev told her in a thick Russian accent to, “Think hungry dog!” and rubbed his stomach to indicate hollowing it out. She tried it and it worked! After that, he would walk around in rehearsals saying, “Hungry dog. Hungry dog,” and she would sometimes bark back at him! It was quite funny.

Q: One more? Please!

A: Let’s see, I have another one. Sometimes dancers would get out of place during the crowd mime scenes and a part of the stage would be empty of life during a performance. When Nureyev saw a spot that needed to be filled, he would whisper, “Siberia!” which meant we had to rearrange ourselves and fill in the empty space, pronto!

Q: Oh, my God! Those are such great stories Staś. In fact, this whole interview has been a pleasure. I want to thank you again for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to me. I’m sure the dance.net members will be inspired and amazed by all your accomplishments and will appreciate it also.

If you’re interested in checking out his New York City Ballet Workout classes, please contact the New York Sports Clubs for further info at www.mysportsclubs.com . . . or call 212-868-6575.
To book Staś Kmieć for guest teaching or choreography engagements, please contact Rich Vaschon at richv1996@yahoo.com.

21 Replies to Inspiration #01: Interview with Staś Kmieć

re: Inspiration #01
By d4jmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Thu Mar 12, 2009 12:53 AM
This is just about the best thing I've ever read on the ddn ballet board. Thank you so much! :)
re: Inspiration #01
By enigmaticpheomember has saluted, click to view salute photos
On Thu Mar 12, 2009 01:30 AM
Oh my goodness. That was WONDERFUL! What a well conducted interview! I could not set down my laptop. You asked such perfect questions, and his answers were absolutely fascinating to read, all of it! ..Is there any way to obtain an autograph from Stas? What an inspiration indeed!!
re: Inspiration #01
By emodancer94member has saluted, click to view salute photos
On Thu Mar 12, 2009 10:22 AM
Wow, that was really cool. Thanks a million for posting!
re: Inspiration #01
By nycsylphmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Thu Mar 12, 2009 06:25 PM
Edited by nycsylph (206174) on 2009-03-12 18:27:51
Thank you so much for your comments!!! I'm so very excited to bring these interviews to the members of dance.net!!!

These interviews do not replace anything being done and are only an adjunct to what has been going on here - and that includes the wonderful interviews that have been so magnificently handled by Smileywoman (Maria).

I thought that going out into the dance community and finding professionals willing to share their stories would inspire, give valuable lessons and entertain us all!!! I know that even just talking to Stas' did all of the above for me!!! Dance.net has very kindly consented to let me do this for all of you!!!

Please feel free to post and tell me what you'd like me to tackle next. I do have some great people already lined up (no, I'm not going to tell you - it's going to be a surprise), but I can always put someone else in the cue.

I really love doing this for dance.net and I hope that you, the members, are equally happy with the result!!

Thanks again!!!
re: Inspiration #01
By dreamdancer10
On Fri Mar 13, 2009 08:38 PM
Ohmygosh! This is such a cool idea! Great interview!
re: Inspiration #01
By theri_dancermember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Sat Mar 14, 2009 04:25 PM
So great! Thank you so much!
re: Inspiration #01
By nycsylphmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Sun Mar 15, 2009 07:39 PM
dreamdancer10 and theri_dancer -

Thanks so much!!!!

Your comments mean a lot to me!!!

I'm sure Stas' is delighted as well!!! In spite of all his vast accomplishments, he is a wonderful, wonderful person. I thoroughly enjoyed the time spent with him.

Thanks again!!!
re: Inspiration #01
By freedlover
On Tue Mar 17, 2009 10:57 AM
A brilliant interview! What an interesting and kind man with a fascinating background.
re: Inspiration #01
By Cliffbella
On Wed Mar 18, 2009 10:40 PM
I LOVED this interview!! This is great great GREAT! :D
re: Inspiration #01
By Acrothiel
On Thu Mar 19, 2009 09:09 AM
Thank you so much for doing this. It was incredibly interesting to read. I truely loved it and I really wish to see more!
re: Inspiration #01
By nycsylphmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Sun Mar 22, 2009 12:27 PM
Cliffbella and Acrothiel -

Thank you so much for your comments. I can't tell how happy I am that you're enjoying the interviews!

I have someone that's absolutely fabulous all lined up for the next one!!!!

Again, thank you both!!!
re: Inspiration #01
By dancetcher1
On Mon Mar 23, 2009 05:52 PM

thank you for bringing us such a wonderful interview. It was fascinating, I couldn't stop reading!!!
re: Inspiration #01
By nycsylphmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Mon Mar 23, 2009 06:43 PM
dancetcher1 -

You are so sweet to say that!!!

I tell you I have butterflies in my stomach about the next one. I'm interviewing "the person" (no hints given!) tomorrow!!!

I know you're all going to be very surprised at who it is!!!

Of course, I'm dying to tell everyone and spill the beans, but I won't!!! I'm going to let you all be really surprised!!!

Thanks again for your wonderful comments!!! I'm sure Stas' is getting a kick out of hearing how much you enjoyed his story!

Just love the photo of him with Nureyev!!! Wow, that must have felt great standing next to the legendary superstar himself!! And forget about dancing with him onstage!!!!

