top of page

Ballet Mentors, Dancer Journeys

Missed Opportunities: Perhaps?

March 2023


As humans, we all have people who have played a significant role in shaping our lives. These individuals may be our parents, teachers, mentors, coaches, or friends, and they can profoundly influence our perspectives, beliefs, and values. Because of their specific qualities, these individuals can inspire, motivate, and guide us. They may believe in us when we do not quite believe in ourselves.

But we need to be open to allowing their influence and be mature enough to accept it. I feel extremely fortunate to have met amazing people that helped me grow in many areas of life. I also feel that there could have been others who I did not recognise at the time and therefore bypassed potential opportunities for learning and evolving.


I am not writing the following in the spirit of regrets and what-ifs but rather out of a sense of melancholy for perhaps missed opportunities to connect with people, especially when I was a young dancer.


Missed Opportunities: Perhaps

As we grow older and reflect on our past experiences, it is not uncommon to feel regret over missed opportunities. Looking back, we may realise that there were moments when we were too immature or unaware to recognise and seize great opportunities.


As you may have learnt, Michaël Denard, danseur étoile of the Paris Opera, passed away on 17th February 2023, aged 78. He was also director of the Berlin Staatsoper Ballet between 1993-1996, where I began my professional career in 1993.

As a young, ambitious, and very anxious dancer trying to figure out and navigate the complex social dynamics of company life, I did not realise what a great opportunity I had right in front of me.

Reading Michaël Denard's obituaries, I only realise now what an important and influential figure of the dance world he has been. Telling myself off for having been so ignorant, I was glad to hear my friend and former colleague felt the same.


Sadly, at that time, not long after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Michaël Denard and the Staatsballet Berlin were a complete mismatch. He, a star dancer of the French Style, arrived at a company that for forty years was comprised of dancers, ballet masters, and directors that were without exception trained at the State Ballet School in former East Berlin, in the Sowjet Style (Vaganova)

Denard may have envisioned how he would innovate the company with a new and fresh approach. While the company experienced him as a threat and made no qualms about showing their discord.


'Le Concour', Michaël Denard wearing a red jacket. (I'm in the centre front), Staatsoper Berlin, 1995/96
'Le Concour', by Maurice Bejart, Staatsoper Berlin, 1995

Michaël Denard wearing a red jacket. (I'm in the centre front)

 

Had Google Search been as prominent as it is today the situation might have been different. Perhaps, more people in the company would have been more welcoming and open-minded instead of shying away from new experiences and challenges out of fear of losing their standing.

Neither side was well-versed in communicating to bring about the best for everyone involved. Being a young dancer, I found myself caught in the middle.


Mr Denard chose me to participate in the 'promising young dancers' performances and rehearsed the Pas de deux from La Sylphide with me and my dance partner. La Sylphide, choreographed by Pierre Lacotte, launched his own career in 1966.


La Sylphide Pas de deux, Staatsoper Berlin, 1993/94


 

On one occasion, principals of the company rehearsed the beautiful Pas de deux of the 2nd movement of Symphony in C. In the back of the studio, the warm-up area, Mr Denard invited me to follow along with him. Unfortunately, I just put on new pointe shoes that badly needed breaking in. Instead of quickly changing back to my old pair I stuck with the new shoes and hobbled through what could have been a beautiful and fun experience.

Reflection We are left to wonder what could have been if we had taken advantage of the opportunities that were presented to us. For some, it was due to our shyness and introverted nature.

Another reason was the way we were educated. We were taught that as long as we are diligent and hard-working, we will be appreciated and recognised. What was missing was the mention of social skills, how to interact with others when not dancing, how to communicate in and outside the ballet studio. This only occurred to me decades later, after I stopped dancing professionally. Some years ago, I spotted Mr Denard on a bus from Stanstead Airport to London. I did not say hello. Not because I did not want to but because I believed he would not remember me and it would be too awkward. Thinking about it makes me feel a little sad. At the same time, I am happy that I know today I would talk to people who may or may not remember me.

 

Does this article resonate with you? Do you think you missed opportunities when you were younger? Or are you still not taking advantage of opportunities today? Let me know your thoughts!

2 Comments


This resonates like a huge clanging bell, but not a tolling one, thank goodness. At seventy I would be an unusual woman if I had no regrets, although I hope I now have the wisdom not to allow those regrets to negatively influence my present. Like you I was anxious and lacked confidence as a young woman, afraid of grabbing opportunities -and yes via individuals I now understand were keen to befriend and nurture me.

i understand your melancholy mood, that’s natural too, isn’t it? I bet M. Denard did remember the promising, if slightly awkward young dancer. Would he also recognise the poised and grounded woman you’ve become?

Like

Alexander Davis
Alexander Davis
May 10, 2023

On the passing of a musician at the French court a tombeau would be composed and performed. A dance for those passing and for the moments we pass; movement to the melancholy...

Like
bottom of page