Ballet Victoria concluded its 13th season with Sergei Prokofiev’s Cinderella composed during the war years, and originally presented at Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre on November 21, 1945 with Galina Ulanova in the title role. This is the company’s second Prokofiev ballet this season, after the highly acclaimed Romeo and Juliet, but unfortunately without its former lead, Matthew Cluff, who is currently performing in Vancouver Arts Club Theatre production of Billy Elliot, and will be headed to Montreal afterwards to dance with Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal.
Artistic Director Paul Destrooper interpreted Cinderella with a lot of humour and virtuosity, including iconic literary characters at the ball, a visual and nostalgic nod Victoria’s downtown with archival film footage, and showing off each dancer’s technical and comedic skills. The ensemble truly demonstrated their wide range of talents in this ballet; while Destrooper revealed his incredible comedic acting skills and superb physical comedy in the role of Charlie Chaplin. Particularly noteworthy in this ballet are Georgia Semple and Akane Suizu in their roles as the obnoxious and entertaining step sisters.
Having recovered from a serious foot injury, principal dancer Andrea Bayne concluded her ninth season with the company on a very high note, making little girls’ dreams come alive as she dances (first with a broom, then with the prince, and finally with the whole ensemble) herself out of her predicament. She was kind enough to take the time to answer my interview questions.
K.S.: Ballet Victoria has had a strong season and you performed three lead roles in The Gift, Romeo and Juliet, and Cinderella after you recovered from an injury. What was your recovery process like and was it challenging to prepare for this season’s lead performances?
A. B.: Breaking my foot was my first major injury in my career. I was devastated at the time, knowing that I would be finally forced to take some time off dance, but in the end, I believe it made me stronger and more determined than ever. When you are forced to stop doing what you love, you realize how important it is to take every day, whether it is another long rehearsal day in the studio or performing, and make the very most out of it. I worked really hard when I was in my air cast – doing recumbent bike therapy to keep my cardio up, Pilates classes and lots of physio. I actually healed about three weeks faster than the Doctors predicted and I truly believe it was my determination to get back on that dance floor that made all the difference. I started back dancing gradually, first just doing barre and then slowly up from there. It was more mentally scary than anything. Even though the bone in my foot had healed, my brain kept wanting to favour and protect that foot. Luckily the Pilates and other forms of cross training I did when I was injured saved me and made the transition process much easier. I am back and in ways I feel my left foot is stronger than ever!
Do you still get nervous before performances? What do you do to calm your nerves?
I’d be worried if I didn’t get nervous before a performance. There are good nerves and bad nerves. The good ones are the ones that amp you up before a show and give you that last little bit of energy to pour your heart out on stage and the bad ones are the ones that inhibit you and make you hold back out there. Finding the perfect head space for a really good show is always a struggle but when I can truly find myself on stage, living in the moment and through the character I can feel that I am at home and dance my best.
When you are not working on a ballet or teaching, what do you like doing in your free time?
When not working, I am a pretty normal person. I love being outside in the sun. Perhaps that was why I ended up moving from coast to coast for my work – Victoria is a pretty beautiful place to live. I am a bit of a book worm, I love reading. Spending time with my family who just moved to Victoria last year to be with me is also pretty important to me.
What made you want to dance ballet and who inspires you?
Ballet is hard, pure and simple. I’ve always loved a challenge and I think that is what drew me to the classical side of dance when I was a young girl. I’ve always loved the fact that when I’m dancing I am able to be transported into a whole other world. When truly in the moment, I can forget all of life’s worries and dance my heart out. Expressing myself through movement is something that I can’t imagine not doing, it calms me and makes me feel whole. I try to look for inspiration everywhere I can. If you are willing, I have found that you can find inspiration wherever you look. There are obvious people that inspire me like my coaches and other dancers I admire, but I have even been able to find inspiration in the little things – a beautiful flower, a book. An elderly woman telling stories of her past life of a dancer – inspiration is everywhere you look if you are open to seeing it. Of course, that being said, my dad is my biggest fan and he has inspired me since the day I started dancing.
