by Elizabeth Fittro
Next month, Sarah Gilliam, a professional dancer with Ballet Theatre of Maryland will perform her first leading role with the company. She has been cast as Katrina, the heroine, in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, which will be presented at Maryland Hall in Annapolis October 21-23. Dancing original choreography by Dianna Cuatto, the artistic director, Ms. Gilliam is currently preparing for the first major role of her career. Between daily rehearsals, she gave insight on what it is like to be a professional ballerina.
When did you start learning ballet? Was it your decision or your parent's?
I started ballet at 4 years old. It was 100% my decision. I begged them for a year before my mom signed me up for classes
What did your training consist of growing up?
I am originally from Virginia and took local classes in ballet, modern and jazz growing up. I became more serious with ballet around the age of 13 and decided to attend the Nutmeg Conservatory for the Arts in Connecticut after I turned 15. Nutmeg is a boarding school for aspiring dancers where you are given the opportunity to focus on your training. I spent 4 to 6 hours a day dancing, which helped prepare me for a professional career.
What is the hardest part for you being a soloist in a professional ballet company?
The title “soloist” holds a lot of responsibility. You are always expected to dance at a high level, always be on your “A” game, and feel comfortable dancing on your own. I think the hardest part is the pressure that I put on myself to be successful at those three things.
When aspiring dancers ask for your advice, what do you recommend to them?
Fake it 'til you make it! We are all human and we all make mistakes. It is not about how bad you mess up, but how you respond and recover.
What is challenging about your role as Katrina?
In Dianna's version of Sleepy Hollow, there is a love triangle between Katrina, Brom Bones and Ichabod Crane. While I am really lucky to be paired with two strong and supportive partners, it can be challenging to dance with two very different people! We have worked at adapting to each other's nuances and the different ways we approach the dance steps.
What is your favorite part of your character? What is your least favorite?
Katrina is flirty, outgoing and strong-willed. I tend to be more shy and quiet, so it's fun to be someone different while performing on-stage. My least favorite part is the rehearsal process because it kicks my butt! I am thankful for the practice but it is definitely more fun to perform.
What do you do now to prepare for a lead role?
I think through the steps on my own at least twice daily. Once for the actual choreography and the second time for my character development. I think about how my character would act or react in certain situations. In rehearsals, Dianna is specific about some reactions but leaves others to my interpretation. I spend a lot of time thinking about those open moments and how I will fill them with my personal glance or gesture. I have performed supporting roles, but this is my first lead role at BTM!
Come see Sarah Gilliam perform the role of Katrina in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Ballet Theatre of Maryland’s season opener, October 21, 22, 23 at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts. Tickets available https://www.marylandhall.org or by calling the box office 4102805640.