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Ballet - General
Inspiration #03: Interview with Martine van Hamel (karma: 5)  en>fr fr>en
By nycsylphmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member Comments: 1940, member since Sun Jan 11, 2009
On Sat May 02, 2009 09:51 AM
Edited by webheadmaster (251) on 2009-05-02 11:59:33 Make feature
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Edited by nycsylph (206174) on 2009-05-02 15:26:26
Inspiration #03 The third in a series of interviews with professional dancers. Their personal stories will allow you to go behind the curtain and take a fascinating look into the world of professional dance.

Martine van Hamel
I am thrilled beyond words to offer to the members of dance.net, this exclusive interview I conducted with this incredibly gifted ballerina. If you are not inspired by this beautiful dancer, you better check to see if still you have a pulse! I have personally seen her dance many, many times, and have been continually blown-away by her perfection of strength, technique and artistry! To be able to finally meet her was a joy beyond words!!!

Martine van Hamel is a prima ballerina that is not only known for her physical prowess, but also for her incredible grace, class and intelligence. It’s difficult to fit in all her accomplishments, but here are some highlights. In 1966, she won the Gold Medal at the International Ballet Competition held in Varna, Bulgaria. She simultaneously won the seldom-awarded Prix de Varna for the best artistic interpretation in all categories. She was a principal dancer with the National Ballet of Canada and subsequently became a member of the City Center Joffrey Ballet. In 1970, she joined American Ballet Theater where she quickly rose through to the ranks to become a Principal Dancer in 1973 – this after a highly-acclaimed debut as Odette-Odile in Swan Lake. Her repertoire consisted of many classics. They included Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, La Sylphide, La Bayadere, Don Quijote, Coppelia, Giselle and Raymonda. As if that weren’t enough, she started her own ballet company called New Amsterdam Ballet and was co-founder of the Kaatsbaan International Dance Center – along with Gregory Cary, Kevin McKenzie and Bentley Roton. The vision statement of Kaatsbaan, whose name translates to “playing field,” ”is to create a unique dream factory for the creative process … a playing field for the imagination.” It is a wonderfully, expansive, unique place where dancers and choreographers can learn and grow.


I met Ms. van Hamel at a local Starbucks – still my favorite haunt! Had another apple chai latte! She looked amazingly chic and in better shape than I could ever hope to be! Here's what she had to say.

Q: I can’t tell you how honored I am that you consented to be interviewed for dance.net. I thank you so much! I’d like to start at the beginning and ask when you started ballet and whether it was your idea or your parent’s idea?

A: Well, I started at 4. My father was a diplomat and stationed in Copenhagen. In Copenhagen, it’s very normal for young children to take ballet – even boys. Apparently, it was a wonderful revelation because before that I’d been very energetic and kind of wild and ballet channeled my energies beautifully. I was a little ballerina from then on so it was the right thing to do. Also I had a lovely teacher at the time. I think it is very important to start with a teacher that sends you in the right direction and teaches you the right things. Let’s say, it took! From then on, I always danced.

My father was stationed in many different places and, of course, it was hard to find teachers sometimes so until I was 13, I had many, many different teachers. My mother always told me that she would come to the classes with me. She also always said I sort of knew which teachers were good and which weren’t. She’d more or less judge my reaction to them and, of course, I would judge hers. She would say, “What do you think of that teacher?” and I’d say, [waves hand dismissively] “Oh, no, never!”

Q: Was she involved in dance?

A: No, both my parents were musicians so even thought they weren’t dancers, they did know about ballet.

Q: When you say “musicians,” do you mean concert musicians?

A: No, amateur musicians. My mother for a short while was professional, and she taught. They used to play string quartet. When I would go to sleep, they would have their evening of the week that was spent playing chamber music. For me growing up, it was a sound that was always very soothing and familiar.

Q: Were there any teachers that stood out?

A: Yes, one of the strongest influences happened when I was 10. I studied with Henry Danton of the Royal Ballet. This was when my father was stationed in Caracas. We stayed in Caracas almost two years. Henry Danton teaches here in America and also every once in awhile, I reconnect with him although it’s very sporadic. While in Caracas, I trained with him. At the time, he was teaching for the National Ballet of Venezuela. Every once in awhile I would be able to perform with them also. That was sort of my start in performing.

Q:And after that?

A: I went onto the National Ballet of Toronto in Canada. It was the first year that the National Ballet had an academic training program. I enrolled in that school and attended high school there and completed grades 9, 10,11 and 12. I joined the National Ballet of Canada after that.

Q: Did you join the National Ballet as a corps member or soloist?

A: I went right to soloist at the National Ballet. When I came to America many years later, I joined the American Ballet Theater as a corps member. It was a little shocking. [laughs]

Q: Was it because of a hierarchy? Or that you had to be a corps member for so many years before you could advance to a soloist?

A: Well, I think it’s because if you are selected from a school, they really know who you are – what kind of work ethics you have. As a graduate of Canada’s school, they knew what they were getting. With companies like ABT, you need to show them what kind of work ethic you have and how you can fit into the bigger picture. That took me awhile to figure out.

Q: Were there any soloist roles you did for the National Ballet of Canada that stood out?

A: Well, the terrific thing about that company was that it was very much like ABT in that they had a very eclectic repertory. I did Anthony Tudor’s work. I did Balanchine’s work. We did some pieces from new choreographers and then after awhile, the owners of the company decided to do full-length ballets. We had already done the 2nd and 4th acts of Swan Lake, but from there we went to doing the full-length Swan Lake, La Sylphide and Romeo and Juliet. They didn’t choose me for the lead in that one, but in the others I danced the principal roles.

Q:Oh, you did!

A: Yes.

Q: Were you coached by other ballerinas that had danced the roles? How was the coaching handled?

