Melissa Chapski joins the BSB
Changing the company in times of a worldwide pandemic is not an easy task. Corps de ballet dancer Melissa Chapski recounts her journey from the Dutch National Ballet in Amsterdam to Munich.
I would never wish any harm on the world, and I know that these times have negatively affected so many people, but having the opportunity to be a normal person and reconnect with my inner values is something that has been such a blessing for me. Since the start of the quarantine period, March 13th for me, I have been growing and learning in ways that I would never have expected of myself in such an unprecedented time period. I’ve learned to make the most of every day, every hour that I have on earth. I’ve learned to appreciate the beauty and magic that the world has to offer. I’ve learned to open my heart and be human because what I believe people need the most during this time is a simple act of kindness, a helping hand, or a smile. One day at a time, I approached my environment with an open mind and tried to pay goodness forward to everyone around me.
For me, this entire year has been a series of events that needed to be taken day by day. The only way I could have possibly accomplished all that has happened this year was by having faith that all the hard work I was putting into my dreams would pay off as the journey unfolded. This journey began with auditions and continued on with contract negotiations, setting a moving date, sorting paperwork, and making everything happen. Unfortunately, my plans were directly interrupted by Covid-19 which disrupted the flow. Amidst the chaos I learned how to turn everything positive and upon moving to Munich I felt the sweet feeling of serendipity.
The story begins in November 2019, one of the happiest months of my career so far. Dutch National Ballet was putting on a triple bill by George Balanchine. We opened with ‘Ballet Imperial’, then came ‘Symphony in Three Movements’, followed by ‘Who Cares?’. In November I had the privilege of dancing all three ballets almost every night. Towards the end of the tour, I jumped into surprise shows of the demi-soloist in ‘Symphony in Three Movements’. This was particularly thrilling for me because I had no rehearsals and was filling into a new place that I had never seen before. I quickly raced to learn the ballet from the video, and performed the following day. After my first show, I was also called to join the company’s tour to Shanghai two days prior to travel. Little did I know that after a week in China I would finish the tour in the demi-soloist place in ‘Symphony in Three Movements’. I was so sad that the program was ending because between dancing, traveling, and the unexpected challenges, I was on cloud nine getting a little bit of everything that I love.
Of course Nutcracker was coming up as well as the programming for the 2020 year, but somehow leaving such a fulfilling program and stepping into the unknown can be so daunting. The end of November also meant for me that it was time to start audition season so I sent my application to Bayerisches Staatsballett.
After receiving a reply that the company was interested in seeing me audition, we settled on a date in January. All I could do was my best, and as I mentioned before, take each day as it came. I arrived in Munich to join the training that cold January morning and both Mr. Zelensky and Ms. Yana Zelensky watched me and the other two girls that had come to audition. I tried my best in each exercise, remembering to stay calm but also show my love of dance. After the last exercise, we were asked to demonstrate a solo variation from the classical repertoire. I decided that I would dance a variation from Paquita, which I had won a gold medal for during my graduating year of school in 2015. The music played and off I went. Breathing, dancing, and just enjoying myself. To be honest, although it was a stressful situation and I wanted the job, I was just so excited to dance this variation. It’s truly times like these that a ballerina’s love for her art form shines through and I am reminded why I love my job.
The following day, I received an email that Mr. Zelensky was happy with my work, and the day after this (January 10th) I was offered a contract to the Bayerisches Staatsballett. I remember so clearly the exact moment, my excitement, and how honored I felt. It was such a quick reply! I signed my contract January 28th ensuring my start with the company on April 1st, 2020 leaving only two months to pack and move to Munich on time.
