Cupcakes & Conversation with Carling Talcott, Corps de ballet, Royal Danish Ballet
What motivates you at 8am on a Monday morning?
As any of my friends or family (or strangers who have had the misfortune to encounter me before 11am) will tell you, I am not a morning person. My brain and general motor skills do not function until I have consumed approximately a vat of coffee, so more often than not, I am jolted awake by a highly unwelcome alarm and thus am not exactly “motivated” at such an early Monday morning hour.
I was an unusually serious child, and I liked the discipline of class combined with the ability to make physical music. I most enjoyed being able to “show” music, to demonstrate with my body how a piano or a violin might move, if such instruments could be personified through physical activity. I didn’t actually see many professional ballet company performances before I was a bit older–in fact, I can’t honestly recall one event or performance that inspired me to pursue ballet so seriously. When I was six, I just sort of fell in love with it on my own, telling my parents, “Mom, Dad, I’d like to focus on ballet.” Their initial reaction was that I was six, and shouldn’t focus on anything, but they let me give it a shot, and soon enough I was hooked.
What are you looking forward to dancing this year?
Because of my background and training, the repertoire that automatically, naturally appeals to me is the Balanchine and Robbins works we do. I think Symphony in Three Movements is absolutely brilliant, and I honestly enjoy the focus required to count Stravinsky’s score; so I’m very much looking forward to that. I’m also hoping to be part of Jerome Robbins’ The Concert. I’ve never danced it before, but I think it would be so much fun to do. I like being able to be something of a comedienne in a performance, to laugh and make others laugh. That whole program, actually-the Broadway for an Evening night-seems like it will be a lot of fun to do. And of course, I am looking forward to getting to perform Balanchine’s Nutcracker again. It’s the version I grew up with, and revisiting it will be like putting on an old sweater.
Who would you most like to dance with & what would you dance?
I would very much like to share the stage with the uber-cool David Byrne & the Talking Heads, to perform the awkward awesomeness that is the stage choreography for Life During Wartime.
If you could dance anywhere in the world (not only in a theatre), where would you dance?
I know this is a very popular answer, but I have to count myself among the many who have replied with: the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. I have never been to Greece, but would absolutely love to go; when they hosted the Olympics, I came down with a severe case of wanderlust for the country. And the idea of dancing outdoors in such a historic, beautiful setting is more than irresistible.
How do you prepare your pointe shoes?
I’ve recently fallen for an incredibly time-consuming, mildly messy method to perfect my Freed Classics. Before I do anything else, I take a hobby knife and shave the entire outer bottom sole down, so that it is very flat against the satin. When that is finished, I use the knife to make four incisions, evenly spaced to span the middle of the newly shaved outer sole. Next, I pop out the nails in the shanks and use the hobby knife to (carefully!) divide the shank in half, from the heel up to about the middle of the shoe. I rip the top “slice” of the shank off, making the section running from the heel to mid-shoe a thinner layer of cardboard than before. I cut the satin off of the tips of both shoes. After that, I sew criss-crossed elastics and Flexers ribbons on both shoes. Finally, I step on the boxes and crush the glue below and around the box. I figure out which is left and which is right, label each, and after about an hour or so of sculpting and sewing, one pair of shoes is ready to go.
What is your daily routine at the moment?
At the moment, I wake up between 7:30-8, and have coffee and muesli at home before biking to the theatre at around 8:45 or 9 (depending on how bleary-eyed I am on the given morning). Class is from 10-11:30; it is optional, but my physical and mental makeup don’t really do well without ballerina class. If it’s a performance day, rehearsals will run from 11:30-3, with a half hour break for lunch. Performances are usually at 8, so we have a good amount of time to go home, eat, nap, etc. If it’s a non-performance day, we rehearse from 11:30-4, with a 45 minute lunch break, and the occasional evening call from 4:15-6. Right now, we are rehearsing for our four week America tour during the day and doing performances of our “Balletaften” program some evenings, so our schedule is fairly busy.