A: The Artistic Director, Celia Franca in Toronto coached me. She was a terrific, really beautiful coach. She was very theater conscious and really good especially when I was young and learning roles that were maybe a little advanced – emotionally advanced – even though I could probably do them technically. She was very specific and coached every fingernail practically. I think I learned a lot of theater techniques in terms of what looks good in the theater – how to use what you have and how to present it to the public.

Q: Is that the leap that you have to take when you go from being a good classroom dancer to a real performer? Learning these tricks?

A: No, they’re not tricks as you say. They’re another level of knowledge.

Q: More esoteric.

A: [laughs]Okay, well, I think when you work in a classroom, you’re not so aware of lines looking good from the front. Maybe now people are more aware of them, but in my time, I wasn’t so much. I did things that looked good in a classroom. I didn’t think about turning away too far from an audience when you turn [twists upper body around – shows back to me to demonstrate – turns forward again] – details like that. You learn as you become professional and working in the company – performing different roles. Every ballet needs coaching and I think you always – forever – need it. One of the things about working in ballet is that you always need to be coached – it never stops. You always need someone to look at you and bounce things back and forth. It’s so easy to lose that thread.

Q: I’d like to ask you about artistry and technique. How do they balance each other out? I know that in ballet, technique is taught, but can artistry be taught as well?

A: Oh, sure! You know, I think that sometimes you just need someone to give you the key and once you have it you go, “Oh!” and the light bulb goes on. There are techniques as to how to approach roles. I suppose if it never gels than it doesn’t, but it’s a constant learning – exploring type of career. It’s not just, “You’re either an artist or you’re not.” It’s true that some people somehow have more stage presence than others and I don’t know what that is. That is something that just is.

Q: Like possessing a star quality?

A: I don’t know. Someone can go on stage and they see you … your eye goes to that person. It’s just something that ... .

Q: ... is intangible.

A: Yes, I guess so. You can develop it, but never to the extent of someone that has a natural stage presence.

Q: Regarding Swan Lake, there was a question on dance.net regarding how to go about differentiating the roles of Odette-Odile. How did you define the characters? Did you go internally and then let that temper your movements? Or did you do it externally by having a coach tell you what to do?

A: I think if you do Swan Lake and do it over a long period of time – which I did because I did it quite early in my career and it was also one of the last things I did –that you try all sorts of stuff with it. You try to act it, you try to do more of this, or you see someone and I think in the end, in the White Act, it’s just there. You just have to feel it. You just do the steps and then it works. If you try too hard it becomes mannered or insincere. As opposed to just getting into it – getting into the music – and believing the steps are enough. Even though they’re very simple – they are enough to say what you need to say. The Black Swan is a little bit different because of course it’s more individual in a way – it depends on how you want to do it. In a way, the same thing applies in that the choreography will inform you as to what it is because it is quite obvious. Even the rhythm of it and the whole approach and knowing you are not who you seem to be. I think in Swan Lake you don’t try too hard. You try to do what is right there in front of your nose.

Q: I’ve always wondered what you do in ballets that have these big moments – like Swan Lake and the 32 fouettes or doing the Rose Adagio. Do those influence your performance? Do you keep thinking, “Uh-oh! I gotta do those fouettes!” or “Pretty soon I have to stand there in arabesque and my leg is pretty tired!” Or do you just pretty much stay in the moment?

A: Well …

Q: To me it would be intimidating because it’s so obvious you’re making a mistake. The rest you can cover. If you do one pirouette instead of two, the audience isn’t necessarily going to know, but putting your foot down or falling out of those turns, everyone will know.

A: The whole thing about a classic Petipa ballet is that everybody can see every mistake that you make anyway.

Q:Yes, I guess everyone does know it.

A: Even they don’t know the steps, everything is so exposed to them. And the stumbling blocks, like doing the 32 fouettes at the end of the pas de deux is something that you just have to figure out how you’re going to deal with as best as you can. Only experience can tell you how you can manage. Doing it in rehearsal is a different thing. On the other hand I always figured, “Well, so big deal if I fell off.”

Q:Good for you!

A: I didn’t like the idea of falling off and didn’t try to fall off, but as long as I recovered I thought that was a glitch, but let’s go on. It’s really just a glitch. I mean, if you fall down and hurt yourself and limp off then it’s a whole other thing, but you don’t really have time to comment on it. You have just to be prepared as possible and try to be aware of what your weaknesses are and don’t obsess about them. If you start obsessing about them, it gets that much harder. We all, as dancers, have our weak, weak points. They’re very different for different people.

Q: I didn’t see that you had a weak point and I saw you numerous times! What would you say were your weak points?

A: Well, fouettes were a weak point.

Q: Really?

A: Yes, I didn’t always finish them. Towards the end I was better at finishing them all, but I often had to bail out. Actually, I saw someone the other day that said, “Remember that time ...[laughter] What I ended up doing after 16 fouettes was doing en dedans fouettes because my foot was tired and you know, you’ve got to be crazy to try to do en dedans fouettes onstage, but I did them I did six or eight of them and then made up some other combination and got to the end so that’s one way out. [laughter]

Q: Well, there you go! And it’s just as impressive!

A: It’s just not what they expect – or you expect necessarily!

Q: Exactly!

A: And the other thing I had huge problems with was hopping on pointe. I mostly tried to eliminate them from my repertoire by doing releves or something else so those were my weak points for sure. You didn’t see them?

Q:[laughing] No, I totally never, ever, ever saw anything! In fact, you were one of the strongest dancers that I remember seeing. I mean, were you aware of that? And what did you ascribe or attribute your strength to because you were so strong?

A: I didn’t feel strong, but I think I had to be relatively strong. I had these soft muscles so I had to work a lot to have enough strength to do what I did. And men that partner always say that if you work with rhythm, the lifting and the partnering aren’t so hard. I think that gives the appearance of being strong – being in the moment with the music. When you start to work without rhythm, you need that much more strength.

