Camelot, the original “Game of Thrones,” is familiar to theater and film fans through its highly successful stage productions but a new ballet, produced by Pacific Festival Ballet, makes its debut at the Kavli Theatre for two performances this Saturday, May 18. The brainchild of director/choreographer Kim Maselli and scored by Eric Allaman, Camelot has been in the works for five years, the third in a trilogy of ballets produced by Maselli and Allaman, following The Sea Princess (2007) and Noah’s Ark (2010).
Starring in the production are California Dance Theatre teacher Jonathan Sharp as King Arthur, State Street Ballet star Jack Stewart as Sir Lancelot, and 18-year-old Agoura High School senior Luna Montana Hoetzel as Queen Guinevere. We got the three of them together at a recent rehearsal to talk about ballet and how it relates to theater in telling a story without words or dialog.
VCOS: Who among you has experience in musical theatre?
JONATHAN: I have tons. Mostly from Broadway and in the L.A. area. I did five original cast Broadway shows in New York, starting with The Red Shoes in 1991. Then I did the revival of Carousel, which launched Audra McDonald and won five Tonys. Then I did the revival of Rocky Horror at Theatre-in-the-Square with Terrence Mann, Tom Hewitt, Lea DeLaria, and Joan Jett, and then I did The Dance of the Vampires with Michael Crawford, which was a big, huge flop, and then finally, not the most recent one that’s done in Yiddish, but the revival of Fiddler On the Roof, which was the last revival with the original creators.
VCOS: Tell me a little about redefining your character using dance.
JONATHAN: It’s really just the use of the instrument without words. For me, really, the development of the character – the emotion, the honesty, the acting, and the feeling your physical body goes through – is the same, whether you’re pushing the story forward verbally or whether you’re doing it physically. You are always being physical when you’re acting. Acting is never just verbal. It’s like being a creature that’s under water and out of the water.
JONATHAN: Yes, it is. You can be in two different places but you’re still telling the story in the same way.
VCOS: Jack, tell me about your theatrical experience.
JACK: I grew up in a ballet studio and have mostly done ballet and not too much musical theatre. I participated in some operas with the Santa Barbara Opera, but mostly I’ve been dancing with the State Street Ballet in Santa Barbara and that’s been for most of my career. I grew up in a ballet studio in Albuquerque. My mom was a ballerina and ballet teacher so I was just kind of thrown into ballet class when I was two years old and I grew to love it. Now I have a big passion for it.
VCOS: How about you, Luna?
LUNA: I don’t have very much musical theatre background but it’s definitely something I want to get into. Mostly, I’m consumed with ballet, but it’s really musical theatre without words, so I definitely utilize acting skills throughout.
VCOS: Are you looking to do this professionally?
LUNA: Definitely something in the entertainment industry. I love performing, but I’m not sure just what I’m going to do with it yet.
VCOS: Are you a senior?
LUNA: I am.
VCOS: Any college plans yet?
LUNA: No college yet. Planning on a gap year for now so I can stay and do what I’m doing.
VCOS: Would New York be a goal for you?
LUNA: Oh for sure. That’s always a goal for anyone.
VCOS: I’d like for all three of you to talk about the creative process, especially with a new work like this one. Because it’s new, you have nothing to use as a model. If you do a show that has been done before, how much do you look to previous performances for inspiration? Or do you prefer not to at all? How does that work when you’re given a clean slate to work with?
JONATHAN: For me, if a work has been done before, I will research it, and if there’s a video to watch, I will allow myself to watch it once. It’s like dropping a tea bag into hot water; you just get the essence. And always, when I watch that one time, whether it’s Jerome Robbins or Michael Kidd or if it’s a great choreographer like Bob Fosse, certain moments will be impressed into my mind, like a particular move, and I will let those moments take hold. But I try to be open, because when you’re creating a process and you’re the actor, the choreographer is coming in with a clear vision of what she wants. And then I just use the techniques of improv, which I learned from the Groundlings on Melrose, of “yes-and,” which means, yes, I see your idea and here’s how I interpret it. And then we have a kind of tennis game back and forth of her saying, “Yes, that is what I wanted” or “Let’s shape it this way” so she can direct. Other than that, you look to the music, you look to the other performers to find, to discover continually. Today we’re going to do a run-through; we’ve only done one run-through before today, so there will be a lot of things to discover and then going back to see if we hit this point in order to get to that point.
