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.

anjara-ballesteros-bailarina2anjara-ballesteros-bailarina1photo by Alice Blangero

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Jane Campion, The Piano, and the women of Cannes

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Jane Campion is the president of the jury of the Festival de Cannes this year. She is also the only woman that has won the Palme d’Or in the history of the festival, and the second ever that has been nominated to an Oscar for Best Director (Kathryn Bigelow is the other one). Her presence at this year’s edition of Cannes raises some important questions about the figure of women as film directors, and the shocking scarcity of them in the movie industry. Campion was interviewed recently by The Guardian and shared an illustrating anecdote:

She recalls with some horror an event she attended for Cannes’ 50th anniversary, when she found herself on a stage with all the other Palme d’Or winners – the only woman there. “It was a shocking moment. It was embarrassing for everyone. I think everyone felt that it was really not right.” She still would be the only woman, but the festival is emphatically not the problem. “My sense is that Cannes is very interested in new voices in cinema, never mind where it comes from or the sex of it. It’s to do with who funds films in the first place.”  

women-cannesThe Jury of Cannes 2014: (from left to right) Leila Hatami, Carole Bouquet, Do-Yeon Jeon, Jane Campion and Sofia Coppola last week

Born in New Zealand and now living in Sydney, Jane Campion is one of the most influential filmmakers of the century thanks to her unique vision. She studied Anthropology and Art, which make the perfect combination for a movie director. She can express universal feelings and emotions through the story, without even needing words. Just through visuals. Well, that’s the key of a good movie director. I got to know Jane Campion through The Piano, the movie that made her win the Palme d’Or at Cannes and an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay in 1994. I love the film for many reasons: its subtlety, the story, the great performances of all the actors (did you know that Holly Hunter played the piano herself for the movie?), the soundtrack by Michael Nyman, the photography, the costume design… I like revisiting this film every now and then to analyse it further and get a closer look at what Campion wanted to tell us. From the stage play that the girls do, to the notes that Ada writes. No detail is superfluous. The Piano can be seen through multiple lenses. As a version of Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, as a Gothic Romantic novel, as a view on human spirituality, or as an interpretation of romantic colonalism. Above all, a homage to feminity. The film also raises debates on the effects of the subjectivity of the narrator, which is very well explained by Gwen. Ada is mute ‘by choice’, and we get to see her voice in the first scene of the movie, but she never speaks again until the end:

But is Ada the real narrator as her voice suggests it? Are we going to see the world the way she sees it, or perceives it? Choosing a mute as the lead character is intentional; Ada’ senses are sharpened and ours are too. Is the viewer inside her mind or is he omniscient? The Piano’s overture creates a new form of narrative – it exposes viewers to a simple storytelling, only for Jane Campion to open them to the subtle exercise of identifying the true narrator.

Jane Campion was portrayed in the documentary Story of film as one of the key figures of the 90’s along with Baz Luhrmann, also Australian. Story of film is a fantastic documentary by Mark Cousin that explains the evolution of cinema from its birth to Avatar. The documentary is divided into several episodes, each of them dedicated to a certain decade and its most relevant filmmakers and movies. The documentary shows each director’s references, the changes that introduced every key movie, and the world events that shaped the stories. I highly recommend it for all movie lovers out there. You can watch it here. This interview by Tabb and Dieckmann also reveals some interesting details about Campion’s vision:

 “I’m finding myself less and less interested in what you can do with shots and things. There’s probably only about twenty different possibilities in the end. I’m more after what sorts of sensations and feelings and subtleties you can get through your story and can bring out through performances—although at the same time, I’m always wondering about style, trying things out. I do a lot of drawings for my films. ‘The Piano Lesson’ [the movie’s original title] is very sophisticated, easily the most adult or complex material I’ve attempted. It’s the first film I’ve written that has a proper story, and it was a big struggle for me to write. It meant I had to admit the power of narrative. And there is definitely room to play, visually—in fact, there’s a big call for it.”   About being a painter: “Being responsible for everything you put in your picture, and being able to defend it. Keeping everything clear around you so you know what is operating. To open the wound and keep it clean.”

Some of Jane Campion’s favourite films:
1. Seven Samurai (Akira Kurosawa)
2. The Night Porter (Liliana Cavani)
3. The Firemen’s Ball (Miloš Forman)
4. That Obscure Object of Desire (Luis Buñuel)
5. Contempt (Jean-Luc Godard)
6. Tokyo Story (Yasujiro Ozu)
7. La strada (Federico Fellini)
8. Scenes from a Marriage (Ingmar Bergman)
9. Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto (Hiroshi Inagaki)
(list published in Criterion)

Jane Campion’s latest work is Top of the Lake, a TV mini-series with Holly Hunter and Elisabeth Moss about the disappearance of a young girl in mysterious circumstances.

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All thanks to The Piano: Holly Hunter (Best Actress), Anna Paquin (Best Supporting Actress) and Jane Campion (Best Original Screenplay) at the Oscars in 1994.

 

“Film-making is not about whether you’re a man or a woman; it’s about sensitivity and hard work and really loving what you do. But women are going to tell different stories – there would be many more stories in the world if women were making more films”. Jane Campion

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