Q: Gotcha.

A: So I think working with the rhythm ...

Q: Timing!

A: Yes, timing [laughter] is what gives the appearance of strength and also it gives you those footholds. You don’t waver or do anything. It also makes the people comfortable to watch you and that’s why they think you were strong.

Q: No, now wait a minute! You were strong! I don’t know what was going on in you internally, but you definitely were strong! If I just compare you to other dancers, I also noticed your upper back was just amazing! I’m wondering if that had something to do with taking a lot of pressure off your legs and allowing you to do these things. I mean, I know the upper back is important, but yours was extraordinary!

A: Well, I have to say it was really hard to stay in control of my body.

Q:Really?

(Note: I really was shocked to hear her say this and was almost speechless!!! She was SO STRONG!!! And I can’t say she never made a mistake – but every single time I saw her, she was impeccably beautiful!!!)


A: Yes.

Q: You would never know it. I never saw any of that.

A: Well, I think ballet is hard no matter what so it’s hard to say if it was harder for me or someone else, but it was not easy for me to stay in control. When you do a lot of partnering work, it helps you get stronger, also, because you’re always staying in one point and moving your body. You have to get a hold of your body – your muscles – it helps gain a lot of strength. I also sort of danced before all these Gyrotonics and all of that. Nowadays the Gyrotonics is terrific for getting the strength where it’s not so easy to get it from only taking a ballet class. I started to do it towards the end of my career with ABT and it was very helpful and very lengthening. It improved my line and strength – it was very good.

Q:I have not tried that. I’ve tried Pilates.

A: Pilates I think is good. I could never stick with it because it didn’t give me the range of movement. It almost got me tight. It depends on who you work with and ...

Q: ... and your body! I mean, you’re so much stronger than I am anyway so it probably wouldn’t do anything for you. So in terms of the Gyrotonics, you would recommend that?

A: I really recommend that for ballet dancers because it’s circular, it works with breathing and you can use the same muscles you use as a dancer – a ballet dancer.

Q: Thank you for that. I do appreciate you telling us what helps you. There are discussions about what to do to build strength all the time! I finally know what to say and can offer a possible solution! Now in terms of joining a company, is there an intimidation factor? What mental quality to need make it in a company if you’re given that opportunity?

A: Well, I think you have to be really open to whatever is happening. Nowadays, I think dancers tend to have to learn choreography really quickly. It’s much faster than it was in my day. There’s much less time. You also need to be an individual – you can’t just say, “Well, I’m going to blend in.” And also you need do be someone without mannerisms. Basically, you need to be able to do whatever someone asks you to do. That’s really what it’s all about.

Q: In terms of moving up or advancing through the politics of a company, is there one right way to handle it? Keep to yourself? Or be friendly to people who are friendly to you? What does it take?

A: I think it just takes a certain amount of basic integrity in your own self. There’s nothing wrong with going to someone on the staff and saying, “It’s bothering me. Why am I not getting these roles? Could you talk to me about?” Try to be honest. You have to be able to communicate. I don’t think you need to demand things. I don’t necessarily think that the squeaky wheel gets the oil. It’s not politics so much although everyone has a preference. You know someone may just prefer short people to tall people – or this type of dancer over that type of dancer appeals to the Director. On the whole, a ballet company has a mixed repertoire – there are roles for different types of people that are obvious. If you feel that a role is just perfect and you’re wondering why you’re not getting it, I think you have every right to go and find out why, instead of just getting bitter and upset. You need to have some kind of dialog, but then you should listen to what people are actually saying to you. Perhaps that is the hard part. Of course, one of the other things is that as a Director or anyone making decisions, you are so bound by not being able to say certain things because you may get sued or something. So you have to listen carefully. You know, it’s very dangerous for a teacher or anyone to say, “Well, you should go and lose some weight. This is the issue and if you do it, maybe you’ll get better.” The dancer may go on some crazy diet and stop eating and then get into trouble and say, “Well, the Director told me to lose weight,” so you just can’t say that to people. There are all sorts of other ways to say it, like go to a therapist or go to a nutritionist instead of just saying you’re fat. You have to listen to what’s going on in-between the lines because they really can’t say certain things anymore. Before they could say, “Well, you’re too fat,” but now they’ll say, “Are you having problems?” It has to be very carefully worded. And people want to protect their dancers, too. They want you to excel. When a dancer comes into a company, they don’t want to push them down. They might leave them on their own and it might be very different for the dancer than what they’re used. They may have had people constantly telling them, “You’re great! You’re great!” because they are. Then all of a sudden, they’re one of 20 other great girls. Then it’s an adjustment and it does take time, but it’s not forever.

Q: Speaking of teachers and remarks, there was a discussion on dance.net about a teacher making unkind remarks. How do you deal with teacher telling you at a very young age that you’ll never make it? I believe the exact remark was that she wouldn’t make it because she was too tall and too weak. I can’t imagine a teacher saying something that counterproductive to someone that young because how would they know what’s going to happen in the future? What’s the best way for a young person to handle something like that?

A: Go to another teacher.

Q: [laughter] Problem solved!!! [more laughter]

A: First of all, what is ‘it’? How do you know at a young age? Everyone wants to be a ballet dancer so who’s to say you’re never going to make ‘it.’ There are other companies and there are different types of dance that you might go into you. You know, sometimes you see a little girl that has the worst feet and you know that with those feet, she’ll never be able to do pointe work. She’ll never be able to get on her balance and physically it just won’t work. I don’t know if you can say, “You’ll never be ballerina because you can’t go on pointe.” Maybe they’ll find out for themselves. It’s very rough to say things like, “You’ll never make it.” I think some teachers feel obliged to be truthful – so that maybe that’s what they’re trying to do. Maybe they’re trying to not encourage the dancer or parent to spend thousands of dollars on a child that may be a dancer, but not a ballet dancer. I think there are good ways of saying that.

