Thank you for the question, Ingrid & Hanne Kuhlman
In August Bournonville’s ballet, Napoli, there is one character that can be a little tricky to figure out. The ballet opens up with a scene of the streets of Napoli. A charming, busy, dirty city on the sea in Italy. You meet the two main characters, Teresina & Gennaro. They are very much in love with each other. Teresina’s mother, Veronica, doesn’t want her daughter to marry Gennaro, a poor fisherman. Veronica introduces her daughter to two other possible suitors, Peppo and Giacamo, much wealthier options. Teresina will not have it and begs for her mother’s approval. BUT! Amid all of this, a woman dressed in a blue robe comes on stage and has a short dialogue with Teresina and Gennaro.
This character, in the newest version by Nikolaj Hubbe and Sorella Englund is called the Blue Angel. Originally the Blue Angel was in fact, a Catholic monk. Nikolaj and Sorella wanted to take a step away from having only one form of religion represented and decided to incorporate all religions by having her represent love.
The Blue Angel can ONLY be seen by Teresina and Gennaro. This is because they are the ones fighting for their love. The Blue Angel guides the couple throughout the ballet. You’ll see the Blue Angel in first act, have Teresina give her necklace to Gennaro, representing her choice in love.
Later, once Teresina has drowned and Gennaro is on the cusp of committing suicide, the Blue Angel reappears to Gennaro and tells him to search for Teresina in the Blue Grotto. She will not allow him to give up on love.
At the end of the ballet, you’ll see the blue angel cross the stage on the infamous bridge, at the couples wedding festivities. She is watching over them. Love prevailed.
In the original version with the Catholic Pilgrim, in first act, you see Teresina give the monk her heart necklace instead of Gennaro. The monk then blesses Teresina and Gennaro and their love. The monk also is the character to stop Gennaro from committing suicide when they learn that Teresina has disappeared.
Do you know the song, My Way, by Frank Sinatra? (such a good song) 🙂 It is a fantastic reminder that everyone has their own path in life. Their fate will be lived out their way. Twists, curve-balls, and unexpected challenges will occur to everyone at some point during their life’s journey. Life can be truly unpredictable! Maybe your path will take you in a totally different direction then you originally planned! That is exactly what happened to me. And it turned out to be my biggest blessing in disguise!
I moved away from home to N.Y.C. at 14 years old to become a year round student at the School of American Ballet. (SAB) SAB is the ballet school that feeds in to The New York City Ballet. (NYCB) In order to join the company, all dancers must attend SAB. So for four years, I trained everyday in hopes of getting in to the NYCB.
During my four years at SAB, Nikolaj Hubbe, a Danish star dancer with both the Royal Danish Ballet and The New York City Ballet, used to teach a few classes at the school in his spare time. I met Nikolaj when I was fourteen years old, in my first year at the school when he was my substitute teacher one day. What is pretty remarkable is that if you ask him today, he still remembers exactly where I stood at the barre during class. (Second girl in line, by the door. An easy escape (if needed) and I always had a girl in front of me for both sides, in case I didn’t pick up the combination.) 😉
Fast forward to about half-way through my fourth year at the school. I turned eighteen years old and was getting ready to graduate high school. Kay Mazzo (the director of SAB) called me in to a meeting about my future. This was right before audition season for professional companies started. Kay told me that Peter Martins (director of NYCB) and Nikolaj Hubbe had had a meeting about me. She continued to tell me that Nikolaj would be taking over the Royal Danish Ballet that August. (2008) And she informed me that Nikolaj had chosen one student, to bring with him back to Denmark. That was me.
So that is how I ended up at the RDB. It was a shock. It was not my plan. But RDB has given me my dream come true and I couldn’t be more grateful for where I ended up having my professional career.
Gosh, how do you deal with injuries!? Whether an injury is taking off ballet for a few days or taking off for several months…years, it is never fun. It always feels like it is the worst timing. None of us want to miss out. None of us want to lose an opportunity. None of us want to not be able to dance, the thing that we love to do.
Dealing with injury is a tough process but in order to survive it, we have to find an upside. Finding this upside will not come overnight. NO. NO. No. It will take you time.
I believe that there are several phases of injury that one has to go through.
