Last year I interviewed Maria Engel, a graduate of Elmhurst School of Dance, a vocational school which is associated with the Birmingham Royal Ballet Company. At the time, Maria was performing with Ballet Theatre UK, touring around the UK with a new production of The Nutcracker. I reviewed the show last year and you can read it here. Maria danced the Principal role of the Sugar Plum Fairy, a role most dancers fear because in a traditional production you are suddenly on stage and exposed, with virtuoso steps and no time for the audience to get used to you, to great acclaim.
Maria has a luminous stage presence, which I think you can see from these photographs, and her dancing is technically very strong with great acting ability, drama and passion. When she dances you are compelled to watch. She didn’t have an easy time on tour – a different theatre every night with possibly a raked stage or a very hard one, long hours travelling, very short classes which didn’t allow her the full range of a normal class and then possibly two shows per day. The company director told me that Maria was a pleasure to have on tour because throughout all of their difficulties – some unforseen (they were kept up all night by a rowdy gang outside their hotel) – Maria’s sunny disposition beamed through. This touring experience is invaluable.
Maria’s latest achievement is to be awarded an honour from the county of Landsberg am Lech in Germany, which was in recognition of her success in graduating. The price money was €1250 and Maria danced at a gala evening where she performed Raymonda Act III, Sugar Plum Fairy and the Tango (choreographed for this gala by one of the teachers from Elmhurst).
Maria’s old ballet teacher, Beatrix Klein, gave a speech which made Maria very emotional.
Maria is one of a large number of professional dancers who find themselves auditioning for work all over the world. Often this means a long journey to the audition, only to be cut from class, with a tap on the shoulder – nothing more – at the very beginning (barre) section, perhaps only ten minutes into the audition.
You can imagine how taxing this can be – and Maria is very young. Often they will receive little or no feedback from the company and are left to work out for themselves what went wrong or why they didn’t fit with the company. It’s a hard life; difficult to stay positive in the face of rejection, and Maria has shown resillience and determination which is not uncommon in professional dancers. Regular readers might recall Maria telling me in her interview that she studies the dancers in every company to see where her face might fit.
As I type this Maria is still auditioning, having missed the English National Ballet auditions for their Swan Lake in-the-round due to a knee injury which is now healed. Maria wanted to do the audition anyway and not miss the chance, but as the accident happened in school, her teachers understandably vetoed it. One of her teachers enabled her to take Company class at English National Ballet recently, and Maria loved “every split second.” Perhaps the Company will like her enough to ask her be part of it at some stage.