Thursday, July 18, 2013

Blood, sweat and tears - or money?

Back in 2008, I was working on my thesis for my Bachelor’s degree at the University of Copenhagen. I wrote about August Bournonville’s ballet Napoli, and I talked to many people who had a special relation to Napoli or a specific knowledge about the Bournonville heritage. One of them was a very clever and talented young dancer – she was 14 at the time and a student at the Royal Danish Ballet School. She was a perfect example of the Bournonville tradition, having entered the school at 8 years old and gone through many of the traditional children’s roles in the repertoire. But perhaps more importantly, she was at that interesting stage where she was still a child, yet she already had that grown-up, somewhat serious demeanour that many young dancers have – presumably caused by the knowledge that the career they are about to embark on is a tough one, both mentally and physically, and that it requires them to show more responsibility than their non-dancing peers. This girl, however, loved every second of it, and it was obvious that she had the drive and the determination to go far.
A few weeks ago, I got to interview her again – this time for the lovely ladies over at The Ballet Bag. When she realised that I was the same person who had interviewed her all those years ago, she burst into a big smile and said: “Wow, a lot has happened since then – I’m a ballet dancer now!” Indeed she is, and a very good one at that. Ida Praetorius is one of the brightest stars at the Royal Danish Ballet, and she has just finished up a season that would leave many accomplished artists short of breath – you can read more about that in my interview with her.
Throughout my chat with Ida, she was incredibly humble about the opportunities she has been given and the speed with which her career is developing. As a stark contrast, the Moscow Stanislavsky Ballet visited London last week, bringing back none other than ballet’s (self-proclaimed?) bad boy – Sergei Polunin. Seeing the posters promoting their season at the London Coliseum, I was struck by the fact that Polunin's name was set apart from all the others - in red letters and a line above everybody else. Ahead of the tour, he was interviewed for several papers, saying more or less the same every time: that ballet isn’t cool and that he is in it for the money. And while he is certainly a very, very good dancer, statements like that – along with the red letters, raised above everybody else – made me not want to buy a ticket to watch him dance. I find his behaviour incredibly juvenile and disrespectful – of artists like Ida, who put their entire heart and soul into making a career for themselves. And of the many contemporary dancers that I work with, who accept almost embarrassingly low fees to be part of a project, because they believe in it and just want to dance. Which may sound like a horrible cliché, but the fact is that dance is becoming an increasingly unsustainable business, only kept afloat by the passion and commitment of the people who keep on going – regardless of whether or not they get paid. And while I am very well aware that Polunin is not the only well-paid dancer out there, he is certainly the only one to be so blunt about it.
Fact is, that the vast majority of dancers are not in it for the money Рthey are in it because there is nothing else they would rather spend their life doing. Yet another clich̩, but a true one. And in my opinion, Sergei Polunin is stepping on every single one of them with his immature comments.
Towards the end of my interview with Ida I asked her what she would do if the world were at her feet – any country, any company, any choreographer! Her answer? “I just want to dance as much as possible – it’s what makes me happy. That’s why I’m a ballet dancer!”
Or, in the words of her colleague Carling Talcott, known over on Twitter as the always entertaining @darlingwithaC:         

Are you listening, Sergei?