Above: Alejandro Diaz (in rehearsal) will transform into one of the stepsisters (right) for PBT’s production of Cinderella.
Cast as a stepsister in PBT’s season finale Cinderella, PBT dancer Alejandro Diaz has been spending time tapping into both his comedic and feminine sides in the studio. Find out what Diaz finds most challenging and hilarious about dancing “en travesti” in this comic gender role reversal in the Q&A below:
When you received the role, how did you begin creating and mentally prepared for this character?
When something tells you, well you’re going to play the part of a girl. Me being a 6’4 man, I say to myself, OK I really have to think about this, in terms of not just learning choreography, but how would a girl express excitement or anger or frustration…you want a giant range of emotions…I had a preconceived notion of the role. I have done this role before, so that actually helped me tremendously, and I’m so grateful that I get to do it again, because I get to actually hone in on a lot of the skills and the comedic timing that I got to work on at that time. Five years later, with other character roles under my belt, I’m approaching it in a much more methodical way.
What is so funny about the stepsisters?
I think the role in itself, the fact that it’s played by two men is hysterical. Every cast has a really wonderful story…I think the fact that Rob and I are getting to dance with Christine, her being so tiny and delicate and us being enormous also adds just a really great hysterical aspect to the story line. The other thing that’s funny is that the makeup is atrocious…but I think that’s all part of it, because we think we’re glamorous, we think were the most beautiful things that anyone has ever laid eyes upon, when in reality, when you take a look at us, you think…this is just awful. That’s also a major part of the role to believe that you’re beautiful knowing that you’re not. That’s what makes it really funny I think…
How do the outrageous costumes of the stepsisters help you activate the role?
The costumes are very gaudy, very big bold colors…I accessorize with the color orange. It’s a very bright color, I would say piercing on the eyes…my wig is awful. It’s like these two cones that stick straight up on the sides of my head…I am really something spectacular…You work on the faces a lot and the body movement and the body positioning, because again, I’m a man, and I’m playing the part of a woman…so I have to really think about it…when you put the costume on that’s another element that’s added and it helps you get in touch with that side. They’re very cartoonish, and I think that’s what’s really great, because you have to be really big, all of your movements have to be really big so the audience can read it.”
What are the key techniques you use to create and project the humor of your role to the audience?
I keep talking about timing and that’s a huge aspect of this. That is something that Mr. Orr has really impressed upon me, which was you can’t do everything so fast that nobody can see it….You have to give full weight and full value to each movement and it will be read much better. There are so many accents and musical cues that we have to follow…sometimes the music starts when we do a flick of the wrist and sometimes we have to bump hands at the end of a phrase, so it’s very precise. Prokofiev’s score is spectacular. I think that it’s one of the major driving forces for this ballet. Besides the beautiful scenery and costumes – and the choreography is very intricate – the music is just gorgeous. It has that seriousness to it and that idea of falling in love for the first time, and then it also has that comedic aspect, which you will hear in the music when you see the sisters dancing.
Is there a part of the stepsisters’ choreography that you find particularly funny?
There’s an entire section called the orange dance…these oranges are brought out on a pillow by the jester, and there’s this pas de trois that happens between the jester and the two sisters. To me, I think it’s hysterical because they feel almost entitled…no one else should get these oranges they belong to us. There are two oranges…so the whole scenario plays out that ultimately the two of them end up with the oranges and they scare everyone else off the stage. I think that’s one of the funniest parts.
As a stepsister, describe your interactions with Cinderella onstage.
For the most part, we think we are glamorous and we think that Cinderella is atrocious. We think she’s worthless…We just kind of throw her around…There are definitely a few signature phrases, we do a lot of pointing at her, we throw our hands in the air, we grab her dress…we mess up her hair…We have a whole scene where we’re just barraging (Cinderella and her father) with angry faces and pointing…and we do all these big grand jete lifts with her, and Rob tosses her into my arms. And again, that’s what makes it funny that here we are playing this part of women, and we’re just enormous.
What is the most challenging part of portraying, and dancing, as a woman?
I feel the biggest different in men and women are actually in their hands. The faces – we are going to the extreme when we’re doing the sisters. We’re making big, wild faces because we want that to be read. But the hands, that’s the hardest part. It’s getting a delicate look without looking like you’re trying too hard, and it’s a really fine line.
Which part of the Cinderella story resonates most with you?
I think that the story itself resonates with everyone because it’s this glimmer of hope of finding something beautiful or being discovered. That’s kind of what happens to Cinderella, and that’s what everyone wants in their life, is to be seen, to be noticed. I think that this ballet, this version, does a really good job of showing that.
As opposed to other full-length ballets, is there anything different about performing a fairy tale, and particularly Cinderella?
I think what’s great about performing this ballet is that all of the cards are on the table, and it’s your job to make it interesting. Because a fairy tale has this wonderful ending, so it’s kind of hard to mess that up. So what you have to do is keep it alive, and keep it interesting, and that’s the best part of performing a fairy tale ballet. It ends well, and you know it ends well, and the audience knows that, so it’s the journey that you have to take the audience through. That’s where the magic happens, and that’s where we get to show the audience that we’re great story tellers…Also Just the enormous amount of dancing…It’s a giant feast for dance lovers.
Now that Spring has finally arrived in Pittsburgh, are there any hobbies that you start up during the season?
I love doing yoga. When spring comes around I kind of get that excitement to go back….I also like to plant flowers and (vegetables). I take the time to do that. I’m fortunate to have a small yard. I like to plant vegetables…peppers, basil, tomatoes. (Cooking with them) is the best part.