VCOS: How do you three work together?
JACK: I think we’re constantly bouncing off of each other as far as ideas go and talking to each other about our characters. For us, understanding the characters helps us get more into that role. For me, that’s the best part: being that character and really getting into that role and taking yourself out of it.
LUNA: For me, I’m so young and have never really had any experience like what Guinevere’s going through, so I think learning from you guys has been really amazing. Especially in our really dramatic scenes, when Jonathan will give me some notes, and just feeding off of his acting energy, because it can really be intimidating. You’re in front of everyone and you see their eyes, but you can’t half do it because you’re going to look stupid.
JONATHAN: Well, I like to throw it to Luna, too, because she’s actually in the hardest place because she’s with her peers, looking on. We’re colleagues, not peers, and we come in with our professional attitude. But in the teenage years, you have insecurities and we’re practically in love and she’s playing in a love triangle, so she’s in a more vulnerable place as a performer, and I have to say that you’ve done really amazing work. I never feel like you’re not committed or in the moment or looking around to see what’s going on. And I’m looking forward to seeing how much further we can take it, through trust and love.
LUNA: Thank you.
VCOS: And you two are not afraid of learning from her.
JONATHAN: Oh not at all! For me, she IS the part.
JACK: Coming from the ballet world, as a slightly older ballet dancer, you constantly look to the younger ones to see what they are doing and what’s the next hardest thing that’s coming up, so it’s a constant challenge as far as trying to keep up with them.
VCOS: They don’t have all that experience clogging up their brains.
JONATHAN: And they have cartilage! (all laugh)
VCOS: Are any of you familiar with the Broadway musical version of Camelot and looked at the differences between the characters?
JACK: I personally have not. This has all been kind of a learning experience for me and I wasn’t very familiar with the story. But as we go through the process, I found out so much about the story and how you can relate to each of these characters’ positions to people today. I know a lot of people who are in similar situations.
JONATHAN: I have to say, and I do know the Broadway version mostly through Robert Goulet’s portrayal of King Arthur. King Arthur and Tevye, to me, are the King Lears of musical theatre. But I didn’t go to that for source material, mostly because I wanted to keep myself open to see how Kim wanted to tell the story. We watched First Night last night, with Richard Gere and Sean Connery, and there was a whole other character who was the bad guy, so I didn’t look to the theatrical version too much for source.
VCOS: There was a lot more humor in the Broadway version than there is here. It’s not a funny story in the end; it’s a tragedy, but it does have many lighter moments.
JONATHAN: I would say this version has levity instead of humor. The magical scenes have a lightness to them and also the crowd scenes. There is one humorous scene where the knights are trying to pull the sword out of the stone, but I think what Kim wanted was to remove the shtick. You don’t want to bait-and-switch the audience, making them think like they’re coming to see A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum. At the end, we’re going to try to break their hearts. But she doesn’t turn it into a Les Mis either. That’s the hardest thing, to find the levity for us in playing Guinevere’s betrayal, then the trial, then the pardon, then the death – I mean, those are really heavy scenes and you don’t want to make the audience feel that they’re eating too much chocolate cake, something rich, for too long.
VCOS: They have enough to deal with emotionally with two protagonists and they feel for both of them and don’t know who to root for.
LUNA: I’ve been playing with the idea of having a different persona when I’m playing with each character. That’s the one acting thing that doesn’t involve reading, the difference between her love for Lancelot and her love for Arthur. It’s like equal for each of them and I don’t know how I would be able to choose.
VCOS: Can we tell the difference in your personality from whoever you are with?
LUNA: Yeah. I mean, I’ve been trying to act more stoic with Jonathan than with Jack. It was an arranged marriage and she was very young, so she’s very stoic and queenly with him, but with Lancelot, it’s like lust, it’s my first time falling in love and I can’t resist him. So I use different movements for each.
VCOS: So after this, are all three of you ready and willing to go wherever the show goes? You’re the creators of the roles (all nod yes)
JONATHAN: And in whatever way. It could be just to teach someone else the part if it’s going to a company where their dancers would do it or to offer support in helping them to build it. It’s always great to find a project and to be able to give it life.
Camelot plays for two performances on Saturday, May 18, at 2 pm and 7 pm at the Kavli Theatre. To purchase tickets, visit www.pacfestballet.org or call Ticketmaster at (800) 745-3000.