Local girl living the dream on stage in ‘Dirty Dancing’

Local girl living the dream on stage in ‘Dirty Dancing’

PETER TROMP spoke to Capetonian performer MILA DE BIAGGI, who plays the part of Penny in ‘Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage’, which starts its long anticipated run in Cape Town at the Artscape Opera House on January 18.

How did you get into show business?
I’ve been dancing since my toddler years and started formal dance, modern and ballet classes at age five. These led to eisteddfod wins and staged performances and ta-da, show business. As far back as I can remember, I have always known that this is what I wanted to do. It’s still my passion, my dream.

What do you count among your personal highlights thus far?
Performing overseas on world stages, dancing with Israel’s Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company (Dance Journey Programme) and performing at the annual Holocaust memorial service in Tel Aviv, which was incredibly moving. Performing, by invitation, my own choreography at Artscape and of course landing the role of Penny in ‘Dirty Dancing’.

Please tell us about ‘Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage’. What can audiences look forward to with the show?
The show is just like the movie, but even more exciting, vibey and sexy. The audience is part of the experience and they feel as though they are right there on vacation with the Housemans at the Kellerman resort. The story comes alive with fabulous music, and amazing dancing. Expect an audio-visual, full sensory, emotional ride you won’t forget.

How were you guys received in Joburg?
We’ve had such amazingly positive responses from our large audiences, who were also enthusiastic participants. The Joburg audiences were incredible and we had sold out performances one after the other.

Were you a fan of the original movie growing up?
I saw it for the first time when I was 13 years old and I was definitely hooked.

What was your reaction when you first heard you got cast in the show?
Oh, I was so excited I didn’t know what to do with myself! I was driving and I received the e-mail. All I wanted to do was get out of my car and run around and dance with excitement. I also felt so grateful and blessed that I had been given this opportunity to be a part of such a fantastic production and playing this role of Penny Johnson.

What kind of mental and physical preparation goes into a show of this nature and scale?
My body has to be extremely warm before I can dance my best on stage and so I do ballet warm up, pilates and gym to prepare for the show.
My mental preparation takes me a while; to create focus, calm and get into character. I really visualise myself as Penny. Before the show started, I began to keep a diary where I write “her” thoughts and anything that could help me get closer to “her”. I have created a character biography and history around the given script, so I can understand what might motivate her, what she might feel, so I can truly “be” her on stage.

Do you feel any pressure to represent as a Capetonian now that the show has come to your home city?
I am a bit nervous, but it’s more excitement than anything else. I can’t wait for my family and friends to finally see the show. And of course to give back more to the audiences who have supported me growing up.

Do you have an acting process you usually rely upon to get into a character?
Yes; my diary that I referred to earlier, and visualising my character before I go on stage. I practise working on how the raw emotion of the character, while hidden by a show of confidence , must still be seen and therefore felt by the audience. Like sometimes Penny seems confident and secure while deep down she feels quite sad and anxious. Ongoing performances in the show have also been a great learning experience as, through interaction with the other actors, subtle changes in character roles happen as we go along and one must be ready, aware and stay focused to remain authentic in response. I really feel so blessed to be playing such a wonderful character. I have learnt so much from Penny too.

Complete the following: Favourite movie; book; music album; song; midnight snack; holiday destination; lunch spot.
Movie: ‘Madagascar’. Book: ‘Messages from the Masters’ by Brian Weiss. Music album: Definitely ‘Rock of Ages’. Song: ‘Dont stop Believing’ from ‘Rock of Ages’. Midnight snack: Woolworths tub of sweets. Holiday Destination: Italy and America. Lunch spot: my father’s restaurant ‘Magica Roma’ in Pinelands.

Finally, what can we expect from you next?
This ‘Dirty Dancing’ show still has a long journey ahead, but follow me on Twitter (@MilaDBiaggi) and I’ll surprise you, on stage and off. Wherever my passion leads me, that’s where I’ll be.

* The shows runs from Tuesdays to Fridays at 8pm, on Saturdays at 3pm and 8pm and on Sundays at 2pm and 6pm, with tickets from R100 to R400 via Computicket.com or 021 421 7695.