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Seizing the moment

Agarrando oportunidades

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Three weeks ago, The Royal Ballet saw the end of its 20/21 season. As the curtains came down on our last performance, I felt a strange sense of relief. It wasn’t the usual thrill of having gotten to the end of a long and tiresome season or the welcoming of a much-needed holiday, but more a feeling of gratefulness for having made it, against all odds, to the final show in this crazy year. Ballet fans kept posting photos and videos of curtain calls, commenting on how wonderful the company looked and what a lovely time they had back in the theatre. I had been overwhelmed too, and couldn't be happier to have had at least forty percent of the auditorium back, following social distancing rules imposed by the government.

The Royal Opera House, our home.

From an artist’s perspective, being able to perform again means having our life back. I am reminded of why I do what I do every day, of the necessary training and rehearsals so that we feel prepared to be on the spotlight, and why performing makes us feel so alive. For me, performing has always been exciting as much as it has been scary, it is such a mix of emotions.

Every time I step onstage is a test of my faith and courage. The nerves have made me doubt whether I could really enjoy myself, but all of a sudden, in these past few months, maybe because I have reached a certain level of maturity and self-knowledge, acceptance of who I am and of my vulnerabilities, or because I've been missing the stage ... many things led me to let go of being scared and truly embrace the adrenaline which is always there, no matter how long you've been doing this for.

Princess Florine © A. Uspenski

There are two things I have learned from life. 1. Never take anything for granted. And 2. Always look BEYOND your little 'misfortunes' to opportunities that may arise. At the end of the day, many good things may come to happen because of the unexpected detours and because we give ourselves a second chance. Even whilst dancing under masks and struggling with the sound system and screens in the studio, we were building a higher endurance and learning how to look after ourselves. Despite our very limited performance schedule, we were given the opportunity and time to thoroughly work on new choreography and style such as in Crystal Pite's Solo Echo, making the season, for me, a very special one.

Exactly seventy-five years ago, after World War II, The Royal Ballet reopened the Royal Opera House with a performance of The Sleeping Beauty. It has become one of the company’s signature works, restaged every two or three years. In celebration of The Royal Ballet's 90th anniversary, we finished the last programme of the season by giving the audience a little taste of this favourite ballet: Act III, Aurora's wedding.

Prince Florimund (Michael Somes) and Aurora (Margot Fonteyn) in 1959.

I did not expect to be doing anything besides one of Florestan’s sisters in the pas de trois, but one afternoon, as I was taking note of my rehearsals for the following week, I unexpectedly spotted my name next to that of a single partner for a rehearsal merely entitled 'Sleeping Beauty'. I thought to myself... what could this be?! I messaged Phil, our scheduling manager, who gave me the good news:


As a fourteen-year-old girl, I had done Princess Florine’s variation in a competition in Brazil. I remember being concerned with the challenging hops on pointe to arabesque, holding every balance, and especially worried about the tricky diagonal of pique turns. This time around, performing the grand pas de deux and feeling like the special guests of princess Aurora, I can say that I enjoyed it much more and felt like I was just telling a story. Florine is not a bird, as I had imagined many years ago. She is a princess who wants to learn how to fly!

Princess Florine variation - 2002
The Royal Ballet 2021.
'If you can't tell a story then it's not worth being on the stage.' - Margot Fonteyn

My partner Joonhyuk Jun, an artist with the company and the first Korean ballerino ever to join, was very excited about his first big role. Rehearsals were going well, we were happy with the stage calls and ready for our debuts, but the day before opening night, Jun got caught up in a bubble of dancers who had to go into self-isolation. By the time he was let out, there was no way he could have physically prepared himself to perform, and so I ended up dancing with a different partner, Mr Joe Sissens.

Joe did a stupendous job at revisiting the role. We had two rehearsals together, never having touched each other before ( not in any other ballet that I can recall), and off we went. He was the perfect example of what 'seizing the moment' means in one's profession. I enjoyed our performances very much but was quite upset for Jun, who had missed the shows.

Well, as it turned out, I got called to the director's office one morning and asked whether I'd be willing to pick up a few more shows of Bluebird. A male dancer casted in the role of Bluebird wasn't fit to perform due to injury, and so Jun got offered an opportunity to replace him, a second chance from the heavens. Since I was his partner, I jumped at the opportunity too, getting to do two more performances while Jun got to have an exciting debut.