What do you eat during the course of a typical working day?
Because I cannot complete many basic mental or physical functions in the morning, breakfast is always coffee and muesli. I keep trail mix (and, ok, candy) in my dressing room, so if I have two minutes after class or in between rehearsals, I’ll run there and grab something to keep me going until lunch. I have a fondness for sandwiches, so more often than not, it’ll be some sort of meat and cheese sandwich for lunch. When I get home from work, I’ll have a juice and snack on dried figs or cheese or something to tide me over until dinner. My boyfriend does the cooking-I burn toast-so dinner is always something different. More often than not, it’ll involve some kind of meat and veggies, or dressed-up pasta. (If it’s a lazy day, Thai or Italian takeaway is always an option.) And on performance days, I’ll eat dinner at the cafeteria in the theatre, since I get there fairly early anyway.
You can ask six famous people to dinner – who would you invite?
David Sedaris, Karl Lagerfeld, Sophie Calle, Ingo Maurer, Steve Buscemi, and Helena Bonham-Carter. It would be a motley crew, and would most definitely involve crème brulee.
What would surprise people about you?
I feel quite vulnerable most of the time, like an open book, so I’m not sure anything would surprise people about me. I know how to transform a child’s diaper into one that could fit a female dog. I suppose this would be an unexpected ability. Also, I can speak Pig Latin. I am still waiting for Google Translate to recognize it as a legitimate language.
Who inspired you to dance?
As I said earlier, I became obsessed with ballet before I really understood that “the grownups” could do it too – so my inspiration came much later. I was lucky to have teachers like Lourdes Lopez, Barbara Sandonato, and Carter Alexander; in terms of dancers, I was always inspired by Allegra Kent, Wendy Whelan, Miranda Weese…dancers who brought unbelievable artistry to “plotless” neoclassical works.
What is your best piece of advice?
I’m not sure I’m the best person to give out advice! The best advice I have received in life is to do what you love; to be happy (in favour of extreme neuroses); to take things one day at a time; and not to live your life according to a purely pragmatic mindset. Life is too short to be practical all of the time. It’s okay to be a little bit bonkers, to dance around the apartment while folding the laundry, to smash a chipped glass on the kitchen floor to see if it really is unbreakable as advertised–not that I have ever been a part of such activities, specifically.
How do you prepare in the hours before a show?
Depending on the performance, I will vary my routine slightly, but it’s usually generally the same. I’ll get to the theatre two hours before curtain, and go up to the lovely hairdressers to have them coax my mane into something resembling a ladylike hairstyle. Then I’ll attempt to put on acceptable stage makeup–this skill, I’m still learning–and figure out which pointe shoes I need for the evening. An hour before curtain, I’ll do a barre and some releves on pointe in centre, as well as any steps I’m nervous about (in Etudes, this would be the releve section and a few practice fouettes). Twenty minutes before the performance starts, I’ll get into costume. I try to be down onstage before we have to clear; it calms me down to have a few minutes in the space before the curtain rises.
Which role has tested you the most & how?
Mentally, I think learning the Pas de Quatre from Peter Martins’ Swan Lake in 24 hours–and performing it without a real stage rehearsal or full run-through–was a fantastic challenge for me. I didn’t have time to be nervous; I had to shelve my paranoia and endless “what ifs” and just place complete trust in myself. I think recapturing that feeling, experienced in such a whirlwind situation, in the future will be like trying to capture lightning in a bottle. But artistically, the role that tested me the most was actually a seemingly tiny one: the “flower girl” in John Neumeier’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. She literally runs onstage before the wedding scene begins, picks a flower from a set bouquet, smells it, and runs offstage. For me, though, conveying the proper innocence, optimism, and extreme femininity proved difficult. I had to do that seemingly-nothing bit over and over again in rehearsal. Indulging in my “girly” side has never come easily to me, and I found this part quite challenging.
If you were asked to design your own ballet costume, what would you create?