Q: Yes, I also know from personal experience that some teachers like to say those kinds of things to dig something out of you to see if you’ll fight back. They’re convinced negativity works. I’ve never seen it work.

A: Well, some people say their teacher said I’d never make it and here they are wonderful dancers so it could be that some of teachers do that. I’m sure that would be my case. If someone said that to me, I’d say, “Well, I’ll show you!”

Q: And, boy, did you! [laughter]

A: Of course, no one ever said that.

Q: No! I would imagine not!

A: There was a concern I would be too tall though.

Q:There was?

A: It was definitely a concern because I was tall at a young age. By 14, I was more or less full-grown so that was scary. If I was going to grow any taller, it would have been a problem because I was 5’7” and that’s tall! I guess the women were getting taller in that era. It all depends on when you can have tall dancers – you have to have tall partners so those things do matter. And the interesting thing is in the last 20 years maybe, a lot of the ballerinas are dancing with men that are really short. It’s become the norm even though now there are a few tall partners coming up again. I wouldn’t dream of dancing with some of the men that some of the ballerinas are dancing with now because of the height issue. Maybe even the Director would have said that it wasn’t possible. They wouldn’t stand for that either, but it sort of happened partly because of Nureyev. He liked to dance with tall women. I think he found it easier. It was acceptable for him to partner tall women so that sort of started that trend.

Q: Did you ever work with Nureyev?

A: Yes, I did. He staged Raymonda for ABT. Not frequently, but maybe 3 or 4 times.

Q: And what was he like to work with?

A: He was kind of nice to work with. While he was staging it, he was the choreographer/director of the ballet and he was nice to me let’s say. [laughter] If he didn’t like you, you were really treated not as nicely so I enjoyed that process. Dancing with him was sort of different because he was sick a lot at that time. I remember doing very, very few rehearsals with him and maybe even the last act which is the pas de deux, I don’t think we rehearsed it at all. We just did it, which worked. He was very intense to work with, I mean, the contact was definitely there as a partner. You felt that you were communicating and working with each other. There was not that wall that sometimes exists between partners.

Q: And he was a good partner?

A: Yes.

Q: I’m asking because I know some people in class, you just don’t want to partner with ... they’re always tipping you the wrong way!

A: Oh, yes, I know.

Q: You know, right! [laughter] So I always just have to ask how someone partners! He was good and kept you on your center?

A: Yes, yes, of course!

Q: And I did want to ask you about that gold medal. What was winning that like?

A: In Varna, yes.

Q: Now did you dance to choreography you rehearsed? Or did they teach you choreography that you had to perform?

A: No, it had three rounds. There was classical round and a contemporary round and then the final round, which I suppose was classical. I don’t think it mattered, but it was better if it was classical. It was recommended when I came back from NY. I’d been dancing with the National Ballet of Canada and actually spent some summer weeks in NY training. They had looked at me and said, “Well, you’re in really good shape. You want to go?” There was a Russian teacher who at that moment had been working for the company teaching Bayadere. He said that I should go, too. It was short notice, maybe 2 or 3 weeks. I went with a partner who I was used to dancing with, but he didn’t enter. He was just my partner. The Director came with me and the accompanist and another couple from the company also came. We were this little group [laughter]

Q: Support system! [laughter]

A: Yes, support system. I didn’t really have any time to worry about am I going to win or lose. It was really just an experience and I went only because it was an experience. I’d never really heard about competitions at that time either. They weren’t popular. They only competitions that existed were the one in Varna and maybe one in Moscow. I’m not sure how many were actually around. So that was it! I won the gold. It was the same year that Baryshnikov was also in the competition. He won the gold for the men and I won the gold for the ladies – the junior ladies.

Q:I didn’t know that! Did you have interaction with him?

A: Not really. There wasn’t that much. First of all, most contestants were from the Iron Curtain countries or Cubans – there were very few from the Western world, so to speak.

Q: Did you meet later and remember each other from the competition?

A: I think we always knew. It was like, “I remember you or something.” [laughter]

Q: Like “Didn’t I see you before?”[laughter] I guess the other reason I was asking about the interpersonal relationships at the ballet company was because when you formed your own company New Amsterdam Ballet, it seems like you have a lot of people from ABT dancing with you. Marianna Tcherkassky and …

A: Yes, it was mostly ABT dancers.

Q: So you stayed friends or were friends ...

A: Well, no, we used to have layoffs for a couple of months or so, and it was to fill in the layoffs. What we did was have this little group and get together. I’d usually some dates here and there – Jacob’s Pillows and one-time we actually did a tour in France – Paris. We would choreograph if we wanted to – on each other or I’d find a choreographer. It was a small ensemble – at the most eight dancers. We had some very nice gigs with that and it was during layoff so we were able to use the studios. It was a little project.

Q: Was it done out of love or just to do something?

A: Yes, it was just keep going and to explore choreography. What else could you but dance?

Q: Well, that’s what a dancer does, right? And the idea for Kaatsbaan, where did that come from?

A: Kaatsbaan was an idea that – I guess it’s happened quite a long time ago – is similar to now. A lot of the companies were losing their studio spaces and needed places to work. Ballet – especially ballet repertoire – needs new works to be created. We need choreographers to have a place to create. It was really hoped that it would be sort of an experimental place for choreographers to come and work on their works and create new pieces without the pressure of having to succeed or having the premiere right away. They’d have time and could find out what their skills are. It would allow them to work on the creative process.

Q: Now was this when you were at ABT?

