Melanie Riffee (Corps de Ballet) had her early ballet instruction with Oleg Tupine and Tania Rousseau in Virginia, and went on to train on scholarship at The Washington School of Ballet, Maryland Youth Ballet, and Boston Ballet School. She is an alumna of Exploring Ballet with Suzanne Farrell. Melanie also participated in a scholarship exchange program with Canada's National Ballet School and studied with American Ballet Theatre. In 2008, Melanie joined Boston Ballet as a trainee and became a member of Boston Ballet II in May 2010. She danced multiple roles in Mikko Nissinen's The Nutcracker, Konstantin Sergeyev's The Sleeping Beauty, Rudolf Nureyev's Don Quixote, and Harold Lander's Études. Melanie originated roles in Jorma Elo's One Concerto and Yury Yanowsky's The Eighth Layer. Melanie joined The Suzanne Farrell Ballet in 2012. Her repertoire includes Balanchine's Episodes, Jewels, Danses Concertantes, Divertimento No.15, Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, Valse Fantaisie, Ballo della Regina, Coppélia, and Symphony in Three Movements. She also danced principal roles in Balanchine's Scherzo a la Russe and August Bournonville's Konservatoriet.
A Conversation with Melanie
What is your favorite role to dance and why?
As cliché as it may sound, every new role that I take on becomes a favorite in the moment. I think it's the process of reading into each character, era, or role that really makes you feel this current role is who you are. I'm not sure if it's possible to choose just one favorite, because I have loved so many roles that I have had the opportunity to dance! Then of course there are always so many dream roles...for me a few are Juliet, Balanchine's Chaconne,, and Waltz girl in Serenade.
What do you like to do when you are not dancing?
Outside of spending time with loved ones and friends, I am typically exploring other art forms of expression. I have always loved writing, curling up with a good book, painting, sketching, photography, scrapbooking and other spontaneous art projects, as well as visiting museums and galleries. I'm also working towards my English degree from Northeastern University, so I get to spend time exploring quite a bit of great literature.
How do you prepare yourself for the physical challenges of rehearsing, performing, touring?
I think the mental preparation plays an equally important role in being physically prepared for these challenges. Having the mind focused in a positive light sets every rehearsal and performance day up for great possibility. Physically, there is a lot of strength-building conditioning and cross training involved, and also just knowing your body's strengths, weaknesses, and needs can really help in preparing for the day-to-day physical challenges. As far as touring goes, it's all about defeating the jet lag and keeping the body and mind focused while absorbing all of the incredible new experiences around you...and always remembering to take your vitamins!
What is it like to work with Ms. Farrell?
She is an inspiration. Whether it is exploring from within the studio or in the outside world, Ms. Farrell always finds a way to discover the beauty and artistic value that everything in life has to offer. She pushes the boundaries of the mind just as much as the body, but always manages to leave you feeling enriched, enlightened, and with a smile on your face!
What music do you like to listen to when you warm-up?
The biggest variety...my iPod sounds like it could belong to 15 very different people. I don't always listen to music while warming up in the mornings, but before shows I definitely have some playlists with enough of a blend to get pumped up and relaxed, without riling the nerves. ;)
What do you think is the most common myth about being a ballerina? What do you wish people knew about what it's really like to be a ballerina?
Well as of lately, that all ballerinas must be as crazy as the movie Black Swan portrays. Prior to that, the general assumption was that we spend all day prancing around on our toes in tutus to Fantasia-like music while eating nothing and waving a magic wand. In case you're still skeptical, this is not true. In regards to sanity, I really believe dancers are some of the most perceptive, intelligent, and focused individuals-it would be impossible to be in such an intricate, demanding and discipline-based art form otherwise. Though I do wish people knew just how much goes into building this career!
Do you feel an affinity for any particular choreographer?
I would have to say, Balanchine. The energy, the attack, his musicality...it's infectious! There is just so much to take in during a Balanchine ballet; even the slightest movement, pattern and accent change happens with such purpose that it leaves both the dancers and the audience breathless. One of my favorite things is the way Balanchine could highlight several different instruments at once within an orchestration of the same phrase of music, all by choreographing multiple sequences for groups of dancers to be simultaneously performed. In this way, he makes every single performance such an exhilarating challenge. I think he always leaves the audience wanting more, and the dancers wishing they could just keep going!
What is the biggest reward in your career?
Performing-it really is a gift. From the moment the curtain goes up, that divider between audience and stage is taken away and you can just feel the two worlds mesh together. There is nothing comparable to the freedom you have as a performer onstage, or to the way it feels having given everything you possibly could to the audience. Just knowing you have the opportunity to make even one person really feel something from your performance, and to share this art form with the world is an incredible reward.