Starting at the very beginning, Phase 1: Shock and Denial! “I’m fine. I’ll be fine,” you whisper to yourself as you limp home to watch Netflix’s on your couch. Yeah, sure… sure you’re fine. You aren’t fine at all.
Phase 2: Acceptance. Admitting that you are hurt IS scary. It has to be done, though. The quicker you get to this stage, the quicker you can start to heal. Your mind can finally calm down and stop having to repeat that made up story of how you aren’t really injured. One can stay in denial for months… just getting by…for months.
Phase 3: Depression. It will hit you hard and it will put you in a place that you never knew existed. A dark, dark place. Tears… so many tears. Anger will flare up from within you too. Depending on how you deal with this stage, will shape your return from your injury. I would say, feel that deep, black hole, feel the cold walls surrounding you, then… look up at the light. Look up to the surface and start swimming upwards to get out.
Phase 4: Find the positive side. Suddenly, you have more free time then you know what to do with. Instead of watching TV all day (yes we’ve all given in to those lazy days of watching nonsense TV when injured) I would recommend to take this time to work on having a more, well rounded life.
We put so much focus, energy and hard work in to our ballet that we easily forget that there are a million things happening in the world everyday. Exciting things.
Try something new! Dare to be a beginner at something again. Have that coffee with a friend that you never really had the time to get to know. Educate yourself. Explore what you might be interested in. Could be learning more about the human body or learning a new language or learning about art history. Sky’s the limit! Explore your own city. Find local spots that you’ve never been too.
Phase 5: Starting your way back to ballet. When you are able to start moving again, you’ll be so grateful to have survived all the previous phases. Your love for ballet will have grown even bigger. And believe it or not you will have learned a lot. Hold your horses a little bit though. Try not to rush back. Listen to your advisors including physical therapists and doctors but also listen to yourself. Only you can feel what is going on in your body. I’m a believer of listening to that gut feeling.
Phase 6: Expect at least one set back. I’ve seen it, time and time again. Someone has recovered from their injury, everyone is so excited to have them back in the studio but their work load just increased quite suddenly. That injury will get a little mad at you for asking so much of it, all of a sudden. Be smart. You are so close to doing what you love but you must remain careful and not push too hard. You are risking setting yourself even further back. And there is no way you are ready to be back at phase 1 emotionally.
If you are injured or know someone who is injured, I’m so sorry that you got hurt. I would never wish an injury upon another human being but especially never upon a dancer. It kills us. Our insides just die. I wish you a speedy and healthy recovery. I hope that you get back even stronger then when you were forced to stop.
Every year, Nikolaj Hubbe takes a small group from the Royal Danish Ballet, around 10-12 dancers, to perform on outdoor stages around the countryside of Denmark. Nikolaj Hubbe chooses what the dancers will dance and who will perform. The show is around 1 hour and fifteen minutes long and consists of classic pas de deuxs, & modern pieces from the current season or the upcoming season. Usually the show finishes with a group piece such as Pas de Six from Napoli or Pas de Sept from A Folk Tale.
If the summer ballet tour takes place during our contracted season then it is mandatory to go but some years the summer ballet tour takes place outside of the Royal Danish Ballet’s season and then it is a paid tour and optional to go. (but who wouldn’t want to go!)
I’ve always loved dancing in the summer ballet tour! Before I was a part of it, I set it out as a goal! I thought it looked like so much fun. Typically, the principal dancers go, some soloists and possibly an up and coming corps de ballet member or two depending on the repertoire.
It is a privilege to be asked by Nikolaj Hubbe to represent the RDB to the rest of the country. We love what we do and we love where we do it, so it is always a huge honor. The tour takes us to different cities every year, allowing us to explore Denmark in a way that we probably wouldn’t be exposed too otherwise. You fall in love with Denmark not just Copenhagen.
We have been to many cool locations to perform. Sometimes in font of old, historical castles or in large, blooming gardens or in a farmers backyard with sheep running by! Once we performed in front of an old prison… My favorite spot was several years ago in Funen. It was just so beautiful!
Summer ballet is especially fun because of the time you get to spend with your colleagues. There are many dinners and bus rides all together, so naturally a lot of jokes, great talks and lots and lots of laughs! All while we do what we love to do. It’s the dream!
