My professional dancing career was what most young dancers dream of....
I had the good fortune to meet the right people at the right time in my life.
If, as a 16 year old student studying at The Royal Ballet School, I hadn't followed my intuitive urge to go back stage after a matinee performance of Maurice Béjart's Ballet du XXeme Siècle (that I was seeing for the fifth consecutive time that week) I wouldn't have run into Mr. Béjart in the lift, nor would I would have known about the audition that he was holding the next day for his school, MUDRA. Without telling my parents (or the ballet school, for that matter) I went to the audition along with 400 other hopeful young dancers. By the end of the day, Béjart had taken two of us into the school. At the age of seventeen, I left for Brussels on my own, my parents moving back to America at that time.
MUDRA was everything I had never had in a dance school. Unlike the ballet schools I had previously gone to, we were encouraged to think differently and develop our personalities and characters along with our dance techniques. Not only were we taking dance classes in many different styles such as flamenco, indian and modern dance, but we also had theater, singing, improvisation and rhythm classes.
Two years into MUDRA, Béjart asked me to join the company instead of completing the final third year of the school. After six months of dancing in the corps de ballet, the principle ballerina of the company, Susanne Farrell (my childhood idol who's poster had been hanging in my room as I was growing up), was leaving to go back to America to her mentor, George Balanchine. As I had a similar body to Susanne's and was a product of Balanchine's School of American Ballet, Béjart immediately put me in her position as principle dancer of the company. He created many ballets during the 14 years that I was in the company. I was fortunate to be actively involved in the majority of the creations, and we developed a close relationship through the intense work. I considered him to be not only a master and a mentor, but also a father to me. He was inspired by my flexibility and strength and loved my strong will when it came to challenging me technically.
Béjart was one of the most interesting, intelligent, cultivated people I had ever met. Having studied philosophy and theology while in university in his native France, he was interested in different cultures, religions and lands. With the Ballet du XXeme Siècle, a company of 63 dancers from all over the world, we travelled nine months of the year from one interesting place to another. I saw a world that most people will never see in their life times. We danced in Iran in the ruins of Persepolis and in the middle of the desert under majestic tombs carved into the cliff walls for the early Persian kings laid to rest... in Greece in the ancient amphitheater of Herod Atticus underneath the Acropolis, and in the magic amphitheater of Epidaurus, where Greek Tragedy was, and still is, performed....we built a stage between two barges and floated down the Canal Grande to the Piazza San Marco of Venice, dancing for the people as we floated by their palazzos...we danced in the most high-tech theaters of Japan...and performed for free in the streets of Guanajuato for the poorer people who couldn't afford to buy tickets to the theater...toured Argentina and Brasil...saw the pyramids of the Aztec kings while performing in Mexico's capital city....visited America by bus going from one small town to another, dancing with the whole company on tiny movie theater stages...on and on, around the globe, year after year. Although the work in the company was intense, performing sometimes over 200 times a year, we always found time to visit the places we were touring knowing that an opportunity to see the world like this comes rarely.
Through wanting to understand his sources of inspiration, I educated myself reading about the different cultures, religions or authors that had given Béjart the ideas for the pieces we were currently creating with him...from Sufi poems to Goethe's Faust , from the Roman emperor Heliogabale to Molière, through each creation that we worked on I would learn something new. I thank Béjart from the bottom of my heart for showing me that an education doesn't have to come from universities, but from an open and curious mind!
I was honored to dance most of the existing repertory works; Le Sacre du Printems, Bolero, Bhakti, Serait-ce la Mort?, Golestan, Le Jardin des Roses, Romeo et Juliette and Ce que l'amour me dit are just some of the many ballets I danced .
As my technique and maturity advanced, Béjart was able to create longer and more dramatic ballets on me. My preferred was the ballet Le Concours, a mystery about a young dancer shot while at a dance competition and the following intrigue into her life to see who could have been the murderer. It was fun to dance, challenging me both technically and dramatically. Here are a few pictures of this wonderful piece:
My relationship with Béjart came to a point where I felt that neither of us were growing from our collaboration any more. As any child feels like leaving their parents after a while, I felt after having spent 16 years in Brussels, that it was time to move on. I searched around for a company with a young choreographer in a place where I could feel close to nature and not travel as much. I came to Zürich to dance in the Opera House under the ballet direction of Uwe Scholz. We not only danced ballets by Uwe, but also by Jiri Kilian, John Clifford and Robert North. Following are some pictures of that year in Zürich:
Shortly after my first season at the Opera House, I suffered an injury while walking across the studio that forced me to terminate my career. I was 33 and at the height of my career. I had only known dance in my life and was quite daunted at the aspect of having to be a "normal" person, but I also realized that this accident was actually a blessing in disguise if I wanted to do something more in my life than just dance.