Um ciclo completo
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I was eighteen when I moved to Leeds. My family arrived with a heavy load of things brought from Toronto and Brazil to help me start my new European life, and first on their list was finding me a suitable home. The hunt went on for days while we stayed in a cheap hotel, the four of us cramped in one room. We finally spotted the picture of a nice studio flat, advertised in some window shop, which was readily available near West Park, where Northern Ballet was based. Dad drove us to the address. It was in a cul-de-sac, off Headingley lane, with the littlest traffic and lots of green. By chance, we found the landlord mowing the garden, and he let us in to view the space.
The old floor creaked as we went up the round staircase to the second floor, and the walls could definitely do with a new coat of paint, but it was perfectly quiet and the flat was ideal for single occupancy, with very high ceilings, a pretty decent kitchen, one double bed / spacious living room and a nice bathtub, handy for my active lifestyle. I moved in the next day!
Sash windows opened to the roof and a garden view, where I’d sunbathe in rare occasions of good weather. During winter, I had to borrow an electric heater as the old boiler and radiators couldn't handle the cold. But John, the landlord who lived just next door, was always ready to quick-fix anything. I paid £350/month on rent (which, compared to London, was a total bargain!) and lived there for quite a few years, before Northern Ballet moved to its new facilities in Quarry Hill.
I've always carried a sense of gratitude and amazement at how things had turned out so well, that from training in a good school in Canada, I had come to Europe to establish myself as a dancer. It is what I always wanted. After a week or so, my parents and brother went back to Brazil and I dove into my routine and enjoyed my financial independence, barely understanding the northern accent. The weather was cold and grey, with lots of rain, but it really didn’t matter. This was just the beginning! Northern Ballet was the gateway, and I got off to a brilliant start.
For me, it was never 'just a job'; I grew very attached to the company, to my work and colleagues. As a dancer, one feels very lucky to have a job in the first place; it is so difficult to find a contract anywhere, let alone in a prestigious company like Northern Ballet. I have always felt privileged, and it didn’t take long for it to feel like home. Being so very far from my own family and still very young, I hung on to my love of dance and my faith. I spent nearly six years in Leeds, learning and growing in a professional, as well as personal level.
Time went by so fast and before I knew it, I was reaching my mid-twenties. If I was ever to venture out and stick to my goals, aim a little higher, it was time to act. In hindsight I know that had I stayed, I would have had a great career, but I had to listen to that a part of me feeling restless and a little uneasy and had to follow my guts. I made wonderful friends, performed A LOT, and made the most of every moment on and off stage... until it was time for me to move on.
There are many reasons why one decides to leave a job, but I think for most, it is a tough decision. For dancers, the company might not be the right fit, working conditions might not be ideal, the repertoire may not be suitable, one may feel miserable living in a city that is cold and rainy... but none of it was the case for me. In a way, I felt guilty quitting an amazing job, one a lot of dancers back home (Brazil) would die for. Even though my instincts were telling me to go, I felt very much torn, like I was leaving a piece of me behind. It took me a while to find courage, but when the time came, I made sure to do it ‘the right way’ so as not to lose the love and support I had found there.
Was I leaving the doors open for a potential comeback?
Even after leaving, I never felt completely detached from Northern Ballet. Soon enough I started to imagine how wonderful it would be to go back there as a guest artist. This scenario grew in my mind and heart, but the closest I ever got to sharing the stage with them again was at an event held at the Royal Opera House a few years later, a national celebration where six British companies (amongst them Northern Ballet) came together to mark the 25th anniversary of the death of choreographer Kenneth Macmillan.
I was performing in the corps de ballet of Elite Syncopations, but I made sure to position myself strategically at the front to watch their brightest dancers perform their solo, giving them my full support and energy. And they smashed it! It was so exciting to see everyone, to welcome them in London, but even more thrilling because I knew how excited they must have felt too and what it meant to have a chance to perform in this theatre. It got me thinking … Oh, what I wouldn’t have given for an opportunity like this when I was younger...
My earliest memory of setting foot on the Royal Opera House stage, I was still a dancer with Northern Ballet. Four lucky dancers got picked in a sort of raffle to take part in a fundraising event. We travelled to London, watched a performance followed by a reception, where I exchanged words with then artistic director of the Royal Ballet, Monica Mason, and was overjoyed because she seemed to recognise me from auditioning a few years earlier. Who knows if she was just being nice?
The highlight of the evening, however, was having a backstage tour, entering the Queen’s box, and walking across that magnificent stage. I remember being conscious of my high heels and stepping on tippy toes so as not to damage the lino. At the time, I had no idea how familiar this would feel, but that moment stirred things up inside me, waking up dreams that had been secretly buried in.
Eight years went by since the day of my last performance with Northern Ballet at Sadler’s Wells. During this time, there were moments of doubt and fear when I wondered whether I had made the right decision, even after I had secured my dream job. I started to appreciate Northern Ballet's work even more and admire their style, artistry, and commitment. I visited friends in Leeds, watched them perform any chance I could, and never let go of their teachings.
When I received news of David's retirement as artistic director, it really felt like the end of an era. It also meant, personally, that chances were I'd never make it back and guest with the company. Only David knew me well, he's the one who brought me to work for him and knows of my strong ties with the company, I made sure of that writing many gratitude cards. I’m really glad that I expressed my wishes to David and that the perfect opportunity arose for me to be guesting in Dangerous Liaisons, the very ballet I watched the company perform last summer, and one I also performed many years ago with the company.
Young Cecile was one of my first featured roles. This time I would be portraying the mature Madame de Tourvel, a married woman who is seduced by the Vicomte de Valmont, ending up completely heart-broken and emotionally destroyed. It is a strong character, I had a lot to develop in the course of two weeks, but I was in very good hands, with the best teachers, an amazing partner and cast.
Storytelling has always been my passion, and it was through David's ballets and characters that I could learn and develop into the artist that I am today. We had our ups and downs, but only when I look back, I realize what I really had and appreciate things a million times more.
I couldn't have found a better way to celebrate his legacy and express my gratitude to him and his wife, Yoko, for leading the way. They set the barre very high and never let me forget what a special art we devote ourselves to, one deserving of our utmost dedication and respect.
It felt like home to be performing at the intimate space of the Leeds Playhouse. These few weeks I spent with Northern Ballet reminded me of everything that I learned as a young dancer just starting a career; the importance of discipline, hard work, resilience, commitment, and artistic talent. I was able to see that I laid strong foundations to continue on this path, and even though it led me elsewhere, I will always remember my time at Northern Ballet (and the brief returns) with great fondness.
So often in life we go the full circle. Off we wander this way or that, even for years, but one way or another we often find ourselves coming back to where we started from, being able to fully appreciate where we are and what it took us to get there. Returning to those places and memories helps us see just how far we've come!
No matter where we end up in the world, we will always be grateful to those who come and go in our lives, leaving their marks on us; those who help us grow, who set us challenges and test our courage, willingness, and faith. This is how we find where our true strength lies, and the extent of our love and commitment.
Previous blogs First steps and First steps II: the life of a touring company tell more about the excitement and challenges of being a new company member and performing on tour.