Three sisters—Alison, Kristin and Lisa Jantzie—talk about being Radio City Rockettes
The Jantzie sisters are the Rockettes’ triple threat
Thu Dec 5 2013
What do you think you were doing wrong in the first two auditions?
Lisa: With this job there are a limited number of positions that become available every year, but definitely after my experience with the Rockettes—this is my fourth season now—I had to change my approach. This is a different kind of dancing compared to other theater dancing or jazz dancing. You think you’re hitting all the movements as hard as you possibly can, but you find through years of experience and rehearsals and dancing next to somebody else who has that edge that there is more to refine. You can always keep working on the dynamic and that’s why there are so many Rockettes that come back year after year. It doesn’t get easier or boring.
Kristin: I remember being in the room with so many tall, beautiful women. Everyone seemed to be picking up the choreography, but Linda definitely has an eye for all the details she’s given, and she has a very specific style. You have to let go of your own personal hang-ups or stylistic tendencies and just understand her vision. In terms of the dynamics of the choreography, sometimes when you’re dancing other styles and hit something, you then let the line grow. We do that also, especially in the newer choreography, but in this technique you have to learn how to really be sharp.
Alison: And be able to tell a story in a way.
Lisa: And be precise.
Kristin: Yeah. It is just a completely different style. In terms of dancing sharp and having clean lines, of course we all had to learn the Rockette style, but the type of jazz that we had growing up—
Alison: It definitely lends itself to the style of the Rockettes.
Kristin: It wasn’t an embellished style that we were learning from the get-go. We didn’t learn that until we were older and getting closer to becoming professionals. Dancers should branch out when they’re training and try everything to really figure out [what they like], but if there was a technique that might bring you straight here, how we trained really branches into what this is.
What was it?
Kristin: It was a syllabus created by Brian Foley in Canada.
Alison: It had a really technical base. There was barre for jazz, and it was a great training program to understand line.
What did you mean about telling a story as a Rockette?
Alison: Each dancer has to have her own intention with the choreography. Otherwise you just look static, you look stale—your face is pasted on. In Snow, some of the dancing is in unison and some is a little more free. The idea behind the number is that all snowflakes are individual, and in it, all of the Rockettes are unique. We have different costumes and backgrounds and styles, but when we come together, we’re dancing as one.
Kristin: It creates really beautiful pictures. The number is neat. Not everyone starts on the same count. At the beginning, everyone is at a different part in the choreography; all of a sudden eight counts happen and we are more in unison and then as we keep going, the dancing becomes unison. At the end, you get a kick line, but not a traditional one. We are not actually linked up. Our line is staggered; we do our eye-high kicks, but we have arm choreography. We’re switching directions. It really fills the stage.
Lisa: One great thing about the number is that it shows we all have our individual strengths. But even in New York at Christmas, which is probably the most traditional Rockette number, we’re performing on a bus, and we’re doing mostly arm choreography, and if you can’t bring some experience of acting, of what is going on in the scene, it doesn’t make sense.
Kristin: It’s not just enough to do all the choreography perfectly. So even though the precision is really important, because that’s what you’re seeing as an overall picture, I would say that as you watch each individual Rockette, they have more going on than—
Lisa: Just counts.
Coming from musical theater, what is your approach? How do you like to think about being a Rockette?
Alison: That’s one of the greatest things about this. You get the challenge of really difficult choreography and also the tradition of numbers that have been in the show since its inception like The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers, and also newer choreography. All of it is extremely challenging, but at the same time you get to experience it from a storytelling perspective. Even with The Twelve Days of Christmas, which is a tap number—we’re counting down the 12 days—there are so many conversations we’ve had about the feeling or the emotion behind each day. Every time you go out onstage, it does evolve a little bit and change, which is sort of a beautiful thing, because it’s never the same thing every day. That’s what I personally love most about the show: the variety from one number to the other.
Kristin: I was thinking about that the other day: You have to get yourself into a different mode for each number. You go from a reindeer to a tap dancer and then you’re a wooden soldier and then you are a woman when we come on for New York at Christmas. And then you’re part of a video game and then you’re wearing a fat Santa suit. [Laughs]