[ENG] Transcript - Full Interview with Viviana Durante
Photo provided by Viviana Durante.
Interviewee: Viviana Durante (V)
Interviewer: Natasha Rogai (N)
Date: 25th August, 2016
Venue: Kwai Tsing Theatre
N: What made you accept this particular invitation to adjudicate at the HK Ballet Group Stars Award? The last competition you judged at was the Prix de Lausanne, which is very different.
V: I am always interested in and curious about different cultures and other parts of the world. What we do is something where you don’t need to speak, we speak the same language in the dance world, so it brings us all together. I’ve never been to Hong Kong before, I was asked to dance in Hong Kong many times, but it never worked out. So I’m very happy to be here, what a great chance to explore and see the dancers, to see what is happening out here.
N: What is your impression so far of the local kids that you’ve seen in the competition?
V: We just saw one master class today. Very nice, everybody is so sweet. So committed and so focused. You can hear a pin drop, everybody is so into it and really listening to the teacher. I can see everybody in the class today is able to take in the teacher’s instructions. Their minds weren’t veering off somewhere else, which can happen. However, I found them a little bit nervous, which is understandable. It looks as if there’s a lack of confidence from what I saw today, but I think that’s normal, it’s their first class in front of us. You know…I would feel the same. So let’s hope when we see them later on in their solos, that won’t happen. We’re here to help them, anyway. We’re not here to judge them, we’re here to help them go further.
N: What are the benefits for young dancers of participating in competitions?
V: First of all, it teaches you how to command stress or how to learn that you’re going to feel like that. Somehow, the show must go on - you get a hint of that. And then the fact that it makes you competitive, which is not a bad thing to be. In any world, in any kind of organization, you have to be slightly competitive to go further. I don’t mean in a horrible way, but you can compare yourself with other dancers. Especially technically, it can make you better. It pushes you, it lifts the level where you might be at, when you see somebody else and you try to be like that. One thing it doesn’t do is make you an amazing artist. Even if you don’t win gold, silver or bronze, you might become an amazing principal dancer, in an amazing company. So it’s not the end, it’s just the beginning of something.
N: The problem for ballet students here is that there’s no performing arts high school and they can only begin professional training at the Academy for Performing Arts when they are 18.
V: And they stay there till 20 or 22?
N: Yes. So for the crucial age from 11 to 18, they don’t have full-time training. Some ballet schools make a lot of effort to help gifted pupils -
V: But they are private schools, not vocational schools?
N: Exactly. I know that you famously left Italy at the age of 10 to start at White Lodge [the Royal Ballet Junior School] and got into the Royal Ballet at 17, I think?
V: Yes - 17 and a half.
N: That experience must have been extremely tough - you didn’t even speak any English when you started. Would you look back on that and say that the benefits of doing it that way outweighed the hardships, was that the right way to do it?
V: It was the right way to do it for me. There is no right or wrong way, I think. Everybody has their own path for arriving somewhere. My path was that I met Galina Samsova and André Prokovsky [famous Russian dancers then based in the UK] and they brought me to the Royal Ballet School, so that was my journey. For me, it was the best school I could have gone to. So therefore I think it’s a good school to help anybody that has a talent or bring out the talent, then nurture that talent. It was harsh for me in the sense that I was away from home. The fact that I was in a boarding school… I wouldn’t advise everybody to go to a boarding school to learn ballet - becoming a ballerina is not about that. That’s the way they run White Lodge but there are different ways.
N: Is it essential for ballet students, especially girls, to have that full-time, daily training from an early age?
V: Yes. Absolutely. If that’s what you’ve decided you want to do or try to achieve, definitely it should be a school which you do every day. It becomes like a life form, you know. It’s about “being a dancer”, it’s not “I do dancing”, there’s a difference in that and you have to embrace that if that’s what you love. In my case I embraced it, I loved it, and that took me away from homesickness that I was feeling. It’s not the same for everybody, not everybody would have felt that. Of course practicing every day is important - I’ve been reading a book on education recently and the author’s theory is that if you practice something a lot, a lot, a lot…. Then you’ll become a gold l winner. I don’t think that is so. I think you’ve got to have the talent and THEN practice every day. That will get you to be a winner. You don’t necessarily win because you practice something a lot.
N: You can swim as many lengths in the pool as Michael Phelps but it won’t make you Michael Phelps…
V: Exactly! I understand what the theory is trying to say, but in ballet I wouldn’t agree that practicing every day is the reason why you win. You have to be the right person.
N: But you have to do it every day as well.
V: It’s like being a musician, you have to practice every day. You have to love it. It becomes your life. Then the achievement comes naturally. It’s part of your life. If you can only do it once a week, that’s not enough.
N: What about young dancers today in general? Do you see a lot of differences between dancers now and dancers in your generation? In terms of their technique, their attitude?
V: I think the ballet world is changing, in a very positive way. People are looking after their bodies a lot more, they are treated more like athletes, because we do use our bodies, in a sense part of us is an athlete - you do wild things with your body! They look after the diet of dancers nowadays, which it wasn’t so much the case when I was in White Lodge for instance. That’s all amazingly good. Also the fact that classical and contemporary are sort of merging together, is a great idea, you can create even more, explore even more. The only thing I would say in classical ballet is that we must not lose who we are as classical dancers. You are an artist after all. I’m only saying classical dancers, not that it’s not the same for contemporary dancers, just because I do classical, I can only speak for my side. That must not be lost, otherwise you do end up being just an athlete. Then, when you find yourself telling a story it’s very difficult. You have to practice the telling of the story, the emotional side of something, just as much as you practice your tendus every day.
As a brief example, when I was a young dancer Dame Margot Fonteyn came to take one of my rehearsals for The Sleeping Beauty. All she was concerned about was my practicing who I was, knowing who I was before I came on to the stage. When I came down those steps, she wanted me to practice the fact that I was actually arriving at my 16th birthday party. She said, “You have to practice that emotion. I want to see that you’re happy. It’s your first time meeting people you haven’t met before, your parents love you, you’re the happiest girl in the world, you’re the princess.” Because what I was thinking was, “Arabesque…I must do my arabesque!”
N: And it’s such a difficult thing technically, that entrance…