Ballet Theatre of Maryland's Nicole Kelsch on Transforming from Teenage Mermaid to Medieval Warrior
Was it only a month ago that Ballet Theatre of Maryland principal dancer Nicole Kelsch, as Pearl in the Little Mermaid, was learning to stand on wobbly new legs, sharing secrets and scavenged treasures with Fathom, her conch fairy friend, played by apprentice Sabrina Schulbach, and falling giddily in love with her handsome young Prince Patrick, played by principal dancer Alexander Collen? Audiences will see a different side of Nicole on Saturday, April 1, as she tackles the role of the Guinevere, warrior princess of the Summer Country in Excalibur: The Sword in the Stone.
How does a dancer switch between these two very different roles? We asked Nicole to share some insights into how she prepares.
Q: As both Pearl and Guinevere, you are a young princess who falls in love and experiences tragedy, yet their personalities and stories are very different. How do you see the differences between the two roles?
Nicole: These two roles require two very different sides of my personality. Pearl is happy for most of the ballet, so the role required humor and a bubbly smile until the end, when the tragedy happens. Even when Pearl gets angry, it’s in a cute little girl being told not to do something way.
Guinevere is a complete 180. She is a woman even though she’s still young. There are only a few scenes in which she is truly smiling. Even when we see the young Guinevere in a vision, there is an intensity and purpose about her because she is being raised as a warrior princess with a duty to protect her land and people.
Pearl didn't really have a back story before we see her in the ballet; you saw who she was and what she became as the ballet evolved. For me, Guinevere has a strong back story before she meets Arthur. Her character arc is tragic. At the outset, she believes that Arthur and Camelot are everything she wants and needs. She truly loves the king. However, Morgan gets in the way and with her sorcery causes Guinevere to betray Arthur.
Q: Do you find one type of role more demanding than the other?
Nicole: Both roles are demanding physically but Guinevere is much more demanding emotionally, which can take a lot more out of you in the end. Before the really intense scenes, I usually find a quiet place to watch what's happening onstage and prepare; I don’t talk much to anyone. I focus on how my character and all the other characters in the show would feel in those moments and then make those feelings my own. So, when I go out there, I'm not just acting the part, I am that character in that moment.
Q: What else do you do to prepare for a role?
Nicole: For any part I do, I tend to read about the character and watch any movies that have been made about the story. For Guinevere, I watched Mists of Avalon and King Arthur. For Pearl, obviously I watched The Little Mermaid. I'm reading a book about Guinevere that Dianna gave me last time we did Excalibur. I also listen to different music outside the studio and rehearsal depending on what part I'm doing.
Silly as it may sound, my leotard color choices and hair styles and jewelry tend to change based on the character I'm doing. Sometimes I don't even realize it until someone points it out and sometimes it's a more conscious decision to help myself prepare.
I really love to analyze everything about the characters I'm dancing, whether it's a lighter role or a more dramatic one. I want the audience to really feel the emotion and the story.
Don’t miss Ballet Theatre of Maryland’s final 2017 performance of Excalibur: The Sword in the Stone, on Saturday, April 1, at the Lyric!