A short talk with Natascha Mair: Principal, Vienna State Opera, September 13th, 2018
I have been following Miss Mair’s career for a long time – it all started when I first realized her presence on stage as she danced “Amor” in Nureyev’s version of “D.Q.”. She was still in the Corps-de Ballet but was given this first “opportunity” as a soloist. That evening dates back to 2012 and if I am not mistaken she had just turned 18 years old, This was in the 2012/13 Season of the Vienna State Ballet, Manuel Legris' third season at the Opera.
Ever since then I have observed most keenly her development as a performer for it was quite obvious, already back in 2012, that she had that certain “stuff” that makes all the difference on stage.
Talking to her while doing this interview was a pleasure. She knows precisely what she wants, she has strong opinions – not only about “the ball” (I like to describe it sometimes like this) but also about life, art in general, herself... sometimes being extremely critic. But the qualities that “pop out” most strongly while talking to her are her immense Dedication to her Art and her Discipline. Two “D’s”, that I write on purpose with capital letters and that make all the difference regardless of how talented the dancer is. I will not mention names but we all can remember what happened to the careers of many dancers (to my point of view, most notable, TWO male dancers, one in N.Y., the other in Paris) that lacked completely a sense of discipline, neglected their bodies and minds because they did not respect them. Such a dangerous aspect while working (also) so hard with your body… But well, this is another story…
We met at the stage door of the Opera House and walked to a nearby Café, where I usually make my interviews. We hadn’t spoken since the last “Nureyev Gala” on June 30th but it was like we had seen each other just the day before. It is funny how a certain “intimacy” is developed through the years. The dancer in question, me as a critic, respecting each other, being quite close but also in a quite comfortable distance when I start writing objectively about a piece, about performances… Just shortly I read a critic in which a dancer (a young one that still has a long way to go and lots to learn) was called “Publikumsliebling” (spectator’s darling) by a critic JUST because she likes him so. She “created this rumour” which is not yet true. This is unfair to other dancers and utterly unprofessional. As I mentioned before, he still has a long way to. And I am nearly sure that he'll make it but even the most delicious fruit has to wait to ripe completely, even the most beautiful flower has to wait for the right moment to blossom. Miss Mair is already a bloom – and will keep blossoning again and again for a long time!
“Dear Natascha, first of all thank you very much for taking your time and, wow, this was surely a long day at the Opera, wasn’t it?”
“It surely was” she said smiling “It’s after 5pm… “. Even after such a long rehearsal’s day she did not look tired and was “wearing” that enchanting smile of hers (Does someone still remember the song “You're never fully dressed without a smile?)
“Let us start at the very beginning” (here I go again sounding like Julie Andrews in “The Sound of Music”) “and let us think about your Olga in “Onegin”… how do you prepare yourself for a new role? I mean, thinking about Cranko and his precise choreography, arms, heads… It is not easy. How is your creative process?”
“Oh, if I do not know enough about the role I start comparing interpretations on videos – you know, youtube, videos that I may have etc. But that is usually not enough to create a clear picture of the character. I read a lot about “her”: who is she? What were her motives to do this and that? Can I compare her to other women of her time to learn more about the way they thought? How did people “move” back then? What was important in that kind of society?”
“This may bring you to very large gamut of emotions… “ I said.
“Yes, but on this special case – because you have mentioned “Olga” – I am forever thankful to the wonderful coaching by Tamas Detrich (Stuttgarter Ballett), who knows not only the roles but Cranko’s Ballets inside out!”
“Tamas was also a great dancer... I remember... those “golden Stuttgart years” were simply divine: Marcia, Richard, Birgit, Egon, Vladimir, Tamas... but back to the “present”: Which were you favourite roles until now?”
“Olga was surely one of them” she laughs “and then “La fille mal gardée” and Patrick de Bana’s “Marie Antoinette! “
“All “roles” that give a lot of room for interpretation… not only abstract roles” I say teasingly “Which are the roles you would love to dance?”
Without hesitation she answered “Cranko’s Juliet, McMillan’s Manon, Giselle… uhmm... definitely Alice in Chistopher Wheeldon’s “The adventures of Alice in Wonderland”, such a wonderful piece but also an extremely expensive production… “
“Let us “philosophize” a bit about a very important question for me nowadays, something that has been lacking to the point of disappearance... Style!” I say.
She smiles a nearly feline smile and adds quite simply “It all depends on who is working with me – if it is not enough I study videos in order to learn the “language” of the certain piece that we are rehearsing. I like to use the method of having myself filmed while rehearsing. If I, sometimes, can look at myself I can understand corrections better but just in this way I can SEE what I was doing wrong. And it is an especially good way of understanding yourself, the dancer in the role... “
“Is this a practice that you do in every piece?”
Remembering her past experiences, she just mentions quite fondly “While Nanette Glushak was “giving me” Balanchine, this was not necessary... “
“Without any hesitation, tell me in 5 seconds, the name of choreographers that you like!”
Within 2 seconds she said! “McGregor and David Dawson” And I can understand that quite well...
“Natascha, sometimes there are uncomfortable themes... What about this abuse of technique that has been practiced nowadays? You know what I mean, from over-extensions to exaggerations that are really vulgar; finishing to what I call a sort of “cult to technique” instead of Art... What do you think about that?”
“I think we look at it the same way, Ricardo. But when it happens to me, it is not on purpose (comment of the editorship: she has such gifts as a dancer – not an Austrian body at all – so I can understand that this may happen – not on purpose!) I am not a fan at all from such tendencies – they really look, as you have said, very vulgar and common!”
“Let us finish this talk with an easy question – I am sure that your very young dance followers – I have just heard some of them talking about you in the intermission of Giselle on last June 6th - would love to know which are your favourite shoes! “
“At the moment Sansha... You know I love Freed of London but they are very hard to prepare... and sometimes a brand new pair of shoes is broken just after one single rehearsal... that's quite an investment of time - and that is something that is becoming quite rare nowadays… yes, time!”
I normally finish my Interviews with my last words to the artist that I have just talked to... But this time I would like to make an exception. I just want to add a personal comment of mine.
I am very lucky indeed to be able to interview so many wonderful artists. I not only have the “stuff” to give to my readers but I can also learn so much – and I don't wish to ever stop being eager to learn... This short talk to Miss Mair confirmed to me what I had been thinking “all along the way”: her star is rising, because of her talent and the two D's (dedication and discipline) but we cannot overlook her humbleness. There are no affectations or “putting on airs and faces”.
AND THAT IS THE REASON WHY HER DANCING IS SO MARVELOUS, so real. She is “just” serving Art, an instrument... But there are, talking about intruments, violins and violins… She is definitely a Stradivarius!
Thank you, Miss Mair for such a lovely talk!
P.S. Last December 27th, Miss Mair was promoted to a Principal Status at the Vienna State Opera. attitude congratulates
P.S.2 Correction to the point shoes: Since two months Miss Mair has been using Freeds of London point shoes. I like that! The best shoes anyways!
P.S.3 Miss Mair will be dancing the tittle role of “Coppelia” - Première on January 27th at the Volksoper / Vienna. I am really looking forward to that…