SAN JOSE, California – In an exclusive interview with CULTURAL WORLD BILINGUAL, principal dancer of BSJ KAREN GABAY opens her heart to reveal us her passion for ballet, the dance she mastered in a long professional career that had brought her physical pain, fame, and indescribable happiness.
CWB: When was your first encounter with ballet?
KG: I don’t recall any particular moment other than two of my best friends from elementary school were going to take ballet at the Recreational Center in San Diego and we decided that we all would go to classes together. My mother tells me the story that I begged her for classes, but she refused because she had enrolled my siblings in dance and music lessons and they never expressed any interest or desire to continue. By the time she got to the youngest, me, she was not very enthusiastic, but since I was very persistent my mother gave in. I started at the age of 8.
My friends stayed for another year and eventually quit. I stayed since I enjoyed moving my body to music. I was extremely quiet and very shy, so I loved ballet classes for the simple reason that I did not have to talk to anyone. It was meditative for me. I could be in my own little world, dancing!
CWB: Did you get to dance in a performance?
KG: Yes. My first performance was with the California Ballet. I auditioned and I ended up getting a role as “bonbon” in their Nutcracker Production. The guess artists brought in for the performance were Patricia McBride and Edward Villella. I remember seeing them in a rehearsal studio, they seemed so exotic, like creatures from another world. Later on, when I saw the professional dancers dancing in the Nutcracker, I was truly taken with the beauty of a ballet: the lights, the costumes, the stage make up. I was mesmerized by the theatrical aspects and beauty of the form. I liked being around all of it and I can say that I knew then that I wanted to be a dancer.. (She pauses).
The “full circle of life” in the dance world is that years later, as a professional dancer, I worked with Patricia McBride and her husband Jean-Pierre Bonnefous for many Summers and danced with the Chautauqua Dance Company at the Chautauqua Institute where Jean-Perre was the Artistic Director. I would take classes with them and other NY City Ballet dancers, learn Balanchine ballets from them and then perform them with the Chautauqua Symphony. It was great to be coached and work with them.
CWB: Tell us something about your ballet classes.
KG: A class is mandatory, if you wish to dance. Whether as a student or a professional, a daily class is necessary for the body. I still don’t feel “normal” or myself if I have not had a class, because my body is used to the stretching and work on a daily basis since I was young. As a professional I still work five days a week. But going back to your question,
my class was a daily ritual, At high school, after three hours of school I went to work in with the California Ballet in the mornings. I would take a morning class and rehearse what they were going to be performing next. In the evening, I would go back for regular ballet classes in the school. I never felt as though I missed out on anything in High School, in spite that I was very absorbed in ballet at that time.
CWB When did you decide that you wanted to become a ballet dancer?
KG: It was not until high school that I realized the reality of choosing a path. Everyone in my family went to college, so I just assumed that an education was the path to take. But, looking at a Dance Magazine and seeing job auditions, made me realize that I could dance for a living and actually get paid. How cool was that. I still feel very blessed that I get a pay check for something that I love so much for the joy it brings to me everyday. (pain and all)
CWB: In what ballet company did you make your debut as Prima Ballerina?
KG: I joined the Cleveland Ballet and got to dance the role of “Maria” in Dennis Nahat’s “NUTCRACKER” my first year in the company. Since it was an “all-star-no-star” company, at that time there were no rankings as we have in the company today. It was not until 2009 that Ballet San José started ranking the dancers as Principal, Soloist, and corps the Ballet
Gabay as Giselle with Raymond Rodriguez as Albrecht Photo: Robert Shomer
CWB: When you dance, do you express your feelings in the music?
CG: Yes, I rely totally in the music. Most of the time, the feelings are created by the tempo and sound of the music. But to convey to the audience what I am feeling (while dancing a role) is one of the greatest challenges. My reward, is to feel that I have connected with them in some way and helped them feel how the character felt.
CWB: In your own words, what is ballet for you?
CG: To dance ballet is quite a challenge, and it is even unnatural, but it has been given me such pleasure and joy that if I could not move to music, I think I would feel deprived and unfulfilled. I love moving to music, interpreting movement and expressing myself through dance. I have loved the art since my childhood and it continues to bring me such satisfaction and freedom to let it go, when it comes to it. Ballet to me is liberating because it allows me to just be myself and express myself with the music through my body. No words could ever capture what I feel when I dance.
Karen Gabay as Odette and Maykel Solas as Prince Siegfried in SWAN LAKE
CWB: How are you preparing mentally and physically for the role of Odette in SWAN LAKE?
CG: Being of strong mind, I feel anything is possible, in light of the demands that this role takes. At my age, I can’t harp too much on that fact and let it stress me out. I have to be the character and know what my intentions are and motivate my actions and reactions to Odette and Odile.
The music again plays a huge part in my preparation. (she pauses) the role of Odette is the most difficult ballet because of the use of arms, technically demanding choreography and lengthy three acts. Also, and because the back must be worked in certain way, I go to the gym and lift some light weights. That also helps the arms sustain the work with the partnering as well. The music again plays a huge part in my physical preparation. It helps me emote and feel what the characters want to express. “
The youngest of five children, KAREN GABAY was born and raised in San Diego, California. from a family who appreciates the arts. KAREN came to then Cleveland Ballet (now BSJ) at the age of eighteen years old happy to be given an opportunity to join such a dynamic organization.
She admits that over all these years, the respect that she has for Dennis Nahat (The ballet’s Artistic Director) remains and always will remain. “ He has given me wonderful opportunities to dance his own choreography and has built a repertoire that is a smorgasbord for any dancer in the world to dance." she says, "He has guided me through my life as a dancer,”