A: No, it actually more the brainchild of two people that had been dancers, but had not been dancing. One was a general manager so they had gone into other fields. They wanted to go upstate because they lived upstate. They started looking around for places and I said, “Sure, that’s a good idea. I’ll support it.” Basically, I co-founded the idea of Kaatsbaan and slowly, but surely we finally found an appropriate place and built the studios. One way to keep it going and functioning was to start a summer course and that’s how the summer course started. Every summer there are three sessions – three weeks long. This year it starts June 16th and then the next one is three weeks later. Some dancers will do six weeks of it. The third session is in August. It’s really the most advanced one and also the one where you have a chance to get men/boys to also participate. It not being part of a company, they tend to find other areas to do their summer courses, but then in August, they have a little bit more freedom. It’s a very small group – 40 dancers at the most. Usually 35 and 40 depending. The studios are very big and the training is very focused, intense and personalized.

Q: On dance.net, there is a Summer Intensive section. I browsed it and saw that a lot of the girls that were auditioning for these summer intensives were very concerned about what you were looking for. They seemed to be feeling quite a lot of pressure to do well. So what are you looking for in an audition? And how should they approach going into an audition? What should they strive to do?

A: Well, summer course auditions are very different from professional auditions. When I audition dancers for the summer course I basically want to know whether they can follow. I want to know they will not get injured by the level of work that I’m going to ask them to do. I want to see that they can handle and withstand a certain number of hours on pointe every day. I need to see that they have the basic skills. I don’t expect them to be perfect and don’t expect them to be ready to be join a ballet company. They’re students. I’ll be training them. Of course, I’d prefer the more advanced – not necessarily, advanced, but say, more gifted dancers – but you can’t be all that fussy in summer courses either. I can be more fussy in the later one – the August one – because it’s less competition basically.

Q: Do you personally go to these auditions or do you have people choosing for you?

A: I do half of them because usually the window of time that these auditions happen is awkward for everyone – students and everybody – [laughs] but it is the way it is. I do have another person that does the audition. And sometimes in Los Angeles, I have two teachers that have been teaching at the summer course. I just let them do it over there – so I don’t always do it myself. I prefer not to travel that much – especially since it’s January and February where the traveling is sometimes awkward and you never know. If I find people that know what my course is like and what we can work with, then I let other people do it.

Q: Regarding the audition itself, say you gave them a double pirouette, would you prefer them doing a clean single? Or go for the double and perhaps fall out of it? How are you choosing? I know they were quite concerned that if they made a mistake it would ruin their chances.

A: [laughs] No, not at all.

Q: What’s the best way for them to handle a mistake? Just take it in stride?

A: I think so. I don’t think for summer auditions it’s an issue. I think that one of the things that bothers me most is when they sort of just try get their leg up regardless of how and what it looks like, you know .. [demonstrates with hand] [laughter] I think it’s important that they have some sense of what things look like.

Q: I still do that so I can’t even comment on that! [laughter] They’re probably just trying to impress you and they’re not! You’d rather see what they can truly do.

A: Yes, yes, what they can do and what their teacher tells them to do. Of course, there is so much bad teaching in this country that that can be revealing also – which is not their fault. It’s sad when I see dancers that are 15 or 16 and have such bad training that it would be very hard to be retrained. When they’re young, you kind of go, “They need some fixing,” but at a certain age, that can be ...

Q: ... ingrained ...

A: Yes, yes, to try to reshape their bodies, it would be hard.

Q: When did you get into teaching? Were you always interested in it or is that an evolution?

A: Well, I don’t teach that much. When I was dancing, I never taught at all really. It was not something I wanted to do - or felt I was that good at actually. Most of my teaching is in the summer – that's the most hard work I do as a teacher. I would certainly not say I’m a teacher that makes their living as a teacher. I teach at the Jacqueline Onassis School, but that’s not that frequently either. It’s not like a full-staff member. It’s not my major interest. I don’t really have a major interest at this point. I like to still perform.

Q: Is that through your own company?

A: No, the ABT. They have an occasional witch that I can play [laughter]

Q: Fabulous! [more laughter]

A: Something like that and that’s always a pleasure. I like to still explore where this can go and not go.

Q: You really do both then and keep your feet in the performing arts. You also direct the Extreme Ballet. What is that exactly?

A: It’s a summer course.

Q: And it’s given that name because?

A: Extreme is just another way of saying Intensive. When it was first suggested to me. I kind of balked at it. They said that people use that word ‘extreme’ these days to mean intense.

Q: Yes, like in Extreme Sports.

A: Extreme sports, yes. I think perhaps it’s a little misleading. They might think they have to put their leg up really high or ... [laughter]

Q: I thought maybe you needed a little helmet or something ... [laughter]

A: It’s just a catchy name – hopefully. It’s just a ballet course and we work on solos, on repertoire, we have a Pilates teacher, we have some Flamenco, usually we have some modern. We do a lot of lectures at night, it’s got the usual things.

Q: You did mention that you did a lot of choreography from a lot of different people. How unusual is it for a dancer like yourself to adapt to different styles like Twyla Tharp and then be able to dance Swan Lake? Is that usual or unusual?

A: Well, in my time, it was unusual. I think dancers now are much more versatile or open. I think they are naturally because it’s more in their face and they can see it. Well, because maybe in New York you can go see everything, but because of the internet they can all get an idea of what’s out there. They’re a little bit more accepting of different styles. It’s hard to learn different styles – it always is. Your body has to learn – it’s like learning a new language or new dialect. Your body has to figure it.

Q: And yours could.

A: I guess so. It lent itself to whatever the choreographer wanted.

Q: This is what you try to pass on in Extreme Ballet? Teach them different styles and see what suits them.

A: Just to give them a broad view of what’s there. So not only classical ballet, but contemporary and modern.

Q: I also see that you’re teaching a master class at Peridance Center?

A: Yes, in ballet.

Q: Now is a master class referring to the teacher or does that mean the people attending have to be proficient?

A: The people attending need to be proficient.

