At the Prix de Lausanne 2019, which took place at the beginning of February, NBA students Minori Nakashima and Philippe Magdelijns took part in the second Choreographic Project held by the prestigious ballet competition. Along with 24 other international ballet students, they worked on Is to Be, a new creation by the Dutch choreographer Didy Veldman, which the students performed with great success on the evening of the finale, on 9 February. We asked Minori and Philippe about their experience.
At the beginning of January, one month before the Prix de Lausanne, they heard they had been selected to take part in the Choreographic Project. In chorus, they say, “It was so cool. It felt like a huge privilege. They could have chosen anybody, but they chose us”. According to the Prix de Lausanne website, this makes them among the ‘best students of their academy’, but they think that’s going too far. Philippe says modestly, “Yes, I’d heard that was the case, but I don’t know what to make of it”.
‘Everything was different’
Philippe and Minori worked for ten full days in the Swiss city of Lausanne. “We started at quarter past eight in the morning with a yoga class. Then we had a ballet class with famous teachers like Élisabeth Platel (director of l’École de Danse de l’Opéra National de Paris – ed.) and Luca Masala (director of the Académie de Danse Princesse Grace in Monaco – ed.). After that, we worked from eleven o’ clock to seven o’ clock in the evening with Didy Veldman”.
“Everything was different”, says Philippe (17), who has been studying at the National Ballet Academy since he was nine. He has been accepted for Dutch National Ballet’s Junior Company, starting at the beginning of next season. “Different faces, different students, different teachers and often a different technique: decidedly French or else very American. It was my first time in such international surroundings and it was incredibly inspiring”. And although Minori (19) has had some ‘international’ experience – after leaving her native country of Japan, she studied for two years at the Vaganova Academy in St. Petersburg and danced for a short while with the Junior Company of Finnish National Ballet – she also thought the Lausanne experience was ‘very special’.
Something that was completely new to both of them was their introduction to yoga. Philippe: “I’d never done it before, but it’s really helped me. I learned a lot about breathing, which I can now apply in preparing for Dancers of Tomorrow, for a solo in Wayne McGregor’s Atomos, for example. I see that by focusing more on my breathing, I’m now much more grounded”.
Minori: “Yoga really helps me relax”. Philippe: “And you can also use it to warm up your body from the inside, as it were”.
For Philippe, it was also the first time he’d been part of the creative process of a new piece. “I liked it!”, he says, beaming. “Didy’s choreography was mostly modern, which was a new experience for me. I really enjoyed the greater freedom to express yourself on stage. It also felt like we were supporting one another as dancers. And the yoga lessons meant we were also very in sync with each other”.
Minori: “I already have a bit of experience with modern choreography, so for me Didy’s material was not too difficult and I could pick it up easily. I also thought her piece was really great”.
According to Philippe and Minori, Veldman took her inspiration for Is to Be mainly from the many nationalities taking part in the Choreographic Project. Philippe: “Both in the dance world and in the world at large, it’s important to be connected. I think the title Is to Be refers to all the things that become possible when we are indeed connected”.
Alongside Hannah O’Neill, first soloist with Ballet de l’Opéra National de Paris, and Albert Nikolli and Leoannis Pupo-Guillen from the Lyon Opéra Ballet, the young dancers of the Choreographic Project performed at the Prix de Lausanne finale on Saturday 9 February. “It was very special to be part of it and to be able to dance for an audience of such experts. Although we saw almost nothing of the finale, as we performed nearly at the end of the evening, we did enjoy it enormously. And anyway we learned such a lot from the project. As young dancers, we share the same passion, but we’ve all been trained in a different way and we all have our own individual qualities. That makes it a very special experience”.
Would they like to take part in a competition like the Prix de Lausanne themselves one day? Once again, they are modest. “We’re actually not such competitive types. But as far as it concerns what you can learn from it and getting the chance to work with some of the greatest teachers in the profession….who knows?”
text: Astrid van Leeuwen