The only time that summer ballet isn’t so fun is when the weather begins to drizzle, the temperature drops and now you are COLD. That is not the ideal condition to be in to perform difficult, high demanding pas de deuxs. Such as Black Swan pas de deux, or Grand Pas Classique…etc. Nikolaj always casts a pretty challenging program, full of difficult pieces. So when it is cold, as the Danish summer always has at least a few cold days, it is actually dangerous for us. Our muscles are frozen and that tutu isn’t exactly helping us to keep warm against the wind and other natural elements. When your muscles are cold, an injury is truly just one wrong twist, or one wrong step away. And to get injured, for us, is like death.
When the weather downpours, the show gets cancelled. Disappointing for all involved, including the audience that so kindly showed up, but understandable. The group usually goes to have dinner somewhere and then we try again the next day.
We do have a few tricks to help us stay warm on those more challenging days. We have skin colored leg warmers that we can wear and long underwear we can put on. If the temperature is ridiculous then we will shorten the program. Instead of each couple doing a pas, male solo, female solo and coda. We will cut each couple to only dancing the pas. That way we can still give the crowd a show, while lowering the injury risk for us.
We do all that we can to help ourselves recover and be ready for the next day, as a ten day tour with one day off is demanding on our bodies. It is common to see us traveling around with our compression socks constantly on, back warmers on, and a roller under our arm so we can roll out our muscles. Anything to help our bodies recover faster to be ready for the show the next day.
There will be a summer ballet tour this year from June 8th-June 17th. The specific cities have not been announced yet. The casting has gone up though, so I’m very happy to announce that I will be joining this years tour. I’ll be dancing, “That’s Life” from Come Fly Away and Napoli Pas de Six! I hope we come to a city near YOU!
Costumes!! So many beautiful costumes! We are so lucky at the Royal Danish Ballet to have a super talented costume department that makes THE most incredible costumes! I’m absolutely blown away by what I get to wear on stage. They are amazing!
I am 100% a tutu person.
I love all tutu’s! To be extremely specific, my favorite costumes are
the tutu’s that are considered to be “small”. For example, the tutu I
wore for Theme & Variations or for Diamonds.
The tutus used for more of the classical ballets such as Swan Lake or Sleeping Beauty, or Raymonda are also very beautiful but they can be quite large! The smaller tutus just feel like they fit the best.
Here are some of my favorite tutu’s!!
My other favorite type of costume is a leotard with a flowy skirt. For example, Ballo Della Regina or T. Pas.
I’m a fan of dancing in a tight fitting costume that doesn’t get in my way. 😉 Here are some of my favorite flowy dresses.
Soon (April 2020!!) in Come Fly Away, I will get to wear the costume below and I’m positive that it will be going on my favorite costume list! I mean look at those sparkles!!
The quick answer is yes. Yes, it is hard work to be a ballet dancer! BUT if you love it, love it with your heart and soul, then it is worth every second of pain, every sacrifice, every drop of sweat and every tear.
As a ballet dancer, you don’t do it for the money. You don’t do it if you are lazy. And you don’t do it if you don’t have a passion for dance. It’s too hard.
We spend hours upon hours trying to push our bodies to the extreme. We have constant body pressure to look a certain way. Long days. A six day work week. (Sometimes seven days, like last week 😉 )Vacations always include an element to stay in shape. We are more in our leotards then in street clothes. We are at the theater more then we are at home. It can be difficult to make friends outside of the theater because of our demanding and weird schedule. Friday nights are not to party. Friday nights are to recover because you most likely have a show the next day.
The hardest part is to stay strong mentally. When you are working so hard physically, it wears you down and you know the saying, “Life Isn’t Fair…” well ain’t that the truth. Things will happen, out of your control that will hurt you, and they most likely will never be explained. You have to stay focused. You have to continue working. And that is wayyy easier said than done.
You need to fall in love with the training. Fall in love with rehearsing and fall in love with performing. Then you no longer see the work as hard. You see it as a part of “you.” It is just what you do. The reward you get for dedicating your life and working so hard, is in my opinion, absolutely worth it. I love being a ballet dancer. And I love working hard to be a ballet dancer.
I think there is a kind of magic around it because it is THE reason why so many people become dancers! Ask any room full of dancers, Why did you start ballet? More then half will say, “I saw The Nutcracker.”
