Movers & Shapers: Remembering Agnes De Mille with Elizabeth Ferrell and Jenna Rae Herrera

By May 9, 2023Podcast

PODCAST 156: Remembering Agnes De Mille with Elizabeth Ferrell and Jenna Rae Herrera

Beth Ferrell in Rodeo

Release Date: 5.8.23


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Remembering Agnes De Mille with Elizabeth Ferrell and Jenna Rae Herrera

Episode 156: Show Notes.

Today’s episode is a special one, where we look back and remember world-renowned dancer, choreographer, writer, lecturer, and director, Agnes De Mille. Agnes had a successful, yet tempestuous, career that spanned almost 70 years through the world of 20th-century American theater and ballet. We take a look at her through the eyes of Elizabeth Ferrell, formerly a member of the American Ballet Theater, and Jenna Rae Herrera, a principal artist with Ballet West. We hear their recollections of working with De Mille in the studio and performing her work, and we listen to their insights about how the course of American dance was forever changed by her. Stay tuned for a lively conversation about Agnes De Mille and her long-lasting impact; creating strong-willed American female roles. Enjoy!

Key Points From This Episode:

  • Beth shares a short (but detailed) biography of Agnes De Mille; Agnes in a nutshell.
  • More about Beth, her background, and how she became part of De Mille’s work.
  • Beth tells listeners about De Mille’s personality (both in the studio and on stage).
  • Jenna talks about her background in dance and career at Ballet West.
  • Jenna tells us about learning her role in Rodeo and how it helped her grow as an artist.
  • The process of learning the Rodeo material (and hearing the narrative from Agnes herself).
  • Jenna shares her experience learning work that was made decades ago (and translating it to her body and the company).
  • We hear Beth’s experience doing De Mille’s work, both the physical experience and the learning process.
  • Jenna and Beth reminisce about their time performing The Cow Girl in the Rodeo
  • Why Rodeo was set on ballet companies (as opposed to other genres of dance).
  • Their thoughts on why De Mille’s work has become timeless and why it’s still being performed today.

“She was really ahead of her time, there’s still a real push to nurture and push female choreographers and women’s voices [today] — and here she is in the 1940s choosing her own music, dancers, costumes, set designs, and was calling the shots.” — Elizabeth Ferrell

Elizabeth Ferrell was born in St. Louis, Missouri and began her early training with Alexandra Zaharias.  At age 14, she was awarded a Ford Foundation Scholarship to study at the School of American Ballet and upon graduation was chosen by Peter Martins to receive the Danish American National Cultures Exchange scholarship to study with the Royal Danish Ballet.  In 1985, Elizabeth was invited by Mikhail Baryshnikov to become a member of American Ballet Theatre where she danced from 1985 to 1998.  During that time she appeared in much of the classical and contemporary repertory and worked with such esteemed choreographers as Sir Kenneth MacMillan, Paul Taylor, Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, Anthony Tudor, Lar Lubovitch, Glen Tetley, Mark Morris, Ben Stevenson, Natalia Makarova, Kevin McKenzie, Clark Tippet, Ronald Hynd, Twyla Tharp and Agnes de Mille.  She has also performed with the Pennsylvania Ballet, Eglevsky Ballet, New York City Opera, Alessandra Ferri’s “Stars of the American Ballet”, Papermill Playhouse, Muny Opera, Goodspeed Opera, and most recently Hong Kong Ballet.  She can be seen in five “Dance in America” broadcasts for PBS and appeared in Herbert Ross‘ movie “Dancers” and Frederick Wiseman’s documentary “Ballet.”  Elizabeth took part in the inaugural teacher training program of ABT’s National Training Curriculum and is now an ABT certified instructor.  She has taught at such institutions as Ballet Hispanico in New York, Danceworks in London, and the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts, as well as guest taught at ballet schools in the U.S., London and Hong Kong.  She is currently on the faculty of the American Ballet Theatre Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School.

In addition, Beth has danced the following roles in Agnes de Mille works:

DeMille workshop- 1998: Allegro, A Rose For Miss Emily

With American Ballet Theatre: The Informer– 1988 original cast- was in corps and the female lead- The Girl, Rodeo– 1989 ABT revival- was an Eastern Friend and the Cowgirl, 3 Virgins and a Devil– 1993 ABT revival- The Fanatical One, The Other– 1992- the corps, Fall River Legend– the corps

Musical Theater- Brigadoon– 1996 revival NY City Opera- Jean Maclaren

Jenna Rae Herrera in Rodeo (photo Beau Pearson)

Jenna Rae Herrera is from Ontario, California.  She joined Ballet West II in 2007 and the main company in 2010.  Jenna was promoted to Demi-Soloist in 2015, to Soloist in 2016, to First Soloist in 2020, and to Principal in 2021.  She trained under Cynthia Young, Laurence Blake, and Randall Graham.  Jenna’s favorite leading roles she’s danced with Ballet West include Balanchine’s Rubies, Forsythe’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, Olga in Cranko’s Onegin, and Juliet in Smuin’s Romeo + Juliet.  Jenna is also on faculty with the Ballet West Academy and has taught at the Ballet West Academy Summer Intensive, as well as at the Brigham Young University Advanced Ballet Intensive.  She is currently enrolled at the University of Utah with the hopes of obtaining a bachelor’s in the Fine Arts.

Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode:

Jenna Rae Herrera

Jenna Rae Herrera on Instagram

Elizabeth Ferrell

Elizabeth Ferrell on Instagram

Agnes De Mille

Agnes De Mille Books

Dance to the Piper

Podcast produced by: The Moving Architects
Interviewer: Erin Carlisle Norton