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By Karen McDonough
Her musicality and dramatic ability make her a standout.
Smart, expressive, and focused, Chelsy Meiss first caught the eye of Alexei Ratmansky when he set his Russian Seasons on the National Ballet of Canada last year. He chose Meiss, still in the corps de ballet, for the yearning woman in green. Impressed with her dramatic range, he picked her again to be one of the Juliets in his new production of Romeo and Juliet for the company’s 60th anniversary, and she convincingly captured the role’s sweet intensity.
Now in her fourth season with the company, Meiss’ strong technique and fearlessness have made her one to watch. “Chelsy’s extremely dramatic and very musical,” says Karen Kain, NBC’s artistic director. “She has a great understanding of how to infuse drama into her movement, and a true sense of what she’s trying to convey even in abstract work.”
At 25, the tall, slender Melbourne, Australia, native has long legs, big, breezy jumps, and a natural turning ability. Before dancing Juliet, one of her dream roles, she was promoted to second soloist.
When she was 3, Meiss took jazz, tap, and ballet at her mother’s studio, the Karen Curlis School of Dance in Melbourne. She went on to train at the Thelma Williams School of Dance, and at 15 was accepted into the Australian Ballet School in Melbourne, affiliated with The Australian Ballet.
Meiss felt disappointed when she didn’t get into The Australian Ballet, but started auditioning for companies overseas. When San Diego Ballet offered her a contract in 2005, she jumped at the chance. She spent three years as a principal, but longed for the repertoire that a larger company could offer. A colleague spoke highly of NBC’s blend of classical and contemporary. Meiss sent an audition DVD, and after taking class with the company, she was offered a contract.
Her early training has been a clear advantage. “Being exposed to different forms of dance helps me be more versatile,” Meiss says. “One rehearsal will have Sleeping Beauty and the next Jorma Elo. It allows me not to be pigeonholed.”
She joined the corps in 2008, and a year later won the company’s Patron Award of Merit. Her energetic approach to class and rehearsal is a natural part of her drive. “When she comes into the studio, she’s totally passionate about her work,” says Magdalena Popa, the National Ballet’s artistic coach, who worked with Meiss in the Juliet role. “She also continues to work on her own, so at the next rehearsal she’s even more prepared.”
While she’d love to perform Odette/Odile, Meiss has already accomplished her dream of dancing Juliet. Working with Ratmansky was a huge bonus. “When he was creating the ballet, he’d tailor certain things to you,” she says. “He said for me to turn my hip in a way that made something I did a little different from the other Juliets. He gave me this upper body dropping exercise that helped me become more relaxed and free.”
Meiss’ dedication should pave the way to similar roles in coming seasons. “Chelsy is progressing in a wonderful way because of her hard work and intelligence,” Kain says. “People see something special in her and give her chances—and she doesn’t disappoint.”
Karen McDonough is a Dallas-based arts writer.
Fearless and expressive: National Ballet of Canada’s Chelsy Meiss was cast as one of Ratmansky’s Juliets. Photo by Sian Richards, Courtesy NBC.