What do you like most about the company and about working and living in Victoria?
Now that my family has moved from the east coast (New Brunswick) to be here in Victoria, I feel like after 8 years I am finally home. The first time I ever came to Victoria it was December and I was performing at the Royal theatre on tour with the Alberta Ballet. I remember saying to my friends in the company – how is this possible? It’s December and I don’t have to wear a jacket. Where’s the snow!!? A year later I auditioned for BV and accepted a principal contract. Victoria is an amazing city to live in.
What are some of your favourite places / cafes / hang-outs in Victoria?
I love the Ogden Point Cafe. The food is great and being able to sit and watch the ocean over a glass of wine is awesome. I love walking along Dallas road and I’m not ashamed to say I’m a Starbucks frequenter – at this time of year, their iced passion tea is a fav!
You’ve been with Ballet Victoria since 2008, how has the company evolved over the years?
Ballet Victoria has not only grown in sheer number of dancers, but also has grown technically and artistically as well. We have some really strong talent within our company and I’ve watched that talent grow exponentially every year.
What is your favourite ballet of all times and why?
My favourite ballet of all time is Romeo and Juliet. It is the first ballet I saw as a little girl and I knew that one day my dream would be to do the role of Juliet. The music of Prokofiev melts my heart and this tragic love story is so full of emotion. My artistic director, Paul has created some really brilliant ballets on me and I feel very blessed to be given such great ones to dance. I’m also a big fan of many of Balanchine’s great ballets. Serenade is one of my favourites and I was able to dance this ballet as well as several other by Balanchine with the Alberta ballet.
Other than ballet, what other types of dance do you like (to watch and to dance)?
I love all styles of dance, if it is danced by a trained, technical and artistic dancer, it wouldn’t matter what style they were dancing. Dance is movement and expression and I love both of those things.
What is your favourite part / scene in Cinderella? And why?
My favourite part of Cinderella – that’s a tough one. There are a lot of great moments in this ballet. Regarding the technical dancing side, I would say I really enjoy doing my variation (it’s fast but looks slow to the audience and it’s one of those tricky ones where it is supposed to look very simple but is really hard) and the grand pas between the prince and Cinderella. The music is so beautiful and the choreography of the pas has one movement melting into the other with delicate, fingertip partnering and exciting, tricky lifts. The other favourite parts I love watching are the humorous interactions between the Charlie Chaplin character and all the people he meets on his quest to find the glass slipper with the Prince.
What advice would you give to aspiring dancers and dance students?
Stay strong. It’s so important to stay strong both physically AND mentally. The ballet world is a tough and competitive world – the few who make it are not only physically able to handle the demands of the job, but also mentally capable to deal with the ups and downs of the business as well. The other thing I would tell them is to ENJOY the fact that they are training in an art that pushes you every day to be better than you were before. Ballet is both a technical AND physical art form, therefore no matter who you are or what company you dance with there is ALWAYS room for improvement. This idea of never being “good enough” has been harmful to my psyche in the past. But I would tell students to enjoy the fact that there is always room to push yourself even further – now instead of feeling like I’m never going to be good enough, my favourite part of ballet is exactly this point – I can always be better!
What are your plans for the summer what are your next projects?
Ballet Victoria has recently started a school for training young, aspiring dancers and it is in its second year of being. We have a great faculty and some really fantastic students as well. I will spend my summer teaching at our summer school (and other schools in BC) and doing a bit of private coaching. Teaching has been really rewarding and I am lucky to be able to pass on what I have learned from the many incredible coaches that have trained me growing up. I might also be doing a bit of freelance contemporary work as well which would be a huge switch for me, but details are still being ironed out. Most importantly I will be spending my down time with my Dad – best guy I know 🙂
Photos by Gail and Dan Takahashi