Yikes!!! How's the song go? "Oh, what a feeling!!!"

Thanks again!
re: Inspiration #01
By Remeber_my_namemember has saluted, click to view salute photos
On Tue Mar 24, 2009 06:00 AM
Oh wow! That was great! I really enjoyed it, thank you so much for sharing!

Naomi x
re: Inspiration #01
By dreamy_dancermember has saluted, click to view salute photos
On Tue Mar 24, 2009 06:58 AM
This is absolutely fantastic, I really can't thank you enough! Such precious memories. And I love the bit about the ballerina who drinks a pint of beer before a show to loosen muscles! Priceless...
re: Inspiration #01
By nycsylphmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Tue Mar 24, 2009 08:24 AM
Remeber_my_name and dream_dancer -

Thanks for your comments!!! Indeed these memories are precious and I'm glad they're at least down in print!!! They won't be lost that way!!!

And dd, you are so right about that beer drinking!!! Oh, if I did that I'd be so loose I'd be sprawled on the floor! I'd look like overcooked pasta!!! Can just imagine someone trying to get me up onto my feet to dance a variation!!! No way, no how!!!

So happy you both enjoyed this so much!!! It gives me enthusiasm to try again!!!
re: Inspiration #01: Interview with Sta Kmie
By SoloJazzDancer
On Mon Apr 06, 2009 09:47 PM
What an interesting interview! I'm not a ballet dancer but I could totally appreciate everything he was saying. To see his picture with a famous ballet dancer and to hear he danced with him, wow! That must have been so amazing!

My niece just got accepted for 5 weeks with the Boston Ballet this summer. She's 14. I am going to send this to her so she can read it. I know she will appreciate it too.

I'm a Jazz dancer so if you could do some Jazz, that would be cool too. I have to say your interviewing style is really good. You asked some good questions and didn't ask any stupid ones like some people do. Can't wait to see your next interview!
re: Inspiration #01: Interview with Sta Kmie
By nycsylphmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Sat Apr 11, 2009 07:03 AM
SoloJazzDancer -

Thank you so much for your reply!!!

I would love for you to send the interview to your niece! And isn't she lucky - and most likely extremely talented - to be taking a SI at Boston Ballet!!!! Good for her!!!

My 'next' interview is already up and posted. It's with Tami Stronach who is a dancer, choreographer and actress. She played the role of the Childlike Empress in the class movie The Neverending Story!!! It's a Sticky so it's right at the top of the page in Ballet - General.

As for asking stupid questions???? !!!!

[raises hand]
[solemnly swears]

"I promise to try and never ask stupid questions!!!"


And I will try to include all types of professional dancers in these interviews. It's always good to show people various options of where they can take their careers! Not everyone follows the same route and even if you start in one direction, you may take a deter or two to get to where you really want to be!!!

Thanks again!!!
re: Inspiration #01: Interview with Sta Kmie
By SoloJazzDancer
On Sat Apr 11, 2009 09:40 PM
I liked the Never Ending Story one that you did. I never saw that movie just remember the song Never Ending Story. I am going to have to see that one for sure. She was also another interesting one. I haven't figured it out. Is it the interviewer or the interviewee that makes it so interesting? I think it's both now that I think about it.

My niece is very talented and not because she is my niece. I've been doing Jazz since 1974 and have been to plenty of competitions and recitals. I can pretty much tell a bad dancer from a good dancer. Or a not so good dancer from a great one. My niece is one of the great ones. Her mom was the Snow Queen in the Nutcracker when she danced so she must have also been talented. I know they don't give that part to just anybody and since the Nutcracker is their big thing, kind of like their recital, they have to audition for a part. That's how my sister got The Snow Queen and my niece got the young Clara. They have recitals because that's to much like the average dance schools. I know she will enjoy that article you did. I may even send her the other one too. I think she would also appreciate it.

Thanks again for the great interviews. To bad I'm not famous. You could interview me! I was interviewed twice on DDN but I never did see the interviews in print. I don't know what happened to them but I think I did a good job with the answers I gave. It was fun! I wish I could do it again.
re: Inspiration #01: Interview with Sta Kmie
By Lublinstas
On Sat Sep 28, 2013 07:42 PM
THE BALLET WORKOUT at Ballet Arts - City Center
Mondays -- 12:00 pm
Thursdays -- 1:00 pm

130 W. 56th St. -- 6th floor -- New York, NY (212) 582-3350

User-Friendly for the Novice
with challenging options for the Seasoned Dancer

55-minute class:
moving warmup -- floor barre -- standing centre
½ hour of choreographed combinations
from the classic and contemporary Ballet repertoire
re: Inspiration #01: Interview with Sta Kmie
By Lublinstas
On Sat Sep 28, 2013 07:57 PM
THE BALLET WORKOUT at Ballet Arts - City Center
Mondays -- 12:00 pm
Thursdays -- 1:00 pm

130 W. 56th St. -- 6th floor -- New York, NY (212) 582-3350

User-Friendly for the Novice
with challenging options for the Seasoned Dancer

55-minute class:
moving warmup -- floor barre -- standing centre
½ hour of choreographed combinations
from the classic and contemporary Ballet repertoire


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