Q: For people to attend a master class, they need to have what level of training? Almost professional? Or advanced?

A: Advanced, I would say. As long they can control their technique and are able to pick-up combinations. It depends.

Q: So advanced/intermediate. Is it a single class?

A: Mine is a single class, but it is a series. Each class is taught by one teacher. It’s to get a feeling for what that teacher does and how they teach. The other teachers are: Gelsey Kirkland, Arturo Fernandez, Alexandra Wells, Jose Manuel Carreño and Susan Jaffee.

[Note: see schedule below for dates and times]

Q: What will a dancer get out of taking your class? Or what do you hope they’ll get?


A: I think they’ll learn a new way of moving. In my time, when I used to take a class from certain teachers, I would find things out about my own technique because they did something different from the teacher I was used to. It opens up your horizons. Also if you want to hear what the teacher has to say and apply that, it’s nice, but it is only one class. You can open your ears and open yourself to it or judge it by saying, “It’s terrible and I don’t want to be here.” It’s up to each student to decide from themselves.

Q: Is this sometimes you’ll be doing on a regular basis?

A: No, just the one-time.

Q: Oh, well, then they either get you now or they miss this opportunity! Well, I would encourage everyone to attend your class! If anyone would have something to say on the subject of ballet, it would be you. This interview is an example and I would again like to thank you for allowing me to interview you for dance.net. It’s been an absolute pleasure.





If anyone is interested in the Ballet Master Series at Peridance, here is the class schedule, a link and a little more information:

www.peridance.com . . .

Gelsey Kirkland, Saturday 5/2 (3-4:30)
Arturo Fernandez, Wednesday 5/6 (11:30-1)
Alexandra Wells, Saturday 5/9 (3-4:30)
Susan Jaffe, Saturday 5/16 (3-4:30)
Jose Manuel Carreño, Saturday 5/23 (3-4:30)
Martine Van Hamel, Saturday 5/30 (3-4:30)

Price:
$108 - Full Series (6 classes)
$20 - Single Class

Peridance Center
International Dance School
890 Broadway, Sixth Floor
New York, NY 10003
U.S.A.
Tel: 212-505-0886
Fax: 212-674-2239
info@peridance.com

Mass Transit:
(to Union Square/14th St. or 23rd St. stop/station)
Subway - 4,5,6,N,R,L (L is 14th St. only)
Bus - M1, M2, M14

24 Replies to Inspiration #03: Interview with Martine van Hamel

re: Inspiration #03: Interview with Martine van Hamel en>fr fr>en
By Acrothiel Comments: 4568, member since Sun Jan 12, 2003
On Sat May 02, 2009 11:20 AM
Thank you so much for this!
re: Inspiration #03: Interview with Martine van Hamel en>fr fr>en
By Sumayah Comments: 6250, member since Wed Nov 12, 2008
On Sat May 02, 2009 01:30 PM
WOW WOW WOW WOW WOW!!!! Oh my gosh I know know why you were so excited about your interview! I've been dying to find our since I read you post int he achievements section. So beyond cool!
re: Inspiration #03: Interview with Martine van Hamel en>fr fr>en
By avs1436 Comments: 127, member since Mon Aug 08, 2005
On Sat May 02, 2009 01:47 PM
WOW! Martine van Hamel!!!! You lucky girl -- thank you for this wonderful interview with a fabulous dancer!
re: Inspiration #03: Interview with Martine van Hamel en>fr fr>en
By smileywomanmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member Comments: 11021, member since Sat Sep 17, 2005
On Sun May 03, 2009 03:41 PM
Martine Van Hamel has always been one of my favorite dancers. I REALLY enjoy these interviews! :D
re: Inspiration #03: Interview with Martine van Hamel en>fr fr>en
By MJeanette Comments: 1286, member since Fri Dec 26, 2008
On Sun May 03, 2009 08:13 PM
I enjoyed reading the interveiw. And I love those pictures.
re: Inspiration #03: Interview with Martine van Hamel en>fr fr>en
By Mellii Comments: 119, member since Mon Oct 20, 2008
On Mon May 04, 2009 10:25 PM
Thanks for another great interview!! I can't wait for the next one
re: Inspiration #03: Interview with Martine van Hamel en>fr fr>en
By ecm_dancermember has saluted, click to view salute photos Comments: 44, member since Fri Mar 13, 2009
On Tue May 05, 2009 07:44 PM
I got to take a week of classes with Martine van Hamel! It was amazing!
re: Inspiration #03: Interview with Martine van Hamel en>fr fr>en
By nycsylphmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member Comments: 1940, member since Sun Jan 11, 2009
On Tue May 05, 2009 08:31 PM
Oh my gosh!!!!

Thank you for all your comments. It makes me feel good that you appreciate Ms. van Hamel doing this for dance.net!!!

I tell you, I often think I would change places with just about anyone - especially you talented young'ins with your legs up in the air kicking yourselves in the back of the head when you do arabesques, but not that day!!!! That day I wouldn't have traded places with anybody in the world!!!

Acrothiel -

Thank you so much for this!


You're welcome!!! Believe me when I tell you nobody had to twist my arm to do this one!!!

Sumayah -

WOW WOW WOW WOW WOW!!!! Oh my gosh I know know why you were so excited about your interview! I've been dying to find our since I read you post int he achievements section. So beyond cool!


I know!!!! I couldn't wait to post it so I could talk about it!!! Until it was posted, I couldn't say a word!!!! And she was sooooo nice ... and soooo humble. Just down to earth like she wasn't one of the most amazing dancers ever!!!

avs1436 -
WOW! Martine van Hamel!!!! You lucky girl -- thank you for this wonderful interview with a fabulous dancer!


I don't think of myself as particularly lucky, but when I was interviewing her, I sure started to!!!!

smileywoman -

Martine Van Hamel has always been one of my favorite dancers. I REALLY enjoy these interviews!


