January 25, 2006: A moment with...
Natasha Kalimada ’07 and Ben Mains ’06
What better way to explore the arts at Princeton than to talk to two of the University’s budding artists? Natasha Kalimada ’07 is a sociology major and dancer who had a lead role in Le Pas d’Acier, the “lost ballet” by Prokofiev that was staged last year at McCarter’s Berlind Theatre. Ben Mains ’06 is an English major and actor who has starred in productions at Theatre Intime and other venues. They recently spoke with PAW’s Mark F. Bernstein ’83.
What were your arts experiences before coming to Princeton?
NK: I’ve been dancing since I was 4. I have a strong classical background in ballet, and in summers during high school I trained with the American Ballet Theater. So one of my hardest decisions was whether to pursue dancing professionally or go to college.
BM: I had a really strong theater department in my high school in California, and we learned a wide range of techniques. We’d do two or three productions a year and go to state competitions as well.
Why did you choose Princeton over a more traditional arts school?
NK: In addition to dance, I was also involved in the International Baccalaureate Program in high school, so I was very concentrated on academics. I knew I wanted to come to the East Coast because of the proximity to New York, and I considered applying to both Princeton and Columbia for that reason. After visiting Princeton, though, I fell in love with the campus and the dance program and decided to apply here early decision. The Princeton dance program caters to your own personal training, so I felt at home with that. Essentially, you’re getting the best of both worlds from a dance and an academic viewpoint.
BM: For me, it was never a question of going to a conservatory versus a more academic institution, so I did not choose Princeton because of its theater program. But I felt that because Princeton’s Program in Theater and Dance is so diverse and the community here so small, I could pursue theater as in-depth or as casually as I wanted. I didn’t consider Yale, for example, because I never thought of theater as a career track and I didn’t want that much competition for roles. I thought that I could get the opportunity at Princeton and take it as far as I wanted to.
What experiences have you had in the arts at Princeton?
NK: Last year we worked with Millicent Hodson, a world-renowned ballet reconstructionist, and re-created Prokofiev’s Le Pas d’Acier. This year, a small cast of us is working with a Juilliard alum in the re-creation of Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, using [choreographer and dancer Vaslav] Nijinsky’s original notation. So the ballets are very intellectual, as well, because you have an in-depth analysis of the choreographers and their intent.
BM: There are two different realms at Princeton: student-run theater, such as Theatre Intime and the Triangle Show, and those produced through the Program in Theater and Dance. I’ve been heavily involved in both. In terms of learning how theater operates, Intime is wonderful. There are opportunities for freshmen to direct, if they really want to. The great thing about Triangle is the opportunity to work with professional directors from New York in a professional space, at McCarter Theatre. The faculty that the program is able to bring in is really great, too. I’m taking a playwriting course now with Chuck Mee, a renowned American playwright.
What changes would you like to see in the arts program?
NK: The dance program is relatively small and limited, so the University only offers modern dance and that in only one style. That’s a problem. The student-run dance companies, like Body Hype, which I’m also involved in, fill in the gaps in the official program and are the way the art of dance really reaches the students. Space is also an issue. That keeps the department from expanding and makes it harder to recruit more students.
BM: You have to strike a balance: You don’t want to get too large because you would jeopardize the chance to perform, but you also need a certain size to be able to do the things you want to do.
Do you intend to pursue the arts after graduation?
NK: I’d like to get into the entertainment industry, first creatively, and later get an M.B.A. and learn the administrative side, to merge my passion for dance with a business background.
BM: Ironically, although I did not consider acting professionally before I came to Princeton, having now been able to experience theater at my own rate, I’ve fallen more in love with it. I’m considering pursuing a master’s degree in fine arts. I know I’ll be involved in theater in some capacity.