And so begins another run of Sir Peter Wright's The Nutcracker! This is generally the busiest period for any ballet company, and it is no different here at the Royal Ballet. With the gradual build-up of work since the start of the season with Carlos Acosta's Don Quixote, there hasn't been a moment to catch one's breath, and in the blink of an eye, its suddenly Christmas!
Life at the Royal Opera House is made up of a continuous demand for excellence. Be it due to stress or mere fatigue,winter time is when we are at our most vulnerable and prone to injuries and sickness. The casting sheets are marked everywhere with red pen as dancers start dropping like flies. One could do with a little help, and so we are glad to welcome Grace Reid and Poppy Frankel who join us on a short-term contract, just like it all began for me exactly ten years ago.
Amour in Don Quixote © Andrej Uspenski
Back in January 2014, I had spent the last couple of months working as a freelancer with New English Ballet Theatre and English National Ballet, and prior to that spent five and a half years dancing with Northern Ballet. Even though I had some years of professional experience, I was absolutely thrilled to be joining the company as an "extra" and fulfil any given role. I did not care when or what I was doing, as long as they saw me as a good fit for the company. The fact that I was performing with THE ROYAL BALLET already felt like a miracle in itself.
But with the swift passing of seasons came the exhaustion of being onstage every night, rehearsing a million other things during the day, an overload of work that is really quite impossible to describe. I also came to realise that I wanted more for myself and that no matter how far fetched the goal, it only takes a spark of hope to wake up old dreams laying deep within us.
I soon found myself expecting to be given featured roles, anxious every time a new casting went up on the board, frustrated with not being chosen for a new creation, and worst of all, feeling like I wasn't good enough to realise all that my little heart desired. But such is life, we expect more and more of ourselves and others, and the things we once wanted the most soon become our ‘normality’.
A day in a dancer’s life is never the same. Just like our mood goes up and down, so does our take on our progress and future. There are bumps at every turn of the road, but every defeated obstacle gives us strength to believe in ourselves and carry on.
Performing Aurora at the age of 13 in Brazil.
I started this season as a First Soloist, with a new set of challenges and expectations. Appreciating the journey, every moment of being onstage and the privilege of being in this position is something I would never take for granted, but things can get overwhelming, and every now and again we need to be reminded of how far we have come and where our true purpose lies.
My interview with David Bain for the Ballet Association this October came at the right time. When David kindly asked me what it felt like to be told I had been given a full-time contract with the Royal Ballet, my eyes got all teary. I remember it so clearly... I had just finished a performance of The Sleeping Beauty and was walking straight to the dressing room when Kevin O'Hare stopped me, looked at me all smily, and asked 'Would you like to stay with us permanently?' Just thinking back to that moment filled my heart with enormous gratitude and reminded me of how much this job means to me, and how impossible it all once seemed.
To have people like you who appreciate us, support us, and who remind us of how fortunate and special we are as a company and as individuals means more than words can say. I thank you from the bottom of my heart and look forward to sharing more thoughts here.
Wishing you a lovely Christmas and New Years and many happy returns to the Royal Opera House!
© Andrej Uspenski