Manassas ballet dancer to retire after leading role in “Giselle” | Lifestyles
Since the age of 5, Julianne Russell dreamed of becoming a ballet dancer.
And over the past 20 years, Russell has had a rewarding career as a professional ballet dancer working for prestigious regional ballet companies including the Ballet Theater of Maryland in Annapolis and the Manassas Ballet Theater.
But Russell, now 31, said it was finally time to retire. For her final performance, she will star in Manassas Ballet Theater’s upcoming production of “Giselle” – a classic, romantic ballet about the power of true love – which premieres in mid-May.
“It’s such a big role to play,” said Russell, who joined the Manassas Ballet as a company dancer in 2012.
Russell was once a stunt double for the role of Giselle when Manassas Ballet did the production in 2015, and she always wanted to play the role herself.
Luckily, when the show opens on May 14, Russell will perform to a socially distant audience of over 200 people in the 1,123-seat Main Theater at the Hylton Performing Arts Center.
The last two performances of the Manassas Ballet, “Nutcracker“and “Peter & The Wolf and more“, Were also performed in front of a live audience. But Virginia’s COVID-19 guidelines at the time allowed the Hylton to have a maximum of 75 people in the audience for each performance.
Amy Wolfe, artistic director of the Manassas Ballet, said that while the audience will be larger for “Giselle,” the ballet company is still limited in the number of dancers it can have on stage.
So, in what has become a COVID-19 tradition, Wolfe has split his dancers into two separate casts in accordance with updated state safety guidelines. This means Russell will be co-starring with one of his colleagues, Kaitlin Frankenfield, who will play Giselle with the second cast.
“So I doubled it again and this time we’re down to four shows, so each cast can do it twice,” Wolfe said.
Russell said sharing the role with Frankenfield was wonderful.
“She has danced the role before and shared a lot of character and dance ideas with me,” Russell added. “We really help each other as much as possible, and Kaitlin has taught me a lot. She’s also one of my closest friends in the business, so it was really special to work so closely together for my last performance.
Russell will play the role of Giselle at the premiere on Friday May 14, then perform on the morning of Saturday May 15. Frankenfield will play Giselle for the Saturday night and Sunday shows.
The performances will not have a live orchestra but will use recorded music, Wolfe said. Members of the public will also be required to wear a mask and follow social distancing guidelines, and no gatherings will be allowed in the lobby before or after the show.
Despite these restrictions, Wolfe and Russell said they are confident the performance will remain magical for those who see it in person.
“Giselle is such a layered character,” Russell said. “She goes through so many different emotions throughout the show, and I’m really excited to try to connect with that and… for the audience to feel what she’s feeling.
Russell said ballet dancers generally retire at a young age. Nonetheless, she plans to keep ballet a part of her life after leaving Manassas Ballet.
“I will spend more on the costume designer, both for Manassas [Ballet] and elsewhere, and continues to teach [ballet]Russell said. “And then also, I worked on my personal training certification. I would like to use that to help dancers and for cross training and injury prevention and rehabilitation and things like that. So I really want to stay close to the dance world.
Wolfe said she was delighted that Russell was ready to continue teaching at the Ballet Academy at the Manassas Ballet Theater, where Russell currently teaches, at least once a week and helps with costume design for professional performance.
“We absolutely loved having him here,” Wolfe said. “[Russel] is a beautiful dancer and a beautiful person, and an amazing team member…. She really wants to continue to be part of the Manassas ballet family, and I’m delighted.
Russell said she doesn’t plan to continue professional ballet as a dancer and that Giselle will be her last show.
“But never say never,” she added.