Interview with Michelle Willems on her career at Ballet Zurich
You danced the main roles in Nutcracker and the Mouseking, the little Match girl and Sleeping beauty. The characters are totally different. Could you tell us about the challenges of each ballet?
Nutcracker was my fist big role at the Ballet Zurich. I was lucky to get this opportunity and didn’t want to disappoint. I enjoyed it very much to play a little girl.
The challenge of the little Match girl was the music, or lack thereof. Mostly I danced alone but we had little clues on stage to tell us when to dance. Dancing with three or five other girls as doubles in synchronization, we managed to work together very well, but it took many rehearsals to get used to the lack of music.
In Sleeping Beauty I really enjoyed the progression in this ballet, from a young girl, to choosing my prince and discovering my own power making my own choices.
You are a young dancer but you imbue so many emotions into the characters. How do you prepare for it? How do you know how to act accordingly?
Usually after working on the choreography with Christian and understanding the story, I like to add my own touch, make my own story in my head and try to live that story. Sometimes Christian guides me – i.e. the Rose Adagio with the four suitors which was to be elegant and disciplined, even if I don’t like them. For Kitty in Anna Karenina I saw the movie and read the book.
Sleeping Beauty was the last ballet you danced. Tell us about the rehearsals after the lockdown.
We all were lucky to be back on stage. The rehearsals worked very well. Dancing Aurora is a very physical role, always being on stage, living the story and dancing on pointe shoes.
We had to adjust the choreography once, when we worked with the set on stage.There was not enough space. My first entrance when I met both fairies had to be changed in the last week, and Christian told me just two weeks before the premiere what the end of the story will be.
Can you tell us a story behind the scenes?
When Christian created the Nutcracker and Mouseking,I started on point shoes for the first 2 weeks in the last pas de deux with William Moore. Then Christian decided that I should wear flat shoes to fit the role better, and as not to look too grown up.
Now the Ballet Zurich is in quarantine. How do you train? How do you cope mentally?
I train together with Elena Vostrotina via FaceTime to be more motivated. Our company voted to do online classes recorded by Ballet Zurich in the lockdown or train ourselves.
Mentally it’s hard to stay at home for 10 days, but I catch up with my family and my cat is very happy having me at home.
The lockdown in March for two months was harder. Now I feel the pressure to stay in shape because I know I will be back on stage on Thursday, 29th October. As I already did two performances of Sleeping Beauty, I have it in my body and the body has great memory.
You dance classical roles in point shoes and contemporary pieces as well. Is it difficult to do both styles equally well?
I love to do both. I find it helpful to have classical training to strengthen the technique. This way, you don’t need to think about technique in the modern pieces, just use the movement. I chose Zurich because I don’t want to get categorized. That’s the beauty of our dancers, to manage a bit of everything.
Information about Sleeping Beauty
CV of Michelle Willems
Michelle Willems ist Französin. Sie studierte an der Bolshoi Ballet Academy und am Atelier Rudra-Béjart in Lausanne. Nach zwei Spielzeiten im Junior Ballett ist sie seit der Saison 2016/17 Mitglied des Balletts Zürich. Nach solistischen Aufgaben in Giselle und Schwanensee tanzte sie Kitty in Christian Spucks Anna Karenina, Marie in Spucks Nussknacker und Mausekönig sowie Gretchen in Edward Clugs Faust – Das Ballett und in Christian Spuck Das Mädchen mit den Schwefelhölzern. Ausserdem trat sie Choreografien von William Forsythe, Jiří Kylián, Marco Goecke, Crystal Pite, George Balanchine, Ohad Naharin, Douglas Lee und Filipe Portugal auf. 2018 erhielt sie den «Tanzpreis der Freunde des Balletts Zürich».