During the end of February, I was also asked by the Bayerisches Staatsballett if I could learn all the girls’ spots of the corps de ballet in Schwanensee. Immediately, I got to it and spent around 3 hours every day on the computer learning Schwanensee; drawing diagrams, re-watching sections, and getting the steps in my body. I wanted to be as prepared as I could, and I knew that if I learned each dance and every spot I would have a chance to step in and dance upon my arrival in Munich. Just after I finished learning everything, a friend from the company called to tell me that the Schwanensee performance-series had been canceled and I was absolutely heartbroken. At the same time my last shows at Dutch National went on and were very emotional. My last show came, and we cried and hugged and laughed, but it was a beautiful send off. Little did we know that five days later we would be sent home from the theatre indefinitely…
On this day, March 13th, I went into a frenzy. I had already packed most things from the theatre, but left the rest that was used on a weekly basis (which for a ballerina, is a lot). My best friend Lexie helped me move everything out as we knew this would be my last day working in our theatre, 16 days premature. As the days passed, I continued getting ready to move on the 29th, until around March 22nd when we cancelled the move. Globally all borders closed and all the ballet companies started cancelling their performances. My heart sank. How could something so good crumble right in front of my eyes?
I phoned Franziska Rauch at the BSB, also known as the guardian angel of the ballet dancers, but I will talk more about that later! We decided that moving the 29th was not going to be a safe option, including the fact that the KVR was closed. At this point, everything was going wrong and there was nothing I could do but accept it. No one knew how bad matters would get or what the next steps were so all I could do was re-evaluate every day. Rather than anxiously waiting for things to change, aimlessly checking social media, or calling around demanding answers; I took it upon myself to relax into this new life and enjoy the opportunity to be a normal human being for once. When I say normal human being I mean having the ability to choose what I want to do and enjoy a space without a brain clouded by ballet. I had time and energy to enjoy nature, catch up with friends and family (most of whom are very far away), read books without ballet steps consuming my thoughts, cook meals that take time to prepare, work on my German, go for walks with friends and chat for hours, and consider other interests that I want to achieve one day! However, at the same time I re-instated everything I had worked so hard to put into place - canceling the German insurance, re-instating the Dutch insurance, re-registering as a citizen of Amsterdam, trying to contact the KVR to reschedule my appointment, contacting my landlords, and so on…
When I made the mental switch and prepared myself to not only use this time in quarantine productively, but furthermore to thoroughly enjoy it, I was thrilled. I love being outside, I love sunlight and sunsets, nature and plants and trees, and exploring new parks and areas. I love walking long distances and talking to people and discussing human interests and what people think makes the world a better place or makes life more fulfilling. This pandemic gave me the ability to rediscover myself and affirm that I was fulfilling my life. Of course, there has been a ballet shaped hole in my heart, which only reminds me I am on the right path chasing my dreams.
Furthermore, I wanted to make sure that I stayed mentally and physically fit during the quarantine. Joining a new ballet company, I wanted to come prepared to show my best first impression. The day we were sent home I brainstormed a training regimen that I thought would work for me and tested it immediately. After weeks of evolution, the schedule came along:
8:20 - Alarm
9:00-9:20 - Run 3km
9:20-9:35 - Cool Down/Stretch
9:45 - Quick Breakfast
10-11-(Monday, Wednesday, Friday) Pilates on Zoom with Leila Kester
11:15 - Bike to the studio I was renting
11:45-13:15 - Ballet class - Recording of Olga Everinoff from Royal Ballet’s World Ballet Day
13:30-14:00 - Bike home
14:10 - Lunch
14:30-15:30 - German lessons on Duolingo App
I stuck to this religiously from Monday to Saturday and also made sure to sleep eight hours each night, drink two liters of water per day, and eat clean (I even cut meat as well just to experiment, which I really enjoyed!). Six weeks of this was killer, but it also kept me sane and on schedule. Time after 15:30 was used for long bike rides with friends, tanning in the sun, reading books, discovering new music, packing, testing recipes, or calling friends and family.
