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November 14, 2023
Music is considered by many dancers and choreographers to be the driving force of movement, imbuing steps with emotion and expression. With a live musician accompanying the dancers, this is taken one step further—the dancer can now feel the music motivate their movements, adding a depth of sound that is lost with a recorded version.
Central to the diverse repertoire presented at the David H. Koch Theater in the 2023 Fall season, American Ballet Theatre’s musicians played classical scores of technical rigor and complexity. In many of these arrangements, the pianists held prominent roles in propelling both the score and the dancers. Learn more about the ABT’s pianists and their experiences this past Fall season!
Tell us a bit about your history as a musician.
I come from a family with rich musical traditions, but my musical journey began in earnest at the age of seven, when a new piano “magically” appeared in our apartment in Warsaw, Poland. I was fascinated by it and learned a few pieces by ear within the span of a month or so, listening and emulating what my dad would play for fun. A few weeks later I performed them in front of a few hundred children and parents at my preschool end of the year “graduation” event.
Shortly after, I auditioned for the music school in Warsaw and the rest is history. After years of working on the craft of piano playing (which never really stops), performances and competitions, I ended up at the prestigious Juilliard School in New York. This was also where I got my first real exposure to modern dance by participating in numerous school projects while I was there. That relationship between dance and music was such a powerful experience for me at the time, which I think led me to where I am today!
In your own words, describe the solo piece you are playing this Fall season, “Shostakovich Concerto No. 1 for Piano, Trumpet and Strings [Op. 35]” in Alexei Ratmansky’s Piano Concerto No. 1.
Extreme, explosive, daring, sardonic, berserk!
What is challenging or taxing about playing this piece?
Capturing the ever-changing moods and character, often juxtaposed to the extreme from one phrase to another! Then of course the sheer speed and technical demands are very high as well!
Are you doing anything special or different to work on this piece?
It’s hard to say. Every piece has overlapping yet different challenges and considerations to be aware of. The goal is to create an interpretation that stays true to the intentions of the composer and at the highest pianistic level possible. Just as importantly, that interpretation has to meet the needs of the choreography and inspire the dancers. It’s a very nuanced balance at times, which requires a lot of sensitivity, flexibility and openness to different possibilities.
What do rehearsals look like, compared to your own independent practice?
In many ways they’re completely different.
Since it’s a piano concerto and not a solo piece, I’m required to incorporate the orchestra part in addition to the piano part into the rehearsal flow, so that the dancers can discern and recognize the most prominent themes as they would unfold in a full performance setting, where all instruments are present. That is a big challenge sometimes, since I only have ten fingers at my disposal!
My own independent practice starts and ends at home however. That is the foundation and it involves so many elements, which would be impossible to list here, I’m afraid.
What is exciting and rewarding about this piece?
On a personal level, seeing progress, challenging yourself, exceeding what you thought were your limitations.
On a collaborative level, performing a show where the movement and music became one! When it happens, it’s pure magic!
What does this season mean to you?
It’s a celebration of life really and appreciation for all that it is. I feel a sense of gratitude for having this opportunity to perform with so many incredible dancers of ABT.
On a final note, this Fall season marks ten years since my husband Calvin Royal III and I met in Studio 5 after Theme and Variations rehearsal!