Thursday, June 16, 2011: Dance Steps

Dance Steps: One Dancer’s Path to the National Theatre Ballet

“When I was 4 I saw some ballet on tv, and I said, ‘I want to do that.’

Nicole Delacretaz is chatting with Opus Osm, explaining how she started a career which has led her from her native Melbourne, Australia to The National Theatre Ballet, Prague. She continues, “But my mom said, ‘Mmmm, you’d better try gymnastics first and see how you like it.’

Nicole Delacretaz

“Two years later I still wanted to do ballet. ‘See, Mom? I haven’t forgotten,’” she laughs. The petite, vibrant dancer’s eyes crinkle when she laughs. Or even smiles. It seems to make even the weighty topic of a career in ballet seem like something fun which everyone ought to try once.

Although lots of little girls start out with ballet lessons, only a few stay on the path to a career. In Mrs Delacretaz’s case, her main training came at the Christine Walsh Dance Centre, Melbourne. Then she continued with a three-year course at the Australian Ballet School, the traditional path to the nation’s leading company, The Australian Ballet.

After a year there, and a grueling full year with Ballet Ireland (“Every night we were in a different town,” she recalls), she fulfilled a short-term contract with the Balet de l’Opera National du Rhin in France, and joined the National Theatre Ballet here full-time starting with the 2003-04 season.

Backstage at the Ballet

The National Theatre repertoire includes both traditional and contemporary dance, and she says “I like both.” She explains that the difference for a dancer is that “you have to think of carrying your body differently. You use a different technique – classical is turned out” (she sits up straighter, turning her elbows out, palms out) “whereas contemporary dance emphasizes more expression, acting, and emotion.”

She adds that with a varied repertoire, she may dance one style one night and the other, the next. “Sometimes we rehearse classical and contemporary in the same day,” she chuckles, revealing dimples.

Mrs Delacretaz as the Young Clara, in the Nutcracker Suite, 2004

So how can she remember all the steps? “We rehearse so much, your brain just starts to associate what you hear [the music] with the steps,” she says. “You know that ‘OK, now it’s going to feel like this’ when you do the steps.”

She describes what it’s like to work with the corps de ballet, and with various partners. “Everyone works together. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, and you know that this dancer has a strong jump, or that one can do lots of turns. The hard part is when you have to dance as a group and everyone has to look the same.”

As for unusual costumes, she recounts that several years ago she had to wear a dress with an A-shaped, plastic skirt you could see through. “It was a kind of tent,” she smiles. “It was awkward to dance in. Also, if you have a lot of boning in a costume, that gets in the way,” although costumers can adjust the costume somewhat to fit the particular dancer’s needs.

Now, doing the math and realizing she’s in her eighth season with the National Theatre, Mrs Delacretaz smiles and says simply, “Yeah, the time flies by.” She plans to continue to dance. “I still have the bug,” she says. “I just enjoy it. That’s the main thing.” There are the dimples again.

Then she adds, “I can’t imagine not doing it.” – oo

– Mary Matz

Photo Credits: Top: [Correction, and apologies:] Diana Zehetner, The National Theatre Ballet; bottom: The National Theatre Ballet

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