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Debut: taking on Tudor's "tough girl.".

When Christiana Bennett was asked to dance the role of the "tough girl" in Antony Tudor's politically charged Echoing of Trumpets, she had plenty of emotional references to draw upon. The ballet is a grisly account of a small Czech village destroyed by the Nazis in 1942 and the brutal victimization of women at the hands of the soldiers. Bennett's rock-solid technique and stature (she is just under 5'9") immediately telegraphed a character who was not going to be psychologically crushed.

As she performed, Bennett would expand her chest, angle her shoulders, and turn her head proudly in profile, defining the character's strength through emotional restraint. Since 1963, when the ballet was created for the Royal Swedish Ballet, history has provided more than enough brutal acts of war. During opening week last spring, Bennett said her primary reference was a front-page story about the slaying of women and children in Iraq.

Bennett's character is one of three lead roles. Unlike her counterparts, the "tough girl" (as Tudor nicknamed the part) stands up to her Nazi oppressors. Bennett was the backbone for the other women in the dance. Donald Mahler, ballet master for the Antony Tudor Trust, who staged Echoing on BW, brought a video of the original Royal Swedish production to show the company, which Bennett studied. "Although I didn't want to imitate what I saw, I did want to stay true to Tudor's original intentions and express the raw feeling behind the work."

For Bennett, learning the movement and expression was only the first step. "Tudor's style is very specific. There is a precise track the upper body must follow. And the end position is no less defined; right to the placement of the palm. So it can feel very awkward at first, somewhat antiquated. Your upper body becomes very separate from the feet and legs."

For Bennett the rewards of the Tudor style are greater than the demands. "Dancing Tudor is cathartic for me, and every ballet is so different. In The Leaves are Fading, my part was calm and soothing. But as Carolyn in Lilac Garden, my challenge was to get through a complex series of emotions without using facial expression and to convey the feeling purely through the movement. And in Echoing, the emotion is out front."

The most difficult part of Echoing comes at the end. The three women are left onstage as the soldiers return once again to abuse them. The choreography is a series of difficult lifts and partnering. At this point, the dancers are physically and emotionally exhausted, and Bennett said they knew it would require cool heads to get through the section. "So we sat down and listened to the music over and over. We rehearsed so we would be completely in sync with each other and know, without question, what was coming up. We relied on each other, which also reflected the story of the ballet."

Before coming to BW in 1999, Bennett trained and performed with Pacific Northwest Ballet. Once she joined BW, she rose from corps member to principal in five years, and during BW's last season performed Odette/Odile in Swan Lake and Juliet in former artistic director Jonas Kage's new production of Romeo and Juliet.

Bennett is always looking for the next challenge. But no matter what role she is performing, she has a constant wish for what she wants to accomplish.

"When I perform, I want the audience to go on the journey with me. I want them to feel what I'm feeling. I want them to hurt when I hurt. I want that connection," she says. "I don't ever want to be tentative about stepping onto the stage. I always want to be able to say, 'This is what I do. I love what I do. This is home.'"
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Author:Adams, Kathy
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Interview
Date:Nov 1, 2006
Words:635
Previous Article:This month: Ann Reinking.
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