Cupcakes & Conversation with Anu Viheriäranta, First Soloist, Dutch National Ballet
What motivates you at 8am on a Monday morning ?
Having rehearsals with people who inspire me. With repetiteurs who have a lot of knowledge, experience and a good eye to help to build a role and the technique as well as with choreographers who are able to convey their style and ideas to the dancers.
Why ballet ?
My mother took me for my first contemporary class and ballet followed 2 years later. Before that I spent hours dancing in my room alone so she thought dancing as a hobby might be a good choice.
What are you looking forward to dancing this year ?
Returning to Swan Lake as Odette/Odile and the title role of Giselle which is one of the roles I have been waiting to experience. These roles appeal to me because of the chances to develop your own interpretation. There are also new works by interesting contemporary choreographers who I can’t wait to be able to work with. I love the mix of classical and contemporary repertoire.
Who would you most like to dance with & what would you dance
I would want to dance John Cranko’s Romeo & Juliet once again. For me it’s a masterpiece in its simple but touching way of telling the story. As Juliet you have just the right amount of steps in relation to acting to be able to make sense of your role.
If you could dance anywhere in the world (not only in a theatre), where would you dance ?
Dancing on the stage of theatre full with tradition like Mariinsky would be something to remember.
How do you prepare your pointe shoes ?
I have just changed shoes from Capezio to Gaynor Minden and I’m still trying to find out how to work them the best. It’s not easy after more than 15 years with Capezio. In addition to usual ribbons and elastics around the ankles I have to rip off the soft blue part of the sole under the heel. Otherwise I can’t “feel the floor” enough. I get my shoes with the satin tip because the suede is too sticky for me. The problem is that the satin wears out fast so I end up glueing and sewing the tips. If anyone has any better solution to this I’d be happy to know about it!
What is your daily routine at the moment ?
I get up early to have a big breakfast with my online newspaper. I stay at home to stretch and I do some exercises to warm up before biking to the theatre. Class starts at 10am and rehearsals last until 6pm on a day without a performance. The daily schedule varies according to the ballets we are working on so sometimes I only get 45-minute lunch break around 1.30pm but sometimes I have only one or two rehearsals a day. Often I spend some time in our gym as well to work on body parts that need additional exercises. After work I sometimes have a drink or a dinner somewhere with friends or take a little walk enjoy a bit of fresh air if I’m not too tired. Usually I make my own dinner and relax at home reading more and less serious things online or watch some easy tv-series.
What do you eat during the course of a typical working day ?
I try to make sure that I eat enough of carbs, proteins, good fats, minerals and vitamins on a daily basis. Muesli, yogurt, fruit, cheese, nuts, meat, sandwiches, vegetables, milk, pasta or rice are every day foods as well as my favourite dessert – ice-cream and couple of bites of chocolate.
You can ask six famous people to dinner – who would you invite ?
I’ve never really been into fame or being a fan of someone. I think I’d have much more interesting conversation with any set of six people with humour, character, opinions, intelligence and a bit of insanity.
What would surprise people about you ?
That I do my utmost to keep the Finnish people on the top of the European chart of how much ice-cream we consume a year! I’m also not 25 years old but it’s quite normal for dancers to look younger.
Who inspired you to dance ?
My mother by giving the incentive to dance and the rest of the inspiration came from the dancing itself.
How do you prepare in the hours before a show ?
If I dance a leading role I usually have time to go home before the show. I have a warm meal and sleep 45 minutes or so. I go back to the theater about 2 1/2h beforehand and start by doing the make-up and hair. I still have a snack before I go to warm up about an hour before curtain-up. A bit of stretching and a 25-minute barre listening to some funky music that puts me well into the mood to dance no matter how classical a ballet I’m about to do. Costume & pointe shoes on and I try couple of things on stage. I really hate to wait around or be in the wings too early so I’m pretty consistent with my timetable.
How do you deal with the stress of performing ?
I want to prepare my roles with good repetiteurs and detailed, hard work so I can “let go” on stage and enjoy the result. No matter how difficult I find the steps, feel insecure in the studio or under pressure once I go on stage I try to lift up my self-confidence and tell myself: “the work is done, this is your time on stage – no-one else’s – and your interpretation of the role so just enjoy it”. Afterwards you return to the studio to work some more.
Which role has tested you the most & how ?
The most difficult ones are the ones I think (or know) don’t suit me already before I start working on them. The idea blocks my head and I can’t go on stage feeling confident which doesn’t have a positive effect on my dancing. Queen of Dryads in Don Quixote is one good example.
If you were asked to design your own ballet costume, what would you create ?
Designing a costume is really not my field of interest but as a dancer I would create something with simple, beautiful lines that brings the best out of a dancer’s body. I would also use materials and cuts that don’t hinder dancing in any way. It’s a nightmare when you put on a costume that makes you feel you can’t move.
What do you look for in a dance partner ?
Trustworthy, ready to work hard, won’t be afraid to delve into the role and some level of friendship so we can have a good time in the studio.
What is your favourite quote ?
I try to go for “Enjoy your life” but it’s obviously hard on a daily basis. Good to keep in mind though when things start feeling too serious.
Do you have a ‘signature step’ – one that comes naturally to you ?
What’s been your best on-stage moment so far ?
It could be my premiere of Cranko’s Romeo & Juliet but I’ve had a great time on stage dancing things like Second Detail, David Dawson’s Reverance or having had to improvise a foolish solo in a contemporary workshop performance without any preparation.
In terms of your ballet career, where would you like to be in a year from now ?
I don’t like to make any long term plans because I sometimes change direction in the blink of an eye, or you never know what life gives you. But as long as I dance I wish to enjoy it as much as possible.
If you could dance in front of anyone, who would it be and what makes them special to you?
I would dance Swan Lake for my mother at home in Helsinki with the Finnish National Ballet. She never saw me dancing Odette/Odile because she was very sick and passed away during the time I was preparing and dancing it for the first time. I know how proud she was for my dancing and especially for this role.
What is your exit strategy, for the time when you stop dancing, and how did you plan it ?
This is the big question that has been bothering me ever since I started my professional career. Without a high-school diploma further studies are quite limited, and even though I have tried to get through some courses for it, my free time is sometimes too short for my perfectionist way of studying. Injuries make me almost panic but I’ve recently found some interesting paths I could take without too many years of re-education. I still have to decide though which path to eventually follow..