Artist Spotlight: Lucia Figueroa

Dressed in dance clothes, hair tightly pinned in a bun, ballet student Lucia Figueroa sits hunched over a large piece of drafting paper, ruler in hand, sketching a detailed set design.

It’s a typical weekday during PBT School’s five-week Intensive Summer Program for pre-professional dancers. Yet, the 19-year-old student from El Salvador is taking a break from the dance studio to explore another artistic interest: ballet theatre set design, a new enrichment option for this year’s ISP students.  As part of the workshop, which is led by PBT Production Manager Joe Lumia, Lucia will design and construct a set for the ballet “Romeo and Juliet” on a quarter-inch scale of the Benedum Center stage. Here, Lucia discusses her background in ballet, her appreciation for every aspect of production and what brought her from El Salvador to Pittsburgh.

Artist Spotlight: PBT ISP student Lucia Figueroa

Age: 19
Hometown: San Salvador, El Salvador
Family: Lucia is the youngest of three siblings; she has an older brother and sister in El Salvador
Years Dancing: 8 years

How did you first get started in ballet?

“First I started doing rhythmic gymnastics when I was seven.  A teacher from Cuba…came to my school…and picked me for doing rhythmic gymnastics for three years (age 7-10). When I was 10, I just felt like (gymnastics) wasn’t for me…I decided to quit…my teacher was working with me so closely…so she told me if you don’t do gymnastics, at least do ballet because the same body conditions are needed. I already had training similar to ballet. So my mom took me to the dance school where I go now (Ballet del Salvador). Then, when I first got there I liked ballet, but it wasn’t something I thought I would love like I do now. Then I had my first performance, which was Nutcracker. I was friend of Clara and I was a candy in second act. I just loved it. I fell in love with ballet since that time I performed. I just love being in the theater and getting a pretty costume, which of course for me was amazing because I was 11 years old (at the time) ….and the music of Nutcracker is so wonderful. I just felt that there was magic onstage and I really enjoyed what I was doing.  So I decided I wanted to be a dancer.”

What prompted you to choose PBT School’s ISP for your training program this summer?

“I’ve always been looking for training outside my country. I have some friends here and they told me that PBT’s really good. I’ve just always been curious for PBT; I wanted to know what it was like. I’ve heard so many good things and see that the company is really good. I was in Washington when the auditions took place, so I decided to take an audition, and I really loved it. It was with (PBT School Co-director Marjorie Grundvig) and her class was really good, so I got into the program and I was really happy to come here.

I liked how (Grundvig) gave corrections that were so into details that many times (instructors) won’t tell you. She really focused on the small things that are probably what makes the difference between a student and a professional dancer. I really like teachers that go deep into details. She’s so nice too!”

So far, what are some key things that you’ve learned through ISP?

“I’ve learned that that in your movements there needs to be a lot of sharpness and sometimes you need to have contrast. Some things you would do even and then some other things would have more accents, and that’s what makes it more rich. And also to focus on the details like heels forward, and the arms and the head and the port de bras and to listen to the music and to dance really on the music so that it looks like your body is making the music, not just that there is music there and you’re moving.”

What made you decide to sign up for the set design workshop?

“I have to say I’m in love with theater. All of the theater is a wonderful place to me – the stage, the audience. Set design is something that I’ve always wanted to do. It’s part of the magic of each performance and of each ballet. It’s something that makes it more unique. You can make such a better performance when the scenery and the set design are well done. So since I was little I always liked that stuff, I’m kind of into the artistic areas. I’m doing “Romeo and Juliet” for my set design and it’s been really exciting. Juliet is one of my dream roles...I wanted to pick a ballet that I loved…and I like the setting of the story because it’s in the 15th century in Italy, and I just love the architecture of that period because it’s kind of gothic and medieval still. Architecture is something I really like too. “Romeo and Juliet” is just so romantic.”

What are some interesting things that the workshop has taught you so far?

“First of all the names of everything on stage – the backdrop, the legs, the border. I knew the names in Spanish…but when (Production Manager Joe Lumia) was first talking about it, I was like, ‘What is that?’ I have no idea in English. But then I went through the vocabulary. We use a ¼-inch scale for the model that we’re building. It’s actually more difficult than you’d think. …the pieces have to stand up and be proportioned. You have to use real measures…you have to give it a size. It’s been really fun. I love to do that…When I was in school I took a year of visual arts. I used to paint, so I’m used to doing sketches. I’ve always liked it.”

What motivates you to travel so far from home to immerse yourself in ballet?
“What motivates me is my love for dance. I really want to improve; I really want to be the best dancer I can be. I’m always looking for new dancing opportunities and training, and I know here there are wonderful teachers. I think the environment is so enriching too.  It’s such a good experience to be surrounded by so many good dancers; they’re from all over the U.S., some international. You can always learn so much from every teacher and from every dancer. It’s a really good experience. It is intimidating at some point because I came here alone. There are probably one or two people that speak Spanish. But, I don’t know, it’s part of the challenge. It’s something that in the end is going to make me a better person and a better dancer."

 Above: Figueroa begins laying out her set design on a
to-scale model of the Benedum Center stage.