A few weeks ago, we accompanied Florian Ulrich Sollfrank backstage during the performance of The Lady of the Camellias on 3 March 2020. We spoke to him about the preparations for a performance, his daily routine and The Lady of the Camellias.
#BSBbackstage at The Lady of the Camellias
Florian Ulrich Sollfrank received his education at the Heinz-Bosl-Institute in Munich. During his time there he was supported by a scholarship by Konstanze Vernon. From 2012 to2014 he gathered his first professional experience as a trainee with the Bayerisches Staatsballett. For the next four years he was part of the corps de ballet of the Finnish National Ballet in Helsinki. At the end of April 2018 Florian Ulrich Sollfrank returned to the Bayerisches Staatsballett.
The Lady of the Camellias is scheduled; what do you do in preparation for a ballet?
I like it to get to know more about the background of the ballet. I am already familiar with The Lady of the Camellias as I have already danced in two different versions. And La Traviata is based on the same book. Therefore, the topic of this much sought-after lady of the mid-19th century is well known to me. But this is usually the case with narrative ballets. It happens a lot that you have dealt with the topic before and know the storyline. Still: The choreographer needs to focus on certain aspects of the material and re-work these. You cannot just bring the whole plot onto the stage and The Lady of the Camellias is quite a complex story. In my opinion, John Neumeier implemented the material in a brilliant way.
Tell us a little bit more about the different versions that you have danced already.
In Finland I danced the version of Val Caniparoli and did the role of St. Gaudins, which, by the way, does not exist in John Neumeier’s version. During the last performance series of Neumeier’s version in 2014/2015 I was a trainee here in Munich and learned the ballet, but didn’t dance it on stage. Now, four years later, I have the chance to participate in the production.
Does switching between two versions, like the choreographies from Val Caniparoli and John Neumeier represent a difficulty?
No, not really. The versions have some differences, but are also similar in so many aspects. I have already done three versions of Swan Lake and that wasn’t a problem either. Of course, I value the different aspects of the versions – each has its own strong points. In Finland I actually danced a larger role and had lots of fun during the performances, as it was an ambitious role. But I enjoy just as much to dance the blue and the golden ball in John Neumeier’s The Lady of the Camellias. I feel like being part of something bigger, where each dancer contributes.
How do you remember the steps, when you learn a new version or a completely new choreography?
I believe you learn motion sequences through repetition. You just have to do it over and over again, you need to understand and try to automatise. Like everything else in life you don’t get it from watching it at the first time, you rather have to repeat it several times. But I think it’s good that nowadays there are several options. You don’t only have to be in the studio; you can also watch a video. As I am a very auditive person, it helps me a lot to listen to the music of the ballet. Dance doesn’t exist by itself without rhythm. It helps me a lot to match the paces with the music; then I can remember the step sequence better. Music is like a guideline that pulls you through the choreography.
Do make-up and costume help you with the interpretation of your role?
As costume and make-up are a big part of the performances, they help me a lot to feel into my character. Once I wear the tailcoat and once the moustache is put on, I get the feeling of being part of a ball in the mid-19th century. So, yes, it definitely helps! And it’s an art form of its own. Someone designed the make-up specifically for this piece. You have to follow these specifications, in The Lady of the Camellias those are the moustaches and sideburns but they are specifically made for each individual dancer, as they have to match the hair colour. When a production is being prepared, there is a kind of trial run for the make-up process, meaning you try on the moustache etc. But after being part of the company for a while, the make-up artists know you quite well. They know: This wig could suit him. This moustache has the right colour and shape for him. Then it is adapted and personalized. So I always have the same moustache for instance.
So there is this one moustache with the name „Sollfrank“ on it?
Exactly. It is specifically adapted for me. Just like the costume. It’s not like I am wearing a medium-size tailcoat; the costume is adapted personally. There is so much done to bring a ballet production on stage, and just because we dancers are standing on the stage and get the applause, it is often forgotten who else was involved in the performance. Every single one has his contribution to the spectator’s experience: the costume department, the technical department, the staff in the office, who promote the performance, just to name a few. I think this should be mentioned more often and us dancers should be grateful for being a part of all that.
How do you prepare for a performance night?
Well on this specific evening, I had a new partner. I had never before danced the challenging blue ball with Mia Rudić. Therefore, we prepared this part before the show, to create a good feeling with each other and coordinate better. The pas de deux depend a lot on technique, still you need to adjust to your partner. If you have changing partners, this takes time. Apart from that you have to warm up your body to prepare it for the physical aspect. Therefore, I do some stretching and do a short exercise on the barre.
The third part of the preparation would be the mental one. I have to prepare myself for being on stage and for taking over my specific role. What do I do, who am I, how do I behave in this piece? For me this is often the most interesting part. You have to give yourself into the role, but still maintain your personality. I reflect on how I would do it and try from an actor’s point of view, not just to represent a character but to find myself within this role.
Preparing with your partner, physical warm-up and mental preparation are the three things I do before a performance. But everyone has his or her own way. Some like to talk to each other before the show and create a social atmosphere. Others are calmer and achieve concentration through this. I think, a certain kind of nervousness or excitement is always part of it, each performance should not only touch the audience but also the dancers.
A certain kind of excitement is still there, even when you have been on stage for a long time?
I believe I would start to worry if the excitement was gone.
Is that the reason and part of your motivation, to stand up every morning, dance every day and do this quite stressful job?
For sure. Art is emotional communication for me. You play a role, are part of a story and that touches spectators in one way or another. This nonverbal communication is what interests me in this art form. And it’s this fascination, that gets me out of bed in the morning and makes me stand for two hours in the studio to train and then rehearse every day for up to eight hours. You just got to be fascinated by this art form and I think, if this doesn’t get to you, if your heart is not attached to it, then you don’t go through with it.
How does a normal day look like for you?
I like it to have some time in the mornings. First I drink my coffee, then I have breakfast. Each Wednesday I go to pilates before class, then I go to work and warm up. After the exercises in the morning we have rehearsals. On a performance day we rehearse until 1pm. Then I go home, cook my lunch, relax and maybe go through the steps again. One hour before the performance I go to the theatre to get prepared. Afterwards I remove the make-up, take a shower and sometimes hang out with my colleagues. Then I go home, sleep, wake up and it starts all over again (laughs).
And in your spare time?
At the moment I am doing a master in culture and media management through online classes at the university of music in Hamburg. With my function as representative of the ensemble I am also very busy. Still I like to have the Sundays off to meet friends or go hiking or snowboarding in the mountains – depending on the season. In my free time I like to travel, that is why this social isolation at the moment is very hard for me. Staying at home is a challenge. But I try to use my time in the best way possible, for instance in studying for university.
As part of this interview we did an Instagram Story which can be found on the Instagram-Account of Bayerisches Staatsballett.
The Interview was conducted by Marie Schürmann.