Joffrey ballerina Olivia Tang-Mifsud talks about ballet and the 2020 season

Olivia Tang-Mifsud

By Olivia Lee
Medill Reports

After over 30 performances of “The Nutcracker,” the Joffrey Ballet’s 46 dancers, including Olivia Tang-Mifsud, 23, of Palos Verdes, California, are learning new choreography. Following rehearsal, Tang-Mifsud traded her black leotard and tights for jeans and a white sweater. She sat with perfect posture in the lobby and talked about her four-year career with the company, the spring season – and a big change for the Joffrey Ballet and its audiences next year.

You started dancing in preschool and decided to do it professionally after high school. What drew you to ballet?

It’s a way of expressing myself, and I also see it as a stress reliever in a sense. When I’m dancing my mind isn’t anywhere else. I’m so focused on what I’m doing, and there’s a freedom in that. Then of course when I’m on stage, I love it. One of my favorite things is to see people’s faces. If they were able to personally relate or if they had their mind distracted from their everyday or if they just enjoyed themselves for an hour, then that’s all I can ask for.

What do you enjoy about dancing with the Joffrey Ballet?

The Joffrey Ballet isn’t a ranked company. We don’t have corps de ballet members, soloists or principals, which makes for a different dynamic and gives opportunities to people who wouldn’t normally get to learn certain roles. We’re also a smaller company, so in that sense we’re more like a family. I also really love it because the repertory is more contemporary. 

You’ve performed dozens of roles over the years. What have been some of your favorites?

I really enjoyed “Body of Your Dreams.” It’s more of a contemporary piece by [choreographer] Miles Batcher. That was one of the first dances I ever learned in this company. It was physically demanding and not like anything I’ve done before, but it was really fun. It was similar to a piece we’re doing now [called “The Times Are Racing”], where we’re wearing sneakers instead of ballet shoes, and there’s tap in it too, so it’s like a mix of everything.

What are your future goals within your dance career?

I want to experience different choreographers, and I want to work with them and get insight into how they perceive my dancing so that I can take their feedback and incorporate it into my daily routine. I want to become that dancer that I know I can be.

How do you feel about the short career span for ballet dancers? Most retire in their thirties, have you thought about what you’re going to do when you eventually stop dancing?

Some people are lucky enough to dance into their forties or even longer than that. But because I know my career isn’t going to last forever, that pushes me to make the most out of it. Ideally, I want to start going to [college] even before my career ends so that when the time comes, I can pursue something in sports medicine. I’ve always been interested in the human body. I think it would be really cool if I could relate that to helping dancers with injuries and injury prevention.

This spring the Joffrey Ballet was going to be performing “Don Quixote,” a classical piece, and “The Times Are Racing,” a contemporary piece. Due to the coronavirus, shows have been cancelled. But can you tell more about these two ballets?

I can’t give away too much, but nowadays many choreographers are trying to create pieces that relate more to what’s going on in the world right now. Although I love the classics, ballet is not just princes and princesses, or swans. Anyone who goes to watch these [newer ballets] can actually find something they can relate to.

What else can audiences expect from upcoming seasons?

Next season we’ll be [permanently] performing at the Lyric Opera House. I’m excited, but this will be a huge move for us. This season will be like a goodbye to the Auditorium.

This article has been edited and condensed.

Photo at top: Olivia Tang-Mifsud, professional dancer for the Joffrey Ballet, is in the studio rehearsing for the remaining season. (Courtesy of Joffrey Ballet)