Mine, too!!!! And thank you!!!!

I take that as a real compliment since you're so wonderful at doing them!!! Not that this one was particularly hard!!! I mean, Martine van Hamel????? Yikes!!!! Maybe the hard part was just getting a question out!!! I was kind of nervous and completely starstruck!!!

MJeanette -

I enjoyed reading the interveiw. And I love those pictures.


Aren't they fabulous???!!!

Funny story about the pictures is that she gave me HER ORIGINAL PHOTOS!!! Yes, the 8 X 10 black and white glossies with ABT stamped on the back!!! I couldn't believe it!!! She didn't have them scanned in or any jpgs or gifs so she gave me the originals so that I could scan and use them!!! How's that for trusting someone!!! I mean, I'd never met her before and she's giving me her personal photos?!!!

She really is remarkable in a lot of ways!!!

Mellii -

Thanks for another great interview!! I can't wait for the next one


You're so welcome, hun!!!! I have no idea who it's gonna be, but hopefully it'll be someone!!!!

Think they're going to have a hard time competing with this, but I'm sure they'll have their own inspiring story to tell all of you!!!

ecm_dancer

I got to take a week of classes with Martine van Hamel! It was amazing!


What?!!!!!

Well, then I guess we both got sprinkled by a great big shaker full of luck!!!!

Was this in connection with a summer intensive??? Or ABT in NY??? I saw that a couple of girls were going to the Kaatsban this summer and I just know they're going to have the best time, work hard and improve so much!!!
re: Inspiration #03: Interview with Martine van Hamel en>fr fr>en
By imadancer2member has saluted, click to view salute photos Comments: 2400, member since Wed Nov 30, 2005
On Tue May 05, 2009 10:24 PM
Oh, these interviews are just amazing! Great job!

Keep 'em coming! I love reading!

~Madison
re: Inspiration #03: Interview with Martine van Hamel en>fr fr>en
By BlackTights Comments: 938, member since Fri May 04, 2007
On Wed May 06, 2009 09:14 AM
WOW Martine Van Hamel! So impressive, thanks for this wonderful interview.
re: Inspiration #03: Interview with Martine van Hamel en>fr fr>en
By nycsylphmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member Comments: 1940, member since Sun Jan 11, 2009
On Wed May 06, 2009 05:19 PM
imadancer2 -

Oh, these interviews are just amazing! Great job!

Keep 'em coming! I love reading!

~Madison


Well, thank you so much!!!

I'm already working on trying to line someone up for next month!!! And I hope you find their inspiring story just as interesting!!!

XOXOXOXOXOXOXXOXO


BlackTights -

WOW Martine Van Hamel! So impressive, thanks for this wonderful interview.


You're very welcome!!!!

And she is impressive!!!! I'm really still quite honored that she did this interview!!! I've also become quite the name-dropper. My conversations start with, "You know I was talking to Martine the other day. You know, Martine? Martine van Hamel?" I tell you people are starting to cross to the other side of the street when they see me, and they sure didn't do that before I started driving them crazy!!! But you know what I say?

BWAHAHAHAHAHHAAHAAAHAHA!!!
re: Inspiration #03: Interview with Martine van Hamel en>fr fr>en
By Larla Comments: 343, member since Sun Oct 14, 2007
On Thu May 07, 2009 08:18 AM
Wow! Thank you so much for the interview! I'm sure it was really amazing to meet her :)
re: Inspiration #03: Interview with Martine van Hamel en>fr fr>en
By d4jmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member Comments: 12323, member since Fri Aug 27, 2004
On Thu May 07, 2009 08:29 AM
How do you know all these amazing people???

:)
re: Inspiration #03: Interview with Martine van Hamel en>fr fr>en
By nycsylphmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member Comments: 1940, member since Sun Jan 11, 2009
On Thu May 07, 2009 09:58 AM
Larla -

Wow! Thank you so much for the interview! I'm sure it was really amazing to meet her


You are very welcome!!! It was!!! Definitely a highlight for me!!!

d4j -

How do you know all these amazing people???

:)


I don't!!! Believe me I do not hang around in these circles!!!

It's mainly living in NY that gives me access.

If I take class, sometimes I ask other dancers if they know someone or talk to a teacher. Sometimes I send out emails. A lot of very good dancers live here - it's a cultural center for dance with some excellent companies and schools.

So it has nothing to do with me!!! However, you do have to be feisty enough to ask!!! What's the old saying? Something about if you want something, you at least need to ask!!! So I ask and sometimes the person I ask will say yes!!!

This time I was just very lucky!!!
re: Inspiration #03: Interview with Martine van Hamel en>fr fr>en
By strongidentity1 Comments: 2, member since Thu May 07, 2009
On Thu May 07, 2009 07:17 PM
Martine van Hamel is the real deal. Thanks for this interview, it is of a real, accomplished dancer that I have heard of.

Any hints on the next person?
re: Inspiration #03: Interview with Martine van Hamel en>fr fr>en
By nycsylphmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member Comments: 1940, member since Sun Jan 11, 2009
On Fri May 08, 2009 08:22 AM
Martine van Hamel is the real deal. Thanks for this interview, it is of a real, accomplished dancer that I have heard of.

Any hints on the next person?


Nope! No hints because I have no idea at this point who the next person will be! Think we'll all be surprised!!!