You can see a child’s face entirely light up when they watch it! You can almost see the dream forming in their own minds. Hoping that one day they to will get to be on that stage! And that is magic! It is so rewarding to witness, especially now as a Professional because it reminds us that this life that we have, was once just a dream. It reminds us of just how lucky we truly are to do what we love.
I think why The Nutcracker has a bit of a reputation among dancers, is because we do a lot of shows, in a short amount of time, of the same thing, everyday. And in many companies, The Nutcracker, comes around EVERY December. (The Royal Danish Ballet is also jumping on that train from this year forward.)
Companies tend to not switch up the version that they perform either. At the Royal Danish Ballet we dance the George Balanchine version. Personally, I love this version. But the girls do have more opportunities to dance then the boys. Girls get the magical dance of Snow, filled with jumps, great music and teamwork. Boys get heavy costumes and large masks as Mice. The girls can dance as Spanish, Arabian, Chinese, Marzipan, Flowers, Dew Drop, or the Sugar Plum Fairy. The boys get Spanish, one boy in the Chinese dance, one boy in the Candy Cane dance or the Cavalier to the Sugar Plum… Not quite as many thrilling options.
After you’ve done several weeks of rehearsal and then you are on show twenty something of The Nutcracker… you are tired. You are border line exhausted and still have ten plus more shows in front you. That is when, sometimes the patience for The Nutcracker starts to run thin. Which is where that reputation of professionals hating the Nutcracker comes from.
IN reality, ALL dancers have a soft spot for The Nutcracker. We owe that ballet our life. It created our dreams.
has everything. Nobody has the perfect body to be a ballet dancer
because ballet wasn’t designed for our bodies. Ballet asks for turned
out legs 100% of the time but we are built to walk with our legs
parallel. Degrees of turn out will vary, people’s insteps will be
different, some people are naturally flexible.. some really have to work
for it. So what is the right physique? No one really has the right
BUT when I
hear you ask about having the “right” physicality, I’m assuming that you
picture in your head a dancer with perfect 180 degree turn out, a
naturally thin body, high arched feet, flexibility above their head, an
easy turn and a flying jump. Those are qualities that ballerinas have
become known for over the years creating the definition of a “right”
Do you have to
have all of those qualities to be a professional ballet dancer? No. Do
you need to have some of those qualities… well.. honestly… it helps.
But, those qualities are the cherries on top. They aren’t absolutely
necessary in order to become a professional. The average audience member
doesn’t know anything about the ideal foot or line. They go in to the
theater to escape reality and to dream.
Meaning, it is
your movement quality that is the most important thing. If you can
touch people, if you can make things look effortless… if you can
transpire people away from their reality, then no one is going to be
asking if you have the “right” physique. They will just be asking, when
do you perform again!?
I get that there are some ideals in the ballet world that we will all forever strive to have. Everyday in ballet class that is what we are working towards. You and me. Try and put your concentration on the larger picture, the love of dance and spreading the love of dance. That is what will take you the furthest to becoming a professional ballet dancer.
I use four main tools everyday. An elastic theraband, a bouncy ball cut in half, warm boots, and my make shift ankle warmers.
Before I start
ballet class in the morning I pull out my elastic theraband and I do at
least 10 reps of pointing and flexing each foot. By adding the
resistance, I’m waking up my muscles for the day.
The bouncy ball cut in half, was given to me from my great colleague, Jon Axel. This half ball I’ll step on throughout the entire barre releasing tightness in my feet.
Warm boots. Yup. Just to keep my feet warm. I live in them at the theater. I will wear them at the very beginning of class but only for maximum two combinations. I really don’t like the feeling of having anything extra on my feet when I’m dancing. But they are great to have on everywhere else. Especially as the days get colder! You’ll catch me in my boots throughout the day between rehearsals, at lunch, putting on my makeup, walking to a costume fitting or before a show. Basically anytime I’m not dancing.
Lastly, my make shift ankle warmers. I really like my ankles to stay warm. I buy those really fluffy socks from Tiger and then cut the toe off and the heel away. I do this instead of using ballet legwarmers because 1- they are super cheap. About 15kr. 2- They hug my ankle nicely as they are made to be socks. You will always find me with ankle warmers on.
