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. Names in the casting sheets are replaced everywhere with red pen as dancers begin to drop like flies. In the blink of an eye, its Christmas! And the Nutcracker marathon begins.
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 we started the season with Don Quixote , there hasn't been a moment to catch one's breath. We are glad to welcome Royal Ballet School students who come to our rescue, as well as two new dancers, Grace Reid and Poppy Frankel, who join us on a short-term contract, just like it all began for me ten years ago.
I had spent the last couple of months of 2013 working as a freelancer with New English Ballet Theatre (NEBT), a small company founded 'to address a perceived lack of career opportunities for emerging ballet dancers and choreographers'. I had also been performing with English National Ballet, and prior to that, spent nearly six years dancing with Northern Ballet. Even though I had some professional experience, I was absolutely thrilled to be hired as an "extra", a sort of apprentice, by The Royal Ballet. 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 in Covent Garden already felt like a miracle in itself.
But with the swift passing of years and seasons came the exhaustion of being onstage every night and 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, I wanted to keep growing and developing as a dancer. I soon found myself hoping for 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.
Such is life, we expect more and more of ourselves and others, and the things we once wanted most soon become ‘normality’. It is hard to keep a sense of gratitude and a positive attitude when we're stressed and exhausted. We all fall into the habit of complaining and suffering for our little 'misfortunes', but gratitude helps us see them as opportunities in disguise. We can see the bright side of things even when they don't go as planned. We understand that there is a right timing for everything.
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. No matter how far-fetched the goal, it only takes a spark of hope to boost our self-confidence and materialise the dream within us. Suddenly, things become a lot simpler and more tangible.
I start my tenth season with The Royal Ballet as a First Soloist. Now every moment of being onstage feels even more special because they are fewer, and the privilege of being in this position is something I hope never to take for granted. Through the years I have learned to appreciate my journey, from taking dance lessons at mum's school in São Paulo to getting a scholarship for Canada's National Ballet School and moving to England at eighteen to build a career. I learned to live with the knowledge that life is unpredictable, and that happiness is what we make of it. As long as we keep our faith and find ways to trust ourselves, we'll go far.
When things get overwhelming, all I need is a little reminder of how far I have come and where my true purpose lies. During an interview with David Bain and The Ballet Association last October, Mr Bain asked me what it felt like, ten years ago, to finally be told I had a permanent contract with Royal, and my eyes got all teary just thinking about it. I remember walking up to the dressing room after a performance of The Sleeping Beauty and spotting Kevin O'Hare - the artistic director - coming towards me. He looked at me all smily and said: 'Would you like to stay with us full time?'
Thinking back to that moment filled my heart with gratitude as it reminded me of how much this job means to me. Sometimes all that is missing is some perspective, a word of appreciation, someone to remind us of how fortunate and special we are as a company and as individuals.
I thank everyone who in some way or other have supported or challenged me to grow in the direction of my dreams, and who continue to support me on this continuous search for self-knowledge, resilience, and inner peace.