Melo Freire: „I have dreamed of this solo each night“ – ballet, pressure and performance
- Series: Kunst
Black Swan, currently shown in the cinemas, lets you take a look into the abyss of a New York ballet company: an interview with Barbara Melo Freire and Jelena-Ana Stupar of the Ballett Dortmund on discipline, pain, and the parallels to Natalie Portman's role (she got nominated for an Academy Award, aka Oscar, for it ). A good reason to say good- bye to prejudices and to visit a performance myself.
The Dortmund Ballet centre at the Westfalenpark has bright, high rooms, and a relaxed and friendly atmosphere - as opposed to the claustrophobic, dark floors which drive Natalie Portman as Nina Sayers crazy in the film.
Barbara Melo Freire smokes a quick cigarette outside, she hasn't slept well last night. After their own performance last night, the company, including their director Xin Peng Wang, went to see the late night screening of Darren Aronofsky's exciting, disturbing psycho thriller.
Barbara Melo Freire and Jelena-Ana Stupar alternately dance the role of Ophelia in the play h.a.m.l.e.t. - the birth of wrath at the Dortmund theatre.
During the conversation, we want to find out whether the art of ballet, seemingly so tender and respectable, actually offers room for such an abyss as shown in the movie.
Of course it's a cliché, but they say that any little girl wants to be a ballerina. Has that been a dream for you both right from the start?
Barbara Melo Freire: I started dancing when I was ten years old. First, it was just a hobby, but then, I couldn't quit, I really fell in love with it. When I found out that you can actually earn a living from it, that it's a real profession, my fate was sealed. The schooling demands a lot of money and discipline, so the dream to do something like that on a professional base, comes pretty quick.
You were born in Rio de Janeiro…
Barbara Melo Freire: When I was 14, I came to Germany, went through ballet school education and decided to stay here.
"A dancer saying he is not in pain, is no dancer!"
IIs a ballet education really as tough as Black Swan suggests?
Jelena-Ana Stupar: Especially during the education, problems like bulimia are an issue, there's no use denying that. In my school, children were sent home because the school didn't want to be responsible for such a thing. These problems exist, but they exist throughout our society, for example, in the model and movie scene, too. But ballet schools are really very strict. Sometimes that strict, that you can't understand them. The children are put under pressure, and a competitive struggle when the teacher says: "Look, how she does it - she's doing it beautifully!"
Barbara Melo Freire (links) and Jelena-Ana Stupar alternately dance the main role
In the film, physical pain plays a key role. How much pain do you have to bear to appear so fragile and tender on stage?
Barbara Melo Freire: A dancer saying he is not in pain, is no dancer! You can ask anybody here, everyone has a foot or knee injury. In spite of that, they carry on. It's horrible to dance on painkillers or having fever, but you still have to do it. We always say: That triggers the adrenaline production! I think very often, we're not good to our bodies.
Jelena-Ana Stupar: These blood scenes in the film are exaggerated and too much. It's not like that.
Barbara Melo Freire: But we know a dancer who danced with a broken foot. She bandaged it and danced. And the blisters: you can't simply tell the director that you can't perform because you have blisters.
Jelena-Ana Stupar: That's no excuse.
Barbara Melo Freire: Not even in school. You show it to the teacher, you can't stand anymore, the shoe doesn't fit anymore...
Jelena-Ana Stupar: The skin gets stronger after a while. In school, you're still more sensitive.
"We assess ourselves the whole day"
Do you develop a special relation to your body?
Barbara Melo Freire: Of course, we can't be like the (hesitates) "normal ones" out there. (laughs) We have to take care of ourselves, be fit and well-groomed. We take a sauna, get massages. We have to be fairly fit in the morning, too.
Jelena-Ana Stupar: From the morning, we stand in front of a mirror. We assess ourselves the whole day, look at ourselves the whole day. As with anybody else, there are day we don't like what we see in the mirror. You wake up and think: "Oh, I look weird today." Still, we stand in front of this mirror eight hours a day! The positions of legs, arms, and head have to be right, everything has to be right.
Barbara Melo Freire: And on stage you have to strut your stuff like you are the most beautiful of them all. You have to switch off your brain, and appear self-confident. That is difficult sometimes.
The leading actress, Natalie Portman, has prepared one year for the role of the ballerina, she has undergone a tough training regimen. As professional dancers, what do you think of her performance in the film?
Barbara Melo Freire: Hats off! A year is nothing. We have finished an eight-year education and still haven't arrived where we should be. Each day, we start again. She has accomplished her part with a lot of discipline, and her Benjamin Millepied (Portman's fiancé and international ballet star, her dancing partner in the film, soon to be seen as guest in Dortmund, too) certainly was a good help for her. She looked beautiful, sold it well.
Jelena-Ana Stupar: If you take into consideration that she's an actress who had ballet lessons until she was 13, and has taken it up again to prepare for the film, that's great. Of course the professional eye recognises her as a non-pro, but that's not bad.
"Somehow, we always have roles in which we commit suicides at the end"
There are even more parallels to the film: in h.a.m.l.e.t. – the birth of wrath, both take turns in playing the role of Ophelia…
Barbara Melo Freire: We have already worked together before and have become friends. Thank goodness we never had a competition problem. We even support each other, can exchange our experience, because nobody can understand the difficulties of the role as good as the other one.
Jelena-Ana Stupar: The competition pressure comes more from outside.
The role of Ophelia in the current play by ballet director Xin Peng Wang is a bit similar to the one of the swan queen. You dance an exhausting 15-minute solo, and die at the end, too.
Jelena-Ana Stupar: If you have such a role, you must be able to relate to the situations in order to act them out. You have to put yourself into the place of that person. That is very exhausting.
Barbara Melo Freire: And somehow, we always have roles in which we commit suicides at the end (both laugh).
Jelena-Ana Stupar: Sometimes, you get depressed. I have dreamed of this solo each night, have danced it lying in my bed.
Barbara Melo Freire: You don't get away from it!
h.a.m.l.e.t. - the birth of wrath can be seen at the Dortmund Ballet on the following days: 05.02., 09.02., 18.02., 04.03.
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