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"These Young People Need to Dance"

Ernst Meisner, Artistic Coordinator of the Dutch National Ballet Junior Company, talks to balletposition.com about the job he loves and his young dancers.

Ernst Meisner is a man on a mission.

Still only 33-years-old, he carries a huge responsibility: to prime 12 exceptionally talented young people for a life as professional ballet dancers.

And he loves it.

“I teach class at least three times a week and then spend most of my days working with them, rehearsing them, which is wonderful – the best part of it! – and also creating my own work.”

Meisner spoke to balletposition.com in the artists’ café at the Royal Opera House, the day after the triumphant premiere of his company’s recent visit to the Linbury.

“The dancers were very nervous,” he said.  “It’s funny, they’ve performed in all sorts of different places, but when you get to this House….”

He, of course,  knows all about “this House,” having been a dancer with the Royal Ballet for 10 years. He moved on to the Dutch National Ballet as a First Soloist, but then they made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.

“This job came up. I was always interested in organising and choreographing.  When I was 23 I organised a gala with some principals from the Royal Ballet and the Mariinsky. I did everything from taxi receipts to the programme –everything!

It almost killed me… I slept for four months afterwards.”  He laughs.  But then, more seriously,“It was such good experience to do it all, though.”

Following a short stint studying management, he shadowed the Dutch National Ballet Artistic Director, Ted Brandsen.  And when the idea of setting up a Junior Company came to fruition in 2013, Brandsen approached Meisner.

“Ted and I had a long conversation.  Did we want six boys and six girls that are all the same height and all look the same?  And that’s exactly what we decided not to do.

We decided to choose 12 talented individuals with physical talent, musicality, coordination…”

 

Young dancers stay with the junior company for two years and Meisner plays a key role in their selection. There are auditions, of course; but he also talent-scouts at international youth competitions.  Does he zero in on the winners?

“Absolutely not!  As a matter of fact, at the recent Youth America Grand Prix I picked a wonderful girl, Melissa Chapski, who’s coming next season.  She was a finalist, but she didn’t win a prize.  I think she suits the Dutch National Ballet, what they’re looking for for the main company.”

Preparing young dancers to join the main company is, of course, the first aim of the Junior Company.  Its members take class with the main company three times a week and dance in some of its productions.

Beyond that, though, they have their own repertoire, including pieces created specifically on them, and their own touring programme.

“I think these young people need to dance and dance a lot.  We take them to cities the main company doesn’t go to, they dance in all kinds of stages, museums, parties, dinners…  

They gain experience.  And because of that, the ones that have now gone into the main company, they’re not afraid of anything – you can throw anything at them.”

The junior company is not only for young dancers, though.

“My belief is that the junior company is also there for young technicians that we bring on tour every year, young composers, young designers, young choreographers.”

Meisner himself is also an accomplished choreographer and has created works for the main company as well as the juniors.

He is, in short, having the time of his life – and is justly proud of what the junior company has achieved in its short life.

“Last year we had seven out of 12 that went straight into the main company and three remained in the Junior, so we kept most of them. One went to the Birmingham Royal Ballet and another to America.  So, it’s working.”

And with this, we came to an end. The afternoon’s rehearsal was about to begin.

“I must give them some notes!”

And off he went to do what he likes best – spend time in the studio with his young dancers.

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