My voluntary cultural year at the Bayerisches Staatsballett - A season in 4 acts
von Lian Heüveldop
The Nationaltheater towers before me. I find it hard to believe that I will be working in this building for the next eleven months. Nonetheless, soon, I’m standing in the ballet studio, surrounded by about 60 dancers, trying, first without much success, to remember all their names. The world of ballet is stranger to me than I thought. Apart from John Neumeier I barely know any important choreographers and at the beginning it does happen that I mistake world-famous guests for dancers, thinking they came for an audition…
In October Jewels by George Balanchine is the first premiere of the season 2018/19. Not only the sparkling costumes and the catchy music immediately appeal to me. Especially meeting Patricia Neary is an unforgettable moment. She came all the way from New York to lead the rehearsals for Rubies. The great muse of Balanchine leads the rehearsals with such passion and love for dance that even I as a layman can hardly resist putting on my point shoes. On the premiere evening everybody is excited and nervous. But I am happy to see the relief and joy that everybody in the company feels as the evening is a huge success.
In December I start working on my volunteer project. What I have in mind is a kind of “follow me around” video with a dancer. In my head I’m running after a person for a day with a rather semi-professional camera, cut everything with an editing software (which I don’t have yet) and maybe add some sort of music – at this point my skills in film aren’t particularly abundant. But as I get support from various sides, the whole project becomes way more professional than I could have ever imagined. I write a script, create a storyboard, make interviews and start the first shootings. Ultimately, the shooting takes six days and I am incredibly grateful to all the helping hands and to - the back then soloist, now principal - Kristina Lind for her openness, patience and time. The shooting phase ends in the middle of March and postproduction can now start. At the end of July, I will be holding the finished film with the title “Balance - A day in a life of a dancer” in my hands and I will be more than proud, because the result exceeds all expectations I had had back in December.
Balance - A day in the life of a ballerina
The ballet festival week shortly before Easter is one of the highlights of the season. Months before we had worked on coordinating flights, booking hotels and putting together rehearsal schedules. By now also the casts have been decided. The ballet festival week is opened by star guests like Ashley Bouder from the New York City Ballet and Vladimir Shklyarov from the Mariinsky Ballet, who leave me speechless after their performances in Jewels. Ballet Festival Week means a lot of work. Every day at least two or three different ballets are rehearsed, the heads are spinning, the bodies hurt. As an outsider, it is sometimes difficult to understand why people cope with the pain and even go beyond any limits to live their dream of dancing. Eight days, eight different productions in a row: After this week the company definitely deserves a few days off.
More and more people gather on the Marstallplatz behind the Nationaltheater. Some with small suitcases, others with bags as big as they planned for a several-months-journey. Finally, everyone gets on the tour buses to Ludwigshafen, where we will perform two shows of Christian Spuck’s Anna Karenina in May. Although it premiered in Munich two years ago and the dancers are very familiar with the choreography, it is exciting for everyone to perform on an unknown stage. This means exploring the stage area and its dimensions, positioning the scenes, and rehearsing quick costume changes. The effort is worth it. Ludwigshafen, well known for its dance playbills, responds with standing ovations and I feel honoured to be part of this experience.
It’s July and the season is over. Unbelievable how fast time passes... Everyone is looking forward to the long-awaited summer break, but this also means saying goodbye. The dancers call it “bittersweet”: an event that is simultaneously beautiful and sad. And it is for me, too: in this year I have learned more than I ever expected. I think, I will never completely understand the world of ballet, but now I know that behind all the beauty and art, that the audience sees on stage, there is also hard work and intense training. The dancers give up much more for this profession than we could ever imagine. It’s not a nine-to-five job that ends with the way home in the evening. Finding discipline and dealing with the constant strain on the body and mind and finally finding the balance between professional and private life is only one of the daily challenges a dancer has to face. I deeply admire this art, but I think I will never be able to fully comprehend it. However, being part of an institution like the Bayerisches Staatsballett for a year, has given me the opportunity to get an inside view into this balancing act and to feel the magic of this wonderful world.