I've had my eye on the National Ballet of Canada's official website for the past couple of months in anticipation of the new season beginning. It wasn't until recently that I caught a glimpse of the first billboard advertising Shakespeare's classic Romeo & Juliet, a favourite of mine. The chance to see one of my most loved novels performed on stage at the Four Seasons in Toronto was one I couldn't miss out on. The celebrated Russian choreographer, Alexei Ratmansky, who originally created his adaption of the play for the National Ballet of Canada in 2011, has given the story a fresh and compelling re-telling. The New York Times referred to it as "Of the six versions I have seen by choreographers alive today, this is much the best."
I grew up dancing, so I've always had a passion for it, but my love and appreciation for ballet really sparked when I went to see Roberto Bolle's show in Los Angeles last summer, I was completely overwhelmed by the beauty and atmosphere, and since then I've been hooked. It's my first time to see a show in Toronto, at the Four Seasons of Performing Arts, and I'm really quite excited. Inaugurated in 2006, the centre is the first building of its kind in Canada, a theatre built specifically for opera and ballet performances with the highest level of acoustics.
The life of a ballerina is fascinating to me, and I was lucky enough to catch up with Australian ballet princess, Chelsy Meiss, ahead of her performance as Juliet in the spectacle.
Stepping into the pointe shoes of Australian ballerina Chelsy Meiss
What’s a typical day like for you at the National Ballet?
Usually when we are rehearsing (not performing) we work from Monday to Friday 10:00 am – 6:30 pm.
At the moment we are in a performance season, which means we work from Tuesday to Sunday and the times can vary. For example, this was my day today:
- Pilates 11:00 am – 12:15 pm
- Company Ballet Class 1:00 – 2:15 pm
- Rehearsals 2:30 – 3:30 pm
- Physiotherapy 3:30 pm – 4:00 pm
- Rehearsals 4:05 – 5:15 pm
- Massage 5:30 – 6:00 pm
- Go outside and get food to bring back to the theatre to eat before the show 6:00 – 7:00 pm
- Get ready for the show 7:00 – 7:30 pm
- Performance curtain at 7:30 pm and finish at 10:30 pm
Every dancer, ballet dancers more than others, face challenges every day in their career and most may not even make it to the main stage. Tell me about your journey and how you ended up where you are today?
Firstly, the biggest challenge is getting a job in a ballet company. After graduating from The Australian Ballet School I was unemployed for ten months. In ballet years that is a long time! I did a lot of auditions, I went to 16 countries in 3 months. Being in the right place at the right time has everything to do with one’s career. For me that has been one of the biggest challenges to get through.
The other was when we premiered Alexei Ratmansky's production of Romeo and Juliet. During the rehearsal period, I injured myself practicing a particular movement and didn't know if I would be back dancing in time. It was a serious injury but somehow I made my Juliet debut with The National Ballet of Canada and it was one of those 'dream come true' moments. I had never been injured before and to this day have remained healthy. Preventing and overcoming injury is a very real challenge for any dancer.
What brings you the greatest satisfaction?
Really knowing that I did myself proud. Those true moments of satisfaction are something every dancer should quietly remember.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
My Mum, who was my first dance teacher in Australia, always told me not to be afraid or hold back onstage and to do what I had practiced and enjoy the experience. I always remind myself of this before I step out onstage.
Who inspires you most?
The love I get from my family and friends really make everyday amazing. It's so important to surround yourself with good people who you can learn from and who will support you no matter what.
Coming from Melbourne to Toronto must have been quite an adjustment. How are you dealing with the winter here?
My actual transition was from Melbourne, Australia to San Diego, California. I danced with The San Diego Ballet for three years before joining the National Ballet. San Diego by far has the best weather! I have a (hot pink) Canada Goose jacket, which has been my best investment for living in the Canadian climate.
Last but not least, you’re about to perform as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet. How are you feeling ahead of your performance?
This is such a special role and ballet for me. Being chosen by the choreographer Alexei Ratmansky to be one of his Juliets means so much. From the beginning, I was apart of the creation process in the studio learning from Alexei and all the other Romeos and Juliets. You really feel like there is a part of you in the production.
This week leading up to my Juliet performance, I also dance a few other roles so I'm onstage a lot. It's great to be onstage, feel the lights and to hear the orchestra even if it's in a different role. I've danced Juliet with a few different Romeos but this week I'm back with my original partner, Brendan Saye. We went through this journey together in the beginning so it's very special to be reunited again.
Romeo & Juliet closes the spectacular winter season on a high. I'm already looking forward to the summer season where I'm hoping to see Le Petit Prince and ballet classic, Giselle. Tickets for all performances are available to purchase here.
Thank you to Chelsy Meiss and the National Ballet of Canada.