A short Talk with Nina Tonoli , ex-Soloist Vienna State Ballet and at the present moment HET: June 10th, 2019
Many, many years ago I learned while playing a game of „Charade“ in a cold winter night to be as spontaneous as possible and always say what comes to your mind on the first place. Ever since then I began to realize that these spontaneous quotes are the most accurate if you try to describe something - or someone or someone's character.
Perhaps some time ago I would have said „professionality“ while thinking about Miss Tonoli. Instinctively I guess I have added „determination“ to my spontaneous quote – because of her long fight after an injury and because of her „come-back“ to our stages.
But two words are not enough to describe someone. There is much more to that than two simple words... And this is what I most love about such interviews. They give me the opportunity to talk and look more intimately into someone's „soul“, „personality“, „artistry“.
Sometimes there are coincidences about the timing for such interviews. In our particular case today, Miss Tonoli will not be any more dancing with the Vienna State Ballet when this interview is published. She will have already assumed a new position as a principal with HET, the Dutch National Ballet, as a second soloist.
Quite unusually we met last June 10th on an underground station in Hietzing (a district in Vienna). We walked quietly to a Café nearby in which we could sit outside, enjoy the weather and the temperatures (which have arrived quite late this spring) and talk quietly.
„Dear Nina“ I started „Tell me please about your career in Vienna – when did you arrive here and how was your „promotion history“. If I think back it is as if everything and the time have passed so quickly... „
She smiles that honest smile of hers and says „I began working in Vienna in 2013. Two years later I advanced to a half soloist and since 2016 I have been promoted to a Soloist“.
Yes, all of a sudden I could clearly remember that „new face“ on the Corps de Ballet lines of „Swan Lake“ while Svetlana Zakharova was dancing Odette/Odile here with Vladimir Shishov back in April 2014. Instead of „looking at“ Zakharova, like many girls were doing (a reaction I can well understand but which is strictly forbidden!), she looked in direction of her „inner life“ (like it should be for a swan!). This may have been the first time that a word like „professionality“ (meaning particularly control, correctness, emotional intelligence etc.) came to my mind in connection to her. This spontaneous thought would not disappoint me throughout the years.
I said jokingly: „I have „heard“ that you are leaving the company and going as a principal to Holland's National Ballet – HET – next season... „ and finished this statement with a wink.
„My God, you are well informed“, she laughs.
„Are you leaving right after the Nureyev Gala?“
„Oh, no, no... I still have an important commitment which makes me especially happy“. And then she adds „I'll be dancing at the New Year's Concert 2020 for the first time and filming will take place this summer. José Martinez is choreographing the event this year! I'll start with HET in September“
„Please tell me about your creative process while preparing, for example, to a new role, “ I ask quickly.
„Oh... it depends on what kind of ballet... It can be so different, depending on the kind of ballet that you are preparing for. Depending on who danced it before, I check videos but the quality of the coaching is the most important thing... it is, of course, wonderful when the choreographer is present and you can „drink water directly out of the spring“!“
But she goes further: „I need one or two performances before I really feel comfortable in one role. I need more performances to develop the role and all its nuances. You get different ideas if you dance a role for a longer period, for longer than just one performance... „
To what I say: „Which is something that is really impossible with the actual „many casts politics“ for each ballet in the State Opera“.
„Which were your favourite roles up to now, Nina?“
„Definitely „La Fille mal gardée“ - which I knew very well from the Royal Opera House - she is sweet and stubborn... „
To what I add „I remember you in that – one of the best cases of „perfect casting“ up to now!“
„Oh, and Clara in the Nutcracker... she was my first principal role! Unfortunately, I sort of „missed“ „Peer Gynt“. I was supposed to have danced with Davide Dato during the Nureyev Gala but he was injured while performing „Stars and Stripes“ and then I was injured and had to take a leave of about one year before returning to the Opera“
„I remember worrying about you and missing you on stage!“ I say, „But, let us talk about more „happy matters“... What if I was a „genie in a bottle“, you'd find me and I would give you any wishes – any role you want to dance. Which would they be?“
She reacts spontaneously „Juliet... oh yes, Juliet, either MacMillan's or Cranko's. Both versions are so emotionally expressive. And of course „Swan Lake“ in which I identify much strongly with Odette... and then Giselle, Myrtha, Kitra and... „
„Wait“, I interrupt her „I have just given you three wishes!“. And we both laugh...
Isn't it beautiful to be able to witness such excitement and eagerness?
„Would you say that you are more of a dancer that tends to „roles“ than an abstract performer, for example in neo-classical ballets?“
„Sure. Since I was a child I used to love these roles. The acting part is what attracted me to dance.
Yes, definitely „roles“!“
And I must say that I had felt it'd be this way, after she had mentioned Juliet, Odette/Odile, Giselle, Myrtha, Kitri...
„Please tell our young readers: which are your favourite point shoes?“
„No question: Freed of London, because they are costum made on my feet and I can use them immediatly on stage. The only problem is that they don't last so long but they are good for me. All the dancers point shoes and soft shoes are provided the company“
„I, sort of miss more of care for „Style“ nowadays. Mr B has his special Style, so do MacMillan, Cranko, Ashton and many, many others. What do you think that is missing nowadays?“ I ask.
Her answer is short – she knows exactly what she is talking about: „Time, Ricardo, Time. It's all about the number of hours that you can spend rehearsing. Enough time is essential to get into a role and its particular Style“
„And this craziness about technique nowadays? It all started with Guillem – but she could understand what she was doing... “ I ask.
„It is surely somehow extreme even though in some cases it is „allowed“. I feel it makes dancers look like more like „gymnasts“.
But if you have to do it, do it in a tasteful way. In a clever way. But don't overdo it!“
„You have spent more or less one year recovering from a serious injury... what can you tell us and other dancers about that?“
She takes a little time of reflection. One can surely feel that this is a question that matters immensely to her „To take more care of my body and to listen to it. Of course one has to be wise when connecting to your „instrument“: take care of it, warm it up, strengthen it... But the most important thing is not, ever, to overpush it! Respect it and listen to it!“
We talked for a while in the nice garden but it was time to go home.
We walked back to the Underground Station while I thought that once more, it had been fun to „jump in“ someone else's soul. Such fun to learn so much from a person in such a short time. After we parted and I was sitting on the train, I thought that Nina is a name that is very dear to me. It reminds me, every time I hear it, of Maurice Druon's „Mirror of the Memory“ and its heroine. Nina.
Someone with a beautiful inner life, who carries so many thoughts and feelings within herself which will never show to anyone because of her honesty and relaxed, well-balanced & well-behaved ways, politeness, calm exterior...
Yes, there are really no coincidences...