Emma is 17. She is one of the dancers in The Royal Danish Ballet's apprentice program, and dreams of being hired and enter the company. She has been dancing ballet since the age of eight, and entered The Royal Danish Ballet School where she made it through to the apprentice program last summer and is now about to finish her first out of three possible years. The apprentice program is tough, and her life is very different from other teenagers. She starts her day at 08:00 in the morning and spend the next five and a half hours in high school, before ballet rehearsals start at 14:30 and she is usually off at 18:00, which means that there is not a lot of time for other activities, but as Emma puts it: at least she doesn't need to spend time working out. She also have ballet classes on Saturdays, and occasional stage performances, like the day I photographed her.
Photographing her was such a pleasure, and talking to her about daily life, ambitions and goals, and her thoughts on using her body as an instrument, jealousy, talent and life outside of the ballet world was truly interesting. I'm writing a separate article on her that will be up next week, because I simply can't incorporate all the things I want to share with you from my conversation with this wonderful girl in this post.
08:00 High School with team Danmark
I met Emma (waaaaay too) early in the morning on a Thursday, and she brought me to Falkonergården Gymnasium where she and all the other ballet apprentices attend regular classes, just like other teenagers. Up until last summer, being a ballet apprentice meant that the young dancers would be taken out of school to focus all their time on ballet, and preparing for the life as a ballet dancer. They would begin dancing with the company, and leave mathematics, geography and history behind so they could be fully dedicated to ballet. That ended last year, and they are now enrolled in a special high school program called Team Danmark because they practice ballet on an elite level. Being in this program allows them to have time off school whenever they are doing shows, tours or rehearsals without it having any impact on their grades, which is highly necessary for the apprentices and their demanding schedule with The Royal Danish Ballet.
14:30 Rehersal with Adam lüders
Every day (including Saturdays) the apprentices go through a 90 minute daily ballet workout, just like the ballet dancers in the company. The workout start off with simple exercises to warm up the entire body, and focuses on the basic technical skills while gradually building up to more complex movements and mini choreographies before entering jumps, turns and more demanding choreography at the end of the class. Being an intern at The Royal Ballet for almost a year now, means that I have seen quite a few of these morning rehearsals (the dancers in the company have it as the first thing on their agenda when they come in), and I never get tired of watching them. It's incredible to see how their bodies work, how focused they are, and how incredibly easy they pick up on the instructions. The rehearsals are tough and repetitive, but it is one of the most important things in a ballet dancer's everyday life, because it lays down the foundation for the other rehearsals thoughout the day. It keeps their technique at the desired level, and is an important part of preparing the apprentices for their lives as ballet dancers.
On a normal day, the apprentices would have a second rehearsal with a different focus. A rehearsal for a piece they are performing, learning new repertoire or being introduced to new technical material, but when they have a performance later in the day, they get the afternoon off to relax. The girls hang out, have something to eat or go home to have a little time off everything before meeting in to start getting ready for the performance.
18:30 Hair and stage makeup
A very important part of preparing for the life as a ballerina, is learning to get ready for a performance. They don't have makeup artists or hairdressers lined up to help all of them, so they need to learn how to get ready for the stage on their own. There are rules as to how they are supposed to look for the particular performance, as well as the little things they need to do for any kind of makeup, like drawing a tiny little longer eyebrows, a longer upper lash line, a line under the outer edge of their eyes and wearing fake lashes. All to make their features look clearer when they are on stage. The apprentices have their own dressing rooms, and Emma shares her with one of her close friends, Benedicte. Their dressing room is filled with makeup, tutus, tights and inspirational pictures and they talk and giggle while getting ready together. Having the support from the other dancers, and their traditional "pøj pøj" gifts (good luck/break a leg gifts) must be a really nice touch to ease the nerves before a show.
20:15 Warmup with Adam Lüders
The preparations for a performance doesn't end until the moment they step into the stage light and demand the attention of the audience, and the warmup session right before the stage call is crucial. While the dancers in the company is often left to themselves when it comes to getting ready to perform, the apprentices get a full warmup with their trainer Adam Lüders who is there to make sure they are fully prepared to go on stage. Beautiful lines, great technique and confident steps is much easier to achieve when being properly warmed up. The exercises they do resemble the first parts of the training they went through earlier in the day, but they are all wearing stage makeup with their hair perfectly done. Between now and the stage call their main priority is to stay warm and be ready for performance.
21:30 Stage call for Hübberiet
From the beginning of the piece that goes on before them, the apprentices are called to the stage and wait in the wings, ready. The tension is rising with the lights, the sound from the audience and the technicians preparing for them to go on stage. The apprentices used to get a lot more performance time in the old program than they do now that they are in high school as well as the apprentice program, so every performance counts a little more. They only get a few chances to really get used to the art of performing on stage, to make their steps shine and their expression sharp and clear, to demand and grow with the attention from the audience and to win their appreciation.
It's time, and she is ready. All the work that make up the foundation for the performance shines though, and her strong technique and expression blends perfectly with the delicate and elegant movements. Perfectly light, perfectly clear and strong, and perfectly present. Stage presence is one of those things that lift the truly amazing dancers from the crowd and what wins the audiences attention. It is one of the things that the apprentices are learning, and why the performance factor of the apprentice program is so important. To try out everything they learn in class, and to grow with it on stage, for each dancer to find herself in the movements and make them her own and not just act them out.
Everything moves so fast, and suddenly it's over. She glows in the applause, and runs off to her dressing room to change, grab her things and go home. To sleep, and get up for practice in the morning.
It requires dedication, not doubt about that, but no amount of dedication alone can ever make a dancer great. It requires talent, a suitable body type and musicality as well as a very deep respect for your body and love for what you do.
Emma is already a wonderful dancer, and I'm sure that she has a bright future as a ballerina. The elegance and ease that she naturally possesses is so beautifully combined with technique, and her stage presence is there already.
I'm staying tuned.