Callie Manning hails from Hummelstown, Pennsylvania and trained with Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet and SAB. In 1999, she joined the Miami City Ballet at a Coryphée. She was promoted to Principal Soloist in 2012.
Q. I understand you and the Miami City Ballet have been doing some interesting things. You were just in the World Premiere of Viscera.
Q. And I understand you had a major role in that?
A. I was one of the three soloists in the ballet and it was an honor and a privilege to be chosen, by Liam, to be a part of that.
Q. How was the whole thing put together? The choreographer came from the Royal Ballet of London?
A. Yes. Liam Scarlett, he’s 25, which is quite young but he’s incredibly talented. He came the beginning of August and was here for three weeks. We worked six hours a day, creating his piece and changing things and all that kind of choreographic intensive work. Then he left for a couple of months and we kept rehearsing the ballet to make sure we didn’t forget anything. He came back a week before we actually opened and we worked on it and changed some things and added some things. He, I guess, had some time to reflect on the piece and saw some places he wanted to make improvements.
Q. And was there a lot of kind of back and forth? Some choreographers are very open to contributions from dancers and others aren’t.
A. Yes, you’re right. Some choreographers are like it’s my word and that’s it. Not very open to the dancer’s input. Liam was not like those choreographers. He was fabulous. If something wasn’t quite working or something maybe didn’t look as good as he thought it should on a specific dancer, he would change it. He was very open to the things that we felt were maybe a little awkward or too difficult on pointe shoes. So it was great. He took our input and it was wonderful to work with him, absolutely wonderful.
Q. How did he choose the dancers he wanted in his piece?
A. What he did was, the first day he choreographed a combination for all of us to do, girls and guys, we all learned the same thing. And we just did it over and over and over again. He wanted to see if we could get his movement, because it was different than the things that we normally do. Then we’d do it in smaller groups and he would watch and kind of figure out, “oh I like that girl,” or “I like that guy” and he just seemed to really get us, which was nice, because it’s hard to come in and figure out 45 people in two hours.
Q. And so is there a list posted or he comes up to you and says I would like you to do this? Or what happens?
A. No, actually what happened was he did that initial audition and then we didn’t hear anything until they posted a schedule, which called small groups of people at a time, three girls here, and then another rehearsal of some girls and guys over there. They call at least two casts always, so there were two of us in the spot that I did. It’s a great feeling to see your name go up on the schedule. I remember thinking “Oh, I got into his piece, that’s great.” And then we just go to the rehearsal and he starts working.
Q. I see, so life at the ballets is always a constant of competition getting it, not getting it.
A. A little bit. But it’s nice here. I feel like we’re not so competitive with each other. We all are very supportive of each other and happy if someone else gets something. And you know, the competition I think is more within ourselves, striving to be better and to be the best you that you can be, and not necessarily competing with another person. If you don’t get chosen to do a part it’s not necessarily because you weren’t good enough. We’re all different and unique. We have many different things to offer.
Q. I would think the Miami City Ballet is a good size. It’s not like the New York City Ballet where there are so many dancers.
A. Yes, I think it’s probably harder to be noticed in those larger companies, so people are kind of always scratching eyeballs to get where they want to be. But it’s not like that here. I really love the environment we have here.
Q. How did you actually get here? You were a student in Pennsylvania and then you went to SAB.
Q. Then what happened?
A. I grew up in Central Pennsylvania and danced with the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet. I was there from eight until fifteen. At fifteen I went and auditioned for the School of American Ballet for its summer program. I got in there, went for two summer programs. During my second summer they asked me to stay for their year round program. So I moved to NYC at fifteen to live in the dorms. Then half way through my second year, I had just turned seventeen, and felt like maybe I should try auditioning for companies. I felt like maybe I was little young, there were a lot of girls ahead of me who should be getting jobs before I would. But I thought it would be a good experience, get the resume together, go and do these auditions because they can be really scary. It would be good practice for me. Sometimes there can be 200 people at an audition. It can be very intimidating. That year, the first audition scheduled was for Miami City Ballet’s.
