Alejandro Zwartendijk, who graduated from the Dutch National Ballet Academy in 2019, has won the Incentive Award from Dansersfonds ’79. Along with the Merit Award and the Special Award, this award was due to be presented at the foundation’s annual benefit gala, at DeLaMar Theater in Amsterdam, on 16 November. But the corona measures have meant that the gala has been postponed, and hopefully it will now take place on 25 January instead. Astrid van Leeuwen interviewed Alejandro at the beginning of October, for the programme of the Dansersfonds Gala.
‘The atmosphere dropped like a stone’
Interview with Alejandro Zwartendijk (19), who moved up from the Dutch National Ballet’s Junior Company to the ‘big company’ this year and is the winner of the Incentive Award 2020.
“When I received a scholarship from the Dansersfonds in 2017, I heard that amazing bit of news on the staircase of Dutch National Opera & Ballet. Purely by chance, on the first day back after the summer holiday last August, I was on the staircase again when I opened a letter I’d just found in my pigeonhole. I yelled out ‘what??!!!’ so loudly that Ryoko Kondo, one of our pianists, who was in front of me, was startled to death and asked if everything was OK. It was rather more than OK! The letter said that I’d won the Incentive Award 2020”.
“I still can’t get over it. I never expected it in a million years. It’s a huge boost to my motivation. Ballet is a really difficult profession, mentally speaking. You’re always doubting yourself. ‘Will I make it?’ ‘Do they see anything in me?’ So recognition is always nice, but especially when it’s from such important people as the members of the Dansersfonds jury. To add to it, before I got the news I hadn’t been on stage for six months. That made it seem even more unreal”.
“In March, the Junior Company had just danced a really festive premiere of our touring programme, Unboxing Ballet 2. I absolutely love going on tour and it was a great programme as well, so I was really looking forward to the weeks ahead. But on Thursday 12 March, we all had to go to the big studio, where Ted Brandsen and Ernst Meisner told us that all the performances were cancelled. The atmosphere in the studio dropped like a stone”.
A bit of ballet floor
“I was bored to death in the first weeks of the lockdown. You’re in a wonderful rhythm of working like crazy and then relaxing afterwards, and suddenly it all stops. I was happy when, after a month of sitting at home, we got a barre and a bit of ballet floor from Dutch National Ballet, which made it easier to take the online company classes. I also tried to challenge myself through power training and extra online classes from my old amateur school in Jerez de la Frontera, in Spain, where I was born to Dutch parents. But quite honestly, I didn’t always feel motivated to get down to work on my own in a living room that’s far too small”.
An advantage, after all
“Even if it was just one class a day, it was great to get back to working at Dutch National Ballet again from 1 June, in groups of six dancers per studio. I really enjoyed the good floor and the opportunity to jump and turn full out again. We’re still working in small groups at the moment, which has made my transition from the Junior Company to the main company different, I think. Normally, the youngsters ‘drown’, as it were, among the eighty dancers of the group. But now, there’s actually not much difference to the Junior Company, because of the small number of colleagues you’re working with. So maybe corona has an advantage, after all”.
“I’ve just started rehearsing again for Ballet 101 (which Alejandro will perform at the Danserfonds Gala – ed.). It really is the hardest piece I’ve danced in my life. The second half, in particular, is killing. Not only is it eight minutes of non-stop dancing, but you also have to act and make sure you grab the audience. And of course that’s what we do it for. That was probably the most difficult thing for me during the whole corona time: that you miss the connection with the audience and the applause. I don’t mind the fact that we’re now performing for so few people. The people who do come are so enthusiastic and are clearly so excited to be going to the theatre again”.
Text: Astrid van Leeuwen
This interview took place before the new series of corona measures were introduced. Dutch National Opera & Ballet has now had to cancel all its performances for the time being.