Tuesday, December 27, 2011

An Ode to the Royal Danish Ballet

I planned to revive my blog after the New Year--after taking a prolonged hiatus from writing publicly, I decided that one New Year's resolution I could gladly keep would be to bring back this virtual project of mine. However, current circumstances have inspired me to fulfill this self-promise a week earlier than planned, and with a more serious post than initially intended.

The present economic woes wreaking havoc across the globe have finally, unfortunately made their way to the little country of Denmark I currently call home. As you can easily guess, this means financial cuts in all professions...and big ones, as recently announced by the Danish government, in the arts. The most recent reports indicate that Det Kongelige Teater will be hit hard by sweeping government cutbacks totalling nearly 100 million kroner, to be implemented over the next four years.

I am not writing to provoke political change (for that is a ship already sailed), or to imply that an artistic profession is above any other. I only write this in the hopes of painting for you a picture of the kind of environment in which I find myself privileged to work, and why it would be incredibly heartbreaking to lose even one part of such a fantastic group of people.

The dedication and work ethic required to become a professional ballet dancer is pretty unbelievable. Most of my colleagues and I have devoted most of our childhoods, teenage years, and adult lives to this one art form. We missed out on normal educations, lazy summers, proms, normal boyfriend and girlfriend experiences. We spent--and continue to spend--hours in front of a mirror every single day, taking class and rehearsing, attempting to create with our bodies an unattainable physical perfection, an impossible beauty. We are the kids who fell in love with ballet and never grew out of it, in the best sense.

There are some people who would argue that ballet--perhaps all artistic endeavor in general--is a frivolous profession in comparison to law, medicine, science, etc. I know this for a fact because I am related to several people like this. I am not writing to declare that what I do is "better" than what anyone else does. I am merely here to say what I, as one corps de ballet member, believe, which is this: for me personally, my profession is not just a job. It is my religion, if you will; it is my hardest, most love-hate relationship, my reason for getting out of bed in the morning. Whether you believe it to be "important" or not is up to you, but regardless of your personal opinion, please know this: ballet is difficult, and not only physically. Other dancers have had different paths; personally, mine has not exactly been spoon-fed. For one, I was not altogether built for ballet (very few, very lucky people are!), and I had to almost work my ass off to get where I am today. I gave up school, much to my parents' and relatives' chagrin; I sacrificed my sanity and physical health for what basically amounted to a four year period in my mid- to late-teens; I matured very early in some ways (discipline; focus; sense of responsibility) and simultaneously fell emotionally behind in many others (boys; puberty; self-esteem).

As a profession, ballet is not an easy world in which to work. As dancers, we are paid very little for a lot of work. We spend most of our days physically and mentally exhausted. Most companies can be cutthroat or catty, and ballet can leave mental wounds as harsh as the physical ones. (Furthermore, we can all throw dreams of becoming foot models out the window.) But we all dedicate a good chunk of our lives to this art form because we truly, deeply, insanely love it. In my case, I know that what I do for a living may not cure cancer or discover a new planet. But in this messy modern world of ours, filled with so much hate and destruction, if I can make a theatre full of people forget their problems for a couple of hours by dancing onstage two or three nights a week with others to create some sort of beautiful escape among so much global ugliness, then I have damn well done my job.

The events which led to my employment at the Royal Danish Ballet were actually quite similar to what we dancers here are facing now; my previous company in America was facing a huge financial crisis, and in a rather unfortunately mismanaged firing process, I was one of the unlucky victims. I found it difficult to leave my friends there, but not impossible; as an apprentice, most of my closest friends from the school were also moving other places as we all found jobs elsewhere, which somehow made parting ways a bit easier. I packed up my life to move to a foreign country where I knew virtually nobody, and found myself with a whole new life notebook to fill.

I quickly discovered that the Royal Danish Ballet is unlike any other company I have ever worked with or heard about. This may read like a Hallmark card, but in my two and a half years here, I have found in my colleagues a second family. To be sure, we are slightly dysfunctional, but most of the best families are. I arrived in Denmark a severly underweight, insecure person with an impenetrably thick emotional wall built up around her heart; I wasn't exactly the type to let people in (or, for that matter, food). A mere two and a half years later, I am physically healthy. I have friends who are as close as, or in some cases closer than, family. I have somehow managed to build myself a veritable life here. I have found someone wonderful to love, and who--miraculously, wonderfully!--returns the feeling. And to top it all off I'm now probably one of the most emotional people working at the ballet. (As one of my good friends put it early on in the season: "Carling cried! The season has officially started.")

In the heart of the biggest city of this tiny, cold slice of the planet called Denmark, is situated a stunning royal theatre. This old building has become my second home, and is filled with a group of dancers unlike any other. I have never in my life come across people so brilliantly talented, warm, funny, creative, and incredibly loving outside my own immediate family. I lack a vocabulary adequate enough to describe how amazing it is to work here, or exactly why. I can only say this: I remember my very first company class, when I was in my worst place physically and a very wobbly second worst place mentally, thinking, "God, I'll never fit in here." Two and a half years later, I found myself in company class this morning thinking, "God, it would absolutely break my heart forever to leave these people."

And so, I would just like to say a deep, heartfelt thank you to the Royal Danish Ballet. I may be known as something of a cry-baby and perhaps not exactly one of the "normal ones". Despite this, you have welcomed me, and I have never felt more "at home" away from home than I do now. I can only hope that this post makes others realize how amazingly unbelievable and world-class this company is.  To be a bit more blunt about it, I hope it inspires the Powers that Be (you know who you are) to work creatively to keep together this lovely, fantastic workplace.


T.Dowling said...

A very good post! Having watched one of the Nutcracker performances at Det Kongelige Teater this December I can attest to the high level of performances this company produces! All the best to you and the company in these difficult times.

P.S. Currently located in Malmo... and may I suggest a more aggressive marketing campaign on the other side of the bridge :P. Saw few to zero adverts/posters on the Swedish side. A whole other market awaits!

Amy Kennard said...

Your eloquence in writing is amazing, and if you had not become such an impassioned and talented dancer, you would have most certainly found success as a writer. It's rare that someone of your age (and I say that without condescension) finds true love in what they do, and you have gone through what most people go through in a lifetime to realize it. I try to remind my kids, "Do what you love and love what you do", but alas, that is not always possible. It took me 43 years. So kudos to you, my amazingly beautiful niece. You have always been destined for greatness, whether that be from outside or from within.

Jens Louis said...

What a wonderful read... Beautifully put. I hope with you, that someone will safeguard this unique ballet, that has found a "danish" way of doing things. Thank you for putting your feelings into words. And know that being in touch with your emotions is knowing who you are.

Anonymous said...

Very well put...and very true!

The Arts Antenna said...

Love your writing (and recent video LOL).

RE: funding..... Here's an interview which you may (or may not) find interesting/ relevant/ provocative/ offensive/ far too long to be bothered to read....


Comments always welcome :)

Anonymous said...

Your blog is so intersting and fun to read. I blog about the similar topic of dance. http://ryellejohnson.wordpress.com/

Anonymous said...

Your blog is very interesting and fun to read. As a class assignment i have currently started blogging about a similar topic, dance. Here's a link to my blog http://ryellejohnson.wordpress.com/

Melissa Nicole said...

So beautiful! I honestly rarely enjoy lengthy blog reads, but this one was such an enjoyable one. Thank you for this.