A Day in the Life of a Ballerina
A little while back, Holly Dorger let me follow her around for a day at The Royal Danish Ballet. And not just any day, but for the premiere night of Take Four (that was on the program last season). She was dancing in two of the four choreographies, and it's fair to say that it was a really hectic program for her. I can almost not understand that she had the energy to have me shadow her for a day like that, but I am so grateful! She is the most amazing girl, and I have been looking so much forward to sharing the work we did together with you.
09:00 morning rituals
I met with Holly in her dressing room in the morning, where she was getting ready for the first ballet class of the day. The ballet dancers meet every morning from 10:00 to 11:30 for morning rehearsal, and getting to the theatre early is a must. Being a ballet dancer there are a lot of little rituals, like taping their feet, picking and preparing the right pair of pointe shoes, and stretching and warming up the feet. All of this goes into getting ready for the first class of the day. These little, and very important things contribute to more healthy and safe conditions for the dancers because they help prevent injuries and gives comfort and support. There is a long way from what happens in the early hours in the dressing room, to what is presented on the stage in the show in the evening, and it’s so interesting to get to see everything that goes into that perfection that we are presented with in the audience.
10:00 morning rehearsal
After checking the schedule of where the different rehearsals will be throughout the day, Holly is off for morning rehearsal with Adam Lüders (who is the choreographer of one the pieces she will be dancing in later in the day, and once an incredible ballet dancer himself). Morning class always starts off with barre exercises, starting with simple movements, but steadily building up to be more and more technically demanding. The morning rehearsals can almost be said to be the backbone of the ballet practice, getting the dancers ready for what they are dancing later in the day. The morning rehearsals follow the dancers from when they are young and throughout their life as ballet dancers, and prepares them for the pieces they are dancing, and underlines the importance of a strong technical foundation. After the barre exercises are done, the ballerinas change from canvas shoes and into pointe shoes for the more technically challenging exercises.
Time to change into pointe shoes
And off to prepare a different pair of shoes for the premiere
12:oo preparing for viscera
Viscera is a ballet where the costume requires the dancers to colour their shoes, and straight after the morning rehearsal at the Old Stage, Holly ran over to the Playhouse where the final rehearsal and premiere would be taking place. She went straight from morning rehearsal to preparing her shoes for the next rehearsal, followed by makeup, costume change and hair for Viscera, the first piece to go on stage.
12:30 Final rehearsal
The final rehearsal is also a dress rehearsal, so it is almost exactly like a proper show. On rehearsals like this they let the audience in, and everything happens in the correct timing. Holly is dancing in two different pieces, so she needs to rush of from one piece, and go straight into costume change and makeup and hair. The hairstyles she is wearing for Viscera and the Schubert Pas de Deux are completely different, and there is a lot of work going into completing the transformation before she needs to appear on stage again, shortly after.
back in the chair for her
second hair style
14:00 Final adjustments with adam lüders
Adam Lüders, former principal dancer at the New York City Ballet, makes his debut as a choreographer on the second piece that Holly is dancing in. It’s a Schubert Pas de Deux and it is a challenging choreography, so Adam is making sure that the technical collaboration between the couple is running smoothly. Holly was dancing with Magnus in the final rehearsal, but is doing the premiere later with a different dancer. Jonathan and Holly have been dancing together many times before, but I’m so impressed that she can so easily transition between the different dynamics. Each dancer has their own style, and figuring out what you need from your partner, and how to give them what they need is especially crucial for a Pas de Deux.
After a very hectic six hours Holly finally gets a break. At this point I have hardly left her side, and although she is used to crazy rehearsal days without proper breaks, I’m absolutely starving and so is she! She changes back into her normal clothes, and we swing by Atelier September for lunch and a chat. There is an article coming in a few weeks where Holly talks about growing up in the ballet world, being a dancer, what her rough diamond ring means to her, and a lot of other things. She really is the sweetest girl, and I very much enjoyed interviewing her. After the interview, Holly went home to rest a little. Very well deserved!
After the having some time off to relax, Holly came back to the theatre to prepare for the premiere. When you follow a ballet dancer around for a day, one of the things that stand out is that there is so much preparation. Taping toes, preparing shoes and stretching, over and over, and over again. Warming up before dancing is important for many reasons, but one of the things that I never thought of before seeing how Holly works is that you (of course) also need to warm up the feet and the toes before putting on pointe shoes. After the warmup, there is only one more stop before the first stage call.
19:00 Final touches
There are many elements that go into getting ready to go on stage. Warming up, costume, makeup, and last but not least: hair! Holly gets her hair done by the hairdresser, which is a very nice help given the very specific requirements. On the doors of the dressing rooms there are descriptions and drawings of how the dancers should do their hair and make-up, and I can understand why Holly is so grateful for the help that she is getting. With the costume on, perfect makeup and stunning hair, she is finally ready for the premiere.
20:00 stage call for Viscera
Everything is set, and the dancers are getting ready to go on stage. All the dancers participating in Viscera are gathering behind the curtain, stretching, talking to each other and waiting. Viscera is choreographed by the young choreographer Liam Scarlett and consists of two rhythmically intense pieces that frames a beautiful Pas de Deux. It is a strong, modern and visually very minimalistic ballet and a wonderful choreography.
20:40 costume change and hair (again)
The two pieces that Holly is dancing in is coming straight after each other, so while the audience is having a little break after Viscera, she is running upstairs to change into her second costume and transform her look from a strong, modern ballet and into a very romantic, classical ballet with her partner Jonathan.
21:00 stage call for pas de deux
Last stage call of the day! After stepping her pointe shoes in resin to keep her from slipping on the stage, Holly is ready. She has been working very closely with Adam Lüders, and I can sense that this piece is very special to her. It is Adam’s debut as a choreographer, and it is a shiny new Pas de Deux that is choreographed to Franz Schubert. Adam was inspired by his three great mentors Harald Lander, George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins for this stunning choreography.
I’m quite taking with Holly’s beautiful stage presence, and seeing her dance with Jonathan, you can tell that they work incredibly well together. Ballet is the art of making something incredibly hard and difficult look effortless and easy. It looks so lights and beautiful, but there is so much muscle work behind it. During my time with Holly, I shot a little bit video as well and here is the final result of our day together. It is the very first time I properly used my camera to film anything, so please bear with me on this one (and please watch it in HD)! :)
there is a lot more ballet to come
During the next couple of months there will be a lot of ballet stuff coming your way,
and I hope that you'll enjoy it as much as I enjoy photographing this.