I went in and I had absolutely no intention of getting the job. The room was packed with dancers. We could barely fit at the barres. I thought, for sure, they would be more interested in other people. Two weeks later I was sitting in my dorm room. I had actually just gotten off the phone with my mother, in a fight, and I had slammed down the phone. A minute later the phone rang and I picked it back up and I answered, “What?”, thinking it was my mom. The voice on the phone was certainly not my mother’s. It said “Hello, this is Edward Villella. I am calling for Callie Manning.” I choked out a tiny, “Speaking”. He then said “I’d like to offer you a contract to come dance for my company.” I was stunned, all I could think to say was “Oh my gosh! Thank you!” He then told me his assistant would call me to work out the details. So then I called my mom back and I told her. She was stunned as well and so happy for me. Ironically that was the day of the next company audition. It was for the San Francisco Ballet. I was getting ready to go downstairs and do that audition when Mr. Villella called. I was so stunned that I just didn’t even do the SFB audition. Funny enough, I never auditioned for another company. I just took the position Edward offered me and have been here ever since, thirteen years.
Q. So you were seventeen…
Q. Does that mean you had finished high school, not finished high school, what were you?
A. I was doing high school through correspondence which is hard. And I was almost done. I had I think an English class to finish, and a Government class and one other thing. And so my parents stressed that I try to finish them before I came here. I was almost done before I moved to Miami. After a month of work we had a layoff and that’s when I finished my classes. At Christmas my mom wrapped up my diploma and put it under the tree.
Q. So you are a high school graduate.
A. Yes. And proud of it, because many dancers don’t achieve that. It’s hard to finish because you are basically working full time before you’re even out of high school.
Q. The other exciting thing that’s been happening for you through the Miami City Ballet is this PBS show.
A. Yes. We filmed it last September. And it was a lot of work but really rewarding. It was really hard because we had to re-film little sections over and over and over again. But they didn’t want us to get too sweaty, so they were patting us down, and brushing powder over us all the time. I was in the Golden Section which is Twyla Tharp’s ballet, which I love. I love her work. I also did the Third Movement of Western Symphony, which is really jumpy and hard and fun. It was a great experience and I think it turned out great. It’s a little difficult to watch yourself on television in HD very up close, because we’re so critical of ourselves. But it was fabulous. We were really lucky that we got to be in such an amazing special.
Q. Did the filming give you any insight into the recent brouhaha about Black Swan and the ballet dancer saying it wasn’t Natalie Portman doing the dancing because I assume sometimes the camera is just on your feet.
Q. Or just on your arms.
A. Yes. Each time we would film a section again, they’d change the camera positions or they would have a roving camera, where it rolled back and front of the front of the stage, or people running around with cameras around you, so you had to try not to hit them. It’s tough to keep doing what you were doing, full out, 100 percent every time. I can’t imagine making a movie. As for Natalie Portman doing all her own dancing, that’s just not true. As professionals we could easily tell which shots were her and which ones were her “professional” double.
Q. Were they just saying do it again or were they explaining where the cameras were going to be?
A. They were very clear with us what they were doing so we all knew which camera was the one to focus on. Sometimes, they had this shot that they called Cowboy, which I think was from the knee up, so they were basically saying if you are tired, you don’t have to do your feet so much, because we’re just going to be filming upper body. They would tell us that or they’d say we didn’t like that shot, so we’re going to do it again the same way or we’re going to go back and we’re going to do the same section but with this elevated camera.
Q. But the food on film sets is always great.
A. Yes. There was a fabulous catering. There were times when we had to beg for a break, because we had done, the Third Movement of Western three or four times in a row. And all the dancers were just exhausted. We were moaning, “We just need fifteen minutes. We needed to get some relief for our calves, to eat something, because we’re going to pass out if we keep doing this.” The food table was amazing. I remember one time they came in with these pulled pork sandwiches. We were all standing there and you could smell it going by. It was really fun and nice to be kind of pampered in that way too. The women who did all the catering were so sweet and happy to bring us things. I guess they cooked everything themselves in a separate building. They were so proud of everything they made and it was all delicious.
Q. Recently the company did Don Quixote. In many of the classical ballets, and Don Quixote is a prime example, practically everyone in the company can be on stage. And in many scenes, most aren’t dancing. They’re just on the sidelines as characters with nothing to do but watch the soloists or the principals dance. Is that exciting for you? Most of the audience is there just to be entertained and will never know if you make a mistake or if you do something perfectly. But the dancers on stage all know.
