Life on Tour: Energetiks talks with ABT dancer Paulina Waski
Stunning American Ballet Theatre artist Paulina Waski shares the ins-and-outs of life on tour with the ABT Company.
After graduating from the ABT's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, twenty two year old Connecticut-born dancer Paulina Waski joined the American Ballet Theatre company as an apprentice at the age of only sixteen. The talented former YAGP semi-finalist and 2016 OWPD Prix winner then joined the corps de ballet the following year, where she has continued to shine in a variety of diverse roles (in everything from La Bayadère, to Swan Lake and Othello), and is fast becoming recognised as one to watch for her vivacious stage presence. Dancing with a company that has made more than 30 international tours to 50 countries worldwide, and that performs annually around America to more than 450,000 people, Paulina has experienced the very best of life on tour as a dancer and shared her incredible performance skills with audiences all around the world. Paulina kindly made some time to chat with Energetiks about the highlights and challenges of life on the road, see below:
'Touring is one of the most exciting aspects of being in the American Ballet Theater.'
I am able to do what I love while experiencing different cultures from around the world. However, touring can also be one the most taxing and difficult parts of our job. It begins with trying to adjust my daily routine that I normally have during our regular rehearsal weeks in NYC. When performing in a different country, it can take time to figure out how to keep my body healthy and rested. Adjusting to different time zones, finding familiar foods that I am used to eating before shows at home, is all part of it. It is our job to perform our best regardless of what a normal person would be feeling after traveling to another country.
The company is usually given one free day after the flight day to settle into the new environment and to explore the culture and area of the city. The following day begins at 10:30 am, with an hour and a half warm up class at the theater. Rehearsals begin directly afterwards, usually a spacing or run-through of the ballet we will be performing that night. Spacing rehearsals last about an hour, then we are given an hour for dinner. After this it's into makeup and hair for a technical rehearsal (a dress rehearsal). When there isn't a performance that night, tech rehearsals run until 10:45 pm. On performance nights, I usually am one of the first people to get to the theater. I like to have time to do my makeup and hair, and I always try to do a good warm up before the show.
On top of jet lag, these days on tour can feel especially long - but it's definitely worth it. Each tour, the company gets closer as a family, due to the fact that we are with each other more than during our normal days in NY. We stay in the same hotel, explore new cities, and get to experience new cultures together. The greatest part is performing in new theaters, for a new and different audience, and realising that our art form is a universal language. No matter what country they are from, people come to see the ballet for the same reason, to see something beautiful.
When I have some time, not only on tours, but also during our performance/rehearsal season in the city, I like to go out with friends, to unwind after a long week. But I usually take most weekends to rest and recover. I also love to cook. On my day off, I normally work with a trainer to keep my body strong and to keep my stamina up. After having injuries when I was younger, I learned how important cross training is for my career.'
E: So what was your first experience of touring overseas like?
PW: My first year in the company, we had a two week Asia tour, our first stop being Taiwan, then to Seoul, South Korea. This was the farthest I had ever been from home, and it felt like a whole new world to me. We performed Natalia Makarova’s La bayadere in Taipei, and Giselle in Seoul. Both of these ballets have some of the most difficult corps dances for the women, but also the most beautiful. At the majority of our performances in Taipei, you could count the number of people in the orchestra, while the top balconies were full. But that didn’t matter for me, or the rest of the company. I put my full effort into each performance, to give every audience member an experience that they’ll never forget. Hearing their reaction after we settled into our lines after the opening of Kingdom of the Shades, made me realise that ballet is a universal language, that can bring joy to people no matter what country they are from.
E: Do you have any superstitions or pre-performance traditions whilst on tour?
PW: Ever since I started touring, I always bring my lucky stuffed rabbit, a birthday present from my sister for my 5th birthday. It helps me feel less homesick when I am halfway across the world. I’m also not a very superstitious person, but by making sure my spot in the dressing room is neat and organised, I feel more comfortable and relaxed in a new or foreign theater.
E: You pointed out the most incredible thing about this art-form, which is that language/cultural barriers aren’t an issue; ballet is universal (so true!). Do you ever notice different responses (or emotional reactions) from different audiences though?
PW: I have realised that some cultures are more reserved in their reactions regarding applause. In our recent tour to Oman, the audience consisted of a small minority of Westerners who attended ballets previously. The Omani and GCC citizens were learning when to applaud from these Westerners, which caused the applause to increase as the ballet progressed. By the end of the ballet, a roar of applause erupted throughout the theater and a standing ovation was given every sold-out night.
E: What have been some of your favourite moments on tour so far?
PW: I’ve had so many wonderful moments on every single tour, it’s so difficult to choose! On our recent tour to Paris last year, the Paris Opera Ballet allowed us to take a couple of their morning company classes at the Garnier. This was a dream come true, to be able to dance in such a beautiful theater with so much history. We brought Alexei Ratmansky’s revival of The Sleeping Beauty to the Bastille Opera House.
It was a dream being able to perform such a historic ballet in France, where the art form originated in the 15th and 16th centuries after it was brought over from Italy. A group of my colleagues and I got together to spend a day at Versailles. Ever since then, I’ve wished I had a chance to go back again, for it was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. We roamed the gardens and explored the endless rooms of the palace.
E: What is the most challenging and the most rewarding part of performing on tour for you?
PW: Performing on tour can definitely be challenging at times. Performing and rehearsing long hours on top of jet lag is always difficult. After experiencing many overseas tours, I’ve learned that by getting out and exploring the new city during my breaks from rehearsals, eating healthy, and keeping myself occupied until the right time to fall asleep, is the only way to adjust faster to the time difference. We usually only have one day to settle into our new surroundings. The language barrier can also be a challenge, as it is when any person travels to a foreign country. On some tours, we have to figure out how to navigate around the city ourselves in order to get to the theater or hotel. This can be difficult when the metro systems are very different to NYC, and no one speaks English when you need help! When we tour to a new place like this, I always have to travel with a friend or a group and give myself enough time to get to class!
E: Where’s somewhere on your bucket list you’d like to tour one day?
PW: I’ve always wanted to tour to some place in South America. I hope ABT goes in the near future!
E: Which has been your favourite city to explore, and favourite stage to perform on so far?
PW: It has to be a tie between Paris and Muscat, Oman. Both cities are so different from each other, and the experiences I had there were equally amazing. As I said before, exploring Versailles was an amazing experience. But also exploring the city of Paris in general was incredible. Every restaurant or ‘boulangerie’ was exceptional. In Oman, we got a group together to do the Wadi Shab, meaning ‘Gorge between cliffs’ in Arabic. It took a 45 minute hike to get to the beautiful blue pools between the cliffs. There were small cliffs where you could dive from, and a cave that you could swim into where there was a waterfall. Being able to experience the beauty of Oman alongside friends, was a once in a lifetime experience.
Click below for Part 2 of our chat with Paulina (where we talk about her dance journey and advice to other dancers!) plus more stunning photos from our New York shoot with Paulina and Photographer Luis Pons.
Interview by Elly Ford.