Ballet isn’t an easy profession, says Branson Bice, a 10-year veteran.
“It’s the job you do if you like it,” he says. “I enjoy it quite a bit but ballet is not a lucrative profession.”
Often, Bice says, dancers work on limited contracts, which means they’ve got to find other work to fill in the gaps.
During one of those, the Midwesterner decided to try musical theater – “An American in Paris.” Because it features ballet, the move was a natural one and now, as the lead in the national touring production, he’s finding a real home. “It’s an experience that opens more doors,” Bice says.
Growing up, the Minnesota Ballet veteran was “quite awkward. It took me a while to get my groove on. When I told my parents I was going to school for ballet, they were shocked. I told them, ‘If I want to be a triple threat,’” he needed the experience.
When the Broadway show came along, it was, admittedly, “a little nerve-racking.”
“It’d been so long since I’d spoken a line on stage, I was nervous about the acting and singing.” Gradually, those muscles came back and gave him the confidence to look at musical theater as a good next move.
When the “American in Paris” run ends in June, Bice plans to head to New York to audition for more stage shows. “I’m planning to make a career change,” he says. “It’s more advantageous to be in New York for auditions. When opportunity arises, I don’t have to buy a plane ticket.”
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Already, he says, “American in Paris” has taught him plenty about touring theater.
“There is a little bit of a learning curve. You live out of a bag and you eat whatever you can, which isn’t always what you want to eat. But you don’t have control over when you’re stopping or where you’re staying. I like to eat pan-fried vegetables with chicken and rice for dinner. But, being on the road, it could be pizza from Dominoes.”
Attending the Culture House Performing Arts Academy as a teenager, Bice grew to love musical theater. He performed in shows, but got a scholarship to the University of Missouri-Kansas City for dance. He got a bachelor of fine arts in dance performance and choreography there and worked with several companies, including the Kansas City Ballet, Ballet Quad Cities, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance Company and the Minnesota Ballet.
Versatility, he learned, is the key to sustaining a career. “There are many ways that you can perform, especially now on TV and film. You’ve got at least a million people in the world trying to get jobs as entertainers and only 10 percent make it in the door. It’s a crap shoot.”
Ballet has a limited window of opportunity and, often, can be quite grueling.
“Ballet is not healthy,” Bice says. “It’s a great way to study the kinesiology of body…and it can be very rewarding…but it’s not fitness. It requires a lot of things like rotating your legs and walking like no human would walk ever, all centered around the beauty of the shape.”
Thankfully, he hasn’t had many injuries. “A lot of that comes down to cross-training.”
While on the road with “American in Paris,” he has a pull-up bar that fits into almost any door frame. “I work out every other day unless we have four shows in two days.”
Because “An American Paris” is a demanding musical (it features plenty of dance and, yes, those awe-inspiring ballet moves) it, too, can be grueling. Still, Bice’s family members were thrilled he was moving back into musical theater.
“My mom has been hinting for the last five years,” he says. “She’d say, ‘We miss seeing you sing on stage.’ They love that I’m following my dreams.”