The sky’s the limit for actor Chris Dingli, dancer Brenda Lee Grech and musical theatre artist Hollie Cassar. They speak to Veronica Stivala about playing a smacked-up sidekick of a violent gangster, bored princesses and performing on the high seas.
A nose for comedy
Many of us know actor Chris Dingli from what is becoming a regular alternative to the annual Christmas panto in Malta, the cleverly improvised theatre sketch Dingle Bells, Malcolm Smells. Together with Malcolm Galea, Chris makes up a new story each time for the hilarious play based on notes and phrases written by audience members.
The guy, you see, or smell, has a nose for comedy. But outside his little, yet popular Yuletide project, Chris is frying bigger fish in the UK, his home since 2004.
Nicknaming himself as “the nice guy with an edge” on his website, Chris, 31, reveals his flair for sharp wit and lists a few potential roles casting directors might want to consider him for. Among them are a power-obsessed centurion in the TV series Rome, a very difficult customer in The Office, the strange person living across the hall in How I Met Your Mother and a small-time mobster who pretends he is related to the big boss in The Sopranos.
A quirky list to be sure, but that’s Chris for you: versatile and funny. Read the whole list if you’re up for a laugh.
He has just wrapped up filming Looking Over The Dragon, a crime story. Although he auditioned for a smaller role, Chris was offered the bigger role of Boris, the smacked up sidekick of a violent gangster.
Chris also got to work a fight scene, complete with wig, in the locally-shot Sinbad. This was exciting because it had been a while since he felt hair on his forehead (his joke), and, as Chris put it, “I liked the fact that I got to visit my family, spend time with friends, work on a large-scale production and got paid for doing it.”
Chris is currently in rehearsal for a summer tour of two touring Shakespeare plays – The Taming of the Shrew and The Tempest – in which he will be both acting and playing viola. They will be touring the UK and will also visit Norway.
He is also writing for a new Youtube comedy channel as well as planning this Christmas’s installment of Dingle Bells, Malcolm Smells.
Getting to the pointe
She’s gone from strength to strength: with strong foundations from her training at the Johane Casabene Dance Conservatoir, Brenda Lee Grech has pirouetted her way from one big production to another.
At 24, this dancer’s CV is like her legs – long (my joke, not hers). The shimmering list of traineeships and performances includes full-time training at the Scuola di Ballo del Teatro alla Scala in Milan, and an invitation to join the Ballet d’Europe in Marseille as an apprentice, with whom she toured Spain and France.
The lights continued to shine on the stunning brown-haired Brenda as she joined the Ballet Central on tour and the Scottish Ballet based in Glasgow, with whom she has been training since autumn 2008.
Watching her dance videos online, like the one of her as Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty, is it evident this girl can not only dance but has got character as she plays a bored princess, clearly not amused by a suitor’s courting endeavours.
Brenda Lee has danced in Page’s Cinderella (stepsister and Summer), Pennies From Heaven, The Nutcracker (Dame Mouserink), The Sleeping Beauty (Fairy of Angelic Temperament, Cinderella), Fearful Symmetries, Room of Cooks, Cheating, Lying, Stealing and Alice (Tweedledum, Tigerlily), Balanchine’s Rubies, Forsythe’s Workwithinwork, Spink’s Petrushka, Pastor’s In Light and Shadow, Alston’s Carmen, Ashton’s Scènes de Ballet, Caniparoli’s Still Life, MacMillan’s Song of the Earth and Meckler/Lopez Ochoa’s A Streetcar Named Desire (Stella).
It goes without saying that as a professional dancer, Brenda Lee practically breathes dance. She has two lifestyles: one for the studio/rehearsal period and the other for touring and performing, which roughly divide into six months each. Training is a demanding minimum of five hours a day, Monday to Saturday and when on tour she usually does six performances a week. Naturally she is looking forward to a month off this summer.
Brenda Lee highlights the advantages of working in a ballet company: “It provides me with the opportunity to work on a very different dance vocabulary,” she explains. This includes classical, contemporary and dance theatre though her favourite is neoclassical because she finds it most challenging and fulfilling.
This hard-working dancer has an exciting list of upcoming projects including working with choreographer Martin Lawrence for a dance created “on” her and which will form part of a project with the Scottish Ballet, English National Ballet and National Dance Company Wales. Other highlights include Five Tangos by Hans van Manen and The Nutcracker by Ashley Page.
Don’t stop believing
When Hollie Cassar won the musical theatre competition L-Isfida in 2007, her prize was a three-year scholarship at BodyWork Company Dance Studios in Cambridge on the musical theatre course. Hollie has since continued to carve a successful career for herself in musical theatre. Her most recent venture has been as principal vocalist on board the Queen Victoria.
The vibrant Hollie is evidently still chuffed about this fantastic experience which saw her travelling to exotic places such as the Caribbean Islands, Hawaii and Costa Rica.
“It was crazy waking up in a different country every few days. The theatre was magnificent as were the orchestra and cast. For one of the shows, we had a 21-piece band on stage, which was absolutely incredible. We all got on brilliantly and worked well as a team, making the experience all the more special,” she recalls.
Despite her success, Hollie is very humble and clearly appreciative of what she has. On repeating the feedback she received during L-Isfida, she underlines how it was kind of Alan Montanaro and Victor Debono to call her a “fine actress”.
Hollie rightly describes musical theatre as one of the hardest industries in the world. In addition to having to excel in singing, dancing and acting, the competition is very tough.
“There are so many people out there auditioning that sometimes you don’t even get seen for a show despite being perfect for it. You may be too tall, or too pretty, or too thin or vice versa,” explains Hollie.
And that is why excellent training is essential. Hollie is strong-willed and clearly a fighter.
“If you’ve worked hard and done all you can to be the best that you can be, then, when you don’t get a job, which will happen more than once, you know it’s just because you weren’t what they were looking for and not because you weren’t not good enough. Nevertheless, if you keep improving yourself and trying, I believe you will eventually succeed against all odds.”
In addition to performing, the talented Hollie is also a singer/songwriter for music she describes as alternative/pop/ rock. She would love to record her material at some point and perform live, but it’s not her priority at the moment, though if the opportunity arose, she would take it.
Hollie is in the process of auditioning for a few things but nothing is confirmed yet, so what she’s doing next is a mystery to all.