Nederlands Dans Theater
Miguel Oliveira and Parvaneh Sharafali on the programme ‘Drift’, life on stage, and searching for eternal balance.
By Jules Houben
As Nederlands Dans Theater II is nominated for a UK National Dance Award, Ballet-Dance Monthly reprints an interview with two of the young dancers in this unique Company. The image shows Parvaneh Sharafali.
One new programme, three ballets, two world premières, three choreographers. At the time of this interview, performances of the NDT II programme ‘Drift’ are still in full swing for Miguel Oliveira and Parvaneh Sharafali. This second programme for the virtuoso young dancers of NDT II consists of the fresh new work ‘Bebob’ by the Irish choreographer Marguerite Donlon, the shimmering 27’52” by Jiri Kylián, and the hilarious ‘Sad Case’ by Paul Lightfoot.
Miguel and Parvaneh don’t find it difficult working with three choreographers. All three believe in them. In the ballet by the Irish choreographer, Donlon, the dancers are not only required to use their dance technique, but are also challenged to show their talent for performing.
‘A ballet like that suddenly gets a different kind of tension’, says Parvaneh. ‘then you know that how you use your facial expressions, or what you bring over to the audience, can make or break the ballet. Your approach becomes different; you are consciously busy with these aspects before going on stage. During the rehearsals, it is tempting not to give it your all, because it may a bit embarrassing. In performance, you have to lose that embarrassment completely’. Miguel says that he has less trouble with the ‘show’ element of ‘Bebob’. ‘That comes naturally to me. The thing is to believe in it, but that feeling develops as rehearsals progress. As dancers, we often had the feeling that things weren’t going well. However, Marguerite Donlon usually reacted positively and kept believing that it would work better next time. It was difficult in the beginning, but looking back, I understand how great it is to have someone who believes in you all the time.’
‘If in ‘Bebob’ you use a more rational approach, in the new ballet of Jiri Kylián, 27’52”, you do everything emotionally, and your heart and soul give you the direction and strength to progress a little further each time’, say the two young dancers from NDT II. ‘This has a lot to do with the fact that the piece is made specially for us, and is also about us. This means that the movements and emotions are not thought up, but come largely from ourselves. During the rehearsals, we often came up with our own ideas, that Jiri Kylián then used to reinforce his own vision. That resulted in a fantastic interaction’, says Parvaneh, ‘in which you see yourself developing still further in the piece, with ease. At that moment, you are not just a dancer who is part of a ballet, but you are yourself on the stage.’
‘Every time I’m on stage dancing 27’52”’, continues Miguel, ‘I get that feeling again. Only then can you dance as you are supposed to. You realise how powerful the ballet is by the fact that it looks completely different when the second cast dances it. Everybody puts their own emotions into it, and that makes the result so different.’ ‘After the première, Sabine Kupferberg came into my dressing room’, Parvaneh goes on. ‘The ballet had made her cry. That’s great. Then you know that it went well.
My tears fell later on. When you put so much of yourself into a piece, you want to be able to share that with your friends and family. At those moments, home seems so far away, but you know that NDT is a good substitute. The atmosphere among us is good, very good. Even though everyone is from different countries and different cultures, in the end you have one common denominator, and that is that you are here to dance. Together, you want to improve.’ ‘Although you are functioning as a group’, Miguel begins, ‘you are always treated as an individual. I am Miguel Oliveira from Portugal, and not Miguel from NDT II. Of course NDT wants you to give one hundred per cent of yourself every day, but even on your bad days they are there for you, to give you that push you need to be able to go on. I have a little son living in Portugal, and that is difficult. Each time I go back to Portugal, he can say more, and has actually become another child in the meantime. It makes it so difficult to return to Holland. I miss so much of his growing up process. But I have made a choice, and I have to keep returning mentally to that. I wanted to dance, here with NDT. That is my dream. That the dream has disadvantages is something you have to put with. If you can’t accept that, you won’t be at ease with yourself. If you do accept it, you are calmer, and know you are doing the right thing. I can’t expect the mother of my child to move to Holland; she has her own life and career over there. As a dancer, you try again every day to find the balance between yourself as a dancer and yourself as a person. The dividing line has to be clear.’
Parvaneh nods in agreement and says, ‘Sometimes you tend to just concentrate on the one ballet, remembering the choreography, holding on to that one feeling. That isn’t good. I find it difficult to let go of work. So in my present growth process, I am learning how to separate things. My partner is also a dancer with NDT II, so that makes it possible to talk about these things without too much explanation. You know what the other one is going through and, when necessary, you can give each other guidance. As far as my career goes, I have decided to stay another year with NDT II, instead of joining NDT I next season. I have a few years of watching and learning behind me, and now I have the chance to do something in return. I want to be able to give something. I can do that now with NDT II and that is great. It will help me in my development.’
When asked how, after a few years with NDT, they both regard their new ‘home’, they are enthusiastic. ‘The great thing about NDT is that everybody is here purely for the dancing, and not for money or other materialistic concerns. Everyone knows that a high quality product is made here, and it is very special to be a part of that. You are thoroughly aware of that fact, and it feels good!’
‘There is still so much that I want to do here’, continues Parvaneh. ‘For instance, I’d really like to dance 'Kaguyahime', by Jiri Kylián.’ Miguel’s favourite is 'Sarabande', also made by the master-hand of Kylián. ‘It is a real treat, as a dancer, to have a choreographer like him around, and to be able to have a taste of that wealth of experience, to gain trust and thereby to feel your own confidence growing. We are both very lucky’, Miguel ends his story.
After the interview my energy reserves seem to have grown. As I put my pen and paper down, I see Miguel disappear behind a drum set to practice with the members of his band. And Parvaneh is accompanied by her partner in front of the computer. Just sending a mail home…
NDT Update - January 2004
This interview first appeared
on the NDT website.
Edited by Jeff.
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