Benjamin Freemantle was promoted to principal dancer in May, shortly after his debut as the Sea Witch in Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid. To many patrons, Freemantle’s breakout moment was during 2018 Unbound: A Festival of New Works, when he debuted the lead role in Your Flesh Shall be a Great Poem by Trey McIntyre, who returns with another world premiere in the 2020 Season.
You’ve said one of your favorite roles at SF Ballet is the Sea Witch. Why, and how did you prepare for it?
I got to be the villain, which never happens for classical dancers—we’re usually princes and jesters. Being the “bad guy” was a great experience. In terms of preparing, some people love to have all the information out there—they want to know what it all is [before approaching a role]. For me, I’d rather have less information and more direction and impulses to work with, so you build a unique, original character rather than something that’s already out there, something that’s been done before.
How do you approach acting while dancing?
I’ve never really thought of myself as an actor. One phrase I came up with was “storyteller,” which I really like. I think all dancers are storytellers, because no matter what piece you get, whether it’s something classical like [Stanton Welch’s] Bespoke or dramatic like the Sea Witch, you always have to find and tell a story.
Do you have a favorite place in War Memorial Opera House?
I’m a dressing room kind of person. I’ll stay up there until 10 minutes before I have to go on stage… It’s more stretching-based for me and warming up every muscle. I need my own music and roller and to touch my feet. And then you just go jump around, get blood flowing and then it’s like bam—you’re on.
You also cut hair for the homeless. What’s that all about?
It’s about humility and empathy. It’s so easy to see them on the street and say, “that’s the way it is.” But it’s another thing to stop and talk to them, to see them for who they are. I love giving haircuts because everyone looks fresh and happy after a cut. You comb their hair and you’ve styled it and have made them feel more welcomed in society.