A few weeks back I had the pleasure of meeting Jolina Javier and Giselle Alvarez while working an event for Egal Dance, Misty Copeland’s incredible dancewear line. When I discovered that they were both in the Ballet Chorus in Phantom of the Opera, I immediately had so many questions! Here is an indepth look into those questions and their experiences with the longest running show on Broadway:
How long have you been in the show?
Jolina Javier: I am a vacation swing so I have been in the show on and off for a total of 2 years.
Giselle Alvarez: Just over 2 years.
What was the audition process like?
GA: The audition was an open call. About 40 dancers were brought into the studio wearing pointe shoes and we learned a section of the “Hannibal” scene. We were also taught a section from the “Il Muto” ballet. After about an hour of learning both dances, we were split into smaller groups and did the dances in front of Denny Berry, the associate choreographer and Polly Baird, the dance captain. They made a large cut and called back me and three other dancers. We then took off our pointe shoes and in flat shoes learned the stop chorus section in “Masquerade”. After that we were asked to stay and sing for David Lai, one of the conductors and musical directors at Phantom. We were told they weren’t hiring at the moment but they would call if something changed. A few weeks later on New Year’s Eve, I got an email from Denny saying that there was an opening in the NY Company and invited me to a final call back. We danced the section from “Masquerade” on stage but this time in front of Seth. We then, one by one sang for him in the house of the Majestic.
About a week later I was at the Steps Boutique, working my work study shift and got the call from Denny offering me a permanent contract with the Broadway Company. I started rehearsals 2 weeks later on February 2nd, and made my debut that week on February 6th.
JJ: I had auditioned for the show multiple times and usually the audition consisted of combinations on pointe. It always started with “Il Muto,” a ballet in the show and then we either did an excerpt from another pointe ballet called “Hannibal,” or a section of “Masquerade” which was in flat shoes. After getting through all the cuts, they asked you to sing 16 bars of a song of your choice.
What is it like to be in the show?
GA: I’m getting to live my dream every day. Although it is artistically challenging to do the same show every night, I get to help tell an iconic story to hundreds of people every night and being a part of Broadway history is not a bad way to make a living.
JJ: It’s incredible to be a part of such an iconic and historical show. It has been running for about 30 years and it’s amazing to be in a timeless piece of theatre. I remember my mom playing the music in my living room and now I have the opportunity to hear it every day live at the Majestic theatre! Everything in the show is original and is still running like it did 30 years ago, it’s really incredible how well-oiled of a machine it is. I am so grateful I get to do what I love every night on a Broadway stage and I have to pinch myself every so often 🙂 We do eight shows a week and sometimes we have rehearsals during the day when someone new joins the company. It’s amazing to see how many people have come in and out of the show.
Any backstage secrets or fun facts?
JJ: Some of my favorite fun facts about the show are they use 500 lbs. of dry ice every performance in order to create the Phantom’s mysterious lair. The chandelier’s name is Ruthie 2. Ruthie 1 lives in London where the original production opened in 1986. The floor that we dance on is the pure steel with over 100 traps in it and is same material of WW2 submarines. It’s made to withstand a war!
GA: There are so many, but here are a few: http://www.playbill.com/article/29-little-known-phantom-facts-and-backstage-stories
What is your most memorable moment from your Phantom experience so far?
GA: The things that are the most memorable are usually things that go wrong. Recently it was Kids Night on Broadway, so the audience was full of children, and while I was performing “Masquerade” my monkey pants came undone and started to fall down. I was holding the symbols so I really didn’t have a hand to keep my pants up, let alone do them up again, so I just got down into a really deep squat and continued dancing and singing and playing the symbols, hoping and praying that I could at least keep the pants above my knees. Finally, I was able to hand off the symbols and grabbed my pants in one hand, continuing to do the number like a little tea pot monkey. I was just relieved to not end up pant less in front of 1600 kids!
JJ: My most memorable moment from Phantom was on my debut night when the Phantom’s boat shut down in the middle of the stage and a stagehand had to pull the boat off the stage by hand as the violinist was playing a single note for about 20 minutes in anticipation. People told me that never has happened before and in that moment I thought I was bad juju for the show. I also remember dancing into the scrim in the “Il Muto Ballet”. We do a series of emboites at the end of the dance and we are wearing very heavy costumes and the weight of the skirt took over my body and next thing I knew I was dancing into the scrim. It was hilarious.
What would be your advice to dancers aspiring to be in the show?
JJ: I would tell dancers to keep up with their technique and pointe work. The show is challenging because we are dancing on pointe in rubbered pointe shoes on a steel stage with over 100 traps on it. Being a strong dancer helps with all the other elements of the show besides doing just the steps. The ballerinas are also a big part of the story telling within the show and we are not only communicating with our bodies but our faces and voice as well. I would say having personality and a point of view in your performance is great. In musical theatre we are dancing, singing and acting and being expressive in your body is not enough, the energy and storytelling has to be coming from through your eyes and face too. I would also say have a song to sing for the audition that you are comfortable singing and shows your personality. We do some singing in the show and they need to see that you can sing with an ensemble.
GA: If you believe that this is the career you want, don’t stop showing up until you get what you want. This business is difficult and there are many more dancers then there are jobs, so you have to put in the work to get what you want in a way that is authentic to what makes you unique. That’s how you stand out in the sea of headshots. Show them that they need you, not the other way around.
Catch Giselle and Jolina eight shows a week at the Majestic Theatre and maybe one day, you’ll be up there too!
-Steps on Broadway Intern