May 7, 2012

Good Morning Class!

I'm not a morning person. But I do love ballet, and the prospect of starting my day with dance is enough to turn me into a morning-class person! Which is where I was headed this past Thursday. Sadly, not to dance myself - but when you get to watch the pros instead, I sure am not complaining! Yup, I had gotten another pass to observe The Finnish National Ballet's company class. Last time I saw most of the women in pointe-action, this time I was looking forward to a regular mixed class. Actually, the prospect of seeing hunky danseurs leap through the air is enough to turn any girl into a morning person.. ;)

As I crossed the short distance from the tram-stop to the Opera building, I noticed a few dancers walking ahead of me. I couldn't help but check my posture, even exaggerate my almost-not-there duck-walk. It didn't matter that no one was looking, I enjoyed getting into the part. A little make-believe early in the morning.. Of course, I couldn't fool anyone in the know - my hips don't lie (Shakira!). The thing is I've got a little too much in that department, at least where pro ballet is considered. But I do have the poise and the bounce (and a bit of technique)! Anyway, I was going to observe class, not audition for the company. So I picked up my name-tag (cool) from the reception, and Jussi from the Press Office came to escort me to the class.

There are two classes each morning, and I chose the one in the main ballet studio, which I know well already. When we arrived, there were a few dancers stretching and limbering up, and I was happy to see a familiar face greeting me with a smile. It is odd, usually I write my blogs from the POW of an insider and not looking in from the outside. Here I was in a ballet studio, which is home away from home, and instead of joining the other dancers on the floor, I sat down on one of the chairs (in front of the mirror, close to the grand piano). Talk about conspicuous behavior! Seriously, I would have been less nervous at the barre! Just as class was about to begin, Jussi introduced as the ballet blogger who's come to observe. Turns out my blog's link was already posted on their announcement-board! Dancers, if you are indeed reading this, thanks again for putting up with me! Especially since I had permission to take pictures, and had to take quite a few.. Taking photos of moving dancers is not easy, you want to do everyone justice.

Guest teacher Piotr Nardelli and artists of the Finnish National Ballet.
Photo: Johanna / PTYD.

"Vamos chicos and chiquitas!" I couldn't help but smile when guest teacher Piotr Nardelli gave out excercises and corrections. At the beginning of class he seemed to have all the energy the dancers were still gathering. Of course, morning class is for warm-up and getting ready for another long and strenuous day. Really, I don't know how the pros manage it day after day. It takes heaps of self-discipline, for sure! And Mr. Nardelli's class was not one for sleepy (bun-)heads.. In center, he chose dancers to demonstrate some of the exercises, making them literally think on their feet. You better be awake and know your ballet-French!

I love to watch dancers in center. You get to see how much work all those seemingly effortless steps, turns and jumps actually take. And you get to see dancers take risks, throw themselves into the music, without restraint. You also get to see them fail, just like us regular recreational dancers. But they always stick to it, until they get it right. I really should remember this, in every class I take. I also wish one could pick up awesome pirouettes from watching alone! The very young and lovely First Soloist Maria Baranova pulled off perfect quadruples like it was no big deal at all. Well, at her level it probably isn't. Maybe she was going for sixtuplets? Jealous much? Baranova wasn't the only one of the ladies who impressed me. Etoile Petia Ilieva has an exquisite quality to her jump (among other), and Ophélie Rodighiero was another fearless turner. But as I had already seen the ballerinas before, I was focusing mostly on the boys/men.

Wow. The men were totally exuberant in their dancing, even boisterous! You can really tell they love to dance, and don't mind showing off their technique! And why should they? The pirouettes were awesome, the multiple tours en l'air seriously cool. I have to say that the over all level of "our" men at the Finnish National Ballet is impressive, even internationally speaking. I strongly suspect that the leadership of Kenneth Greve has been the decisive factor in this fortunate development. Of course there have always been good and wonderful danseurs, but perhaps not as many as presently.. There was one dancer in particular,  he seemed to glide in the air, without any apparent effort. Like walking, only flying. I was excited to make this new discovery - until I found out he is leaving Finland after the summer. Readers in the UK, take note: Nicol Edmonds was offered a contract with the Royal Ballet! Though I'm sad to miss out on his dancing, I know it's a dream come true. Huge congrats to Nicol!

When the class got to grand allegro, I had long since forgotten about being an outsider - I just enjoyed being in the audience! I didn't even notice when the Artistic Director of the company walked in and sat into the chair next to me. When I did, he said something which was probably a greeting, but I was caught off guard, and the words were drowned in the piano music. So I gestured towards my ear, and he repeated (probably wondering whether I was a bit dense): "Hi, I'm Kenneth Greve!" Me, rather star-struck: "Yes, I know.. I'm Johanna". KG: "Yes, I have seen you around." Me: blushing. Then he said something about having read my blog and that he liked it. Me: speechless. The only explanation I can give is this: it was class, and I do not talk in class. Okay, I might on occasion whisper something to a friend, but if a teacher corrects me, I do as I'm told. If there's praise, I nod, maybe smile and then get back to work. You can take the student out of her class, but you can't take the ballet-school out of the student. Should there be a next time, I better write something smart on a post-it and stick it to my forehead. ;)


  1. Thanks for this great post. It's so interesting to have a fly on the wall perspective. Watching a professional class is so interesting as you see the dancers as humans rather than sylphs or swans or whatever and, in a way, what they achieve seems even more impressive. I am very much looking forward to seeing Nicol Edmonds when he starts with the Royal Ballet. I will be on the look out...

  2. Thank you, Katherine!

    It's true, you get to see the dancer behind the role. It also makes you appreciate the performance so much more.

    I'm hoping I get a chance to talk to Nicol Edmonds sometime during the upcoming Helsinki International Ballet Competition (HIBC). Keep your fingers crossed! :)

  3. Replies
    1. Thanks! I wish I could work there, in any capacity.. The atmosphere is just so special! :)


To That Special Ballet Teacher

To that special ballet teacher, who not only teaches you about technique, but helps build your confidence, nurtures your inner artist, ...