Friday, February 15, 2013

In my next life: Ballerina


photography by Amanda Thomsen

I'm super pleased to introduce a new monthly column to Lars and it's been a long time in coming. Let me explain. Growing up I felt like I was meant to be a ballet dancer. My mom was a dancer, my aunt was a dancer, and clearly I was also supposed to be one as well. The problem is that my ballet teacher didn't agree. I was "too chubby" to audition for the Nutcracker at the age of 8. Now, it may seem harsh, but in all honesty, I was tubby and most likely awkward because I was definitely shy and turned bright red when anyone spoke to me. Not a great combo for a graceful dancer. My mom instantly took me out of ballet and enrolled me in tennis and cello and I continue to play to this day. Ultimately, she didn't want me to grow up in a world where weight and appearance was a factor that dictated her life and I'm very glad she directed me in another direction. I'm also very happy with how my childhood and adolescence played out so though I still would have loved to have been a dancer (and with the right body type), I'm satisfied with the talents and skills I've been able to develop. No harm done!



But that doesn't mean there aren't some jobs that I wouldn't like to try in my next life. Enter new column. This whole internet thing has exposed me to jobs that I never knew existed. Paper floral designer? Color expert? Cupcake maker? Come on, these are dream jobs! In fact, I was going to label this column "Dream Jobs", but thought that they're someone's reality so "In my next life" it is. Every month I'll feature a different person who inspires me in their chosen profession. First up? Christina Michanek.
Christina Michanek is a soloist at the Royal Danish Ballet. She's also a good friend of mine and my former landlord. Ha! Paul and I lived on the top floor of her house that she and her husband were renovating. You would think that friendship + landlord could be a recipe for disaster, but these two are the best. I'm their biggest fan. You won't find two more kind and hardworking people. Part of the reason I was so sad to leave Denmark was because we wouldn't be by them (and their adorable 2 year old). 

Christina generously invited my mom and me to attend a dress rehearsal of a brand new show at the Ballet in September at the Opera House, The Golden Cockerel (or Den Gyldne Hane), an opera by Rimsky-Korsakov that was turned into a ballet with original choreography by Alexei Ratmansky. She said that the sets and costumes reminded her of me and my jaw just about dropped when I saw them. They're bright and bold and colorful (see below). They're the original designs from Ballet Russes. I invited Amanda Thomsen, the awesome photographer with whom I shared a studio in Copenhagen, to come along and document the day. She takes us through from the practice, getting ready and finally the dress rehearsal with her beautiful photos.

Mom and I had a ball watching The Golden Cockerel. Though the story is over-the-top (like all operas), I loved the dancing and original choreography. There was an exotic spin on traditional ballet. I also loved the costumes. It was definitely a feast for the eyes. I tend to like dress rehearsals better than the real thing because you get to hear the banter between the director, maestro, and dancers. It's a bit more entertaining when you add in the real life drama.

With that in mind, Christina was kind enough to answer a few questions.

Did you always want to be a dancer? 
Before I knew ballet and ballet dancers even existed I wanted to be a librarian. The library was such a magical place for me. It was like a church for stories. And I dreamed of being this superlibrarian who could tell people as soon as I saw them what they should get! 

How did you get into dancing? 
An American missionary who was dancing at Ballet West in Utah, Candice Taylor, made a little dance for all the young girls in my church congregation for a Christmas activity. Ever since she danced for us I was hooked!



Were there people along the way in your field who you admired or helped you shape the decision to be a dancer?
In the school it was my friend Ulrik Birkjær (now principal the company) who was my 'source' or his ambition and ballet interest just made him the one I could ask ballet questions and he inspired me to aspire higher. Still does. Apprentice years and early dancer years it was Adam Lüders, Caroline Cavallo, Sorella Englund and Nikolaj Hübbe.

What's your favorite part about your job?
The feeling of moving in space led by my own musicality. The drama we get to enjoy! I'm a drama junkie! I'll do a death scene any day any time. The theater magic of costumes, stage light and a live orchestra. 

Is there anything you could do without?
I could do without the judging, elbowing, never good enough chase for perfection. And that it takes forever to get in shape and four days to get out of it...that's almost evil. 

How do you juggle being a wife/mother with your job?
I make sure to leave work at work and don't bring it home. And if I need to take a nap before a show I do it in the living room preferably in the beanbag on the floor so it's easy for my son to play on and around me. FaceTime helps a lot too then we can blow kisses to each other and sing songs and play games. It was a great help when I went on tour recently. 

What's one of the most memorable moments of your career?
Some of my favorite moments... Watching a colleague on their 40th jubilee and seeing old pictures and video and sensing their love for their work and how much they are loved for sharing their talent. 

First Sylph rehearsal is a special memory too. As soon as Nikolaj [Hübbe, the director of the ballet] had left the studio I let out a little scream and involuntary leap of joy and then I got a little embarrassed cause he could probably hear me. 

Romeo and Juliet balcony pas de deux with Ulrik in Japan. I stole a moment to just soak in the stage, the music, the moment and save it in my heart and mind and it made me shiver with delight. 

Watching Nikolaj dance Apollo in a small proconsul theater, sitting in the wing so fascinated that I almost was on stage! I'm pretty sure he didn't mind at all. 

I have a lot of favorite moments. 

I loved watching Christina dance. She is pure passion and love for the art. I'm also very lucky to call her my friend. She is beauty, kindness, and integrity. Thank you, Christina, for being letting us follow you around.

Stay tuned for next month's In My Next Life.

Do you have a dream job? What is it? 

