One of North Carolina Dance Theatre’s newest—and brightest—ballerinas takes the stage in this month’s Innovative Works. The formidable and fresh-faced Emily Ramirez, who debuted with the company this season, is a Texas native who spent the last eight years with Ohio’s BalletMet Columbus. We caught up with the 28-year-old performer to talk small companies and big breaks.
What brought you to town? I was ready for a change. I wanted to move into a slightly smaller company. There’s more responsibility this way. In a larger company, even if you’re ranked highly, you might have entire shows where you’re not used much.
You’ve had some pretty big roles though—like Swan Lake’s Odile or the Sugarplum Fairy in the Nutcracker. Any favorites? I love Kitri from Don Quixote. I performed an excerpt when I was touring in Europe when I was younger. It’s red and flashy and Spanish and passionate. That’s my cup of tea.
Any role that you saw as your big break? There was a role as Marquise de Merteuil in David Nixon’s Dangerous Liaisons. I was made a third cast understudy, but I rehearsed every single day as if I was going to do it. David Nixon actually came in a week before we ran the show. He saw me practicing and decided he wanted to see me do the next run through as the Marquise. I did an entire run through and he decided that I would perform it. It was one of those now or never moments.
What about the original Marquise? She never even got to show her work. I felt rotten about it. It could have blown up. But she’s a lady and I’m a lady and she was really gracious. We chose to be adults about it.
All sounds very Black Swan. Is there any truth in Hollywood’s portrayal of the ballet world? It’s not surprising that Black Swan has done as well as it has because doesn’t everyone love a catfight? In order to have a productive career in the real world what I’ve learned is that no matter how well or poorly everyone does around me, it doesn’t make me a better dancer. I try not to be distracted by other people’s success or failure.
Anything else those of us outside of the dance world get wrong? I think first and foremost I’ve met a lot of dance fans who think that we don’t eat—that we’re always starving. As much as I eat healthily, I do eat a lot of food. I think people are surprised to hear that. They also think that we’re reserved and listen to classical music and we’re introverted. Not true. The most fun people to hang out with and party with are dancers. We’re full of life and energy.