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Interview with Hilary Guswiler and Alban Lendorf

by Kate Snedeker

March 18, 2009 -- Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto, Canada

In March, young dancers from five of the worlds’ top companies converged in Toronto to compete in the  8th International Competition for the Erik Bruhn Prize. As per the official rules, each company selected two dancers – one man, one woman – between the ages of 18 and 24 to take part in the competition. Each couple was required to perform a classical pas de deux and a contemporary pas deux.

The Royal Danish Ballet was represented by Hilary Guswiler and Alban Lendorf, first year corps members who were the youngest couple in the competition. They danced the second act pas de deux from “La Sylphide” and a brand new contemporary pas deux choreographed by fellow corps member Iain Rowe. I had the pleasure of talking with the pair just hours before the competition...

How did you start dancing?

Alban (A): I started when I was 11, and didn’t know anything about ballet. I played soccer, and then one day my mom said, “Why don’t you try ballet?” and I did. From then on, it was just a big adventure for me…

Hilary (H): My mom works in television … on a children’s show. Children from the theatre were [on the show]… to talk about it, and they left some flyers. [My mother] asked me if I wanted to go to the audition. At first I didn’t want to, [but] I got in. I was seven, and it just became a part of me and I love it. When you are so little, it’s just all fun.

What was it like to be selected to represent the Royal Danish Ballet at the Erik Bruhn Competition?

H: Such a great honor!

A: It’s one of the biggest things I’ve ever done. Just to be here with so much talent -- all the huge companies in this world; they are gathered here. The amount of talent that is here is crazy!

H: We’ve already experienced so much

A: And we’ve learned so much. I feel I’ve grown a lot. We’re taking class with the other competitors. They are so nice, and there’s a really good…

H: a good vibe, a good atmosphere, and people are nice

Did you know a lot about Erik Bruhn before being asked to compete?

A: Oh yeah! I’m a big fan of Erik Bruhn … I mean he’s Danish, which makes it easier. [laughter] And I’ve read his autobiography, which I thought was really good … it was so inspiring for me to read about his childhood.

H: I don’t know that much information about him, but … teachers always talk about him with great respect. We have a teacher, Anna Lærkesen, who did a lot of partnering with him and I think she was close friends with him. It’s always nice to hear her talk about him.

Had you met any of the dancers from other companies before the competition?

H: No, but I feel like I know them all [now]!

A: It feels like we have more in common now because we are in the same situation. And we all are so happy.

H: It’s been hard work, but it’s been great. Probably one of the greatest experiences ever, just the work.

A: I know I am going to remember this for the rest of my life

What has your schedule been like in Toronto? Any problems with jet lag?

H: It’s actually been fine for us because [we traveled] the right way. The weather’s been great, which helps.

A: We had class today at 11:30, so we could sleep and then had rehearsal.

H: We’re busy all the time, we always have something to do, but we also get to relax and its fun.

What’s been the highlight of the competition so far?

H: I have really enjoyed the classes … and just meeting the other competitors.

A: I think if you ask me tomorrow, the highlight will be tonight [the competition], but I think I’ve been so excited and experienced so much, that these last few days I feel like I’ve been here for a week

H: It’s been so positive, the classes, the people, the rehearsals …

A: … everything!

Have you ever danced the pas de deux from “La Sylphide” before?

A: No.

H: Well, we’ve both done corps [roles].

A: [And] we’ve learned some of the solos.

H: We actually both did variations from Sylphide for exams – first year apprentice exams.

How was it working with Iain on the contemporary piece? Did he choreograph the pas de deux on you?

A: It was very good working with him. He loves his work … he’s very passionate.

H: All the people we’ve worked with are passionate … and that brings such an energy in the rehearsal, which is amazing.

A: He’s also a nice person … This period of working [over] the last month has been fun, but still serious, professional and hardworking. We really enjoyed it.

H: It’s been tough, but if it hadn’t been as fun as it is, I don’t think we could have done it.

How would you describe Iain’s piece?

