CATCH THE OPPORTUNITY
The Columns was written by Primaballerina Lucia Lacarra in 2009 – ten years ago – specially for Dance for You Magazine.
I will always remember “that” day, “that” moment, as the beginning of my professional life. My first open door, my first opportunity…I was fifteen years old and on my second year at the Victor Ullate Ballet School. It was around eight in the evening and I was taking my fourth ballet class of the day. I know, this sounds crazy, but at that time I was completely dedicated to my training, so after doing my two classes I was designed on my level, I would come in the evenings to do two more classes with the lower level, just to work on my bases.
At the time, only the morning classes were taught by Victor himself. He was a wonderful teacher and he has created amazing dancers in that ballet studio. (Just imagine that in my same class, there were dancers like Angel Corella or Tamara Rojo, between many others that are dancing in the best companies right now.) But, on that precise day I am talking about, Victor was watching the evening class, which wasn’t usual. I remember very clearly that I was finishing a ‘piqués-deboulés’ diagonal to the left, when Victor called me. And as soon as I approached him, he just told me:
-“I want you to start coming to watch the company’s rehearsals”
Well… This phrase may not sound like much, but for me it was everything I had ever wanted and it felt as if I had just been given a contract right and there. I still remember the happiness and excitement I felt. It was for me like the best day of my life. Sure enough, from the next day on, after my two classes in the morning, and before the two in the evening, I would sit down for five or six hours to watch the rehearsals of any ballet that the company was working on, even when only the men were involved in the piece. For me, it was such an honor to be allowed to be there. I found all of the dancers amazing and I just kept wishing I could be like them one day.
One of the ballets I was watching on my first two weeks there, was Balanchine’s “Allegro Brillante”. Patricia Neary was taking care of it. She is an extraordinary woman, full of personality, passion and energy, and with a computer as a brain. Nowadays I really love and enjoy working with her, but boy! I was scared of her back then!…She was so demanding with the dancers, and I remember being sitting on the studio, not making a sound and just suffering for them…
Then at the end of those two weeks she left, and Victor himself started to take care of those rehearsals. And then it’s when all started…
Victor being even more demanding that Patricia, and as the director of the company, wanted the piece to be only perfect, and was not very happy with one of the dancers.
One particular day, he got really angry with her and took her out of the piece. Then, he started asking around in the studio for somebody who knew her place.
In Allegro Brillante there is one Principal couple and four Solo couples that do the same steps, but in different sides and places. Still today, I’m not sure if it was out of fear or not, but every girl seemed to know only the opposite side or the opposite place, and nobody did dare to take her place.
By then, Victor was really losing his temper, and all of the sudden he looked at me, sitting on the floor, and asked me:
-“Do you know her place? “
I still don’t know what took me, but without thinking a second I just said;
-“Yes, I do.”
He looked at me then, and said;
-“Good, then you’re on.”
Millions of things went through my mind in the time I was standing up from the floor to go to the center of the studio. First; “why did I say yes?” Second;”why did he ask me, when he knows that I’ve been sitting here just watching for two weeks?”
And Third, but most important; “What am I going to do now???”
In the middle of that thought, Victor announced that he was going to clean up the whole ballet, from the beginning, step by step, for as long as it would take. Those words sounded like music to my ears. I said to myself; “if it goes slowly and step by step, I can watch the girl in front and copy what she does to the other side…”
Well, that’s what I did, and at the end of a rehearsal that took five hours, I knew the whole piece from beginning till the end, and I was officially dancing with the Company.
Only a couple of weeks after that same day, on a Sunday morning, I got a phone call from Victor. One of the Principal dancers was sick and he wanted to know if I could learn, that same afternoon, one of the pas de deux she was dancing, to go on Tour with the company the next day.
I don’t know if they really didn’t have anybody else, or if he wanted to test me again, or if he trusted me, but I guess he knew something; that at least I would say “Yes” and I would try my best.
From that day on I danced everything we had in the repertory of the company.
You see, there are people that believe in luck. Me, I believe that life is full of opportunities. The secret is to be able to recognize those opportunities first, and then to be ready at your best for being able to catch them when they will appear to you. I believe also that an opportunity that you let go by, it’s lost forever.
Believe me, that first day, that first opportunity marked me forever and influence me in many decisions I have taken professionally. Funnily, the same pattern has occurred to me many times during the years.
People are always surprised when I tell them that I started dancing professionally when I was fifteen years old. Mostly after I tell them that I didn’t start taking ballet lessons till I was ten. But that’s how it happened. Now you know. It was just a huge opportunity that was offered to me and that I did catch. Not really consciously, but with a strong will and full of passion.
But if you think about it, on a situation like this, there is nothing to lose. Because even if it doesn’t work out, you would have learn something out of it and become stronger.