I have worn a unitard with a men’s dance belt to portray a dead hermaphrodite cow (in Nikolaj Hubbe’s new version of Bournonville’s A Folktale), so I am really not very picky when it comes to costumes. I am no designer, but I would like someone to figure out a costume that actually properly fits my weird-shaped torso…that would be lovely!
What do you look for in a dance partner?
Someone who’s willing to dance with me! No, but kidding aside, I like to work with people who take the rehearsal process seriously, but who can also have a laugh. A sense of humour in the studio is always wonderful. If a step won’t work or proves difficult, rehearsals and corrections and hard work can fix it. You might as well enjoy the process.
What is your favourite quote?
I have several, but the one I most often remind myself of is quite simple: “Be happy.” I have a tendency, in times of stress, to worry about nothing and everything; my brain goes into overdrive conceiving increasingly neurotic hypothetical situations, most of which will not, in all likelihood, transpire at all. One day quite recently, my boyfriend finally looked at me and said, “Just…be happy. Right now.” And so I try to remind myself to breathe, and to take things one day at a time, and to be happy.
Do you have a ‘signature step’ – one that comes naturally to you?
I’m a fairly awkward person most of the time, so I’m not sure anything–ballet, walking, not getting my shoelaces caught in my bike pedals–comes naturally to me! But I will say the things I enjoy most in class or in choreography are turns, petit allegro, and huge traveling steps. I do like to move big.
A phrase I use far too often is …?
I think I have uttered the phrase “I’m sorry” so much that it has, when coming out of my mouth, lost all meaning. I mostly say “sorry” when I don’t know what else to say. I also say “I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’” quite a lot. I’m not sure why, other than for a glimmer of comedic effect.
What’s been your best on-stage moment so far?
I won’t say I have had a best onstage moment, not yet, in my career. But I do remember after the last performance of our 18-show run of Swan Lake earlier this season, there was such a united feeling of, “Holy mackerel, we did it!” among the corps girls as the curtain came down. Most of us had been performing two, three, or even all four acts for the last 18 performances, and emotionally, mentally, physically, we had been running a marathon for almost two months. It was an incredible feeling that we had really accomplished something beautiful together.
Do you have a secret skill which no-one knows about?
A few people know this about me, but I was on a baton twirling team for several years in elementary school and can still do a couple of passages from our routine to “The Locomotion.” I can also do the MC Hammer dance, though I’m not sure this is something I should be putting on the internet.
In terms of your ballet career, where would you like to be in a year from now?
I don’t like to have specific roles or titles or anything like that in mind when answering this type of question. Over the course of this past year alone, for instance, I have come to realize (and perhaps this is unpopular to admit) that there is a whole big, completely fascinating world outside the realm of ballet that I have a strong urge to explore in my life, and that my time, like every other dancer’s, in this profession does have an expiration date. As a result, I have come to place a greater importance on striving to find a balance between enjoying my work and having a personal life offstage; this growth process has not been smooth–my family and boyfriend can tell you this!–but has been productive. So I will only say that a year from now I hope to be personally and professionally happy and healthy, to have better mastered the art of living in the present, to have further achieved a balance between my ballet life and my personal life, and to have the feeling that I have grown both as a dancer and as a human being over the course of 12 months.
If you could dance in front of anyone, who would it be and what makes them special to you?
There are people in this world who view artists as frivolous people, whose work is not truly “important” to today’s society. Perhaps we as performers are not curing cancer, or ending wars, or solving any great mysteries of the universe. But I believe that people who come to the theatre do so to forget, for two hours or so, about all of those pressing global (and daily, personal) concerns. I believe that as dancers, part of our job is to bring people to another place and time for a short period, so that the audience may escape the harsh reality of the current times. As someone who consciously avoids overdosing on world news for the sole purpose of averting personal depression and anxiety, I would most enjoy dancing for anyone who needs even five minutes of freedom from the chaotic nature of the world we currently live in.