Hannah Carter of England is eagerly anticipating her first season with PBT as a new corps de ballet member. Hannah graduated from the Royal Ballet School in London, danced professionally with the Estonian National Ballet, and now is enjoying everything Pittsburgh has to offer – from exploring the Strip District to attending a Mumford & Sons concert! Hannah is looking forward to an exciting mix of contemporary and classical pieces this season, as well as new works she can add to her repertoire. Get to know Hannah in this Q&A.
Hometown: Essex, England
Backstage Ritual: I like to make sure I’m properly warm, and I’m constantly checking my ribbons if I’m wearing pointe shoes before I go onstage — it’s like a nervous twitch!
Top-played song on your iPod right now: Probably a Mumford & Sons song
Non-ballet hobby: Does shopping count as a hobby? Also, painting my nails. I’m constantly painting my nails – three times a week at least!
Family: I’ve got two younger sisters, and we’re very close.
Favorite Role: I loved being one of the five girls in Balanchine’s Who Cares?
Favorite Food: Sweets
What are three things in your ballet bag right now? I have my shoes, a Thera-Band, and I usually have some sweets to get me through — Swedish Fish are my favorite!
Your first production at PBT is An Evening of Twyla Tharp…Is this a particularly challenging or rewarding work to start with? Have you had experience performing contemporary works before?
Yes, it’s definitely challenging and rewarding. For me, it’s especially challenging because I’ve never really felt like contemporary is my strong suit. I’ve done contemporary at school and everything and I’m really enjoying it, but it’s really hard and definitely challenging. When I’m learning a ballet piece, learning the steps is quite easy for me, so putting the corrections in is what I really focus on. But what makes In the Upper Room so challenging is that I have to think about what each step is because the contemporary style doesn’t come as naturally for me, as well as trying to put in corrections.
Frank Sinatra is an American icon; Did you listen to him at all in England?
I did know Sinatra and his music before coming here — I like it!
Which ballet are you most looking forward to this season?
I’ve never done Don Quixote, so I’m quite excited to do that. It’s a new one for me. It’s just exciting because when I was in school I did a lot of work with the Royal Ballet Company and then in Estonia, so I’ve definitely had a good amount of different repertory. It’s nice to do a classic that I’ve never actually done before.
The ballets this season present some iconic scenes for the corps. From your experience, what is it like rehearsing for corps scenes such as the Snowflakes in The Nutcracker or the swan scenes in Swan Lake? Describe the challenge of achieving that level of unity and synchronization.
It’s really just working together – us as dancers and the teacher, but especially the girls in Swan Lake and The Nutcracker. It’s just really listening to each other and following each other. You have to let two people be the leaders because there are two sides of the corps: There’s one on one side and one on the other. Also, there’s a front girl, and she controls the whole thing. So you have to allow her to be the leader. Then, it’s just listening to what other people have to say and taking on their corrections and applying your own. I think it’s incredible to watch a corps that’s so perfectly together. I think a corps de ballet makes the whole piece. It gives me shivers if it’s perfect. I personally prefer to see lines where everyone’s heads and arms are in exactly the same place, and their legs are at exactly the same height. Some people have to hold back instead of going to their full extremities, and I think that makes it look incredible because things look exactly the same.
How do you get in the zone before a performance or a particularly challenging rehearsal day?
I like to really warm up before class. I do some Pilates exercises, and I try to work every muscle before I stand up. I do a little bit of stretching, but I don’t really like to stretch too much before class.
When was your ballet epiphany, or the moment you knew you wanted to perform professionally?
I’m not really sure. I started at a small dance school after school every day, and I loved it. It was incredible. Then I went to Elmhurst School for Dance, which is the same kind of school as Royal Ballet School, when I was 11. I started at the Royal Ballet School when I was 16 and went to boarding school there. I went to my old dance school last summer and taught a class, and I had my teacher ask me if I could answer a few questions at the end. So I had everyone sit down, and someone asked that same question. I said, “I don’t know,” but my mom had walked in, and said when I was doing a competition when I was younger, the adjudicator said I was really good at this and this is what I should do. So, I said OK, and I’ve been dancing ever since!
In 3 words, describe what dance means to you.
That’s really hard! I guess movement is one, and ease, it’s so nice to watch a dancer look like dancing is easy and comes naturally, and strength.
If I wasn’t a ballet dancer, I would be…
I’ve never even thought about it, really, because I’ve only ever danced my whole life.
After a long day of rehearsing or performing, what is your go-to relaxation activity?
I just like to go home and chill. I like to be around people all the time, so if I’m around a lot of people, I find it relaxing.
How do you like Pittsburgh so far?
I came in the middle of April, and I love it here. I love all the people, and work, and the city is great. I went and saw the Mumford & Sons concert with the company, which was amazing! I also just like to walk around the Strip District and Walnut Street – I love it around there.
You’ve danced with fellow new corps de ballet member William Moore, both at the Royal Ballet School and then for two years at the Estonian National Ballet. What was it like coming here already knowing him?
It was really nice. It’s scary to move so far away from home. Estonia was far – it was the other side of Europe – but it’s nothing like being this far away. So it’s nice to come and know someone and have that part just sort of sorted out for a little bit, and being able to rely on him is amazing. And I think my mom and dad felt better about me moving halfway across the world knowing that I knew someone!
How is your experience at PBT so far?
I love it. I love the company, and everyone is incredible. I’ve made such good friends in such a short amount of time. Everyone was so welcoming when [Will and I] first got here, which was really nice. When we first got here, everyone was coming up and introducing themselves, and it was overwhelming trying to remember everyone’s names! But just the fact that everyone made such a point and an effort to include us and really welcome us was really, really, nice.