Abigail Mentzer makes her return to Philadelphia as a ballerina in the national tour of The Phantom of the Opera. A seasoned performer, Mentzer is no stranger to Philadelphia stages having spent the early part of her career dancing with the Pennsylvania Ballet. She talks with Phindie about her latest role in the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.
The Phantom of the Opera is one of the largest productions currently on tour with a cast and orchestra of 52 performers. It’s playing November 1-12, 2017, at the Academy of Music. 240 South Broad Street. kimmelcenter.org.
Debra Danese: Prior to your role in The Phantom of the Opera, you spent 11 years dancing as a soloist with the Pennsylvania Ballet. What were some of your favorite roles?
Abigail Mentzer: Afternoon of a Faun was my favorite ballet to dance. It was choreographed by Jerome Robbins in 1953 to music by Debussy. The stage is set as a ballet studio and the audience is the “mirror.” I danced with Jermel Johnson with my hair down. The duet focuses on the “mirror” throughout the entire pas de deux, until the very end when Jermel kisses my cheek. We engage for just a moment before I leave him to finish the scene. The music is moving and hauntingly beautiful. I even have a tattoo of the first 4 bars of music on my ribs so I can keep it close to my heart.
DD: How did that prepare you for working with a large scale musical production?
AM: I believe the intense self-discipline that you learn in ballet will prepare you for just about anything in life. Dancers and musicians in general are some of the most hard working and dedicated people on earth. I was also fortunate to be cast in some more dramatic roles like Effie in La Sylphide and Swanhilda in Coppelia. I always enjoyed being dramatic. I have my Director at the time, Roy Kaiser, to thank for casting me to my strengths. Ballet company life taught me patience and professionalism. The women and men of PA Ballet taught me how to work within a group of artists and how to respect and honor the individuality of the artists around me.
DD: How do you maintain the physical demands of your role as a ballerina while on tour with The Phantom of the Opera?
AM: The show requires pointe work in Act 1 and then the corps de ballet switches to ballet slippers and dance heels for Act 2. Switching back and forth can be stressful on your feet and ankle joints. In order to stay in shape and injury free, I look for Pilates, Gyrotonics and ballet classes in each city. Pilates and regular ballet class keeps me strong and my technique clean. Iabsolutely love Gyrotonics for lengthening, stretching and alignment. Any time my back or sacrum goes out, I can usually fix it within one or two Gyrotonics sessions. Gyrotonics can be hard to find but I highly recommend it to everyone. There are 7 female and 3 male dancers in the show. If we’re lucky, the theater will have a studio that we can use. In that case, we take turns giving each other class; mostly ballet but also Modern, Pilates mat, and African. It keeps us moving and stimulates our versatility. You definitely have to be your own boss on the road. You have to motivate yourself to keep moving and stay focused. We all try to keep each other motivated. I also travel my roller and racquet balls to roll out tight muscles after a long day.
DD: In addition to performing, you own and operate your own business. How did you start it and what can you tell us about it?
AM: I started sewing for fun and it quickly became an outlet for me. The time I spent focused on creating something entirely mine, outside of the ballet studio, gave me some distance from my dancing. My dancing improved because of this distance. Sometimes taking a little space is a good thing. I made a few skirts for my friends and before I knew it, I was getting requests and compliments from the PA Ballet dancers and our friends in San Francisco Ballet, Miami City Ballet, Carolina Ballet, professionals in NYC, etc. Then the students started asking for them. I realized at a certain point that I had to manage this demand and that this was a business. I handmade each skirt myself until about 2009 when I found a production company in NYC. With the money I had made from selling skirts, I was able to hire a web designer to build a website for me. I now have an office and three employees that run the day to day operations. It feels good to create something that I can see, hold, and wear. I love shopping for fabric and finding new colors. A dancer’s work isn’t tangible, but my skirts and leotards are. It’s very satisfying to see a final product from my hard work. You can shop on my website or find a boutique near you at www.abigailmentzerdesigns.com
DD: What are some of your favorite Philadelphia spots?
AM: Queens Village is my favorite neighborhood in Philly. Fabric Row is on 4th St. If you’re looking to buy fabric and sewing supplies, this is your place. Bus Stop, also on 4th St, is my favorite shoe shop. They sell really unique, artistic shoes. There’s a cafe called Milk & Honey that has great coffee, tea, sandwiches and pastries. It’s very relaxed and sun filled. There are a bunch of little vintage boutiques, antique shops and a great health food store. For brunch, Morning Glory Cafe is delicious. My parents and I always go here together. After shows, I like to go to the Good Dog. It’s right by the Academy of Music and they have a great burger and beer selection. Philly has a lot to offer. It continues to grow and I’m excited to be back to see what else has developed there.
[Academy of Music. 240 South Broad Street] November 1-12, 2017; kimmelcenter.org.