Pupils and students in Dutch National Ballet’s production of Swan Lake

photo: Ariadni Kalemis

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This spring, in the period from 16 March to 2 June, Dutch National Ballet is presenting no fewer than 25 performances of their internationally acclaimed production of Swan Lake. It was created in 1988 by the inspiring former artistic director of the company, Rudi van Dantzig, in close collaboration with choreographer and designer Toer van Schayk. In the coming months, 26 pupils of the National Ballet Academy’s preliminary training course and 21 Bachelor’s students will appear in all four acts of the production: as peasant children at the garden party to celebrate Siegfried’s birthday, as swans in Acts 2 and 4, and in Toer van Schayk’s version of the Hungarian Czardas in Act 3.

Read the interview with NBA 3 pupils Jaya-Lynn de Haan, Gaya Hagemeier, Giulia Loffredo and Tim Peters   
‘The idea of all those people watching you – wow!’

Rudi van Dantzig thought it was essential that children also danced at the party for the peasants in Act 1 of Swan Lake. So since its premiere in 1988, many young dancers have taken on the role of peasant child – a demanding role for their age. Recently we talked to the youngest generation of the National Ballet Academy. “This is the first time we get to play a real role. It can sometimes be a bit awkward”.

They’ve already chalked up quite a few famous ballets between them. Jaya-Lynn de Haan (13) has danced in Coppelia and Don Quichot, just like Giulia Loffredo (13) and Tim Peters (13). Giulia also appeared in Mata Hari and Tim in Giselle. And Gaya Hagemeier, the youngest of the four (12) was even cast for all four ballets.

Jaya-Lynn: “It was really wonderful taking part in the productions”. Tim: “The idea of all those people watching you”. Jaya-Lynn: “Wow, that gives you such a kick”. Gaya: “Like dancing in those gorgeous costumes with your hair done up so beautifully”. Jaya-Lynn: “Yes, it’s the full works!” Giulia: “We’ve been so lucky. Since we’ve been at the National Ballet Academy, Dutch National Ballet have kept performing ballets with parts for children”.

Just after the summer holiday, the four NBA 3 pupils heard that they and all their classmates had been chosen to dance in Swan Lake, along with some children from NBA 2 and 4. Jaya-Lynn: “We’d hoped for it, because last time (in 2014 – ed.) the children’s roles were also danced by pupils from NBA 3 and 4”. Gaya: “But then you’re incredibly happy when you hear it’s for real. Swan Lake was the first ballet I ever saw, together with my mum and my sister. I was eight then and my sister was just six. At a certain point, she fell asleep, as the ballet’s quite long”.

Jaya-Lynn was nine when she saw the ballet for the first time with her grandma. It was a surprise treat after an audition for her ballet school’s competition class. Giulia and Tim have never seen Swan Lake, but they are also steeped in the fame of the ‘ballet of ballets’. Giulia: “It’s always the first ballet title you hear as a child”.

The pupils are dancing in Act 1 of Swan Lake, mainly in the waltz, where they form an integral part of the choreography. It is also the first time they are doing pas de deux work, including lifts.

They started rehearsing after the Christmas holidays. Giulia: “A bit late, I think”. Jaya-Lynn: “We’ve finished the dances, but not the in-between bits”. Gaya: “We still have to learn what to do when we’re not dancing”. Jaya-Lynn: “And we’ve still got to work on the spacing (adjusting the movements to the space on stage – ed.)”.

The children are being rehearsed by teacher and former Dutch National Ballet principal Fred Berlips, this time with the assistance of teacher Klaas Backx. Jaya-Lynn: “Fred shows the steps first and then we have to copy him”. Giulia: “After that, we really get down to learning the steps and we watch the DVD”. Jaya-Lynn: “And then comes the ‘cleaning’. We ‘clean’, ‘clean’ and ‘clean’ again”. Giulia: “Until we can dream the choreography”.
Gaya: “It’s difficult at the beginning. But once you’ve learned the steps, it’s actually straightforward”. Jaya-Lynn: “Especially the lifts were hard at the beginning”. She laughs, “Even though they’re fairly simple lifts for the NBA boys”. Tim, who’s doing the hard work: “At first I thought it was going to be really tough, but actually it’s not that bad”.

Besides being lifted by their classmates, the girls in Swan Lake will also be lifted onto the shoulders of the dancers of Dutch National Ballet. Gaya: “That’s really, really cool”. Giulia: “I expect you must feel like a feather”. Gaya jokes: “So long as they don’t think ‘Oh, she’s as light as a feather’, and it turns out you’re not”. Giulia: “And so long as you don’t fall backwards off the dancer’s shoulder”. Jaya-Lynn: “So you have to use your stomach muscles really well”.

The children say that the nice thing about Swan Lake is that “now we get to act as well as dance. And act to the full!” Gaya: “This is the first time we get to play a real role. We’re hard at work practicing that now. Sometimes, it’s a bit awkward”. Giulia: “That’s because in the studio we have to look at the prince, for example, but there’s no prince there. It’ll be different on stage and it’ll feel more natural. The adrenalin rush will help as well”.

Beautiful arches
The children sum up their experience of working with the dancers in Dutch National Opera & Ballet in one word: fantastic! Jaya-Lynn: “At the beginning, you keep wondering ‘Who’s that?’ and ‘Isn’t that so and so?’ Actually, I only knew Igone de Jongh then – and I didn’t even recognise her”. Now she knows nearly all the dancers by sight. Giulia: “But new dancers keep appearing and sometimes there’s a guest dancer. So of course you don’t recognise them”.

Initially of course, the three girls’ idol was Igone de Jongh, but now other names are being dropped as well. Giulia: “Igone is the standard role model when you’re just starting out”. Jaya-Lynn: “But now that she’s not always dancing the classical ballerina roles, you start noticing other dancers as well”. Gaya: “But Igone was fantastic as the wicked fairy in The Sleeping Beauty (Carabosse – ed.)”.

Tim is not so forthcoming about his preferences. “I think they’re all great”. Gaya: “Every single dancer is good, but I really like Maia Makhateli and Anna Tsygankova.” Jaya-Lynn: “My favourite is Jessica Xuan.” Giulia: “I think Michaela DePrince and Clara Superfine are really good. Clara has really beautiful arches and wonderful hyperextended legs”.

So what’s so special about performing on the stage of Dutch National Opera & Ballet with professional dancers? Gaya and Giulia: “It gives you the feeling you could be one of them later on”. Jaya-Lynn: “Well anyway, that’s what we’re working towards every day”. Tim, after a little encouragement: “It just gives you a nice feeling. I feel really at home there”.

text: Astrid van Leeuwen