The best advice I have ever given myself is; “It’s always better to dare that to regret when it’s too late”
THE “GOOD ONE” FOR YOU
Somehow, I have never felt comfortable about giving advices to my colleagues, or to any other dancers that I know or that I happen to meet around the world. This is because I believe that everything that will come out of my lips, and as true as it can be, it’s just “my opinion”, based on my background and my own personal experiences. And when I’m asked about my opinion, I always want to make sure they understand that it’s not to show right or wrong, it’s just to give an example.
There is one matter in every dancer`s life, that stays with you your whole career, and which is the source of most of our doubts and our worries about doing the right thing, and in general, our biggest reason to look for an advice… This is “making the choice of a company”.
Being dancers, there is nothing more essential in our life, than finding the place where we could be able to fulfill all our goals and expectations, and mostly, where we hope we are going to feel good and happy. At the same time it’s a very difficult and personal decision to make.
It’s like choosing a place to live or a group of friends. People can give you advices about how beautiful this is, or how great they are, or about why you should never go to live there, but at the end of the day, those are decisions that you’ll make based on your personality, your character, your taste and your needs. Some people are lucky to find all this on their first try. Or they conform themselves with something close enough. Others, me included, need to try different things to learn by the experiences, to discover themselves and to find what exactly suits them the best. But as far as you achieve the goal of finding the place where you feel happy, motivated and satisfied, the length of the way that took you there is irrelevant. Isn’t it?
My path has been a very long and interesting one, and I guess that till the day I will stop dancing I won’t be a hundred per cent sure of my last station. Maybe I`m already there… maybe I`m not. I don’t think like this, because I’m too demanding or too challenging about my work. I know the reason is that I need to be totally happy to be able to do my work fully. And since I don’t believe that feeling frustrated and unmotivated is healthy or helpful in any way, it has always been my decision to go to another company before this would happen. The first time I made the decision to leave was the hardest. I was only 18 years old, and I had been dancing at the Victor Ullate Ballet for three years by then. Nobody understood why I was leaving, since they didn’t even know that I was unhappy. Victor loved me as a dancer (and still does) and was giving me all the best parts in every performance. So, they couldn’t see a reason for my act. At the time I couldn’t even explain it myself. When I had started performing professionally I was so happy. Then I started challenging myself to go farther and to learn and do more, and suddenly one day something switched in my head. I needed something new, different, and bigger. Doing the same thing I had been doing till then didn’t make me happy anymore. And for me, not being happy while doing what I had always wished, hoped and loved to do, was so painful that it scared me. So one day, just like that, I made my mind up and I quitted. I didn’t do anything for three months till I started to feel the need of dancing again. It was like an extinct fire that was growing back inside me.
The second station of my path was the Roland Petit Ballet in Marseille. For me it was really wonderful to discover how different life can be from one company to another. It’s something you don’t realize or know till you experience it. You start anew, in an unknown atmosphere, with different rules and working mentality, with a new repertoire that awakens the motivation for learning and absorbing as much as you can. You find yourself in front of a blank page, for you to fill. But once again, three years later, my curiosity and my need of experiencing new and different things came back. By then, I guess that I knew myself better and I realized right away that I needed a change. So I went to the San Francisco Ballet, the third station.
The change was enormous and very difficult. It took me a while to adapt to the American way of working. At the beginning I didn’t want to take part in the competition system they force on you. I wanted them to cast me in the ballets that they thought I suited, without having to compete with my colleagues for it. Soon enough, I understood that I could never change the system, so since I was against competing, I concentrated on working for myself, no matter how many casts where working in the studio at the same time, and mostly without thinking about their main rule: “the cast is chosen only a week before the day of the performance”. After a while I got used to it and considered it as normal. I have to admit that even if I didn’t like it, I would learn a lot from it, and it challenged me for the five years I was there.
My path then, took me back to Europe, to my fourth and for the moment, last station. The decision to come to Munich was the most mature one of all of them. And I made it consciously for several reasons; to be back to Europe, for the rich repertoire we have got here and because I wanted to be part of a theater, a home. This is my sixth season in Munich and I feel really happy at the moment, which is all I need. And about the eternal question of what I will do in the future; I will only be able to answer that when the moment will come… So, this was my path, but this is just one example. It’s just my way to tell you that I don’t think that the perfect company does exist. The problems and the tensions are most of the time similar from one place to another. What is important and what you need is to find the “good company” for you. The one that has that little difference that makes it ideal for you. The one where you’ll feel appreciated for your work. It doesn’t matter how small or big it is, or where it is based. When you find it you’ll know it. But mostly you have to believe that you have the right to make all the decisions concerning your life, your career. You have the right to be happy, to do what you love for the sake of what you’ve made so many sacrifices for. I know it is difficult, but the hardest decisions are the ones that will bring you farther in your life.