Poise, elegance, and perfection

STORY BY ANFAL HANIF

What does it take to be a professional ballerina?

Dance is an art that imprints on the soul. It is with you every moment, it expresses itself in everything you do.

These are just some of the thoughts that run through a ballerina’s mind.

Throughout the course of the pandemic, the performing arts have been hit hard. As a result, it has forced the National Ballet of Canada to cancel their performances for December. Recently they cancelled the remaining of the 2020/2021 season. The ballet performance of Swan Lake to be postponed.

Monika Annick Haczkiewicz is a part of the National Ballet of Canada’s corps de ballet. She has been working as a corps de ballet dancer since the age of 18. Some background about her is that both parents were part of Cirque du Soleil, which is one of the reasons why she is a professional athlete in ballet. 

Monika discussed why she chose to become a dancer. She said,

“I have been absolutely in love with the art form, the music, the movement and the thrill of being on stage drew me in. Since I was a little girl”. 

– Monika Annick Haczkiewicz, corps de ballet dancer.

Corps de ballet is a type of ballet that is the gathering of artists who are not head artists or soloists. They are a lasting portion of the dance organization and regularly fills in as a background for the key artists. A corps de ballet is expressive where everyone works as one, with synchronized developments and relating positioning on the stage.

Monika expressed what she feels is the most challenging about ballet, saying that, 

 “Trying not to be too hard on myself. As a ballerina you are always striving to be ‘perfect’ and make things look ‘effortless’”.

You might be wondering how the National Ballet of Canada has dealt with the pandemic. Heather Ogden, a principal ballet dancer at the National Ballet, explains how the pandemic has changed her life in ballet.

A principal dancer is an artist at the most noteworthy position inside an expert dance organization. Principal ballerinas might be male or female. The position is like that of soloist; in any case, directors consistently perform performances, yet additionally pas de deux. 

In March of this year, the company was on tour.

“In the beginning of the year we were on tour in Washington DC at the Kennedy Center performing at the top of our game in Rudolf Nureyev’s The Sleeping Beauty and then we had a mixed program and a run of Romeo and Juliet in Toronto. I danced the last show of R&J mid-march and then the next day we shut down. Now we can’t even film a ballet because it has too many people in the room.  A lot has changed. We can’t be with our colleagues, dance together, socialize. A lot of our days are very fun and I am missing that,” said Odgen.

The National Ballet of Canada has shifted their classes from in-studio to virtual classes via zoom due to the challenges of the pandemic. The company is keeping the audience engaged with their social media, and giving a glimpse of the dancers in the company through a lens being projected from home.  Once the government changed restrictions, the company moved back to studios with small pods. These being for the company dancers to be able to rehearse and the pods only consist of those people from your household only. 

How has the ballet progressed in the recent years in terms of diversity? The ballet world has progressed through working on diverse and inclusion. The National Ballet of Canada, has been actively working on this; with a specialized team for a few years. 

Courtesy of National Ballet of Canada

“Ballet should be for everyone, I really believe that,” said Ogden. “Ballet as an art form still has a long way to go. I think a lot has been hidden behind ‘tradition’. The Black Lives Matter movement was very eye-opening.”

In order to bring ballet to more people, the company has made an effort to reach audiences in schools and have free public shows. Ogden is on the board of a festival hosted by the ballet company called “Fall for Dance North”. Where it helps diversify the company by having them experiencing new ways of dance.

“Dancers of colour in leading and principal roles in companies can now be seen in many companies. Although more attention needs to be paid to diversify representation in advertisements and publicity from the ballet community further.”

Heather Ogden Principal Ballet Dancer.

Both Monkia Annick Haczkiewicz and Heather Ogden, are happy to be a part of the National Ballet of Canada. They started dancing at the ages of three and six. Monkia expressed her emotions saying, “It’s every little girl’s dream to be a ballerina and I’m so blessed and grateful every day that I get to live that out.” 

Heather expressed a similar story, “I feel so grateful to be a leader (Principal Dancer) in this company and to perform on the world stage with my brilliant colleagues.  I have built a life here, my friends are here, I married my favourite dance partner and we have two kids together. I feel so accomplished being able to have all of this together. It’s not always easy but this makes me happy and I wouldn’t change it.”

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