Interview with Wendy Tadrous-Paulusma - ‘Everyone under one roof in the new NBA building’

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On 1 November, the Dutch National Ballet Academy  (NBA) will move to the new building on the Nicolaas Tetterodestraat. Somone who knows the Academy through and through is Wendy Tadrous-Paulusma – NBA educational support assistant.

Wendy already
has a very long history with the NBA. She began in 1992 as a pupil in group 7 of the Olympiaschool in NBA 1 of the Ballet Academy on the Agamemnonstraat, moved on to the Kerkstraat in 1996 and completed her training at the Jodenbreestraat location in 2000. After that, she danced almost 20 years with various dance companies, including the Dutch National Ballet, before she started working behind the scenes at the NBA in September 2019.

Can you tell us a little bit more about your current work and your involvement in the construction of the new building?
‘As an educational support assistant, I am mainly occupied with everything at the ‘back end’ of the organisation, such as contact with pupils and parents, the enrolment of students, the organisation of auditions and general management support. I only became involved in the construction later; actually only when it became clear that it was finally going to happen. After a 16-year search for a suitable location, we found that here. I then started thinking about the layout of the school, although I was not the only one doing so. It was very important for me that there would be places where students could retreat after, or in between, lessons. No eyes on you for a moment; no ears listening in; some privacy for a while. That gives both students and adult employees a fine and safe feeling. Our pupils are extremely disciplined and motivated, but there are also days when things are going less well sometimes, and then one needs to have an opportunity to relax.

Do you also know when, or as a result of what, this awareness of student well-being arose?
‘In our time, it was not laid out in such a cosy way as it is now on the Jodenbreestraat. Everything was still grey and bare, there were no sofas and plants, and even the canteen was still empty compared to today. There were also only open, shared changing rooms for boys and girls, which we actually thought was a bit strange at that age.’

Could you describe, based on your own experiences, the various ambiences and the evolution that you have witnessed at the location?
‘Everything had so much charm. In my time, group 7 and 8 of the primary school and the 1st and 2nd years of secondary school at the Gerrit van der Veen College in NBA 1 to 4 were all under one roof at the Agamemnonstraat location. That was cosy and intimate. Now, only group 7 and 8 are still in the building on the Agamemnonstraat. They will also be moving soon to the new building. The Kerkstraat location after that was wonderful, because you came across the older students there who served as an example, and the studios were extremely large and beautiful, but it was so old and dilapidated that we were not able to shower, for example, as a result of the electrical wires that were hanging loose. In that respect, the Jodenbreestraat came at exactly the right time!’

Did the construction actually run according to plan?
‘Much of it did. Apart from a mistake with the placement of the floor, there was actually only one compromise: at a certain moment, a decision was made to remove one storey, because there was a risk of that jeopardising the new school financially, and even without that storey, there would still be an enormous amount of space, with lots of window sides.’

Have you already heard reactions from pupils and parents?
‘They are uniformly positive. I do get questions sometimes regarding the travel time between the secondary schools and the new building. We believe we analysed that fairly well, but we will learn in practice whether that assessment is indeed correct, or if another 15 minutes of travel time needs to be added. We’ll see if that’s the case.’

And from the employees?
‘Everyone is looking forward to having everything under one roof. Timetabling will be less complicated, the pianists and teachers will no longer have to go back and forth between the Agamemnonstraat and the Jodenbreestraat, you will be able to quickly exchange information with a colleague, and personally I hope that I will get to know NBA 1 to 4 better – not only in the case of special events and the nervous tension when it comes to exam lessons, but simply on a daily basis.

It will also be very special for all pupils and students to dance in one building. In the case of the youngest pupils in particular, we always see the admiration for the older students during performances. In the new building, they will be able see every day where they can grow towards in 9 years; that has a motivating effect.

Another benefit: we no longer have to share our floors, which provides greater safety, especially during the pointe classes, for example with slippery floors as a result of users with different materials.

Then there is one more part that will also be moving: the old school of Marieke van der Heijden will continue under the name Studio NBA. Can you tell us something more about that?
As from January 2024, Balletschool Marieke van der Heijden will continue under the name Studio NBA and will therefore become part of the Dutch National Ballet Academy. In this way, we hope to reduce the distance between the Academy and the amateur field, and make the scouting process easier. The current lessons of the ballet school will continue to exist, but we also want to start doing more for the community. We previously went to schools with ‘Ballet in de klas’ (Ballet in the classroom), a collaboration with the educational department of the Dutch National Ballet. Now, we can use Studio NBA to increase the visibility of the NBA and attract people to our school. We often hear still that people don’t even know that there is a ballet academy. There may be fantastic talents walking around that don’t come into contact with ballet at present and through this initiative, they will be able to find their way to the academy at  a later stage. Although we also scout internationally, we are mainly interested in supplementing the Dutch talent. What you actually want is for the breeding ground to become so large that we can make a nice selection from it. Ballet is not doing so well in the amateur circuit compared to 20 years ago. There is greater focus now on hip hop and street dance, so we need to set to work to increase interest in ballet, with Studio NBA, and also with our BA Teacher of Classical Ballet.

What does the building represent for you?
‘We strive to offer the highest level of training that is recognised both nationally and internationally. At the same time, the building needs to be a fine place where pupils can develop in a safe environment. In my opinion, the new building is not necessarily prestigious, but rather a unique place with a unique identity, in which someone from outside can immerse themselves.

And another thing I like mentioning is that we will be getting our own theatre, in which we can invite the parents, but also people from outside, so that they can become familiar with ballet.’

What still needs to be done?
‘Next week, I’m going to look at new furniture again and then I have to wait until 30 October until I can start unpacking my things in my new office. On 1 November, all pupils and students will enter the building and then we can truly begin in our own place!’

Text and photos: Babette Verhoef