Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Home

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the concept of home lately. It seems like moving to London has made me realize more than ever, that to me, home is a very fickle and fleeting little thing.
I’m a citizen of one country, but I grew up in another. That throws many people off – especially people dealing with the distribution of National Insurance Numbers in the Greater London area, it seems – even though it’s not that uncommon. For me, the important country has always been the one I grew up in – after all, that’s the one that provided my daily surroundings for the first 21 years of my life. And it’s not like we’re talking crazy exotic surroundings here, I grew up in northern Germany. I know people who have lived the majority of their lives in sunny California, because that’s where their parents decided to move. I have friends who have spent part of their childhood in France, Spain, Italy, Belgium – you name it. So I think it’s safe to say, that in this context, Germany is not very exotic, nor is it far away from the country that’s listed under citizenship in my passport – Denmark. None the less, my upbringing seems to have installed in me a belief that home isn’t necessarily a geographical concept. And most importantly, it isn’t just one thing.   
At the age of 16, I went to live in Andalusia, Alabama for a year, as an exchange student. My reasons for coming to the south, as opposed to any other part of the United States, were not exactly well researched – let’s just say Gone with the Wind was involved – but for some magic reason I felt at home immediately. When I think about it after all these years, I can’t help but feel like I must have been an Alabamian in a former life. How else would you explain the randomness of ending up in a small town in southern Alabama, and feeling like you’ve found your home away from home? When I returned to Germany after a year, I knew two things for sure. 1: I had made friendships that would last a lifetime. 2: I could forget about ever having all my loved ones on the same continent, let alone in the same country.   
In the past six months, I have been fortunate enough to make some lovely new friends, and whenever that happens, it usually causes me to compare their version of home to mine. For example, I have met a whole group of wonderful people from the land down under – they not only have the most adorable accents, they also represent a very geographically concentrated version of home. When they talk about home, they talk about Sydney, about their parents and extended families, and about friends that they’ve known for most of their lives. So suddenly I find myself thinking, am I an egoistic cynic, who doesn’t know what home means? I don’t think I am. For me ‘back home’ – aka parents, childhood, high school, oldest friends – is located in at least three different places. So my version of home is bound to be rather loosely defined – as well as constantly changing. Am I jealous of people who have it all in one spot? I don’t think I am. I just like contemplating the differences.   
At the age of 30 years and a couple of months, the math looks approximately like this: 6 months in the United Kingdom, 1 year in the United States, 8 years in Denmark and 21 years in Germany. And even though I have no idea what the next 30 years will bring, I’m pretty sure they are going to add at least a few countries to that equation. 
So if home isn’t geographical, what is it then? What gives me that fuzzy and warm feeling in the stomach? People speaking German – no matter where in the world they happen to be. The smell of Clinique Happy. Sitting at the dinner table in my parents’ house. Somebody saying Ma’am or Sir – preferably with a southern accent. Riding my bike in Copenhagen. Listening to Sweet Home Alabama. Drinking red wine and eating cheese. The smell of my parents’ garden on a summer night. Does the occasional absence of these things mean that I’m less content with where I am? No. Their presence just means that I’m reminded of my happy places. And it just so happens that I have quite a few of those – geographically as well as mentally.
My mom has kindly asked me not to put an ocean between us – which means that the United States, Australia and the likes are out of the question. Well, at least for longer periods of time, she’d be fine with a year or two – I think. So for now, that is my definition of home – a city that inspires me and makes me happy, politicians that don’t piss me off too badly, and no large body of water between me and the ‘rents. Or, in the words of a very clever and extremely well-dressed lady: »The most important thing in life is your family… In the end, they’re the people you always turn to. Sometimes it’s the family you’re born into and sometimes it’s the one you make for yourself.« That’s how I feel about home.


Another version of home...

