Extract from cover feature interview with ENB dancer, Opal Holloway.
How would you categorise yourself as a dancer?
I wouldn't, you know. I'm no fool, though - I'm aware that I'm especially recognised for my skills in the neo-classical and modern repertory. And I've got no complaints about that! Dancing the Little Mermaid with San Francisco Ballet was definitely a highlight in my career, because I love and respect the choreographic strengths of John Neumeier so much. But I'm not lost when it comes to the classical ballets. It's the other way around; sometimes I really fear the ballet world finds that the classical parts are lost on me.
Because of your ethnicity?
It's got a bitter taste to it, doesn't it? To say. But yeah, definitely. Female dancers of colour have begun emerging on the international stage now, but that doesn't mean we won't run into bias and misconceptions. I'm proud that I've gotten to where I am, but I don't want to blind myself either. Yes, Misty Copeland of the ABT has danced Odette/Odile and it's a big step, but there are still parts that I imagine we won't get within a ten-feet radius of during my life time.
The Sylph in La Sylphide. Honestly, I'll probably dance Lady of the Camellias, before I'm cast as the Sylph.
The Sylph is listed as one of your dream roles. Why?
It comes back to my image, I think. I was so, so incredibly lucky to be chosen for Gamzatti and I loved to dance that particular part, too. It was a great classical role and it gave me the opportunity to prove myself as a classical ballerina. However, in the aftermath, I often found myself thinking: While I loved dancing Gamzatti, why couldn't I be chosen to dance Nikiya? Nikiya is an adagio-type role, where Gamzatti is more flashy. Although well-meant, I think it's a misjudgement of my abilities to believe that I couldn't pull off adagio just as well. The Sylph is the epitome of, if not the adagio-type ballerina, then the frail, waif-like dancer. See-through. White. The Sylph is a dream role of mine, because if I get to dance the Sylph, I can prove once and for all that black ballerinas fit into that mould as well.
The other two roles listed are Marguerite Gautier from Neumeier's The Lady of the Camellias and Carmen from Alonso's Carmen Suite. Do you care to elaborate on why you picked those when asked?
Well, if the Sylph is my racial empowerment part, Marguerite is all about the character. Neumeier is a genius when it comes to an emotionally-charged, choreographic language and Lady of the Camellias is his masterpiece. I want to show the audience that I can be more than strong technique and contemporary motion. I want them to see that I can convey emotion. I'm not just someone to make your laugh with some slap-on attitude. Or take your breath away with a couple of high kicks. I can bring out every feeling in the spectrum and I would have to, dancing Marguerite. Carmen's a bit different. I don't only want to dance Carmen because it's Maya Plisetskaya's role, although that's part of the appeal. I want to dance Carmen, because of the dancing itself. If Marguerite was all about acting, Carmen is definitely all about dancing. The choreography suits my style perfectly and everything has to be delivered precisely and to the point for the piece to come together. That's the thing, you see. Yes, I want to be an advocate and inspiration for other black dancers, but I also want to be acknowledged for my skills both as a dramatic and a technically talented dancer. I want to represent all that and that's why those three roles are on the top of my list.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
The ENB has been good to me, career-wise. I have no plans of switching companies at this point. I love the touring aspect of it as well, seeing the entire country and the world. In the ENB, I'm recognised and appreciated for what I can bring to the table and I hope this will continue being the case, also five years from now. As for career advancement? I don't know. Most professional dancers want to go all the way, I suppose, and I do as well, but it's not all or nothing. Making principal would be wonderful and a grand gesture for me personally, as well as on a broader scale. But if I don't make principal, I'll still love to dance and enjoy adding my tiny slice of awesomeness to the general awesomeness of the entire group.