Eighteen stars of dance today open up and explain to Dance for You how they are living in this emergency time and what they are doing to train and maintain both their physiques and their minds. Optimism, discipline, good food, hobbies, family time, meditation, inventiveness: following on from Volume 1, here the other nine reveal their secret recipes to Alessandro Bizzotto
As the lockdown continues in a depressing number of countries, I’ve been keeping in touch with the Principals of several ballet companies who have been trying both to remain positive and serene and also to find their own ways to stay in shape, looking forward to the day when theatres will all come to life again.
Principal of the Mariinsky Ballet Viktoria Tereshkina focuses mostly on keeping her muscles toned. «I am working out at home using a gym mat» she tells me, «as I want to keep my body fit. The Mariinsky Theatre is closed as every fitness club here in Saint Petersburg too, and without any training or rehearsals… well, your body can get out of shape relatively quickly».
«Depriving a performer of a stage is like clipping a bird’s wings!» she exclaims. «I felt somehow… broken at the outset. I dreadfully miss going on stage. But… let’s not panic! It is a temporary situation. After all, every dancer can experience a situation that forces him or her to stop. An injury can lead to several months off. A maternity leave makes a ballerina miss a whole year. It all forces every artist to rethink certain things… I guess it is happening today as well, somehow».
«I gave my body a kind of holiday foodwise, at the very beginning of the quarantine» Viktoria explains to me, «I ate absolutely anything I wanted to eat, knowing I’d add two or three extra kilos. Now I have set limitations again: I want to try a kind of time-restricted fasting known as the 8:16 ratio – you can eat what you want and when you want for eight hours, and then during the remaining sixteen hours you have nothing but water. We’ll see what comes of that».
What does she hope for the future? «Mankind has a chance to take heed now – a good shake-up» she answers, «as this virus is changing people’s plans all over the world. No country excluded. Man has been destroying and ravaging the planet for centuries, but only now have we started to pay attention to green issues and to sustainability. It will all come to pass eventually: we all will be back to appreciate those simplest things that we didn’t use to consider at all. And I wish a new social responsibility will come out of this tragedy. The COVID-19 will change us all, and I think for the better».
«I keep warming up and doing the barre work every day» Principal of the Stuttgart Ballet Adhonay Soares da Silva tells me, «and I keep moving as much as I can while staying at home». His voice on the phone sounds as calm as always. «I think it is really important not to leave home at all. You know, we had some coronavirus cases here at the Stuttgart Ballet… a friend of mine is positive as well. I am luckily ok, but I think that staying on my own now is a sign of public responsibility».
«Yes, I am posting videos of my classes on Instagram too… as are many other dancers» he tells me, «and, here at the Stuttgart Ballet, we are lucky as we are often connecting with each other via Internet, videoconferencing and doing the barre all together. Then I often do some workout, abs… it is a way to keep fit and to use my free time without wasting it. And you know what? A friend of mine posted some nice video of herself doing and teaching yoga – yoga helps me both stretching and feeling mentally healthy. Day after day, I realize how important taking care of my brain is too».
Does Adhonay miss social interaction? «I do, but I try my best not to think about it». How? «Long Skype calls with my friends help! And I have much more time to clean and tidy up my place».
He is Brazilian, his family lives in Goiânia. «Yes, my mom is worried for me» he answers, «my family stays at home as I am doing here, they are in our same situation. They don’t like the idea I’m here on my own but… I keep telling them I am fine, I have friends who can help me and I have everything under control».
«I can tell you I am super careful as far as food is concerned now» he adds. «I eat more vegetables, I drink a lot of tea and ginger tea. My daily routine is not the same anymore, I want to give my body what it needs to deal with it».
People keep repeating everything is going to be ok, does he agree? «Well I hope so! Though I feel so sad hearing of people losing their dear ones all around the world. We need to take it seriously, even those people I keep seeing from my window, walking and jogging outside». Has Adhonay got a kind of recipe to leave everything behind? «Stay home, keep thinking positive… and watch some recordings of ballets that the Stuttgart Ballet is making available online».