A. Here I actually like it. Because like I said I feel like everyone is so supportive of each other that they’re rooting for you. So it’s nice to have that support and to have everyone looking at you, not thinking hmmm, lets see if she messes up, but wholeheartedly cheering you on! Recently, in Don Quixote I did Mercedes, and I always felt like everyone was there rooting for me. It gives you a really nice energy to make eye contact with your friends who are smiling and supporting you. That’s one of the things about this company that’s fabulous. Everyone is really there for each other! It’s nice when you finish your solo and you run off and someone turns to you and goes, “That was great!” You know, that’s so cool. Sometimes I feel it’s almost better to have my friends on stage cheering for me, than to be there by myself. That can be a little more nerve-wracking.
Q. What is it like in some dance programs or story ballets where you might only have something in the Third Act, and you have to sit through two acts before you dance. How is that in terms of preparation?
A. It’s hard, like right now we’re doing Giselle and I do Myrtha who only does the Second Act. I have the whole First Act to get ready, warm up, get nervous, relax myself, get nervous again, warm up again, you know. All that extra time waiting for Act Two can be stressful. Sometimes it’s nicer just to do both acts. You have a chance to get on stage and get your jitters out. Then when you go on to do your big part you’re already warm and haven’t had too much time to over think things.
Q. Another question with Giselle. One of the things that always puzzled me is there’s Hilarion, the peasant, and then there’s Albrecht, the prince.
Q. And to me Hilarion is the nice guy. He’s trying to help Giselle out. He’s trying to save her. Obviously, he is self-motivated, he wants to marry her but still his actions are correct. And Albrecht is this cad.
A. Yeah. You know, it’s funny, I’m a little glad I’m not dancing Giselle because I don’t like Albrecht. I always feel so bad for Hilarion, I think he’s such a nice, good guy. Like you said, he’s just trying to show her that this guy is bad, bad news. So it ends up being easier for me when we get into Second Act and I’m Myrtha, because I really don’t like Albrecht. It’s easy for me to think, why on earth would Giselle want to save him? Like look at what he did to you. Albrecht is not my favorite person. And Giselle is not really my favorite love story. Romeo and Juliet, I mean nothing can top that. That’s pure and beautiful.
Q. So maybe you never went for the bad boy.
A. Ha, no, I liked the bad boys. For a while I liked the bad boys, but I certainly didn’t marry a bad boy.
Q. Now another thing that’s very exciting for the Miami City Ballet is that the company just came back from performing in Paris this summer.
A. Paris was amazing. Amazing. There’s almost no words to describe Paris. I mean everyone loves Paris.
A. But to go and work and dance there, and have the audience on their feet screaming for five minutes. I think there were a few shows where we had six curtain calls. They were so appreciative and we were just flabbergasted.
Q. What was the theater that you were in?
A. The theater was the Chatelet, which is a beautiful old theater. It’s not the Opera Garnier, the big theater that the Paris ballet performs in. But it was perfect for us, just right size.
Q. And you had a French orchestra or how did that go?
A. We had an orchestra that was made up of, I believe, students. They were all in their twenties. Very, very enthusiastic. A lot of us made friends with them. And they sounded really beautiful. It felt like a wonderful collaboration of young, enthusiastic dance and music.
Q. And you did mostly Balanchine?
A. Did a lot of Balanchine. We did some Tharp, In the Upper Room and Nine Sinatra Songs. We also had a Wheeldon piece; Liturgy, some Robbins; Afternoon of a Faun and In the Night and a great Paul Taylor piece; Promethean Fire. So it was really a collection of the things we do best.
Q. Paris, of course, has a huge, central role in the history of ballet, so did you have a special feeling dancing there?
A. We were very nervous in the beginning, because we didn’t know how the Parisians were going to receive us. They are very accustomed to the Paris Opera Ballet, which is perfection. And our company is different. We’re made up of people who are full of a lot of heart and energy. And so we weren’t sure if they would appreciate what we were doing, or think that we just weren’t as good as the Paris Opera Ballet. But they seemed to really love us. There was a lot of tension that first show. All the dancers were wondering how it would go. But at the end when they got up screaming and stomping on the floor, it was an incredible feeling.
Q. What did you do in Paris outside of ballet?
A. Well, we ate a lot of food. Lots of food! I wish we had more time to go around, but Paris is enormous. We had a few free days and tried to do a little bit of sightseeing, the Louvre, Pere Lachaise. And we had Metro passes, so we could use the public transportation whenever we wanted, wherever we wanted to go. I’ve been to Paris before on vacation with my husband, and we did the Eiffel Tower and all that. So, we didn’t go to the Eiffel Tower this time. After our first week in Paris my husband and I celebrated our one-year anniversary so we took a train and we went to Bruges for two days.
