UAH theatre majors Jer'Howard Paige (shown right, reaching for their sword) and Anoop Dharmendrakumar both performed in the Huntsville Ballet’s spring production of “Romeo and Juliet” at the Von Braun Center Concert Hall.

Jim Kendall | Huntsville Ballet

One of the perks of being a theatre major at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) is the opportunity to take dance classes – for free – with the Huntsville Ballet. And one of the perks of taking those classes, as freshman Jer'Howard Paige and sophomore Anoop Dharmendrakumar discovered, is the opportunity to audition for and perform with the company at the Von Braun Center Concert Hall. Both were selected for this past spring’s production of "Romeo and Juliet," with Dharmendrakumar playing Tybalt and Paige playing a Capulet.

"It was a pleasure to collaborate with UAH Theatre for our production of ‘Romeo and Juliet’," says Phil Otto, the Huntsville Ballet’s Artistic Director. "Both Anoop and Jer’Howard performed with elegance and style."

The students’ ability to blend seamlessly with their professional counterparts during the performance’s three-day run was the result of weeks of hard work. "It was a whole lot of practice, which was tough with classes," says Dharmendrakumar. "We had to run straight from class to rehearsals and back!" After all, he points out, they not only had all of the choreography to learn, but they also had to master the intricate swordplay between the Montagues and the Capulets. "We really had to practice landing the moves because, if you’re not paying attention with stage combat, someone is going to get hurt," says Paige. "After we learned the basics, we starting adding a little spice." The pair also received some much-needed encouragement from their fellow dancers. "I was like, what if they think I’m horrible?" says Paige. "But they were super nice. They were like, you got this!"

It was just an unbelievable experience. We started strong and each day got stronger.

Jer'Howard Paige

The experience became a little more real closer to opening night, when Paige and Dharmendrakumar were able to try on their costumes for the first time. "When I saw myself, I said, oh my God, I look amazing in red," laughs Paige. But while Dharmendrakumar agrees that the costumes were "amazing," he found himself struggling with one particular aspect. "I have never worn tights, so they were… quite an experience," he laughs. "I was like, this feels weird!" Of course, as they say in the business, the show must go on. Dharmendrakumar managed to make peace with his tights, and come opening night, the two were ready. "It was just an unbelievable experience," says Paige. "We had no issues. We started strong and each day got stronger." Adds Dharmendrakumar, "I was depressed when it was over! I would have loved to do a few more shows."

Given their successful debut, it may come as a surprise that neither Paige nor Dharmendrakumar arrived at UAH with much experience as performing artists. "I am from a small town where we weren’t really allowed to express ourselves a lot," says Paige, who was raised in Marion, Ala. "So when I got to college, I was like, something has to change!" They decided to double major in theatre and communication arts, which would allow them to pursue their passion for acting while at the same time prepare them for professional career in journalism. "It’s a great extension from theatre – you can write reviews about performances and plays," says Paige, who is the first person in their family to go to college.

Dharmendrakumar, meanwhile, had enrolled in UAH as a mechanical engineering major his freshman year. "It’s what every Indian parent wants," he says. Then he smiles, recalling a childhood spent in Bangalore dabbling in Bollywood and hip-hop. "But I just couldn’t stay away from dancing!" Fast forward to his sophomore year and he is now a theatre and music double major. "I eased into it by adding theatre as a minor and then I was like no, this is going to be my major! And my parents were like, come back to India," he laughs. "But then when they saw I could make a living and get a job, they were like ok. I don’t know how they were convinced, but they were open to what I said and they believed in me."

Dharmendrakumar’s love of dance prompted him to switch from a mechanical engineering major to a theater and music double major.

Jim Kendall | Huntsville Ballet

The job Dharmendrakumar is referring to is dancing as a Cherokee warrior in the acclaimed stage drama "Unto These Hills." Performed throughout the summer months at the outdoor Mountainside Theatre in Cherokee, N.C., the show chronicles the Cherokees’ long history and their forcible relocation west of the Mississippi River via the Trail of Tears. "I worked there last summer and it was a life-changing experience," he says, "so I’m going back this summer." As for Paige, they’ll soon be heading to Bardstown, Ky., for a summer internship as a prop intern and an actor for the Stephen Foster Story. Set in the mid-19th century, the musical tells the tale of American composer Stephen Collins Foster using over 50 of his greatest compositions. "I’ve always been into arts and crafts and I wanted to try props, but I thought I wouldn’t get anything since I’m still a freshman," they say. "But they offered me a position and I was like, wait! I got a job!"

Both, however, are quick to share credit for their success with the UAH Theatre Program, which has undergone a dramatic transformation from an extracurricular activity to a fully fledged degree program over the past few years. "It’s amazing how they’re developing and improving the program by the day – by the second," says Dharmendrakumar. Even more important, adds Paige, that growth hasn’t come at the expense of the personalized attention so critical to every aspiring performer’s success. "I came in not knowing what I wanted to be," they say, "and they’re helping me figure out and reach my full potential." As a result, they now have a pretty good idea of where they’d like to end up should they realize their professional ambitions. "One day," they predict, "you’ll see me at the American Ballet Theatre."



UAH Theatre