H: The music’s minimalistic … it’s just notes. The piece, I think it’s quite emotional … it’s not a long story or anything, [but] has this very strong feeling. It’s a couple …

A: And they have a conflict. The choreography is very contemporary, but still the language is classical ballet. I mean, Hilary’s not on pointe, but still...

H: Every [step] can have a classical name.

A: But it’s not a classical choreography at all, it is still contemporary.

What has the Royal Danish Ballet been doing back in Denmark?

A: The day before we left, we had the premiere of the Balanchine program [“Symphony in Three Movements,” “La Sonnambula” and “Symphony in C’].

What about Silja Schandorff’s final performance?

H: Giselle – that’s going to be amazing!


What are you looking forward to in the upcoming [2009-10] season?

H: Everything!

A: Everything! It’s new and I’m ready for it.

H: It’s a great mix.

A: There’s “West Side Story” … if we have to sing on stage, it’s going to be a challenge.

H: I think the men’s and the women’s programs sound very clever. I’m glad “Sylphide” is coming back, and … “Symphony in C” [will be ] together with “Sylphide.” I think that’s a good contrast

As students and dancers at the Royal Theatre, have there been any teachers whom you found particularly inspiring?

H: Truman Finney came this season, and I’m so grateful … I’ve learned so much from him this season. He’s the most important … him and Nikolaj [Hübbe]. Truman has really changed my whole view on dancing, and also my whole approach. [He’s taught me] to work and technique, to be very square, very…

A: very simple…

H: And correct. And also about the quality -- that you have to know the correct things before you can make it into real dancing. Because he’s very much about the dancing too and doing it…

A: Just doing it and enjoying it.

A: [Truman Finney] and Nikolaj Hübbe. We are so lucky to have them. They came in August, and just took over and then we’ve worked so much with Truman, and taken his classes and Nikolaj’s.

H: They have kind of the same direction in their styles, which is nice. And having them both in Sylphide rehearsal; to have Nikolaj in rehearsal, and Truman in class is just paradise!

A: It’s hard, but it’s so nice to have two people who are so passionate about ballet.

H: So even though you have a bad day, and you are so tired and you’re in pain…the two hours feels like five minutes!

Former company member and long-time company teacher Paelle Jacobsen died recently. I was wondering if you had any memories of him that you’d like to share.

H: He was our teacher.

A: He actually made a huge impact on me. I remember when he was our pas de deux teacher, and [at] the end of pas de deux class sometimes I practiced pirouettes or jumps. He just came over to me and said some things, and wow, that really helped.

H: I miss him, he was great. I loved his classes.

A: And he didn’t really tell you, but you could see in his eyes that he cared about us.

H: You could tell he cared about you also because he wanted to correct you. And we wanted the best for everyone. He was very helpful.

What roles would you really like to dance?

H: Anything. Anything that comes my way, I’ll take it and do my best. But of course, Sylphide is on my list -- it’s one of my dream roles from childhood. {I remember] watching Silja do it [while I was] in school. That’s why I am so grateful to do this…

A: The list is long… I remember my first year in school, when I was really doubting [my choice] because I was also wanting to do other stuff. Then the school went down and watched “Onegin” with Jean-Lucien Massot [as Onegin], and I wanted to do Onegin and I was like – I’m going to do ballet! I think during school, James was also one my favorites. But there’s a lot. I think maybe you have to try [the roles] before you can actually say what your favorite is.

H: But every challenge is different, but Sylphide is one of mine. Quite at the top, maybe, the top! [laughs]

What have been the highlights of your ballet careers thus far?

H: This!

A: This and the premiere of the Balanchine program we did Saturday. The last two months have been really inspiring.

H: Intense, but amazing… We’re so grateful to be here. There’s so much talent and everybody’s so nice, so we just want to perform, do our jobs and… we’re so excited to do [the competition] now!

A: I’m glad it’s not tomorrow!

H: I couldn’t wait… I don’t think we could wait a week!

And with that, the dancers had to depart in order to rest before the evening’s competition. While neither dancer was a prize recipient, they continue to receive acclaim for their performances in Denmark.

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