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The Casting

"The hardest part of casting was not so much finding dancers who could perform classical ballet, modern jazz, Broadway dancing and salsa as required, but to find people who could do that and who were also able to act," says Mark. "It was a formidable task."

In spite of this, the casting of some roles occurred quite naturally. The fabulously gifted Ethan Stiefel, the 26-year-old American Ballet Theatre superstar whose golden performances have led to his reputation as one of the greatest male dancers in the world today, was someone everyone connected with the project wanted in the film.

We all thought if we were going to do this kind of movie, Ethan should be in it, Mark says. In addition to his incredible talent, he has an unusual background for someone in the ballet world. He has this kind of down-home innocence and charm that i s tremendously appealing and yet there i s also an edgy side to him. The more we got to know him, the more we were impressed. We actually decided to incorporate several aspects of Ethan' s own life, the fact that he rides a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, for instance, into his character, Cooper Nielson, who also happens to be a world-class ballet star.

"It always seemed obvious that Ethan should play Cooper," Hytner says. "I knew him very well as a performer and knew the extraordinary things he was capable of. It was enormously fortunate for us that he turned out to be a natural actor."

Stiefel welcomed the chance to branch out. "I'm a ballet dancer, but I think of myself as an entertainer, a performer. I was excited about the chance to work in another medium and to see what I could bring to that," he says. Harder to cast, however, were the roles of Jody Sawyer, the inspired young dancer who is the film's central role, and Charlie, the young ballet student who falls in love with her, thereby completing a romantic triangle consisting of himself, Jody and Cooper.

After the director refused to consider several currently fashionable young actresses for the role of Jody because of their lack of dance skills, casting director Daniel Swee and his assistant Heather Baird traveled to cities all over the country to look for a dancer to play the part.

"We saw hundreds of young girls for Jody, and we got lucky in San Francisco," Mark says. Amanda Schull had just been accepted as an apprentice with the San Francisco Ballet when she was spotted. The casting people were very excited and sent her to Los Angeles to meet Nick. He knew he' d found Jody very soon after he saw her.  "She did a screen test. It was breathtaking. There' s something about her that rather glows on the screen."

"Last year was certainly a year of record for me," says Schull, who celebrated her 21st birthday during production.  "Not long after being offered a place in the San Francisco Ballet which had to be one of the most exciting moments of my life I was offered a leading role in a movie. It was amazing. In my wildest dreams I never thought I' d be starring in a movie."

The role of Charlie remained unfilled for weeks, and casting came right down to the wire. One problem was that the character went through several incarnations in the script rewrites until he emerged as a romantic foil for Jody and a rival to Cooper. Young Sascha Radetsky, lithe, dark-haired and boyish, who dances in the corps de ballet of American Ballet Theatre, landed the role

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