Hawai'i ballerina performs center stage
By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Editor
"Sure, the goal of most dancers is to be a principal," said Schull, 23, who literally was plucked from a S.F. Ballet class two years ago to play the starring role in Columbia Pictures' "Center Stage" feature film released last spring.
"But being a solo dancer doesn't mean you dance more," the Punahou School graduate said in a phone interview from her San Francisco home. "Certainly, it would be nice to be in the spotlight once in a while, instead of being in the shadows. So I'm trying as hard as I can to get there. But as an ensemble member, I'm guaranteed to be in most productions and that's fine. The thing is, they recognize that I'm working hard."
Schull is the ballerina, trained at John Landovsky's Hawaii State Ballet, who was whisked from the rank-and-file of the S.F. Ballet to play Jody Sawyer, a dance wannabe, in the $20 million ballet feature film directed by Nicholas Hytner of "Miss Saigon" fame. It showcased her natural beauty along with her ballet prowess and temporarily changed her lifestyle.
"It seems like a lifetime ago," Schull said of the experience. "And there have been two waves of exposure, the first time when the film was originally released, and also when the movie was shown on pay-per-view on HBO. It was sort of after-the-fact, but a whole new audience a different, wider crowd got to see it on TV; older people, who may have thought it was a kids' movie in the theater and skipped it. The delayed reaction was sort of nice, but less energetic, but still with a lot of nice compliments."
In the movie, Schull played a young dancer eager to find her niche in a New York ballet company. The tale paralleled her real life, with romance and plot quirks to enhance entertainment values, as her character strived for a slot in a mythical company but ultimately opted to take on a principal role in a smaller company organized by her beau.
"That really doesn't happen in life," she said, magnifying the liberties of reel life compared to real life.
Following her reel life, however, she got a couple of additional film offers, based on her work in "Center Stage," but she turned them down, citing timing conflicts and her commitment to fulfill her work with the S.F. Ballet. Which, of course, is her real life.
"These weren't dance roles and I talked to my agent, who agreed that these wouldn't be right for me," Schull said. "Also, it wasn't wise for me to do another dance part that would be pigeon-holing my talent."
Thus, her place and her pace are riveted to classical dance for now.
"I'm considered a new face, a new talent, and I don't have time to audition in Los Angeles, but it's flattering that some people have me on their lists," she said of the Hollywood game.
Schull said one of her intentions after doing the movie was to promote ballet, not only as an entertainment, but as a lifestyle choice.
"I think I have influenced some to try ballet," she said. "I've heard from people who never went to ballet, even young guys, who said their girlfriends dragged them to the movie and they didn't know how athletic dancers had to be.
"I think a lot of good came from the film, and that's gratifying. It put male dancers in good light, not just guys wearing tights, and there were the feel-good elements that went beyond ballet, the whole theme of setting your goals and going for it, working at what you believe in."
What she misses most, from her movie life, were the amenities. "It's nice to have someone make breakfast for you, fix your hair, get your clothes, do makeup," she chuckled. "More than anything else, though, I miss the group of people I worked with. It didn't matter if we had to get up at 4 a.m. and sometimes, 25 hours later, we were still working. I miss rolling out of bed, going to work with this group."
She recently completed a four-month tour of Europe with the S.F. Ballet. "It was pretty intense," Schull said, who had banked on a vacation with her parents in Morocco "when the Sept. 11 tragedy happened. So I've stayed home, working on new programs, rehearsing."
She will be in the ensemble when the company presents the annual holiday "Nutcracker," but she said the new season doesn't begin till late January or early February, and runs through May.
Her mom, Susie Schull, a board member at Ballet Hawai'i, is her biggest fan. "When the movie video came out last year, mom called me to say she saw a DVD copy on sale and she bought the last one, because she didn't want anyone else to have it," Schull said. "She didn't even own a DVD player, so she also bought one. I told her my contract included a copy of the video and DVD, but no, she couldn't wait."
Here's the program for "Ballet Stars from San Francisco":
- Tchaikovsky's "Pas de Deux," choreographed by George Balanchine
- Handel's "Chaconne," choreographed by Helgi Tomasson
- Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake Pas de Deux" and "Sleeping Beauty," choreographed by Petipa
- Saint-Saens' "Dying Swan," choreographed by Fokine
- Minkus' "Don Quixote Pas de Deux," choreographed by Petipa
- Aaron Jay Kernis' "Two Bits," choreographed by Tomasson
- John Williams' "Revelation," choreographed by Hiroyama
- R. Albeniz' "Spanish Song," choreographed by Yuri Possokhov
- Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings," choreographed by Gerard Bohbor
San Francisco Ballet principals include Tina LeBlanc, Guennadi Nedviguine, Muriel Maffre, Joanna Berman, Lucia Lacarra, Cyril Pierre, Yuan Yuan Tan, Benjamin Pierce, Lorena Feijoo and Yuri Possokhov. Soloist Gonzalo Garcia and corps de ballet member Amanda Schull also are performing.