A. Yes. We spent one night there in an adorable bed and breakfast. We had just heard that it was a really fabulous, charming place to go visit. And it was definitely that. We had a lovely time strolling through the romantic streets.
Q. When a ballet company goes on tour, there’s got to be all sorts of almost catastrophes and humorous incidents. It’s got to be somewhat like a circus.
A. Well we are a little like a traveling circus. I’m trying to think if we had any near catastrophes. Surprisingly, we didn’t really have anything go wrong, besides two people getting injured. Everyone made the flight, everyone got their hotel rooms okay, No one got lost. I think there was only one funny little snafu. Two friends of ours didn’t realize that to ask the hotel to do your laundry is very expensive. They had a miscommunication between French and English, and they thought the hotel had said something like it would be 65 Euros per bag, which is expensive anyway. However when they got the bill it was over 500 Euros.
A. And so they called us in a panic. My husband is Swiss and he speaks French and I speak French. They came to us white as ghosts and said “Can you please help us? We think we’ve made a really big mistake. We seem to owe the hotel 500 Euros for doing our laundry and we don’t have 500 Euros.” So we spoke with the hotel and got them to pay the 65 euros they thought it would be. But besides that, everyone was really on top of it. And maybe one other road bump on the trip was that it was so cold. It was weird, because we went in July and every time I’ve been in Europe in the summer, it’s hot. Almost unbearably hot. And no one has air conditioning. So we were there in July and all of a sudden it started getting really chilly and rainy, and no one had packed anything for cold weather. So, we HAD to go shopping…
Q. Ahhh. Forced to go shopping in Paris.
A. Yes, so unfortunate to be forced to shop in Paris. Ha, But we were really cold.
Q. Since you just celebrated your one year anniversary, I guess you recently got married to….
A. Didier Bramaz, he’s Principal Soloist with the Company.
Q. Is getting married a little transition in the Ballet Company moving from the single girls to the couples?
A. Well, we dated for six years before we got married.
Q. I see, so you’ve always been in the couples side.
A. Kind of always, I’ve been in the couples side for a while. I don’t know it’s funny, I don’t really feel like single girls and couples. Maybe the single girls do. I don’t really know. Maybe I don’t realize it. That’s funny.
Q. The Miami City Ballet has a great website and I understand you do some work for it.
A. Yes. I do some videos and write a few things for the blog.
Q. Is that fun? Do you have a media streak?
A. It’s fun but I don’t think I really have a media streak. I have had a few ideas that I thought would be cool or people might enjoy seeing on our blog. I did one video where I did my makeup in fast forward because I thought that might be cool for people to see our process to get ready for shows. I did another video where I sewed my shoes in fast forward.
Q. Have you ever heard of the Anaheim Ballet?
A. I have yes.
Q. They have a huge web presence. And one of their biggest hits is: how to make a ballet bun.
A. Oh, we could do that in fast forward! The thing is, my hair is short. I like to keep it about chin length, so the way I do my bun is special, because I use all fake hairpieces.
Q. That would be interesting for girls with short hair.
A. Exactly. I have five or six different hairpieces that I use for different types of things that I want to do. I actually prefer having short hair and using fake hair. I think I have more options. But I have to buy the hairpieces which can be a little expensive. That’s the only thing.
Q. On your shoe video, you used a lot of glue and as someone who goes to Home Depot and is always searching for the best glue, I was wondering, do dancers experiment with different glues?
A. Oh absolutely. I mean there’s another kind of glue that’s like a type of epoxy that you mix together and then it comes out with this very glossy finish.
A. Some people pour that in their shoes and let that harden. I tried it once but it was a little too hard for me. Some people use shellac. They’ll spray the inside or they’ll paint the inside of their shoes with shellac to harden it up.
Q. Now I am a fan of Gorilla Glue.
A. I love Gorilla Glue for things around the house but not for my shoes. It’s not quite the right thing for my shoes.
Q. They have a super glue now, Gorilla Super Glue.
A. I saw that in like a little square tube or something.
A. I’ll try anything. But right now I just use the glue that the ballet provides for us because it’s free. Super glue is expensive and really adds up if you use as much as I do.
Q. The ballet gives you super glue for free.
A. Yes, we got a donation from Elmer’s, I think they donated 50 cases of super glue. And we’ve been living off that for a while. So until that runs out, I’ll be using that kind.