«Certainly we have no class nor rehearsal Vienna State Opera» Principal of the Vienna State Ballet Olga Esina tells me, «we cannot even enter the House and some colleagues of mine, who left some ballet clothes or other stuff in their dressing rooms, can’t go and get them. Lucky I brought home nearly everything».
While talking on the phone one morning during these lockdown weeks, she informs me that she keeps on training yet she misses the stage, «and I mean I miss the space, not just performing in front of our audience: I miss the feeling of being allowed to do large and clear movements. You cannot dance that way when you are at home, though our company provided every dancer with a piece of linoleum… the wooden floor would be too slippery».
And fortunately, she’s got an extra ace up her sleeve. «My husband and I have a ballet school in Vienna» she says, «it is located a five minute walk from our home, so I can go there, open the school just for myself and rehearse on my own – I take my own personal class there, I can do both the barre and the centre. I even give online classes twice a week: a class for professionals and a class for beginners or young ballet students. It gives me further motivation».
«A physiotherapist of the Vienna State Ballet gives us pilates classes via videoconference» Olga adds, «which is an additional way to try and keep fit and healthy… besides spending my days with my 3-year-old daughter! She is always on the move – I can hardly sit down. You know, the weather starts being really nice here in Vienna, so staying at home and making time pass for my daughter is even more difficult! But that’s what we have to do, and we must take it seriously».
She cooks a lot these days, «even more than before… if you came to my house, you would think I am about to have ten people here for dinner! Even though sometimes I even forget to eat – when I am not taking class I am playing with my daughter, so sometimes I find out it is almost dinner time and I have had no lunch».
She is slightly afraid of what the future holds for the ballet universe, but she remains confident. «Economically, I do hope the coronavirus situation won’t have huge consequences and implications – I wish a fast recovery not just for the theatres, but for culture in general as well. Culture will never die, I am sure, but it will take time for it to bounce back. So many people have lost their jobs in a few weeks… I wonder if and when many of them will be able to get back to an Opera House to enjoy a performance or a concert, and it saddens me».
In spite of everything, she thinks we must keep looking forward. «I have a deep feeling that now more than ever we should help each other». Before saying farewell, Olga reflects; «now it is important to stay home as it is a way to help doctors and nurses, and in the future it will be important to stay united and not to be selfish».
The Tokyo Ballet kept having classes and rehearsals till the first week of April. «Now I do the barre at home» Principal of the Tokyo Ballet Yasuomi Akimoto explains me, «as well as core training exercises, some bodyweight training and, of course, stretching. You know, I can’t go to the gym anymore».
«I often do mental rehearsal too in these days» he adds. «Besides watching videos of ballets as I normally use to do, I slightly move my body and carefully listen to the music, as if I had to learn the steps for a performance. In my eyes it is essential: in order to give a clear performance of the character, you have to deeply understand and to interiorize the ballet, being mentally prepared. In addition, I am taking my time to watch movies and relax – I like to spend my time slowly».
He keeps eating as he used to do before the lockdown, «which means I eat a lot of rice, as I love it! I do not take protein supplements: I get nutrients from food».
What Yasuomi hopes now is that future will bring serenity back. «I simply hope that, after the COVID-19, everyone will be able to go to the theatre without fear» he says. «Ballet has no words. It can be understood by anyone, all over the world. Everyone can enjoy it; it will always be like that. I hope we’ll definitely be back on stage soon».
Even at home, «it is essential to keep our usual dance routine». Here is what Principal of the Birmingham Royal Ballet Céline Gittens thinks. «The majority of dancers at Birmingham Royal Ballet have been dancing since a very young age, and to suddenly break this routine would be a great shock to the body. My advice is to keep on dancing!».
So, she has tried to create a schedule. «It includes ballet class, pointe strengthening, and a combination of pilates and stretching exercises» she explains to me. «I therefore do my ballet class three times a week. This includes barre, adage, and tendu in the centre. I have limited my allegro exercises since the impact of jumping can be too great for our joints without the presence of a sprung dance floor».
What about those days spent without taking the class? «On the alternate days I practise my pilates programme, which was created by the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s strength and conditioning team, whilst including high intensity exercises like skipping rope drills and finishing with a cool down stretch. Sunday is my rest day».
Céline tells me her diet is full of fresh fruit and vegetables. «They will support our immune system and give us long lasting energy». Yet, as far as food is concerned, she goes beyond that. «Now is the time to get inspired by those cookbooks that line your kitchen shelf and to experiment with new recipes that bring out the flavours of your ingredients. I have recently been drawn back to Caribbean Food Made Easy with Levi Roots. This cookbook brings tasty dishes from the Caribbean to your kitchen with the use of specific herbs and spices, which make up the “sunshine kit”».
Love from her audience helps her to be resolute and to move on. «In March we ended with some incredible and unforgettable performances of Sir Peter Wright’s Swan Lake. The audience numbers and audience reaction was probably the best that I have experienced since I started performing Swan Lake with the company in 2008. Many audience members were so moved by performances that they bought additional tickets for the remainder of our Swan Lake tour around England», she says. «I think that this audience support will continue to strengthen as nothing can replace the feeling of witnessing a live performance. The arts is such an important part of our communities as it promotes creativity, which boosts our personalities and gives us a sense of escapism. It sparks conversation, causes us to dream and can even give us hope. Art provides us a space for reimagining collective and individual existence».
Principal of the Dutch National Ballet Artur Shesterikov tells me he tries to take his time when doing the barre at home. «It is a chance to work unhurried on my body» he explains, «so every day I take one hour at least to take class – I start with some floor barre, then I do the barre focusing on tendus, and a little bit of centre. You know, I have a barre in my living room now…».
He works on keeping his muscles strong too. «I try and jump every day, even though I can execute only small jumps. After that, I do some weight training or exercises using the weight of the body. In addition, I take my time to do some specific exercises my physio recommended me to do as I had some issues with my upper back recently. It’s nothing serious, but I want to use these weeks off to take care of that too. A diet? I simply eat less as I need less energy, but I am not that worried as far as gaining weight is concerned! I never had weight issues».
His son needs attention as well. «He keeps me busy too!» he adds during our phone call, just before dinner time. «He often wants mom or dad to play with him, and I love spending quality time with him now».
Artur does not go too far when it comes to the next season of the Dutch National Ballet. «Our company has the support of the Dutch government» he says, «so I don’t think any productions will be cancelled. Maybe the bill we were supposed to bring on stage this month will replace the one that is supposed to open our next season. Yet everything is still a little uncertain – it will also depend on how long the coronavirus emergency will last. We have no certain news, so far. I can tell you, I hope that next season will stay as planned, though changes are always possible: maybe something will change, but I wish there will be no cancellation». Any role he wishes not to miss? «There is a couple of roles I’d love to dance again. I’ll tell you later on but don’t write them… for luck».
«I try and do physical activities with my family, both pilates and stretching exercises» Principal of the Paris Opera Ballet Eleonora Abbagnato, who directs the Rome Opera Ballet too, lets me know via a written note. «I also give ballet classes via Facebook and Instagram to all those who want to follow me».
She favours a Mediterranean diet as «a healthy diet is essential for a mental and physical balance, and this all the more, in such difficult circumstances».
«In addition, I try to maintain a positive outlook towards the life we are forced to live now, though it is everything but easy due to the lockdown» she says. «I guess this attitude combined with sunlight helps our immune system too».
In spite of everything, Eleonora tries with all her strength to stay confident and hopeful. «I do hope it all will be over very soon» she concludes, «and I think particularly to those who live from their labour and therefore cannot afford to be without pay».
«If we’ll be disciplined and treasure what this experience is teaching us, I am sure our future will be better» is her message.
Principal of the Berlin State Ballet Dinu Tamazlacaru’s voice is as loud and cheerful as usual yet, while talking on the phone, I can perceive there is a shadow of prudence and tact in his words. «It is not a smooth situation» he tells me, «Berlin is not completely locked down, yet I try to stay home as much as possible. We are so fortunate as the Berlin State Ballet provided us dancers with some facilities». Which ones? «First of all, a piece of linoleum. A teacher of the company gives class every day via Zoom. In addition, our health department sent us some cardio training programmes to help us keeping somehow fit – we can choose among several options every day. I know it won’t be enough to keep my best shape till the end of the emergency, but it will definitely help».
As many dancers, he tries not to break his routine. «I wake up at the very same time every morning, I have my usual breakfast and I warm up before the class. To my mind, the worst thing in this moment is, not to know how long this horrible situation will last: so, I decided not to change my morning routine, even though I cannot go to the theatre. It is a way to keep training my brain as well».
Dinu kind of has a green thumb too, and it helps him to loosen up. «I keep some plants on my terrace» he reveals me, «the colours of their flowers are a kind of balm for my eyes – taking care of something alive boosts my brain».
Keeping healthy and not just fit is a priority. «Whenever I cook, I think about how to strengthen my immune system» he explains. «I have plenty of time to cook and every day I choose fresh foods that can support my physique. A good laugh is excellent for the immune system too… here’s why I videoconference with close friends almost every day».
«Instead of watching TV, I rather do something useful» Dinu adds, «and I am taking advantage of these weeks to concentrate on what I love to do… from the beginning to the end. I turn my phone off and I spend hours focusing on what I am doing, breathing and letting anything else go. However, I can tell you that I enjoy watching documentaries before going to bed!».
Principal of the Australian Ballet Amy Harris is spending her lockdown in the countryside. «I have been very fortunate to return home with my family to my mum’s house in the country» she reveals. «My sister has a dance school here in Ararat, Victoria and, while it is unfortunate that she has had to put classes for her students on hold, my husband Jarryd Madden, who is a Senior artist with the Australian Ballet, and I have been lucky to have a studio to be able to take a full ballet class each morning».
Her working day starts at 11:00 am. «Each day my Australian Ballet family do an online ballet class. The whole company logs on at 11:00 am and takes class. We also have some essentials with us like therabands, exercise balls, yoga mats, small weights… to do a warm up and pilates-gym exercises before we start class».
Amy is a mother, and in her eyes her daugther and her son are a priority. «I have a young family – Willow, 5 and Phoenix, 10 months. So, Jarryd and I really make sure that we are giving them all they need to grow and live a healthy lifestyle» she says. «Furthermore, I have always been someone that eats a well-balanced diet. I love my chocolate but I also love fuelling my body with good nutritious food too. I’m a little bit of a creature of habit and love having the same thing, especially while performing. I find something that works and I tend to stick with it».
In order to keep strong throughout this time, she works to conserve «my mental health. To stay strong in my mind and know that there are many of us around the world in the same position within the arts. It’s tough».
«I have just returned from my second baby» she explains, «and only got to perform three shows before sadly our season was postponed. Our first week working remotely I struggled. I started to get to far ahead of myself and found myself stressing over things I had no control of. Luckily I have my husband and family right here with me and also the wonderful team at work who check in with us daily».
While thinking about the future, she seems to throw her heart beyond the present obstacles: and this is why I’ve chosen to conclude these two volumes with Amy’s words of hope. «I hope that the arts return bigger and better than before. That we receive more support and appreciation. And that our long-time lovers, patrons, supporters, fans and audience members all know how much we missed them and are happy to be back and we hope they are too».