April 17th came along and I received a call from Franziska again stating that the ballet company was hoping to re-open in May and that I should join and I immediately restarted my moving checklist. Trying to get things done in “corona-times” not only takes longer, but guidelines are nonexistent because everything is so upside-down. I called the health department of the KVR to inform them that I was coming from abroad and that I knew I had to do a mandatory two-week quarantine. They replied stating that it would not be necessary due to my situation and I was exempt! This is when all my good luck started…
We booked a rental car and one of my good friends from Dutch National, Pascal, had decided to drive me on Thursday April 23rd across the border to Munich, which was open as normal and an eight and a half hour drive. We put everything in the van the day before leaving and started our journey at 7:15 on Thursday morning. The trip was almost effortless. We brought all the boxes into my new flat and Pascal drove back the next day just as easily. More good luck…
Upon my arrival all I could think about was my desire to explore. All I wanted was to be outside in the gorgeous city, walking through all the parks full of greens and foliage and flowers, the blue sky and old buildings surrounding me. I walk so much here with music in my ears and it just feels like I’ve been dropped in heaven. I love this city so much, I feel such a good energy and it seems to match my personality very well. I’ve been trying the food too which I love, and found nice spots to lay in the sun and read. I also re-established my daily runs on a gorgeous route along the Isar. The only difference is that now I am doing my ballet training in my room each day with the ballet masters from BSB teaching us online through Zoom. Ballet can be really tough on the body, and not having the proper equipment to train is very challenging. After four weeks in Munich, this was my revised routine:
8:20 - Alarm
9:00-9:45 - Floor Barre or Pilates
10-11 - BSB Company Class on Zoom
11:00-11:20 - Jumps in SNEAKERS from Olga Everinoff
11:30-12:15 (Monday, Wednesday, Friday) - Pilates on Zoom with Leila Kester
12:20 - Breakfast
12:45-13:00 - Run 3km
13:00-13:30 Cool down
14-15 (Monday/Friday) - Pilates 1 on 1 with Anna Villadolid (ex-BSB principal)
It feels different for sure. I didn’t expect it to feel the same, but it’s hard to find a satisfying balance. During my time in the city, Franziska Rauch of the BSB administration team, has been helping me to get everything prepared to work with the company as soon as possible. I call her the guardian angel of the dancers because she always goes above and beyond to help us get everything done in a comfortable and timely manner. I owe a lot of the luck I’ve been experiencing to her because she’s done everything in her power to help me out! I mean it when I say things have absolutely fallen into place for me here, I’ve met so many wonderful people and the dancers have all been so kind in reaching out to me to see if I need help with anything. Some even assured me, before ever meeting me, that if I needed anything they would be there for me!
I sit on a bench in the Viktualienmarkt during sunset as I write this. Looking up at the planet Venus amongst the stars I can’t help but get excited about the last piece of the puzzle - my life in the ballet company. I hope that it will be everything I dream of, but for the first time ever, I am satisfied with the way things are right now even though they aren’t perfect. In a new city, with plenty of time to explore and get acquainted with my new friends, time to enjoy the sun and the outdoors for once, plan a trip to the Zugspitze and the Koenigsee, eat Bavarian food and read books, listen to summer music and check in on all my friends and family. With the ability to run everyday in the fresh air alongside the blossoming plants, I can’t help but think to myself - I’m healthy, I’m happy, I’m fulfilled, and I’m genuinely enjoying each day to the fullest. I’m not wasting time because life isn’t normal. This is the life we were given and all we can do is make the most of it!
Something else to remember, everyone is going through their own troubles, so if possible, try smiling at people on the streets or approaching others with gentleness, because you never know how positively it may affect them. Little things like these are what restore our faith in humanity and give us the strength to believe that we are all in this together. Life will unwind as it is meant to be and I am definitely happy to be in beautiful Munich during this crazy time. Thank you Bayerisches Staatsballett and Bavaria for welcoming me with open arms, I can’t wait to dance for you! I hope everyone is staying healthy, optimistic, and resilient and able to enjoy this time that life is on pause, because we may never see it again in our lifetime!