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Ballet Superstars

So, here’s an interesting thought for you: in London, ballet and contemporary dance is kind of a big deal. And when I say a big deal, I mean dancers are recognized on the street and performances sell out. I’ll say that again: Performances. Sell. Out. Amazing, isn’t it?
I just got back from a ticket-buying trip to my friendly neighbourhood dance venue – which, incidentally, is Sadler’s Wells, the UK’s leading dance house – and that little trip got me thinking. Late yesterday afternoon, Sergei Polunin, Principal with The Royal Ballet and quite the ballet superstar in many people’s opinion, resigned. And not in the polite I-would-like-to-move-on-when-my-contract-is-up-way. No, it was more like taking his ballet shoes, slamming the stage door and saying f**k you, Royal Ballet and Dame Monica Mason (who, by the way was lovely enough to promote him at the age of 19, thus making him the youngest principal dancer in Royal Ballet history). I mean the kid is 21, but still – manners, please! Anyway, my point is this: within minutes of the news breaking via press release from the Royal Opera House, Twitter was all aflutter with speculations as to why he would resign so dramatically. Within hours, articles had been written for The Evening Standard and BBC News and this morning Mr. Polunin was on the front page of The Daily Telegraph. And I realise that this is partly due to the nature of his resignation, but there’s more to it than that. Let me explain: About a year ago, Kristoffer Sakurai retired from The Royal Danish Ballet at the ripe old age of 30. For years, Sakurai was my ballet-crush. He was a stunningly gorgeous dancer with equal amounts of heartbreaking beauty and well-deserved cockiness. He had this way of ending a difficult variation with a sparkle in his eye that said »Yeah, that was pretty awesome…« But it was never too much. And then he resigned – due to injuries. And I only know that because I have inside sources (doesn’t that sound cool…), because there was never a press release or a statement of any kind. Again, I realise that this is much less dramatic than Sergei Polunin’s stunt, but still: I don’t think retiring that quietly would have been an option, had Kristoffer Sakurai been a dancer with say, The Royal Ballet here in London. Because principal dancers with The Royal Ballet are superstars. People camp out at The Royal Opera House in the wee hours of the morning to get tickets that have been returned for sold-out performances – and the line has been known to stretch all the way around Covent Garden.
Please don’t get me wrong – I love The Royal Danish Ballet with all my heart and soul. It’s an amazing company that has, unfortunately, been going through a very rough time recently. And all the wonderful artists in the contemporary scene in Copenhagen are very close to my heart as well. But moving to London has caused me to view dance in a completely new way. I am still getting used to the fact that I have to book my tickets more than a few days ahead of a performance – at least if I don’t want to pay the price of a small car for them. And as I’m typing this, I am watching a story on Channel 4 News entitled How hard is the life of a professional ballet dancer? – about the resignation of one Mr. Sergei Polunin. Primetime news? I rest my case.  

An Anniversary - and an Announcement.

Today is my six-month anniversary as an Angel resident. And to celebrate that, I have decided to tell you about a little project that I’ve spent the last couple of months working on. Drumroll, please… I present to you – Turnout Arts! What on earth is that, you ask? Let me tell you all about it!
Since I finished my Bachelor’s degree at the University of Copenhagen in 2008 – and while I was working on obtaining my Master’s degree from the same institution – I have been working with performing arts. Right from the start, I was lucky enough to be given a lot of opportunities and I worked my way up, from assistant jobs of all sorts to most recently being the producer for a very talented and lovely choreographer. Despite being really excited about moving to London, I was a little sad to leave behind all the people I’d worked so closely with for several years, and I decided that I wanted the best of both worlds (yeah, I’m like that…). So I have established Turnout Arts with the main purpose of promoting Danish dance artists in London. And I am proud to say that I already have three clients!
I’m the kind of person who spends entirely too much time on the things that shouldn’t be at the top of my list – say, finding a name for my company before remembering that I need to register it with HM Revenue & Customs as well. And this time was no different: I was out having dinner with the man, and we were brainstorming about names. Suddenly a girl walks by the restaurant we’re in, and without really thinking about it I say: »There goes a dancer.« The man looks out, sees her characteristically turned-out feet, and says: »You could always call the company Duck Feet Productions…« Needless to say, he’s a very funny man. Anyway, in ballet-lingo, having duck feet is called turnout and after we’d moved from Duck Feet Productions to something-something-turnout, I started to like the direction we were going in. I love the idea of using a name that represents something that’s very characteristic of this wonderful art form – the turned out feet that are a part of ballet’s distinctive aesthetics, something that every dancer works on throughout their career. At the same time, the name represents my future projects – hopefully bestowing upon them a good turnout, whether it’s a sold-out house or any other kind of happy ending. So when, after a couple of glasses of wine, we arrived at Turnout Arts, we were quite pleased with ourselves.  
With the launch of Turnout Arts, I also throw myself into the world of social media. This blog is the first step; the next step is actually using the Twitter-account (@mettewb) I’ve had for, oh, about a year or so… I am a firm believer in the power of social media, and living in London has only strengthened that belief – the dance world here is on Twitter-fire! So I guess it’s about time I join the party. Retweets, hashtags and eavestweeting – I’m ready.
Maybe this post has left some of you thinking »What’s with the self-promotion? Where did all the Alabama-jokes go?« Well, first of all – aren’t blogs all about self-promotion? And second of all… Turnout Arts is what the lovely Brits call a Sole Trader company. That means that there is no distinction between the company and me – and that’s exactly how I feel about my work. So when I write about my life here in London, it wouldn’t make sense to leave out Turnout Arts, or any of my other work for that matter, because it’s what I do. I also plan to spam you with links to the articles I write and tell you about the performances I work on. So don’t say I didn’t warn you. Dance is who I am. Well, dance and Alabama. And Starbucks. And – well, you get the idea. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Are you American?

