Published: December 13, 2009
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LET'S ASK THE INSIDERS...
MELISSA JAMES & MICHAEL RADIFF
Last August we were very fortunate to embark on the Freedom of the Seas while there was a cast change. That gave us the opportunity of interviewing SBF Member Michael, the Dance Captain at the end of his contract and SBF Member Melissa, the Dance Captain who would be taking over with the new cast.
How old were you when you started dancing and what made you take it up?
Everything about it just feels so good and it's about living the moment, which is what Cabaret is all about...
I was 7 when I started at a small school south of Sydney. We had to do ballet as well as any other style of dance that you choose. Which now I'm so grateful for. So I started tap and ballet at the same time and just loved it. I didn't really think about taking it up professionally in the beginning.
However after coming first in one of my dance subjects in my state, I took it as a lead to keep pursuing. I studied full-time for a year and part-time for another year and did a few shows on the side and then auditioned and got the job for Royal Caribbean and haven't really looked back since!
I actually started dancing quite late, when I was 14, but I started gymnastics when I was five. I only started gymnastics because I was a big fan of the Power Rangers and spent my day flipping on the couch. My mum got mad with me for tearing up the couch and decided that I should go to gymnastics. So I did that for about seven years and it just kind of fizzled out as I got older and I wanted to do sports. Then my sister actually got me into dance - she was in dance competitions and I was in awe of it. One day, I asked her to teach me a dance and it just kind of went from there. Later on I competed with her. We didn't have a ballet program at that studio and one of the things that I would get docked on in competitions was my technique - they could tell that I didn't have ballet training. It didn't worry me at the time as it was just a hobby, along with my different sports, but when I got into high school, I started taking more interest in dance and wanted to do it as a profession. So I took up ballet as well and things started to be a lot easier for me and then right out of high school I auditioned for Royal Caribbean and that's how it all started.
Where have you worked previously?
I've worked on the Majesty of the Seas (06 - 07), Enchantment of the Seas (07 - 08), Voyager of the Seas (08 - 09) and now the Freedom of the Seas.
I did my first contract on the Monarch of the Seas and right after that I went to Las Vegas and worked in the Folies Bergere show for eight months - it was fantastic and such a great experience. All of my dance competitions were in Vegas and that was my ambition to work there, so after the Monarch I flew to Vegas and started auditioning. Then I got offered the Liberty of the Seas take out (inaugural cruise & original cast). It was a hard decision as I really wanted to stay in Vegas, but I wanted to do a take out, as that's a whole different thing about doing ships. When you arrive at the ship, it's not even finished and you have to install the shows on a brand new ship & theatre. I'm really glad that I made the decision to do the take out, as I feel that I moved up much higher in the company and I was also able to do the Independence of the Seas take out. Then I came on the Freedom.
What's been your funniest moment on stage?
I did a show where all the boys and girls had to wear the same unitards - we were meant to be the mean green monster from the Little Shop of Horrors, with a plant on our head! But we didn't have our names in our costumes, we just had a number - I was G5 (Girl 5). One day we had the costumes laundered and that night, in our quickest change of the show, I grabbed the costume that said 5. I ended up with a costume that was much too baggy for me... everywhere! - I was swimming in it. Then when I was on stage, I completely lost it when I saw the B5 (Boy 5) in my costume, which was too short for him and was cutting him up the crutch. I just couldn't keep it together!!
I'll never forget the look on all of our faces in rehearsals - we just thought that it would never work - then all of a sudden it all comes together...
We have just put together a blooper video of things that have gone wrong in this show. It's funny because you think "there were a few things that went wrong", but we came up with a 20-minute video. I would say that costume malfunction are the funniest.
What has been your most challenging show?
I think that every show that I've done for Royal Caribbean is a huge challenge and that's why we love it so much. You don't get that opportunity much on land, as not a lot of shows use flyers. It's just becoming a big deal now and Cirque du Soleil really brought it to the open. Thankfully Royal has really taken to it and has put it their shows and it's given us the opportunity. In my last show I did the big metal hoop. We trained for it at the studios - fours hours of flying training at night after eight hours of dancing in the day. I was black and blue from the waist down, with bits of skin missing - it's such a glamorous life and we still want to do it! Here I am again now with bruises from the harnesses in the flying wall number. Some of these shows with this company are crazy, with the changes and the dancing. It's not like a Broadway show which have long chunks of dialog, we are just non-stop.
Mine is definitely the Circus show on the Independence, under the Big Top, because I was a flyer in the show and I had to do a trapeze act. There were no safety nets and I was holding on with my own hands, swinging over the audience. On top of that there was dancing and other elements throughout the show and it was go, go, go, non-stop!! That was definitely a hard show.
Where did you train for the aerial work that some of you do in the show?
For the aerial work, we do the training here onboard, before we go to the studios, as we don't have the facilities back there.
It is difficult at first - once you get the hang of it, it's fine when you are in the air, but the landings can be difficult if the seas are rough!
Do you have to sing in the show?
I've had singing training and some of us understudy the singers. In every contract that I've done with RCCL, we've had a singer go down and I've been their understudy.
We have to lip-sync. When I was on the Monarch of the Seas, I had to sing - one number, and it was probably the scariest performance ever, because I'm not a singer and I don't have any singing training, but there was this one random number where they needed a dancer to sing.
What's your favourite part of this show?
Cabaret. I just love the style and it's a really big chunk of the show. Recently the numbers have been changed and they have given us a bit of a breathing space to regain ourselves for the big finale. Everything about it just feels so good and it's about living the moment, which is what Cabaret is all about - that's what the lyrics are saying! It's been choreographed very well to create that feeling. It's amazing and it's got such a powerful ending.
My favourite is doing the Sandman solo in Once Upon a Time, because I wasn't originally that person. I was the understudy to someone who left mid-contract, so I took over. I could do it every single day - I absolutely love doing it. It's one of those numbers, where when I first saw the number performed I was in shock and in awe of it, and I thought that I could never be the right person for it. So to actually get to do it is so fulfilling.
What did it feel like yesterday Melissa, doing your first performance of Marquee and having the "old" cast sitting in the audience?
Oh, I loved it. We could see all the guys right down the front. The best part was that out of everyone in the audience, they would understand more the work that we've put in this week, to get to where we are now and the stress of the costume changes etc.
How did you feel Michael, sitting in the audience?
I felt kind of emotional watching it, because this is a 9-month process altogether - two months rehearsal on land and then seven months on the ship. I'll never forget the look on all of our faces in rehearsals - we just thought that it would never work - then all of a sudden it all comes together, you do an entire contract and then the next minute you'll sitting in the audience watching the new cast! It's a very emotional situation because, particularly the finale of Marquee is such a great metaphor of the contract. It's about timing, everyone has to be so focused and it's all about team work and being part of a group - which is what ship life is all about. We live together, we work together, we eat together - we're part of a family. Like the old saying "you are only as strong as your weakest link". It's a very important thing to remember and you always have to be conscious of everyone around you!
Thank you Melissa and Michael for your brilliant interview!