I will use a foam roller but I’m not religious about it. It’s more if I remember or if I’m killing time.
At the Royal Danish Ballet, a dancer, regardless of rank has to retire when he or she turns 40 years old. Once you turn 40, you are allowed to finish that season which goes until June.
I think many of us don’t even think about our retirement if we are happy and inspired at work. Every year though, at the end of the season party, there are always speeches to those who have decided to either leave the company or to those that are retiring from the company. Those speeches always brings that looming question to the front of your mind.
To be completely honest, I don’t know. I don’t know how to cope with such an early retirement age. My brain can’t even comprehend the idea of not dancing and performing… ever. Let alone stopping in ten years, for me. (I turned 30 this past October)
Some days you really feel the pressure. For instance, when a cast list goes up and maybe you didn’t get the role you hoped for… one of your first thoughts may be, will this ballet come back in time for me to have another shot at it!? Will I ever get to dance that role in my career?
These are very real questions. And all I can really say is that you have to put your faith in that everything happens for a reason. The management does have plans that you aren’t aware of. Trust the timing of your life. I do realize that that is much easier said than done.
At the same time, I would encourage any dancer to not just sit back and leave everything to the unknown. Reach out and try to get a few gigs or get involved in another project that interests you. Then, perhaps you can choose what pas de deux you dance and the stress of never getting to dance something can be calmed. It’s always worth a try!
The dancers that I have seen retire are at first usually grateful for a rest. It’s a hard career, on your body, on your mind, and on your soul. To step away from that pressure to be pretty much, “perfect” is welcomed.
I’ve seen a lot of wonderful ballerina’s become mothers at age 38, 39, and 40 years old. Maybe for society that is considered late but for a ballerina it’s the perfect timing. It’s so wonderful to see. Motherhood is a common route taken after retirement or just before retirement.
Many dancers teach ballet either as a full time job or just until they figure out what exactly they want to do next. I would say most stay in the world of ballet. Some have gone on to become Pilates teachers, ballet teachers, gym/workout teachers, or ballet masters… Sometimes, the theater will offer a dancer to come back for a production or two as a character dancer. For example, right now in the wonderful ballet Blixen, by Gregory Dean, several retired, beloved dancers are back on stage performing with us. It’s so nice to have them and they are absolutely excelling!
There are also those that step completely out of the business. Starting up coffee shops, renting out apartments, film director… The sky is the limit. It’s just tricky to figure out which path to take when all you’ve ever pretty much known is ballet.
Usually the dancers that decide to go back to school stop earlier then their retirement age. Although, of course, one could go back to school at the age of 40. No problem whatsoever. One is still quite young. But, it is common to see dancers around the age of 23-25, who have been a professional for a few years, to decide that they’d like to give school a go. Again around age 30 you might see another wave of dancers deciding to leave the company and go to school.
We don’t really talk that much about retirement. It isn’t until your dad or someone close to you asks “what is next?” Even now, for me, ten years away from retirement, I have no idea. I’ve had a few ideas running through the back of my brain but none of them are concrete. I would love to become an author. I’ve thought about becoming a grade-school teacher. I’m very interested in the film and Broadway world… maybe something there. ??? Time will tell.
The theater does have a fund where a dancer can send in an application describing what they want to try and see if it could be their next career. I don’t know that much about it because I’ve never sent anything in. I do know that you receive a certain amount of money to try something out either on the side of working as a dancer or you can request for some time off to discover more.
I think, for a dancers mind, the retirement has to be actually super close to start accepting the idea to start thinking about leaving our magical world. We all love it so much. Then, maybe, one would start to reach out to the previous generations that have already retired and have those conversations. It’s a thought that we push aside for years. Whether we should or not.
In many ways it feels like after 12 years of being a professional I’m only just starting to really figure a few things out. I don’t know if at 40 years old if I’ll feel like I actually did figure anything out or if I’ll feel like I never quite did figure anything out. That is why every picture is so meaningful. Every performance is such a victory! Every moment on stage with your partner, with the entire company is so touching. It’s all memories you never want to forget. You can’t take this career for granted. You never know when your last day will actually be. Injury or just life in general could always take it.
I guess I’ll be better equipt to answer this question in a few years time, when I’m closer to 40. In the meantime, retirement is kept in the way way way back of my mind.