Meet the Matildas
The Royal Shakespeare Company production of Matilda: The Musical. (Manuel Harlan)
Have you read Roald Dahl’s Matilda, or seen the 1996 movie? If you have, it’s safe to say you’ve tried to will glasses of water or pieces of chalk to move on their own. The story’s tiny title character with supernatural brainpower has been sparking kids’ imaginations for years. And now there’s a whole new way to get inspired by Matilda: in song and dance! Matilda: The Musical, which has been running for more than a year at the Cambridge Theatre in London, begins previews on Broadway March 4. And four young standouts are living the dream, rotating performances as the show’s leading lady. Dance Spirit chatted with Milly Shapiro, Oona Laurence, Bailey Ryon and Sophia Gennusa about what it’s really like to be the star of this fun-filled show.
Milly Shapiro, 10
Three words that describe you: Fun, happy, believer
What was the Matilda audition process like? It was crazy. I think I had nine auditions! Every time, I’d go to the studio early in the morning, wait, audition, get called back, and then continue the process. It went on like that until we found out who the four Matildas were.
Have you been on Broadway before? No, but I’ve dreamed of this opportunity for a long time. I thought it might happen when I turned 16. I’m six years early!
What are your hobbies when you’re not onstage? Storytelling. I also love to create original fashion designs. One day I hope to have my own company called M .
Oona Laurence, 10
Three words that describe you: Grounded, imaginative, friendly
How did you feel when you learned you’d been cast as Matilda? I was in the bathroom at a restaurant, so I couldn’t make much noise. But I felt honored to get the part, and I wanted to scream.
Do you have a favorite part of the show? Probably when Bruce eats the cake, or the song “Revolting Children.” Also, I like when I make the glass lift up. I can’t choose!
Do you have any hidden talents? I’m good at making scrambled eggs.
Bailey Ryon, 10
Three words that describe you: Funny, creative, friendly
What was your favorite part of the Matilda audition? We played lots of games, and I liked all of it. The best was probably when they made me throw a chair across the room.
Is there a part of the show you’re nervous about? Not really, but we do a lot of acrobatics, so I’m a little worried I’ll fall over and hurt myself. I did gymnastics when I was 5 or 6, and I fell off a balance beam and broke my arm.
What’s something most people don’t know about you? I can touch my nose with my tongue.
Sophia Gennusa, 9
Three words that describe you: Compassionate, positive, humorous
Have you seen the movie version of Matilda? Yes, I have. Miss Trunchbull’s a little scary. But I like it anyway.
What’s your favorite thing to do besides performing? Dancing. Well, that is performing, so I’ll say archery.
What’s the most exciting part about playing Matilda? I like that even though she’s the smallest in her grade, she can still do a lot. My favorite number is “Naughty,” because it’s about how kids are important even though we’re small.
Harper Watters is a ballet dancer for today's generation. A social media maestro and a charismatic performer, the Houston Ballet soloist is equally at home in front of the camera hosting his hit YouTube series, "The Pre Show"; interacting with fans on his crazy-popular Instagram account; or showing off his beautiful classical technique onstage. It's a multifaceted identity that's proven to be invaluable to his career—and it's taking him to places he never even dreamed of.
Getting corrections from our dance instructors is how we grow, and as students, it's important that we do our best to apply every correction right away. But sometimes—whether it's because we're in physical pain, or have a lot on our minds, or are just not paying attention—those corrections don't sink in. And from a teacher's standpoint, giving the same corrections time and time again gets old very fast. Here are 10 important corrections dance teachers are tired of giving. Take them to heart!
Summer intensive auditions can be nerve-racking. A panel of directors is watching your every move, and you're not even sure if you can be seen among the hundreds of other dancers in the room. We asked five summer intensive directors for their input on how dancers can make a positive impression—and even be remembered next year.
When we think of a dancer who's broken barriers, American Ballet Theatre principal Misty Copeland tends to be the name that comes to mind. And though Copeland has been a crucial advocate for equality in the world of ballet, Raven Wilkinson—a mentor of Copeland's—is considered one of the original pioneers of the movement.
In 1955, Wilkinson became the first African American to dance with the renowned Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Her fortitude in the face of bigotry and hate cemented her legacy. Now, with the release of the new children's book Trailblazer: The Story of Ballerina Raven Wilkinson, a new generation of dancers will be inspired by her tale of overcoming obstacles to achieve a dream.
The book details Wilkinson's life, from her experience as a young dancer training in Harlem, to her run-ins with the Ku Klux Klan while on tour with Ballet Russe, to her later ballet career in Europe. "There were times where my heart really hurt because of the situations I had to deal with," she says. "But I always had faith that I was made to be a dancer and that I was gonna dance."
Dance Spirit spoke with Wilkinson to discuss the new book and get her take on racial equality within the ballet world.
Postmodern pioneer Trisha Brown redefined how dance is seen and felt. A founding member of Judson Dance Theater, Brown frequently collaborated with other experimental artists like Yvonne Rainer, Merce Cunningham, Twyla Tharp, and Steve Paxton.
She embraced pedestrian movement, pairing everyday gesture with rhythm and fluidity. "It's liquid," says Wendy Perron, who danced with Brown in the '60s and '70s. "Like a river with many tributaries, water coming out of a faucet, or being on a raft and seeing the water move away in different directions." Brown also pushed beyond stages with choreography in fields, museums—even on the sides of buildings.
There's a common misconception that a dancer's body has to be thin. But the truth is that talent knows no body type, and the number on the scale never determines an artist's capabilities. Here are some extraordinary dancers fighting the stereotype of what a dancer "should" look like.
We always love a good halftime performance. And we LIVE for halftime performances involving talented kids. (Fingers and toes crossed that Justin Timberlake follows Missy Elliott's lead and invites some fabulous littles to share his Super Bowl stage.)
So obviously, our hearts completely melted for 5-year-old Tavaris Jones. Tavaris may have just started kindergarten, but during Monday night's game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, the Detroit native danced with the panache of a veteran pro at halftime.