Elisa Badenes was recently named principal dancer at the Stuttgart Ballet, in Germany, at the age of 22. Following her debut as Nikiya in Stanton Welch’s La Bayadere, performing as a guest artist with the Australian Ballet in Melbourne, Luke Forbes was waiting to hear how it went.
Elisa’s dance career had humble but sound foundations, starting out as a student at the dance conservatoire in her home town, Valencia, in Spain. At the age of 15 she submitted an audition video to the Prix de Lausanne and was fortunate enough to receive an invitation to compete. Although her first competition experience was disappointingly short lived, upon being eliminated in the first round the Royal Ballet School promptly offered her a scholarship anyway.
“The Royal Ballet School opened my eyes,” Elisa states, a romantic comment which immediately conjures up images of gilded prosceniums, tours through Europe and luxurious hotel rooms. “We went on tour to Utah,” she adds, smiling ironically. On a more serious note, Elisa explains that for the first time in her life she had access to live dance performances featuring world class dancers, and in London there certainly isn’t shortage of quality theatre.
One year later, whilst at the Royal Ballet School, Elisa was entered into the Youth America Grand Prix. As it were, she won the gold medal. “The school’s name definitely made a difference,” Elisa confides. Although her technique had been polished since starting in London, Elisa alludes to the influence a school’s reputation can have and how fickle competitions can be. This does not diminish the thrill and prestige of being a medal winner and Elisa gratefully benefited from the accolade. “It helped me find a job,” she continues, possibly the most taxing task in a young dancer’s career, “but now I’m in a company it doesn’t mean much.”
Elisa, 17 at the time, joined the Stuttgart Ballet as an apprentice and her star has ascended ever since. However, there were some obstacles to overcome. Elisa recounts how “I had to get permission from my parents to go on tour to China!” Naturally they didn’t hesitate. Elisa successfully made the transition from school to company life and since then has been promoted yearly, rising hastily and systematically through the company’s ranks: corps de ballet, demi-soloist, soloist and as of autumn 2013, principal.
Elisa’s connection to Australia has continued to develop along with her success in Europe, a relationship forged following her debut with dance partner Daniel Camargo at the Australian Ballet’s 50th anniversary gala in 2012. Dancers rarely receive invitations to dance at international galas so early in their careers, but according to Elisa they serve as an excellent learning experience. “I’d only ever danced in Stuttgart Ballet so it was interesting to compare myself to others, observe other dancers’ work ethic, and also to appreciate what I have back home,” Elisa tells me.
Their performance of Petipa’s well-loved grand pas de deux from Don Quixote, contrasted by Little Monsters by Stuttgart’s up and coming house choreographer, Demi Volpi, has lead to the pair being labelled ‘thrilling crowd-pleasers’. Needless to say they were asked to return a year later to perform Don Quixote in its entirety. This year the two dancers were back in Australia to perform a ballet they were hitherto unfamiliar with, Stanton Welch’s La Bayadere. In fact, neither Welch’s version nor the Petipa classic are in the Stuttgart Ballet’s repertory. So how did the dancers prepare for their guest appearance on Melbourne’s Arts Centre stage? “We received a DVD each and made an effort to learn the pas de deux,” Elisa explains, in spite of the Northern Hemisphere’s summer holidays complicating matters. “We didn’t get to work on it much,” she continues, even visiting her family in Spain as she normally would. Showing exceptional poise and confidence in their ability the dancers arrived in Melbourne and rehearsed intensively for two weeks, during which time they only got to work with Stanton Welch once. “We were the last cast to go on stage and didn’t get to have a stage rehearsal,” Elisa states, looking unfazed.
The elaborate costumes adorned with jewellery were her greatest concern, especially when performing the final act’s spectacularly technical lifts. Elisa has had run-ins with costumes in Australia in the past and describes her accident from a previous tour:”Last year when we were dancing Don Quixote at the Sydney Opera House Daniel’s belt got caught on my tights during a lift and they were ripped open!” Considering the damage a male dancer’s belt can do, beads and bracelets must cause substantial distress. However, busy scheduling didn’t allow her to fret much; following the rehearsal period the dancers’ braced themselves for three performances in the span of a week before returning to Germany to start back at work.
The difference in planning at the Australian Ballet seemed “funny” at first, in Elisa’s terms, referring to the relatively small number of rehearsals compared to performances. “It really is a performing company here. What we train in the studio [in Stuttgart], the dancers in the Australian Ballet have to learn on stage,” she adds. The Stuttgart Ballet, like most German ballet companies, performs each production 10 to 14 times scheduled sporadically over the span of a year. Such working methods demand more studio time as the rehearsal process is repeated in the days leading up to each show. This not only helps refresh the dancers’ memories and muscles, but also provides a chance for them to reassess their interpretations.
Back in Germany Elisa has now been awarded the German Dance Prize ‘Zukunft’ (tr. future), a title previously bestowed upon illustrious dance figures such as Polina Semionova (2005), Iana Salenko (2010) and even Elisa’s equally talented dance partner, Daniel (2011). The official awards ceremony, together with a gala performance, will take place in March 2015 in Essen. Owing to Elisa’s increasing popularity, Australian Ballet fans can consider themselves lucky to have seen her live on stage on several occasions. We can only hope she’ll find the time to travel to Australia again soon!
– LUKE AARON FORBES
Published in the October/November 2014 issue of Dance Australia magazine. Support dance journalism and subscribe at http://www.danceaustralia.com.au/toolbar/subscribe