»Hi there, I have an appointment for a check-up for my dog, Max?«
»Right, yes, here we are. Has Max been to the vet before?«
»Well, no, not here… I mean…?«
»Oh no, I mean back home in America?«
»Well, we actually moved here from Copenhagen…«

Cue confused lady at the vet looking at me like I’m the strangest thing she’s ever seen.
This slightly odd conversation took place at my local vet’s office in Angel, London a few days after I arrived here with my man, my dog and a ton of stuff – well, the stuff was actually ever so slightly delayed due to a forgotten passport, a mover with food poisoning (don’t EVER eat the food on the ferry from Oostende to Ramsgate!) and a ridiculous amount of other incidents that I won’t bore you with here.
Anyhow, fast-forward to six months later and that little conversation has become just one of many situations were I am assumed to be American – on a daily basis. Granted, after having lived in Andalusia, Alabama for a year when I was 16 – which was longer ago than I care to remember – I do have the slightest touch of a southern accent when I speak English. Okay, okay – I have a full-blown southern twang and sound worse than most of my friends who were born and raised in Alabama! But that’s completely beside the point. What really amazes me, is that I was saying y’all like somebody was paying me for it after just a few weeks of living in Alabama and after six months in London I still can’t get myself to actually pronounce the letter T unless it’s at the beginning of a word. Nonetheless, I really like it here. Actually, I love it. I have developed a very close relationship with every single employee at my local Starbucks (they never ask me for my order any more, just what kind of day it is, aka tall, grande or venti…) and every time I walk down the amazingness that is Upper Street in Angel I have to remind myself that I’m a so-called grown-up in order to not start doing silly moves and yelling I LIVE HERE! So yes, moving to London has definitely been a good decision so far.
So what about that Copenhagen business, you ask? Well, Copenhagen is beautiful. Amazing. Gorgeous. But also quite small. And the supermarkets are just downright crappy. Having lived there for six years, moving away wasn’t an easy decision. Amazing friends do kind of outweigh crappy supermarkets. But once the decision was made, it felt so right and I haven’t looked back one single time. Cheesy, I know. Also, London doesn’t have arctic winters, which I appreciate a lot. I know, I know everybody here says it gets really cold too, but since I’ve made it to January without really needing those lovely gloves I have, I must say: it’s a freakin’ vacation compared to the last couple of years in Copenhagen.
So now I’m a London lady – starting a blog. Why? I’m not sure. I guess I’m technically an expat now, and expats start blogs, don’t they? And I figure between seeing a ton of dance performances and comparing the UK to the three other countries I’ve lived in so far, there has to be something to write about. Plus, I have all these long conversations in my head, and it seems like it might be a good idea to actually write some of them down…