Robin Gilbert and Carlos Fittante in "Tigerlily and the Dragonfly". Photo: Julie Lemberger

BALAM's Ballerina Discusses Joys, Travails of Dancing on Point in Bali

BALAM Artistic Director Carlos Fittante sat down with Robin Gilbert, BALAM’s ballerina and lead female dancer, to discuss the joys and travails of dancing ballet fusion on point in Bali.

CF: In the role of Tigerlily, you dance on point. Can you tell our readers something about how this experience is different for you here in Bali, as compared to New York?

RG: Ballet and point dancing have a very specific training practice and environmental conditions, including being able to take ballet class and rehearse on a good floor on a regular basis. There is not an opportunity for any of that here in Bali. In this tour, we have had to rehearse on an outdoor cement courtyard, often wet with rain, mud and moss, while wearing our walking shoes. The temple stages we perform on are also cement with a thin carpet pieced together without being secured by tape, and sometimes the temple stage floors are bare marble tiles covered with grit. I have my point shoes rubberized as a precaution.

We don’t have a chance to step foot onto the stage until we are actually performing, which can be very disorienting. That’s because the way things unfold in Bali. Everything suddenly happens all at once on the temple grounds, which are a bevy of activity, so the performing space is always in use one way or another. Also the open-air temples are without walls, so the downpours of rain can soak you.

CF: How do you deal with all of these challenges?

RG: I have had to let go of my image and definition of what ballet is and just let myself dance. I have to trust in my body’s knowledge, as it moves through the choreography and I am in the moment. I have to make split second decisions to respond to moments that feel dangerous, even for this rock-n-roll ballerina. (Robin is a drummer in the rock band, the Generators.)

CF: What have you gained from this experience?

RG: I know the Balinese care most about the dancer’s spirit. They respond to the joy and passion that is dance. Of course, they love beauty and skill, too and are very discerning. Even if the dance style is not their own, they want to feel the spirit of the dancer in the moment. That focus has been very empowering for me and this actually helps me transcend the physical challenges and danger.

CF: How do you like dancing to live gamelan music performed by the renowned Semara Ratih?

RG: Working with those 25 musicians is amazing! In rehearsal, we face each other, so they can watch us as they play to get all our movements coordinated with the rhythms of the music. There is a palpable kinesthetic bond between the dancers and musicians. I feel they are dancing with us. It is wonderful. In the performance, they are seated all around on stage and as I dance, I know when they are pleased. They just smile.

CF: If there was something you would change about the tour so far, what would it be?

RG: I’ve been sick with “Bali Belly”. I would rather not have to go through that. It makes my body weak. Even though there are so many conditions that make point dancing so difficult, I wouldn’t change any of it because that is Bali and my heart is open to the true spirit of Bali.