A short talk with Rafaella Sant'Anna - former dancer of the Vienna State Opera - Nov. 6th, 2017
A short talk with Rafaella Sant'Anna
Saturday. I am sitting in a restaurant in the center of the city and she arrives shortly after me – not having forgotten to send me a message before. We greet each other and I realize that she is wearing that inimitable, tender smile that is so characteristic of hers (Does anyone remember the film “Annie” and the song “you’re never fully dressed without a smile”?). Yes.
Before starting our interview we changed places and went inside the restaurant. It was one of those sunny autumn days but too windy to sit outside on a terrace.
While we started talking, I became more and more aware of her concentration. She is one the few persons that give you all her attention while talking to you and looking directly into your eyes. This is a quality that is becoming rarer in present days. Also her presentness: yes, she is right there with you, listening to all you are saying, completely concentrated.
Today our main “theme” is quite a difficult one. A theme that is very frequently avoided by dancers. In a way that reminds me of avoiding to face reality: It is “the life after” (and what you will do after having stopped dancing).
But let us start at the beginning: She tells me that she came to Vienna in 1995 – that was the period in which Michael Birkmeyer was head of the Ballet academy, where she concluded her exams in 1999. She spent then nearly a year in Brazil and another one as Joe Alegado’s assistant doing Modern Dance Workshops in Germany, Holland, Slovakia and Austria. She joined the Vienna State Opera in 2002 and stayed there until 2015.
I have been following Miss Sant’Anna’s career for a long time. I remember noticing her for the first time in Roland Petit’s “Die Fledermaus” in which she gave life to a naughty Chambermaid. A great performance! Many other roles would follow but those are the ones I remember most: the mother in “Blaubarts Geheimnis”, Second Detail (Forsythe), Contra Clockwise, the gypsies in “Romeo and Juliet” (with Alice Firenze and Ioanna Avraam) and as the “lead” of the exiled “whores” in “Manon Lescaut”. Surely all of them roles with strong dramatic features, some even “visceral” and many of them more into the contemporary, modern dance area. But Miss Sant’Anna was also at home in classical parts, on her toes – a rare thing (another versatile dancer at the Vienna State Opera is Miss Céline Janou Weder). Versatile. Not “limited”.
“Dear Rafaella, you left the Opera in 2015 and this was a surprise for many… “
“Not really”, she says with a smile that reveals lots of memories, “I had an accident on stage on December 11th, 2014 while dancing on “Contra Clockwise”. I went on but towards the end of the piece I told my partner, Alexis Forabosco, “I can’t anymore”. He immediately took me off stage in a manner that no one realized that something was going “very wrong”. Just a very experienced dancer could do that”! I am eternally grateful to him!”
“I found out about it just the next day… while passing by the Opera on the way to a breakfast Lunch at the Albertina, I met Flavia (Shishov), Alice (Firenze) and Ioanna (Avraam) by chance. They told me about it… What happened next?” I ask.
“Knee operations, therapy, pain…” she sighs, “Thoughts, ideas, decisions – very important decisions to be made. During the party after the Nureyev Gala at the End of June, 2015, Manuel Legris announced publicly that I had decided to leave the Opera.”
I have to say: “Yes, I remember; I was there… It was a sad moment”
“I know that you are going to ask me about me… teaching, my life now etc.” she laughs… She had previously agreed to talk about this delicate subject and we both felt that it’d a good advice for dancers to think more about their future.
“Many people always told me that I had to teach someday in my life; they could see me doing that... Even more than I did” she says “But just after the process of taking part in a course about Dance and Movement Pedagogy, (while still recovering from my 1st surgery) I began to realize that this could be a possibility for me… that this could be my “road”! To be very honest: there are not enough jobs in theaters and Ballet schools to accommodate all dancers after they have stopped dancing – I also have to add that not everyone can (like or want to) teach. One can be a Star in the world of Dance as well as a terrible teacher and the contrary also exists”, she laughs. “In order to look ahead you have to analyse your past”, she says while smiling that unique smile of hers. “I had my moments of a certain “melancholy” after leaving “my dancing life” so abruptly. Now I am working as a Choreographic assistant at the “Ballettakademie der Wiener Staatsoper” and also giving group and individual classes (also at the “Conservatory Sunrise”). I have realized during this very interesting process within me that all I have learned in my profession, brought me very much as a person! And I feel responsible about my pupils and I want to give these values further to them. It is wonderful to have such joy in teaching. It brings me such satisfaction helping others make their own dreams come true. And it brings me much happiness to witness their development and to observe their own happiness when they realize that they did a further step”
“What about coaching, Rafaella? Have you ever thought of that? I could imagine you coaching people... sort of “what is Giselle feeling right now?”
“ I am quite open in order to evaluate and “live” the possibilities ahead. If this “road” would invite me... why not? After having stopped dancing I had to redescover myself. And I discovered great satisfactions that I could not have imagined, in my active dancing days”
After nearly three hours talking quite intensely about dance and “the life after” I felt exhausted. We said Good-bye and I thanked her. On my way home in the Underground I started reading my notes and making notes "here and there", in order not to forget anything. I thought of her caring alertness, presentness and concentration and how lucky her pupils are in being “brought up” by such a kind and sensitive person.
Her smile and body language at the above photo shows it all: Her presentness - as I have said before. She's right there with you - in all she does - enjoying her present! Yes this presentness that inpires you to talk, change ideas, ask questions... She made me remember some words that Jane Fonda once said:
“Yes, keep asking questions. It is much more important to be interested than being interesting!”.
I’ll leave you with that today.
Thank you, Miss Sant’Anna for such an interesting an enriching experience!
Ricardo Leitner / attitude-devant
For more information about Miss Sant'Anna and her future & present projects, visit: