Mayerling Chr.: Kenneth MacMillan Tänzer/Dancer: Elisa Badenes © Stuttgarter Ballett

Becoming Mary Vetsera -with Elisa Badenes

Alessandro Bizzotto follows Elisa Badenes through corridors, make-up rooms and on stage at the Stuttgart Opera House to find out how she gets ready to play the teen-ager who falls in love with Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria in “Mayerling”.

The corridor leading to the make-up rooms is packed with Jürgen Rose’s exquisite costumes on their hangers – a triumph of greens, blacks, burgundies, blue-greys. I get near to a cyclamen-colored cape, its label reads “Staatstheater Stuttgart / Badenes / Mayerling”.

This evening’s performance of MacMillan’s three-act masterpiece will begin in a couple of hours. Elisa Badenes will dance Mary Vetsera, Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria’s 17-year-old mistress who agrees to die with him. She is wearing a dark red sweater and, as she sits down in front of a mirror to be made up and to have her hair dressed, she looks at me with patient scrutiny, as if she was prepared for hundreds of questions, ready to show me the backstage of this new production of “Mayerling”.

The ballet, as everybody knows, enters the Stuttgart Ballet’s repertoire this year. Elisa is the company’s first cast Vetsera, which means she is the first ballerina of the company to perform the role at the Stuttgart Opera House. It may sound obvious, yet it is odd in my eyes the Stuttgart Ballet has never had a full-length work by MacMillan in its repertoire in spite of the close relationship between the Scottish choreographer and the German company.

“It is simply a masterpiece” Badenes tells me as she starts applying some foundation on her face using a make-up sponge. “This ballet is so intense, passionate, dark”. Born in Valencia, Spain, she joined the Stuttgart Ballet in the 2009/2010 season and was promoted to Principal only four years later.

Her brown hair is gathered in a pony tail. “In Act One Mary is just a child“, she explains as she keeps holding the book presenting the Stuttgart Ballet new season on her knees, “I must look like a ten-year old girl, therefore my make-up will be very simple”. The hair style is completed by light pink flowers and lilac-colored ribbons, then it’s time to complete the make-up. “I’d like to put some blush on as well” she tells the make-up artist when she is almost ready.

“I had my first rehearsal more or less three months ago” she answers when I ask her how long it tooks to get ready for “Mayerling”. “I haven’t been rehearsing only this role for three months, of course, so I can’t honestly tell you how long it tooks for me to prepare ‘Mayerling’, but I guess we started getting ready more than two months ago… I’d say three months”. She stands up and I follow her as she leaves the make-up room. “I’ll be back in ten minutes” she says, “I’m going to my dressing room to wear my tights and to take my pointe shoes”.

While I wait sitting between the corridor and the entrance to the backstage, Marcia Haydée herself walks past me, already ready for the show wearing Archduchess Sophie’s stunning black dress. She stops, looks at me and holds her hand out to me – I just introduce myself; she looks so calm and humble, something in her commands respect yet she radiates positive energy.

Elisa comes back ten or fifteen minutes later. She is wearing a one-piece blue tracksuit decorated with white dashes and snowflakes. Around her neck there is a coral-coloured necklace. “I’ll wear it in many scenes through the ballet” she explains as she shows it to me. She sits on the floor and start wearing her pointe shoes.

“I can very well remember my first Principal role” she tells me as we start talking about her professional path. “I wasn’t even a Soloist and I was chosen to dance Odette/Odile in Cranko’s ‘Swan Lake’, more than seven years ago – one of the most challenging roles I have ever danced”. I very well remember that run of performances. I didn’t see Elisa dancing, I saw Anna Osadcenko as the Swan Queen partnered by Filip Barankiewicz that year (I can still remember my enthusiasm after that show and my thrilled review), but some German friends had told me the reviews of Elisa’s shows were enthusiastic.

“I love Cranko’s production of ‘Swan Lake’, don’t you? she asks. As I answer it is one of my two favourite versions of that ballet, she adds, “It is brilliant, it tells that dramatic story so beautifully”.

Mary Vetsera is not as challenging as Odette/Odile, of course. “No, it isn’t”, she agrees, “as far as academic technique is concerned, Mary is not that stressful nor too challenging. ‘Swan Lake’ is tougher, Kitri in ‘Don Quijote’ is tougher… However, ‘Mayerling’ empties myself, it drains my energies and my emotions. As Mary Vetsera, on stage I must go through the last seven years in the life of a teen-ager who is crazily in love with the son and heir of Emperor Franz Josef and who is ready to do anything for him”.

She is wearing her pointe shoes now. She briefly vanishes to wear her dress and I am invited to reach the stage to see Rose’s spectacular décor. Everything is almost ready for the performance. The background is an impending black-and-white representation of the landscape around Mayerling – hills covered with mist and pine trees under a cloudy sky. It was drawn by Rose himself and then printed twenty-four times larger than the original. There’s even an original Habsburg carriage, restored and painted black.

Badenes reaches me. She is ready for Act One – she is wearing her white costume enriched by pink ribbons and flowers, leg warmers and a sleeveless jacket to keep warm. I ask her if she feels tense. “No!” she answers laughing. She chats a little bit with Marcia Haydée while I am shown all the details of the set. Then, as she is stretching, we talk a little bit more. “The pas-de-deux are tough” Elisa reveals, “they demand stamina and coordination. When Act Two is over, after that beautiful pas-de-deux in Rudolf’s bedroom, I can barely feel my muscles. I feel very well-rehearsed, in any case… and after all, dancing this ballet is so rewarding and fulfilling!”.

I suddenly realize artistic director of the company Tamas Dietrich is on stage. While I scrutinize closer the original Habsburg carriage, he sits on the floor close to Elisa, who is stretching doing splits. They have a brief, smiling chat. It’s five minutes to show time, which means it is definitely time for me to go and take my seat in the stalls of the Stuttgart Opera House to see “Mayerling”. Elisa and I thank each other. Then I just say “Toi toi toi”. “Should I say anything else?” I ask before disappearing in the wings. “No, nothing!” she answers, smiling again.