At 10 am in the ny stor (“new studio”) at the top of the theater and studio complex that makes up the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen, an elite group of men, bundled in hoods, sweat pants, leg warmers and down booties, yawn and stretch. The Royal Danish Ballet soloist men’s class is about to begin.
For a company with a long history of great male dancers, keeping that tradition alive is important. (Even August Bournonville, who is now most famous for his choreography, began his acclaimed career as a dancer with the RDB.) More recently, greats like Erik Bruhn, Flemming Flindt and Peter Martins (now the ballet master in chief of New York City Ballet) have made their contributions, but the current generation is
itching to make its own mark.
Morning class is separated into men’s and women’s classes a few days a week, something that Nicolai Hansen, a soloist since 2004, appreciates. “There is more time to focus on big jumps,” he says. “I also like the fact that a men’s class will have fewer people in the room than a mixed class.”
Aside from the extra space, Hansen also senses a different mood in the men’s classes. “It’s a more focused atmosphere,” Hansen says. “It sounds contradictory, but what I mean is that I find that we have a more relaxed approach than the girls. Where I think the girls are a bit more ‘uptight,’ we joke around and laugh a bit more, even though we work hard.”
Today’s class is the beginning of a 12-plus-hour day that includes rehearsal for an upcoming première and a performance in the evening, but for now, with considerable concentration, they focus on preparing their bodies to dance.
“I try to get in half an hour before class to warm up,” says Tim Matiakis, who has also been a soloist since 2004. “I have different ways to warm up. Certain days, it’s enough to just stretch out my muscles from the day before. Other days, I prefer to warm up on the Pilates machine, and then again, some days I do great classes by waking up late and showing up at the last minute.”
By the end of a 35-minute barre that includes increasingly intricate and precise foot- and legwork and time to stretch, the men have shed their warm-up gear. In the center, everything from the adagio to assorted manèges at the end involves either turning or jumping.
“I like doing the barre,” says Hansen. “But I always felt that it was a little like a necessity or a routine—waking up, getting warm, cleaning the basics—getting to center is more like fun.”
While it may be enjoyable to spin and leap, the center is serious business. “In men’s class, you have to concentrate more at the end of the class, because that’s where all the big jumps and big turns that you don’t do every day happen,” says Matiakis. And perhaps even more so than when they were students, each class needs to yield results. “I try and approach it with a goal, not necessarily just for that class, but maybe a goal that I’ve set up to accomplish in a certain amount of time. I explore correcting a step or different possibilities of moving or phrasing, what the dynamic must be for the step to look its best, and so on.”
It’s hard work, and although some dancers leave to go to rehearsal or to tend to an injury, most stick it out until the end.
“I believe always doing full class will benefit you in the long run,” says Hansen. “It’s just sort of an anticlimax not finishing it. And, for me, it’s also a little like a reward for doing the barre.”