Center Stage officially celebrated its 20th anniversary with social media posts and digital interviews with the cast in May. But American Ballet Theatre (ABT), the real-life company the film based its fictional organization on, just brought the cast together for a virtual reunion.
Moderated by CNN’s Poppy Harlow, the reunion saw Amanda Schull (Jody Sawyer), Zoe Saldana (Eva Rodriguez), Ethan Stiefel (Cooper Nielsen) and Sascha Radetsky (Charlie Sims) reminisce about Center Stage while helping ABT to raise funds in support of its dancers and faculty during the pandemic.
The film, which follows a group of aspiring professional ballet dancers as they train at the American Ballet Academy (and hope to earn a coveted spot in the company), launched the acting careers of Schull and Saldana. It also helped to make performances from some of the ballet world’s biggest stars like Steifel and Radetsky accessible to a broader audience – earning Center Stage a cult following of dancers and nondancers alike.
“It was a special moment for us all to shoot that movie and to shoot it in New York City at Lincoln Center,” recalled Saldana, who has since starred in movies including Avatar and Avengers. “It was my very first project – booking Center Stage was beyond my wildest dreams.”
For the film’s other stars, it also marked their acting debuts. “It was pretty overwhelming and daunting,” said Stiefel, who was a principal dancer at ABT when they filmed. “I don’t know if you remember, Amanda, but the first day for me on set was actually the scene in Cooper’s loft,” he continued, causing Schull to break out into laughter.
“The boudoir scene, that was his first scene,” she confirmed. Radetsky’s first day of shooting wasn’t without its own setbacks. “I was late because my alarm didn’t go off, and [I was] mortified. It was the scene where we take the ferry around New York and Amanda and I had a kissing scene, and poor Amanda gets motion sick so she was throwing up all that morning,” Radetsky said.
Despite the learning curve and the endless hours spent repeating the dance scenes for the camera, Schull noted it was more than worth it. “This was the best summer job I could have possibly imagined ever having in my entire life,” said Schull, who went on to star in the television series, Suits.
“We spent a summer working together with people who I ended up loving and friendships that have carried on for decades, so it never occurred to me that people were going to watch this or that it was going to be as impactful or carry a message or importance in peoples’ hearts like it did mine,” she said.
In addition to the YouTube reunion, ABT hosted a private (virtual) reception for some of its donors, where Schull, Stiefel and Radetsky were also joined by Peter Gallagher, who played the company’s director, Jonathan Reeves.
Joking about bloopers and the craziest fan reactions to the film (Stiefel would occasionally receive cookies from fans at the stage door following his performances with ABT), Stiefel also shared that more Center Stage might be on the way. “I don’t know about a remake of the film, but the word is out that maybe a television series is happening,” he said.
As for those bloopers, Schull shared one moment she hasn’t forgotten in 20 years. “There were maybe two or three slips and falls right on my rear end because my legs were just so tired at that point, they were giving out on me,” Schull said about the iconic turning scene from Jody’s workshop performance.
“I asked if I could do it again and again, and I wasn’t able to sustain myself for that final double. And Sir Nicholas [Hytner, the director] told me that my foot wasn’t in frame,” Schull said of the slip-up, which made it into the movie, after all.
The cast may not have weighed in on whether or not Jody actually got into the company in the end, but they did agree that an in-person reunion after the pandemic was a must – so there’s always hope for next time. And until then, we’ll be watching their reunion (and Center Stage, obviously) on repeat.
You can make a donation to the ABT Crisis Relief Fund and watch the full interview here
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