Thanks!!!
re: Inspiration #03: Interview with Martine van Hamel en>fr fr>en
By oldspice Comments: 14, member since Sun Jul 20, 2008
On Fri May 08, 2009 10:32 AM
thanx sooooo very much! your interview with one of my most favourite dancers has been all the more inspiring since Miss Van Hamel apparently has problems with fouettes and hopping on pointe, something i`ve been struggling with! it`s a total godsend and it`s encouraging to know she isnt perfect, though i`ve never been able to see anything less than a fantastic technique from her performances. thanx again! :O)
re: Inspiration #03: Interview with Martine van Hamel en>fr fr>en
By nycsylphmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member Comments: 1940, member since Sun Jan 11, 2009
On Fri May 08, 2009 07:47 PM
oldspice wrote:

thanx sooooo very much! your interview with one of my most favourite dancers has been all the more inspiring since Miss Van Hamel apparently has problems with fouettes and hopping on pointe, something i`ve been struggling with! it`s a total godsend and it`s encouraging to know she isnt perfect, though i`ve never been able to see anything less than a fantastic technique from her performances. thanx again! :O)


Yes, she was extraordinarily honest, but then again everything is relative. I, personally, never saw any of what she was talking about. She never made any discernible mistake - not even a bobble - when I saw her perform. So I think she may be judging herself on an impossible scale of perfection. By this I mean, when I say my fouettes are bad, I mean they're BAD!!!!! No one would pay to see them!!!!!!! They might even storm out the theater if they did!!! En masse!!!!

It's almost like a supermodel. They're beautiful or they wouldn't be a supermodel, but they know every "flaw" or imperfection. They need this kind of brutally honest assessment of themselves so they know to keep their head slightly down or to turn it slightly to the right because it's their best side - but they have no real "problems." I think this is more what she was talking about. And I commend her for "exposing" what she perceived she had trouble with. I have to say again, I never saw any of it, but she did and dealt with it - I think that's the point!!!

Ballerinas like anyone else - need to honestly appraise themselves and learn and know what their strengths and weaknesses are. That way, we the audience, never even know they're there!!!!

And I'm so happy she was inspiring to you. It's what the series is all about!!!

Thanks and good luck on your own dancing!!!
re: Inspiration #03: Interview with Martine van Hamel en>fr fr>en
By strongidentity1 Comments: 2, member since Thu May 07, 2009
On Sat May 09, 2009 10:12 AM
Someone ought to interview YOU. Maybe your fouettes are "BAD," but your insights on and interview technique with Ms. Hamel isn't.

Martine van Hamel's sincere humility is a sign of a confident, true artist. She is not caught up in her ego, but her art. Qualities everyone should cultivate... So many relatively less successful people (in all fields!) exaggerate their "heyday" and appear on paper more accomplished than the proven best! So tiresome and sad.
re: Inspiration #03: Interview with Martine van Hamel en>fr fr>en
By nycsylphmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member Comments: 1940, member since Sun Jan 11, 2009
On Sat May 09, 2009 02:02 PM
strongidentity1 wrote:

Someone ought to interview YOU. Maybe your fouettes are "BAD," but your insights on and interview technique with Ms. Hamel isn't.


Oh my gosh, I'm having an EXTRAORDINARILY bad day, but I gotta say this brought a smile to my face!!! No, nobody really needs to be listening to anything I have to say!!! Even watching their fingernails growing would be more beneficial!! If I someone did start interviewing me, I guarantee they'd be snoozing in no time at all!!!

Hey, maybe I can rent myself out to people having trouble falling asleep? I could start talking and they'd drift off in no time!!!

Martine van Hamel's sincere humility is a sign of a confident, true artist. She is not caught up in her ego, but her art. Qualities everyone should cultivate... So many relatively less successful people (in all fields!) exaggerate their "heyday" and appear on paper more accomplished than the proven best! So tiresome and sad.


Agree. Agree. Agree.

Most of the really big artists I've met - and this includes the ones that have "made it" in terms of being picked up by a company - are the nicest, sweetest people on earth!!!

I'm sure there are exceptions, but that's what I've found.

Martine van Hamel epitomizes what being a prima ballerina is all about - class, precision, artistry, technical excellence and grace.
re: Inspiration #03: Interview with Martine van Hamel en>fr fr>en
By odile53 Comments: 1913, member since Thu Sep 06, 2007
On Sat May 09, 2009 08:20 PM
Fantastic interview! I truly enjoyed her comments. And thank you for all your hard work in tracking this down and making it happen!
re: Inspiration #03: Interview with Martine van Hamel en>fr fr>en
By nycsylphmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member Comments: 1940, member since Sun Jan 11, 2009
On Sat May 09, 2009 09:08 PM
odile53 wrote:

Fantastic interview! I truly enjoyed her comments. And thank you for all your hard work in tracking this down and making it happen!


Thank you!!!!

I loved her comments also!!! Truthfully, I was so starstruck, that when I was with her, she could have recited a nursery rhyme for all I was aware!!!! It wasn't until later when I started transcribing the interview that I saw the true beauty in what she said!!!

There's definitely wisdom there!!!

Thanks again and you're welcome!!!!!!
re: Inspiration #03: Interview with Martine van Hamel en>fr fr>en
By lift Comments: 96, member since Tue Nov 04, 2008
On Sat May 31, 2014 09:46 PM
Wow I can't believe you interviewed Martine van Hamel ???

how amazing.

She looked like she was having a lot of fun in Sylvia opposite Patrick Bissell.
re: Inspiration #03: Interview with Martine van Hamel en>fr fr>en
By nycsylphmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member Comments: 1940, member since Sun Jan 11, 2009
On Sun Jun 01, 2014 12:24 PM
lift wrote:

Wow I can't believe you interviewed Martine van Hamel ???

how amazing.

She looked like she was having a lot of fun in Sylvia opposite Patrick Bissell.


Lift -

I can't believe it either. As stated, I was a huge fan of hers.

As for the having fun, are you saying too much fun? :)

It wouldn't surprise me that she actually enjoyed herself. seemed very grounded and would be intelligent enough not to make herself crazy about things. I rather like people who stop to smell the roses -- even when giving a performance for a few hundred people.

Thanks for your comments and I'm glad you enjoyed the interview.

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