A Bollywood-Style "Bayadère"

This interview originally appeared in the October 16 Pointe e-newsletter. To sign up for the newsletter, click here.

This month, the Joffrey Ballet presents Stanton Welch's production of La Bayadère for the first time. Pointe's e-news spoke with 22-year-old Jeraldine Mendoza, who will make her debut as Nikiya this Saturday, about learning the ballet.

When did you find out you'd been cast as Nikiya?
Actually, toward the end of last season, my director, Ashley Wheater, was saying things like, "You'd better work on those bourrées--there are a lot of bourrées in Bayadère!" He kept dropping little hints that I'd be doing something big in the ballet.

You trained at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow, and this is a ballet with a strong Russian tradition.
I've seen the Bolshoi do Bayadère, and I've tried to incorporate not only their dancers' precision, but also the passion they put into their acting. I'm constantly looking at videos on YouTube, especially of Svetlana Zakharova, my favorite Nikiya. In school, we also learned the various variations from the Kingdom of the Shades, so I'm very familiar with the ballet, which definitely helps.

How different is Stanton Welch's version from the Russian classic?

His third act is more traditional, Russian-style ballet, but he really puts his mark on the first act, especially the choreography for the temple dancers and Nikiya and Solor's first pas de deux. There are a lot of tricks--it's really technical. There are also real snakes, although fortunately I don't have to deal with them! There's a snake handler who comes on--it's really cool. Actually, the snakes are very friendly. We've had fun with the snakes.

You joined the Joffrey just a couple of years ago, and have already had several featured roles. How have you dealt with the pressure?
Honestly, I have no idea! I do tend to keep to myself on big performance days, because I get extremely nervous before the show. When I'm onstage, though, it all goes away. It's just the first five steps on that are bad--once I'm out there, I'm much more comfortable.