Q. I was wondering if manufacturers knew about ballerinas and their love for glue.
A. I think they do. The way that we got the donation was our Wardrobe Master, Pico, asked me if he could take some pictures of me using super glue in my shoes and then we sent those to Elmer’s with a letter explaining why we love and need their glue. Elmer’s responded, “Oh absolutely, we’d love to help you out. Here’s a giant donation.” And they sent all these cases of super glue. It’s been a huge help and has lasted us for several years.
Q. Another shoe question I was thinking about is, so you use Freed shoes, one of the very best shoes in the world. But what’s the difference since as soon as you get a pair, you spend 45 minutes tearing the shoe apart and putting it back together again. So what does it really matter if it comes from Freed or anybody else for that matter?
A. Yeah, well the thing about Freed’s is you can customize them to really make it fit your foot. And some other shoes don’t customize to that level where you can change an eighth of an inch on a shoe. So that’s why we tend to like Freed more. For me, it’s also the color. The color of the satin is much prettier, in my opinion. Other people may think differently, but I like the color of them. I also like the materials they use in their shoes. Some other shoes use materials that are not really suited for my foot.
Q. Okay. That makes sense.
A. But there are people who hate Freed’s, so to each her own.
Q. Who are some of your ballet mentors?
A. Growing up at CPYB was really where I got all of my mentoring. Marcia Dale Weary is the founder of the school and shes probably one of the most amazing teachers ever. And so I really feel like I took a lot from her. I had another amazing teacher his name was Richard Cook. Unfortunately he recently passed away from cancer. He was a fabulous partnering teacher and I started taking partnering lessons from him when I was maybe nine. I wasn’t even on Pointe. He would teach the little boys because it’s better to start when they’re young to figure that out. And everyone that he trained in partnering turned out to be a phenomenal partner. He was really special to many of us. I really appreciated working with Suzy Pilarre while I was at SAB. I loved her energy and her passion and her knowledge; and that was really a special time for me too, for where I was in my development. She is a wonderful teacher. Absolutely fabulous. She still comes down to MCB and works with us coaching ballets, so I always look forward to that.
Q. Did you ever enter into competitions?
A. Oh no. At CPYB, the school I grew up in, competitions were almost frowned upon. They were thought to be kind of tacky, I guess, and we were going to be serious ballet dancers and were going to train for hours every single day of the week and that’s it. So we didn’t waste our time doing things like competitions. So I never really had any interest in doing something like that. It was more about getting to be in a company and having a career.
Q. Ballet students seem to love inspirational quotes. Did you have any?
A. I don‘t know if I have a quote. I mean the things that I live by are like I said, be yourself, and compete with yourself, because that’s the most important thing: to be as internally driven as possible and not trying to compete with others. That’s something that’s always been very important to me because I feel it’s better to do it for yourself than to do it because you want to kick that other person to the curb, you know? My goal is always to try my hardest. It’s important to be proud of yourself and the effort you put forward.
Q. And any books, movies that you like?
A. Books, movies, I mean I like reading kind of anything. I love David Sedaris, because he’s funny.
Q. So non-ballet.
A. Very non-ballet. Yeah, I’m not really a big bunhead. It’s funny, I love what I do and I love doing the best that I can at what I do, but I love so many other things in the world too. I don’t want to get stuck in the ballet world. There are so many other things out there. My husband is obsessed with movies. So we see a lot. We see everything, literally everything. He Netflix or downloads or who knows what? We’ve seen all the movies that are nominated for the Academy Awards already, so yeah, we’re big movie people.
Q. Do you have any advice for young dancers?
A. It’s hard because there’s always a lot of failure in being a professional dancer. You can’t always be on top. So it’s just about trying to keep a positive outlook and know that what you’re doing is the best that you can do and if that’s not right for this ballet, maybe it will be right for something else. It’s important to support your fellow dancers and learn to share, it’s hard to share sometimes, because everyone wants to do everything. As dancers we give so wholeheartedly everything that we have, when things don’t work out can be depressing at times. But it’s such a beautiful art form that in the end if you give it your everything you’ll get what you need out of it. Being on stage is probably the most extraordinary feeling. Cherish those moments, because that’s really what it’s all about.
To check out Callie Manning on Miami City Ballet’s website, click here: http://www.miamicityballet.org/. To return to Ballet Connections, click on the Back Arrow in the upper left hand corner of your browser.