How I started dancing
Both my parents are classical musicians. My sister is a bit older than me and as the typical young sibling I always wanted to imitate her. As far as I can remember, we always had been performing little shows in the living room, with or without music. So basically, I can say I have always been performing.
My sister started dancing ballet when I was three years old. Of course, I could not wait to start too! The teacher allowed me in although I was way too young. I was told that I started crying after my first class because I was overwhelmed with joy and excitement.
I continued ballet after my sister stopped.
I attended the ballet school day at the Royal Danish Theatre, where private ballet schools from the whole country come and perform on the big stage. During the first half of the event the schools perform and then the Royal Danish Ballet School students come on stage. I remember asking my mom: “why are they so much better than I am?” Even though I was only six years old, I spotted right away the difference. My mom answered of course these kids were better as they spend all their time dancing, and this is very hard. She was a bit concerned I would take such a serious interest in ballet at that a young age. However, I had already set my mind on taking the audition.
I do not remember ever doubting once when I was little, that I had to go this way. It was hard because I am tall and often was the odd girl in class because of that, taller than some of the boys from very early on. Still, it never discouraged me.
In the beginning, I danced because I needed to express myself. And I still have this need today. I hope I will keep dancing as long as I my body allows it.
How I feel on stage
Stage is my favourite place. I love being on stage and feel myself dissolve into this world that we are creating together with the other dancers. I disappear into the story. It is hard to explain, as it is almost religious. It does not happen in every show though. It also is what keeps me going. It is like a drug, I need to get my fix of it on a regular basis.
What I want to give to my public
When the world seems so dark, I wonder if this is a waste that I am using my arms as a dancer rather than as a nurse or a doctor to be on the ground with people suffering and help here and now. What we can really do as artists is to make people forget whatever happens in their life. But I hope people leave the theatre having lived something they would not have lived otherwise. I hope they would forget the time while watching me dance. I hope they can leave the theatre with an experience of having lived something.
Artists can help people escape. What I want to bring to people and the world is an escape from reality, taking them with me on the journey that a show can be. That is why we have art, so that we can go somewhere else.
Hopefully, I can inspire them in whatever they are doing. Even if this something that has nothing to do with dancing. Hopefully, they would have a brighter day or open their heart in a new way to the people who surround them.
What I would say to people who never went to ballet
We have so much variety in our company, that there would be something for anyone! Some contemporary pieces have nothing to do with what people expect from ballet dancers. As per classical story ballets, they can still bring something to the audience of today. The feelings and stories that the classics have built on are universal. They deal with human feelings, like loneliness, love, grief. It can help people who experience challenges in their life.
You can come in and forget everything else outside. You see beautiful bodies and see beautiful stories. We all are hypnotized by technology, by screens. At the theatre, you will see people live, sweating in front of you. It is real. It is live. They will take your breath away.
I never met someone who went for the first time and did not enjoy it. You have to try to love it!
As a teenager, still a student, we would go to schools and teach younger children in underprivileged neighbourhoods and perform for them. If only one child out of a group would be touched and given hope and confidence, we have achieved our target.
Memories of a performance that is dear to my heart
I tend to be very much focused on the process I am in. Therefore, the first memories I can think of are very recent ones. “Vertical Road” from Akram Khan, that I am performing right now, is very special every time. Physically, it is extremely demanding. You reach a point where you do not think about your body any longer. You are not thinking any longer, your brain switches off. You are transported to another dimension. Without talking to the other dancers or looking at them, you are together. I do not know if this can be compared to what soldiers experience as a group when they are in combat at war. I have this feeling we are the last people on earth, or the first ones. This bond is so precious. What is special in this piece is that you get somewhere else as a group. It is very emotional.
And you can feel the emotions of the audience as well. In this production, when the curtain goes up – there is a moment of disbelief in the audience. “Wow, this just happened!” People are not capable of reacting. It is an incredible feeling to be up there and feel you have given something to the audience.
The opposite of dancing – dancing is so much of me and what I do that it is hard to answer…There is so much dancing in the world. It would be “nothing”.
Where I source my energy and mental strength – I listen to a lot of classical music and watch others dance.
Astrid Elbo dances with The Royal Danish Ballet.