Photograph by Tara Walton
The Toronto Star
February 25, 2011
Since becoming one of four actors cast in the lead role of Billy Elliot: The Musical, Myles Erlick’s young life is divided in three different kinds of days.
There’s the days he performs in front of a live audience at the Canon Theatre, there’s the days he understudies — waiting in the wings in case something happens — and there’s Mondays, his only day off a week.
It’s fair to say that for Myles, the days he likes the best are the days he’s onstage. “It’s a day that feels a bit different than an ordinary day, of course. I always get nervous, like, in a good way. I always feel that if you get nervous, it’s because you care,” Myles said.
Video: The Toronto Billys
The 12-year-old, the youngest of the four alternating Billys, has already had a taste of performing live in Chicago, along with fellow Billy, Marcus Pei, for a handful of shows from mid-October to the end of November during the musical’s North American premiere.
But Myles has been in training for the role pretty much all of his life, honing his “triple threat” skills — acting, dancing and singing — from a very early age. “My mom owns a performing arts studio in Burlington. She took me to work with her one day when I was about 2½ years old and I went into this big studio with her and I saw all these older kids dancing . . . and I just joined in and started doing all this dancing and stuff. I’ve loved it ever since,” Myles said.
With the musical’s Toronto run preparing to go from previews to public performances on March 1, the pressure is on. But proud mom Franci Nicassio isn’t concerned. “He (Myles) knows what he wants out of life and he’s very focused. He’s a very passionate little guy,” Nicassio said.
A performance day, like most others, usually begins at 9 a.m. with a 75-minute session at the National Ballet School of Canada on Jarvis St. — where Myles has been enrolled for more than a year.
Instructor Ashleigh Powell said the training “requires a lot of work to bring (the boys) to where they can make such wonderful things look easy. “They’re very dedicated students . . . they’re really committed not only to getting the spectacular jumps and turns correct but also working on their technique and every aspect of their dancing,” Powell said.
Tutoring — which is usually conducted alongside other people in the cast — usually fills out the mornings and sometimes continues in the afternoon. It started out at six days a week but has been reduced to five as the performance dates have drawn closer.
After lunch, training can include either an “acro” class — as in acrobatics (handstands, standing backsprings, etc.) — “core cardio” class to build stamina or a 25-minute session of almost non-stop skipping to prepare for a number in which Billy skips and tap-dances, accompanied by older characters Mr. Braithwaite and Mrs. Wilkinson.
Ruthy Dunec, Myles’ acrobatics instructor, described him as a natural. “In acro, there’s a lot of control the same way you would need in ballet. But there’s a lot of power involved, a lot of dynamic activity and a lot of anticipation in the movements,” Dunec said, adding that the young actors are performing on a hard stage, not — as in gymnastics — on a padded or “sprung” floor.
“Down time” is between 4:30 and 6 p.m., the time to eat and relax at the rented apartment Myles and his mother share. That’s also the time to get focused and into character, he said. “If you go out of character, you just kind of zone out and it’s not good at all,” Myles cautioned.
At 6 p.m., Myles does a physical warmup with the entire cast for half-hour, followed by a vocal warm-up. He also conducts his “safeties,” a series of checks to ensure his various moves and jumps are performed without risk. A second “safety” is performed before the second act, this one involving a harness.
Just to throw a twist into everyone’s schedules, the actors also perform matinees on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays.
An understudy day is very similar to a performance day, right down to the morning ballet class, tutoring and a combination of either “acro,” skipping class or “core cardio.” Even as the understudy, Myles takes part in the cast warm-up and the vocal warm-up. He then retires to his dressing room to wait in case — God forbid — something should happen to one of his three co-stars.
Mondays, the day of the week most dreaded by most schoolboys of a similar age, is the only day Myles can take a welcome breather. “I sleep in for a long time and get up and have a nice big breakfast with my mom. I always have a nice big breakfast,” said Myles, whose spare frame belies the statement. “Then I play video games and relax and do everything that a normal boy would do, hang out with my friends.”
Myles insists that competition among the four leads — himself, Pei, J.P. Viernes and Cesar Corrales — is more friendly than fierce. “We’re all very awesome friends, very good friends. We might have a pirouette competition for fun and stuff but . . . we don’t have anything competitive against each other,” Myles explained. “Even though it’s the same lines and the same script and the same intention, we all do it a bit differently,” he said.
Mom Franci said her son is bearing up well: “It definitely is a demanding schedule. But he’s doing it, he’s keeping up. By the end of the night, he needs his rest. But he’s . . . the one that’s up in the morning getting things organized and ready to go for the day.”
Myles, after all, sees Billy as excellent training for his future.
“Billy Elliot: The Musical is about a boy who wants to become a ballet dancer. And that’s exactly like me.”
© Copyright Toronto Star 2011
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