What does a ballet mistress do?
I manage the rehearsals of the Ballet together with the other ballet masters. I come to work after nine in the morning to prepare for the day. Before rehearsals begin, I have to know which dancers are off sick, who can be replaced with whom, and I have to talk to the other ballet masters and draw up a rehearsal plan.
Rehearsals continue until five in the afternoon, and if there’s a performance in the evening, I always give feedback to the dancers after it. If there’s no performance, I stay here after rehearsals to prepare and study the next production.
It goes with the job that I cannot enjoy a performance like an audience member, since I have to be alert to notice any mistakes. Opera performances are quite different, as I can focus on listening to the music, although it is difficult to avoid a professional concern for everything going as it should.
How did you end up at the FNB?
I was engaged at the FNB in autumn 1996. Jorma Uotinen invited me here; at the time, I was a principal dancer with the Prague National Ballet and also a ballet instructor. I quit my jobs and took a leap into the unknown. Originally, the agreement was for one year, I left myself the option of leaving if I did not like it. I had only ever wanted to live in Prague, because my work, my family and my secure future were there. At the same time as myself, the FNB also engaged 17-year-old Barbora Kohoutková, whom I had coached for the Helsinki International Ballet Competition, and it was of course crucially important for her to have a familiar person moving to Helsinki with her. I missed my husband and my 10-year-old daughter, who remained behind in Prague. Fortunately, one year later they were able to move to Finland for five years.
My job is to help and support the dancers. No one is successful all the time, and it is important to be there for them when things don’t go as they should.
What is important in your work?
A ballet mistress must have the will and the skill to teach and to explain to dancers how to do things better. This is also about conveying tradition and my own training and experiences to the dancers.
My job is to help and support the dancers. No one is successful all the time, and it is important to be there for them when things don’t go as they should. I have to be able to convince them that things will work out eventually.
What is the best reward for your work?
When a performance goes well and I can see that the dancers are pleased with the work we have done. When they say thank you and I know that they really mean it. And when other employees tell me that the performance went well.
How have you enjoyed your time at the Finnish National Ballet?
It’s a wonderful workplace community, and my work is rewarding. I work with some of the most important people in the world of dance, and we create productions that I could only have dreamt of in Prague.
I like it in Finland, because it’s so quiet here. Prague is always noisy, with a lot of people, but Helsinki is spacious and calm. When I return to Finland from holiday and look out on the street, I wonder where all the people have gone! My only wish would be to shift Finland a bit further south. The windy and rainy autumn is depressing. In the first few years, you don’t really understand it, and you wonder why Finns go to the Canary Islands as soon as autumn comes, but after some years you find yourself wishing for a holiday in the sun!
How do you relax?
I don’t have very much spare time, but I sometimes go to the cinema or to concerts, and I watch Czech TV at home to treat my homesickness.
Text HEIDI ALMI
Photos HEIKKI TUULI
Published in the Oopperasanomat newsletter, issue 3/2009