The Music and Dance Behind Thumbelina

Published in Pasadena Now: Wednesday, June 12, 2013 | 12:11 PM


We took some time with Dwight Mikkelsen and Jaclyn Stryker to talk about their life and work experiences

If the heart of a ballet is the music, the lifeblood are the dancers. We take some time to have a chat with composer Dwight Mikkelsen and dancer Jaclyn Stryker to get an inside look on the people behind California Contemporary Ballet’s Thumbelina.

The Musician

“I like classical music. That’s the first music I ever started writing and I’ve never stopped and I keep doing and doing it,” says Mikkelsen. “I’m also a writer. I have a book that’s coming out in July, in the middle of July,” he adds.

Mikkelsen’s book is called Freedom’s Rush and it’s about his travels throughout the Western half of the United States on a motorcycle. But making music is who he is.

Mikkelsen has been working with Aerin Holt, the Company’s Artistic Director, since “I think two or three years ago,” says Mikkelsen. The dynamic between Holt and Mikkelsen is one brought on by years of friendship, and is evident in how the two work together.

“If she has an idea, it’s clear when she can let me take off with it. And sometimes I’m not quite sure about something and so I just let Erin take off with it,” says Mikkelsen.

With the Company’s latest production, Thumbelina, Mikkelsen says his job is to write and record the music. “I decided on an orchestra; 9 woodwinds, 11 brass, 2 percussions, and 2 harps and strings. So I just kept it with that, and it’s been a bit of a challenge not having a piano but honestly, piano doesn’t really belong in an orchestra,” he says.

Mikkelsen is handling both the writing/composing and recording aspects of the ballet, and as a result, he isn’t getting much sleep. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t love what he does.

“It’s just the nature of that kind of work when you’re orchestrating, arranging and even copying, it’s always last minute. you’re merely totally restless when you do something. That’s part of the gig. If sleep is that important to you, you need to find another line of work,” says Mikkelsen.

“I like to have fun, I just like to have a good time, that’s why we’re doing it and having a good time doing it. Sometimes you have a good time playing pool and drinking beer and then when you get to work it’s sort of boring. I like to have fun doing the music, that’s what I like to do,” adds Mikkelsen.

The Dancer

Jaclyn Stryker is the lead dancer in Thumbelina. To appreciate the art, sometimes it’s necessary to understand the artist.
Dancing is in Stryker’s blood. She tells us: “I started dancing when I was about five, 20-plus years. I started dancing with Aerin (Holt) at California DanceArts when I was about 9 and I grew up with her in her school and then also I graduated from the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts and so I was dancing for both her and that school during high school.”

After getting a bachelor’s degree for Fine Arts and Dance at UC Santa Barbara, Stryker returned to join Holt and California Contemporary Ballet, dancing with the company for two years until she “moved up to San Francisco and danced professionally with Mark Foehringer Dance Project and Napoles Ballet Theater,” says Stryker.

Stryker talks about her lead role as Thumbelina, saying “It’s been wonderful. Since I was younger, Aerin always talked about wanting to do a big production of Thumbelina and so when she contacted me back in February, it was an opportunity to get back into working with her again.”

When asked of the working relationship between Holt and Mikkelsen, Stryker says both “have a really great collaboration going and they’re very open to adjusting things that may not be working for the other person which is really nice because the end result is going to be exactly what they wanted it to be.”

The Show

Mikkelsen and Stryker have their own views about the production of course, with one looking at things from a musician’s standpoint while the other as a dancer.

Mikkelsen says, “I think this ballet is very unique. It’s just unique. It’s going to be a sound phenomenon. Once I record this stuff, I’m going to have it mastered and with the back tracks and the story itself; it’s unique, it’s never been done before.”

Stryker, on the other hand, says, “It’s all very, very grand. So it’s fun. Thumbelina meets all these different animals and characters so it’s definitely action-packed throughout.”

Mikkelsen adds, “Thumbelina has been done before but it’s a ballet on a grand scale. It’s over 90 minutes of music. And as I said, in these days, doing 90 minutes of music with no piano that alone is great; it makes it unique. No rhythm section, no guitars, no electricity, no electronics.”

When asked about her favorite scene, Stryker tell us, “I love the scene with the beetles. All these dancers are up on this large apparatus and it just looks like this huge swarm of beetles and I’m kind of getting thrown all over the place and covered with these different beetle characters. It’s just a very fast-paced, fun, exciting number in the show that kind of shows some different elements other than just dance.”

Thumbelina will be performed at Glendale Community College at 1500 N. Verdugo Road, Glendale and show dates will be on June 29th at 7:30 pm, and June 30th at 2:00 pm.

Tickets are available at $20 to $30 and can be purchased at Group tickets are also available.

To learn more about California Contemporary Ballet, you can visit or call (818) 790-7924.

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