Last minute replacements happen all the time in the ballet world. They can be a blessing but also an unwelcome surprise if the season has been tough and one is feeling overworked. It means that you have to be ready to do a lot more work than anticipated, having less or no evenings off, and considerably less time for resting and recovery. It can lead to fatigue and injury, but as long as the workload is well managed and one doesn’t get hurt by being overworked, it as a great opportunity to do more performances and feel more comfortable in a role; to grow, improve, and be noticed.

At the same time as doing more Princess Florines, I also picked up a few more shows as Florestan’s sister, meaning I got to be in the live streamed performance. In the end, I ended up dancing with two different casts as well. The night before the filming, I had performed as Florine and my muscles were still quite sore and fatigued. I had one night after the filming to recuperate and be Princess Florine again, one last time.

What a way to finish the year! It served me well as a reminder of what our seasons used to be like, and the hard work that lies ahead. And this had just been one act of Beauty, out of the usual three!

Florestan pas de trois © A. Uspenski

A full season usually starts in August, with rehearsals and preparations for performances which will run from September through June, culminating in an overseas tour in the summer. The whole company looks forward to the international tours, weeks of fun and great memories that have been greatly missed. They give us a chance to visit different countries, perform to a new audience, go sightseeing, and dress up to celebrate in post-show events. They are really fun, an opportunity for the whole company to bond and enjoy ourselves.

We were meant to be going on a big tour to America this July, which of course couldn't happen. Instead of planning to extend my trip to California or New York City, I found myself wondering what kind of summer this would be, especially being unable to visit my family in Brazil because of quarantine restrictions in the UK. What to do for the four weeks we had off, stuck here in the U.K., and how to make them worth it? Little did I know that this was yet to be the busiest summer I've ever had!

Our last tour in 2019, ending the season in Japan.

In early June, I was approached by Hikaru Kobayashi, ex-Royal Ballet dancer, asking what my plans were for the summer; she was organizing a little gala in Valencia. I jumped at the opportunity right away, thinking this could be my first time performing in a gala with other members of the company. Plus, I’d get to work on another grand pas de deux, and at the same time, be visiting Spain! Had it been any other year, I would have said "sorry, but I can't. I'll be in Brazil."

Funny how things worked out perfectly. That is not to say Hikaru didn't have sleepless nights making sure that it really happened. Many Covid tests and mandatory forms later, eleven dancers were off to Valencia!! I could enjoy the sunshine, beach, a day in the old town, swimming pool, and worked hard at night. The performance started no earlier than 22:00h, and when the moment finally arrived, I had a real blast performing Le Corsaire grand pas de trois and Short Stories with Sibelius, choreographed on seven dancers by dancer and work colleague, Benjamin Ella.

After the show, we could feel the audience’ love and appreciation as they came to congratulate us. I had felt so at home, I gave them my all on stage, with no fear, no pressure, and nothing to lose. I was there for the experience and had gained so much more. Seeing young dancers of the company perform challenging pas de deuxs with such confidence and skill was truly inspiring. What a talented bunch! They grasped the moment and danced beautifully in a joyful and supportive atmosphere.

Royal Ballet dancers with Hikaru. Photos: Monica Lou

I did not sleep at all that night. After celebrating the event with my friends, a taxi took me to the airport for an early flight to Menorca, where I made the most of a little time for myself, feeling grateful for all the moments and opportunities I had said YES to this year. Prior to dancing in Spain, I also got asked to teach some adult ballet classes in London for DPK Ballet, which had been a wonderful experience. But the most remarkable of all was yet to come...

DPK Ballet at The Place - London
Weekend in Menorca #solotrip

Ever since I left Northern Ballet, seven years ago, I wished to go back and guest with them. When I heard that David Nixon is about to step down from his position after directing the company for twenty years, I thought it was too late. In May, I went to see them perform Dangerous Liaisons at Sadlers Wells, a production I took part in years ago, and in seeing him, I expressed my love and admiration for him and his work.

Not long after that, I received an invitation from David to come guest with Northern Ballet as Madame de Tourvel in his Dangerous Liaisons. With my director's consent, I did not hesitate to be saying yes!! And so, for my third week of summer, I will be rehearsing in Leeds with my old workmates, and revisiting the place where my career began. Performances will run from 2nd-11th of September at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, where I last performed in 2012 in Nixon's production of Ondine.

Beatrice in Ondine © Martin Bell

What a way to spend my break! As tricky as the circumstances may seem, there is always something one can learn and achieve from being open to them. I might not have flown home to my family as I wished, and I know they miss me very much (as I miss them), but I couldn't have asked for a nicer turn of events. I have got a suitcase full of memories of a busy yet rewarding kind of holiday.

Royal Opera House. Photo: Rob Sallnow


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