A day in the life of a ballerina

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You know someone is an artist when what they do, besides being extraordinary, seems effortless. I’m marvelled everytime I see Maria João Pires sliding down the piano keyboard as if playing Chopin was the most natural thing in the world, I love reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez and realizing that really was the way to write that sentence, and each time I see Tamara Rojo floating across the stage, I wonder if she discovered how to cheat gravity. We rarely appreciate the hours dedicated to master that ‘presto agitato’ from the third movement or the impossible ‘fouettes en pointe’ in that ballet.

A few months ago I had the pleasure of meeting the company Les Ballets de Monte Carlo for the premiere in Madrid of ‘Lac’, a modern version of ‘Swan Lake’ at the Teatros del Canal. Before the performance of the ballet, I attended a rehearsal with two dancers (from another company that acted later), where I saw how they repeated dozens of times a single dance move until every detail was controlled. The result: perfect –though they certainly continued pursuing their perfection.

Among the dancers of ‘Lac’ there was a young Madrid-born dancer, Anjara Ballesteros, who played the important role of the White Swan. Her portrayal was magnificent, and soon as the piece was finished, I contacted Anjara’s press team to interview her. Here you have a behind the scenes vision, from within the rehearsal rooms, of the daily life of a dancer. Don’t miss her Instagram account (from where the photos of this post are) to know what it means to be a ballerina. Training, effort and fulfilled dreams.

Interview with Anjara Ballesteros

Monica: When did you discover your passion for ballet?
Anjara: I do not remember an exact moment, as even when I just was three years old I took every opportunity to make a wish to want to be a dancer. My mother still has my letters to Santa Claus in which I only asked him to learn how to dance and colorful bobby pins :)

Could you tell us about your career?
When I was nine years old I was granted my wish, and I started dancing in Royal Conservatory of Madrid, where I had some extensive studies in flamenco, to theater or anatomy. l specialized in Classical Dance and I studied with Eva Lopez Crevillén, Ana Baselga, Lazaro Carreño, among others, and started working with choreographers such as Tony Fabre. At the end of my studies I joined the National Dance Company (then Headed by Nacho Duato) for three years. After that, Jean Christophe Maillot offered me a contract at the Ballets de Monte Carlo, and I’m still here after seven years in which I have felt from the first second that dancing is exactly as I had ever wanted.

What has been your most special moment on stage?
I have very special moments in my mind, but when my parents are in the audience every second on stage means much more to me.
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Which is your training routine?
I like to start with a good Colacao with bread or yoghurt with fruit and cereals, then shower, warm-up exercise, class, rehearsal, shower, lunch, warm-up exercise, rehearsal, shower, eat something sweet, and home! I like doing pilates and girotonic, but it varies depending on the free moments that I find in my routine.

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How many hours a day you rehearse?
We rehearse for six hours in a normal working day, but studies are open for a couple of hours more in case we need to use them.

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What do you do to unwind?
I love spending time with my family and friends, is the best way to disconnect, but it is not always possible, so cooking, drawing, walking, shopping, or navigating online helps me relax and unwind.

How do you prepare yourself before going on stage?
In the last minutes before going on stage I assure that everything is in place, the details of costumes, props, I prepare my body, review corrections, try a few steps, take a deep breath and let my mind think of nothing more than what I will do in the next two hours. It’s almost like a meditation exercise.

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What goes in your mind when you’re dancing?
This question is double-edged !! Our director JC Maillot jokes sometimes that we shouldn’t do our grocery list while dancing. lol … I’m good, I like to immerse myself completely in roles that I play and keep my mind focused.

Which are your favorite compositions for ballet?
Among my favorite ballets are Crystal Pite Dark Matters, Petit Morte, Bella Figura by Jiri Kylian, Walking Mad by Johan Inger, White Darknest, Herrumbre by Nacho Duato, La Belle, Cendrillon, Faust, Lac Casse-noisette Compagnie Jean -Christophe Maillot, and what was my first favorite ballet, Romeo and Juliet by Kenneth MacMillan.

Which character would you like to play? 
I have always wanted to play Juliet, it is a role that I haven’t done so far and it seems so complex and so fascinating in which I’m wishing I could spend all my energy.

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Do you prefer classical ballet or modern dance?
I prefer what passionates me, I do not care about choosing modern or classic, but about what motivates me and transports me.

What dancers do you admire?
I deeply admire Bernice Coppieters, a dance star with a passion and a breathtaking quality, who while being at the top does not prevent her to show her self more human self and remains approachable. For me it’s incredible to be around someone like her.

What is the best advice you’ve been given?
My parents often give me good advice, and one that is probably the best: ‘eat well’. Without health you won’t have the strength to fight for your dream.

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What advice would you give to a future dancer?
Keep searching for professional advice, and have in mind the phrase ‘the devil is in the details’. It is a good phrase for this profession. Often it is just a detail what drives us and what stops us, so I would say that the most important things are caring about the details and finding what makes you different from the rest, which can come disguised as flaw but turn into a virtue.

What is the best about being a dancer?
The best thing about being a dancer, for me, is the privilege of daydreaming.

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Quick questions
- Favorite movie about ballet: The film made for Pina Bausch (Pina)
- The TV series you can’t miss: Right now I don’t follow any, suggestions are welcome!!
- Your ideal city: Madrid.
- The book that you usually re-read from time to time: Any by Paulo Coelho.
- The song you can listen to over and over again: ”Love is a Losing Game” by Amy Winehouse.
- Your favorite restaurant: In Madrid, Yakitoro and the Mercado de San Anton, but the place that steals my heart is Aprazível in Rio de Janeiro.

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The aesthetics of ballet

Due to a series of combined events I’m passionate with the aesthetics of ballet lately. One of the reasons of this new interest is that I had the chance of attending a rehearsal of the Compañía Nacional de Danza in Madrid some weeks ago. It was a wonderful experience. They were rehearsing Gisele and some other pieces, and it couldn’t have been more beautiful. Seeing the dancers show the emotions of their characters through movement, without all the scenery and the costume, was the best way to enjoy the purest form of classical dance. Watch the clip I recorded:

Then I had to rewatch Black Swan. I have to say that the ambient in the Spanish dance company wasn’t anything like the one Natalie Portman portrayed. When I visited the rehearsals everyone seemed so happy to be able to dance in such a good team and the teachers were very nice. Anyway, I love the film as it is (oh, the Rodarte dresses!)

To share some news, the English National Ballet directed by Tamara Rojo is coming to Spain in April to perform Le Corsaire, the ballet inspired by a Lord Byron poem. It’s the first work conducted by Tamara Rojo as director of the company to be performed, and plus, she’s the prima ballerina of the piece. It premiered in London last week, and the tickets for the representation in Madrid are about to be sold out. The costumes are designed by Bob Ringwood, who also did Troy, Batman, A.I, The Empire of the Sun

These images belong to the rebranding of the English National Ballet campaign released in early 2013. The dresses were by Vivienne Westwood. I love the decadent feeling of the photographs.

 Vivienne Westwood and the Vienna Ballet in the New Year’s Concert 2014
Vivienne Westwood had also the honor to design the costumes for the Vienna Ballet in the New Year’s Concert. The result was simply amazing. The dresses had multiple layers of cloth and lots of volume, but it allowed flexibility of movement and accompanied the dancing so smoothly. You can read more info about it at Runway Rider.

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