interview: ‘Nutcracker was the first ballet I ever saw and I fell in love straight away’

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Nearly fifty young children from the Dutch National Ballet Academy take part in The Nutcracker & the Mouse King as skaters, children at the party, mice and soldiers. Some children are even luckier, like Lara-Marie and Isa, who are dancing the role of the young Clara, and Stef and Enrico, who are dancing Clara’s brother Frits in the ballet.

Enrico Fasoglio is eleven and comes from Italy. He has been at the Dutch National Ballet Academy for a couple of months, like his elder sister Elisabetta. Enrico speaks English well and already understands a lot of what his classmates are talking about in Dutch. “Ernst, the director of the Ballet Academy, saw my sister and I in Barcelona at one of the preliminary rounds of the Youth America Grand Prix, an international ballet competition. He invited us to come to Amsterdam”. This meant that Enrico’s family had to move house for the second time in a short space of time. “First to Spain and then to the Netherlands”. But the young dancer doesn’t yet seem to fully realise how radical this change must have been for his parents. “Well, my mother works from home and my father works all over the world”, he says airily. In any case, he thinks it’s great in the Netherlands. And he’s been very fortunate, as he already appeared in Dutch National Ballet’s production of Romeo and Julia in October. And he says he’s now won first prize in being cast in the role of Frits in The Nutcracker & the Mouse King. “I nearly burst with happiness when I heard I’d been cast”, he says, as he mimes the steam coming out of his ears.

Dancing in the womb
Like his classmates Lara-Marie Baldrey, Isa Vreeman and Stef van der Zanden, however, Enrico didn’t dare to jump and shout with joy immediately on hearing the good news. “That wouldn’t have been nice for the children who weren’t chosen”, say Enrico and Stef. Isa adds, “When I phoned my mother to tell her, she even told me not to shout it from the rooftops at school”.
Yet Lara-Marie, Isa and Stef – all aged twelve - are just as happy as their Italian classmate, even though their reaction is maybe a little less exuberant. Isa says, “The Nutcracker & the Mouse King was the first ballet I ever saw and I fell in love straight away! So of course it’s really special that I can now dance in the production myself”. Lara-Marie says, “I’d already seen some other ballets: The Sleeping Beauty,Swan Lake and Cinderella. Actually, the main reason I went to see The Nutcracker & the Mouse King was to watch two children from my ballet school dancing in it, but afterwards I was convinced that I wanted to become a ballerina myself as well!”
All four children have been dancing since they were very young. Isa says, “When I was little, I always danced to music, whether it was hiphop or classical. I started taking ballet classes when I was five”. Enrico says, “I started when I was two-and-a-half”. But Stef started even sooner. “My mother has a ballet school, so actually I already started dancing in the womb when she taught during her pregnancy”.

Lots and lots of steps
Isa, Lara-Marie and Stef have already taken part in various productions by Dutch National Ballet during their time at the National Ballet Academy. One of Lara-Marie’s roles was the young Cinderella. In October, Stef danced the part of Julia’s younger brother in Romeo and Julia. And Isa was even interviewed recently on the Dutch television programme Jeugdjournaal. But like Enrico, she thinks the role she’s dancing now in The Nutcracker & the Mouse King is extra special. Lara-Marie says, “It’s a real dancing role, but you have to act all the time as well. The steps themselves are not so difficult, but I do have to concentrate on them, at the same time as trying to tell a story with Frits or with the Nutcracker doll”. Isa and Enrico add, “You have to remember lots and lots of steps, and the dances we do at the St Nicholas party are very quick”.
All four children are in NBA 3 and had to audition for their role. Isa and Lara-Marie say, “That was really nerve-racking, of course. Ernst, our director, came to watch, along with Toer van Schayk, one of the choreographers of the ballet, and Ted Brandsen, the director of Dutch National Ballet. Stef says, “We’d all learnt a section of the ballet and had to dance it. The boys did a dance where Frits shows that he’s not at all scared of ‘Zwarte Piet’, the helper of St Nicholas, who punishes naughty boys”.

Last time with Fred Berlips
Enrico: “Frits is a very curious boy who wants to have everything and do everything. For example, he pinches his sister’s hairbrush, keeps splashing everything with water and wants to touch the snow through the window”. Lara-Marie says, “Sometimes Clara and Frits get along well, but mostly Clara is rather irritated by him”. Isa adds, “Although he can also be nice, he’s often extremely naughty. Even though he’s punished for it”. But there are two sides to Clara as well, says Enrico. “She’s very elegant, but sometimes very annoying as well”. “But that’s because”, Stef says wisely “we also annoy her a lot. And she’s unlucky, because if she does something naughty for once, our father (in the ballet) sees it straight away, whereas Frits gets away with the most terrible pranks”.
Over the past months, the children have had lots of rehearsals for their performance in The Nutcracker & the Mouse King; sometimes taught by Simona Ferrazza, but mostly by Fred Berlips. Fred used to be a principal with Dutch National Ballet and has now been working so many years with the Dutch National Ballet Academy that he will be retiring after this series of performances. Isa and Stef say, “It’s very strange that this is the last time we’ll be working with him. We’ve known Fred since the time we auditioned”. Lara-Marie says, “He’s a real part of the Dutch National Ballet Academy”. Isa says, “If I had a question, I always went to Fred. And I can learn very well from him. He gets the best out of us. Sometimes he’s in a bad mood and then it’s gloomy for a while. But everyone gets in a bad mood now and then”. A bit more dramatically, Enrico adds, “I haven’t known him very long, but he’s a fantastic teacher. He gives his all. So I’m very sad he’s leaving”.

Why? That’s why!
While Enrico came especially to the Netherlands to train at the Dutch National Ballet Academy, the other children also had to be prepared to make sacrifices. Stef says, “My mother used to dance with Dutch National Ballet, so of course she’s very proud. But she always told me that you have to give up everything for a ballet career”. Isa says, “I get up at six o’clock every morning, just like Lara-Marie. Some days I get a lift and other days I travel with a classmate by train from Lelystad to Amsterdam.” Lara-Marie says, “My ten-year-old sister, Saffron-Rose, also goes to the Dutch National Ballet Academy. She’s dancing a girl at the ball and a mouse in The Nutcracker & the Mouse King. Our father gives us a lift every morning from Midwoud, near Hoorn, and picks us up again at the end of the day”.
Isa says, “Sometimes you miss parties. Last year, I still saw my best friend from primary school in Lelystad once every two weeks, but now that’s not possible because of all the rehearsals we have alongside our schoolwork. I had a really good friend here at the Ballet Academy, but she had to stop last year and now I don’t see her any more either. So that’s really sad”.
Together, the children chorus, “But of course we’re prepared to make all these sacrifices for something we want so much!” Lara-Marie adds, “There are definitely days when I don’t feel like it, when the alarm goes at six in the morning. And I think, why am I doing this? But a couple of hours later in my ballet class, I realise – that’s why!”

text: Astrid van Leeuwen


rehearsal pictures 'The Nutcracker & the Mouse King', photography: Altin Kaftira

'The Nutcracker & the Mouse King'. photography: Antoinette Mooy