Thank you to Det Kongelige Teater for allowing us to take up some space in the practice room and letting us wander around backstage.

Photography by Amanda Thomsen

39 comments:

Cate Keesling said...

I am usually not a blog comment-leaver, but I just loved this interview and the accompanying photos so much! Great new feature!

The House That Lars Built said...

oooo, I feel so honored that you would break your comment fast for this. Let's hope there are more comment-inducing posts in the future :) Thanks Cate!

Rachael said...

This is amazing. I love the gorgeous photos and in another life, I would TOTALLY be a ballerina, too.

Amanda said...

Brit-I've been lurking for a while and just never commented. But this post is just too good not to let you know. I LOVE this new feature. It's so fun and interesting! I love both the photos and the interview. Thanks so much for sharing.

Garner said...

love this concept of an inside peak at things that are different than what we might normally see online

Melanie said...

I love everything about this post, from the gorgeous photography to the "inside scoop." This is going to be a great column!

I've always wished that my mom had put me in ballet or some kind of dance when I was younger. I did hours and hours of gymnastics but was never very good. I've always thought that maybe I would have been better at dance had I put in the same amount of time I spent trying to master those tumbling tricks.

Shan said...

I've always been fascinated by dance, but there is something magical about ballet. Can't wait to read next month's column!

nicola lynde said...

Such a great concept! Dance is so beyond words for me. Its always been such a big part of my life, and having recently gone back to it I cannot even put into words the joy it brings to my life!

The Muse said...

Excited for this! It sounds so fun to be a horse trainer/ therapeutic horse person (even though I'm a teensy bit afraid of horses). Or a dog breeder. Or a "hand" on a dude ranch. And a tour guide. I'm kind of a weirdo :)

Jessica Crossfield said...

Such a great feature! And it is quite hilarious that she wanted to be a librarian! That is what I do and I love it! That would be a great feature too :)

Janna said...

Oh my gosh. I'm dying. I LOVE this idea... B, you're brilliant. And your writing in this post (as always) is so engaging.

calinai said...

OK THIS IS AN AWESOME POST
I love ballet, I danced for a long time (obviously never close to this level), I took Ballet History at UC Berkeley, I used to go see Sfballet all the time, but so rarely do you get to see behind the scenes or personal details about dancers (other than birthplace in the program...yawn) so yeah you made my day with this.
and a plus Royal Danish Ballet so famous, so wonderful, such great history (trust me I got an A in that class)
love this!!!!

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Cait said...

Thank you for sharing this interview. Christina is so inspiring and I'm looking forward to seeing other entries for this feature. Some of my own dream jobs: Installation artist, Staging designer, Window decorator (I guess those are all sort of pieces of the same?), baker, and librarian. Ha!
By the way, I love Christina's referring to a library as a church for books. So true!

M.M.E. said...

A truly gorgeous column and interview! Like you, I thought I was going to be a gymnast growing up since my mother was one. She was also a cheerleader and TAUGHT gymnastics all through high school. She said she knew right away though that I was too tubby and uncoordinated (or as she puts it, 'There's a reason we didn't name you Grace') for the sport. Instead, she bought me leotards so I could jump around the house in them. I can't wait to see your next 'next life job' column. :D

Lindsay said...

This is an awesome new feature! I loved this post so much. She is so inspiring.

Unifer said...

I always have and am pretty sure I always will LOVE your blog! But this post is like... my favorite! yay for the new column :)

craftysunday said...

I can tell you that as a librarian, I LOVE the feeling of being a superlibrarian...it happens only every so often, but when I get it exactly right, and the student comes back for more shouting "THAT WAS THE BEST BOOK EVER!" ...it is wondrous!

Oh, and since you asked, when I was a kid I wanted to be:
- Steven Spielberg
- a coroner (before I knew it was really a medical examiner that I wanted to be)
- a concert pianist

I'm sure there's all kinds of psychology going on there!

This is such a great post. I can't wait until the next. Thank you.

Cheers,
mindi

Patrycja Sklodowska said...

I wanted to be a ballet dancer too :) I think that's typical for small girls. But then I saw an airshow and since then my dream job is a jet pilot, which is unreachable for me as well. Generally "a dream job" is in fact something you can do in your next life. That is the other "me" doing this job.

Prêt à Voyager / Anne said...

Such a great concept, Brittany! Loved the line "This whole internet thing has exposed me to jobs that I never knew existed." ... When it comes to jobs, I've always thought it was more important to find what you don't want to do than what you do want to do. I love these days how we create so much of our destiny.... Great behind the scenes!!

The House That Lars Built said...

Oh man, guys, these comments are great! Thank you for all your thoughtful comments. It seems like I'm not alone in wanting to be a dancer.

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Jacqueline said...

I wanted to be a ballerina when I was young and took many lessons. I don't think I was tall enough but I still know my barre positions, even if I am a bit stiff. And i admit to dancing around the living room.

Carli said...

I am a long ago friend of Christina's - when she was a teenager and even then I loved watching her dance. She is so sweet!

alyson said...

I'm right with ya, girl. I'd be at the bar with you in my next life, too!

The House That Lars Built said...

@Carli, have we talked before? I feel like you've left a comment about this...isn't she the best?!

Suzanna said...

I often have "in my next life" conversations with myself in my own head, and ballerina is always on the top of the list. Also? Librarian, children's book writer and illustrator, anthropologist.... One of my favorite thing about "blog people" is that they are so naturally curious. Looking forward to more posts in this series!

The House That Lars Built said...

@Suzanna, what a great list! Those are some great suggestions!

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