Towards the end of Act 1 in John Neumeier’s Romeo & Juliet there is a scene where the star-crossed lovers meet properly – alone and unmasked – for the first time. It is always a lovely scene but, with Ida Praetorius’ Juliet and Gregory Dean’s Romeo earlier this year it was more than that. It was an exceptional moment of delicate emotion and pure joy – two young people that are falling in love, just like Ida had told me a few days earlier: “I really am hopelessly in love with him every time we are on stage together.”
Praetorius is 19 years old – the same age Mette-Ida Kirk was in 1974, when Neumeier chose her as his first Copenhagen Juliet, a role that became her breakthrough as a dancer, and shaped her entire career. Despite this weight of history on her shoulders, Ida is remarkably calm – save for the odd giggle, when she is reminded of the incredible season she is enjoying.
Let’s recap: in September last year Ida danced the student to Thomas Lund’s teacher in Flemming Flindt’s The Lesson in front of the critics and starry audiences at Lund’s farewell performance. In November, she won the Erik Bruhn Prize for Best Female Dancer dancing the pas de deux from The Kermesse in Bruges, plus a contemporary piece by choreographer Alessandro Sousa Pereira, with her childhood friend and fellow corps de ballet member Andreas Kaas. These two gentlemen, incidentally, won the other two prizes available at the event: Kaas was Best Male Dancer and Pereira got Best Choreography. In March this year, she debuted as Juliet and a few weeks later that performance earned her a nomination as Dancer of the Year at Denmark’s prestigious Reumert Prize. And following a critically-acclaimed run in Neumeier’s masterpiece, she also enjoyed great success as the darling Eleonore in Bournonville’s Kermesse in Bruges.
While Ida seems to be taking this all in her stride, she doesn’t try to pretend that it isn’t a big deal. When asked about being cast alongside Thomas Lund for his final performance she told me: “I was just so happy. So very happy. It was actually Thomas who told me. I had just heard that he would be doing The Lesson for his farewell, and of course we had danced it together quite a few times, and then we were chatting after class one day, about other things, and then he just said – well, of course I’m dancing it with you Ida! And I just went ‘okay cool’, as if it was no big deal, but on the inside I was about to burst! It was such an honour to dance with him on that night, because I have so much respect for him and I am such a big fan – of him as a dancer, and a person. I remember our first rehearsal for The Lesson. It was my first big part and he just said to me: Ida, don’t worry about anything, I’m here and I will help you. Don’t think about pas de deux technique or anything else, just think about the role. And I thought ‘oh good, he knows what he’s doing.’ When I danced with Thomas, we took a lot of chances. Sometimes I would take off for a lift way too early, just to add an extra sense of nerves. Thomas could be very spontaneous and unpredictable on stage, but without it becoming uncomfortable. It felt safe and I was never afraid – it just made dancing with him extra exciting because it was impulsive and in-the-now.”
As we turn to the Erik Bruhn Prize, she seems equally excited: “It was just a crazy experience. I was there with my best friend [Andreas Kaas], whom I grew up with, and with Nikolaj [Hübbe] and we were just a really good team. And then we get there, and I’m in this huge hotel suite I-don’t-know-which-floor and I could see the entire city… And of course there is pressure all the time, but Nikolaj would text us at night saying ‘You were great today’ and ‘This is going to be awesome’, so there was a lot of support. Just being chosen for the competition is amazing, because you’re in the company of some of the world’s best young dancers. That’s what everybody kept telling us ‘just the fact that you’re here is incredible, even if you don’t win, you should be very proud!’ And then she goes quiet and adds with a little giggle: “And then we won…”
How does it feel like to be onstage with your best friend? “When I dance with Kaas [Ida calls him Kaas rather than Andreas] it’s like an equal collaboration. We’re both young and new and don’t have very much experience. We have known each other since we were 8 years old and went to the same audition at the ballet school – he’s like a brother to me. When we rehearse together we are a bit of an old married couple – we help each other, correct each other and finish each other’s sentences. We read each other’s minds, even when we’re on stage together and I love that!”
When I ask her to say a few words about her Romeo, Gregory Dean, Ida becomes swoony: “He is amazing. He has been a huge support for me, because he is so technically accomplished and he has a lot of experience and has been great at explaining things to me – he would literally be holding me in a one-handed lift, and giving me adjustments and telling me how to do it while he was balancing me above his head! The funny thing is, you get to know each other physically and technically before you get to know the person. It feels very safe to dance with Greg, he is always very cool and very stable as a dancer – I know he has everything under control, and even if I do something weird, I know he’ll fix it. He is a very generous dancer, he gives so much on stage and dancing with him always touches me deeply – he is just wonderful.”
One of the things that many critics have highlighted about Praetorius’s performance in Romeo & Juliet is that at the age of 19, she is a natural fit for Juliet (although, in Shakespeare’s play, Juliet is supposed to be closer to 13). She has that endearing youthful innocence coupled with unending enthusiasm, which certainly adds credibility to her performance. “When I’m dancing, of course I’m Juliet, but I’m also very much Ida. I don’t act; I react as I would in real life – within the framework of course. But that’s why I’m so moved every time, because it’s really me. In the 3rd act, after I’ve taken the poison and I’m carried off stage, I only have a very short time to change into my wedding dress, which I’m buried in, and while I’m changing the tears always run down my face uncontrollably. And my dresser, she is really sweet; we just have an understanding that we don’t talk unless it’s absolutely necessary.
And then, when I go back on stage, I’m able to pull myself together – mainly because I have to. It is just a ballet that you become very attached to, because you’re on stage for almost three hours, tearing your heart out.” No wonder this performance catapulted her to the top of the Danish dance world with a Reumert prize nomination as Dancer of the Year (alongside extraordinary principal Gudrun Bojesen and contemporary stalwart Kasper Ravnhøj, no less). While Bojesen scooped the prize for her performance in another Neumeier classic, Lady of the Camellias, one could argue that coming in second after her is no mean feat. Ida blushes a little and adds with a smile: “I think I’m the youngest dancer ever nominated…”
It looks like Ida has a happy home at The Royal Danish Ballet. She grew up with Bournonville ballets, dancing everything from child on the famous bridge in Napoli’s 3rd act to the cheeky little girl in the first act of La Sylphide. And after a few tumultuous seasons for the ballet in Copenhagen, it is nice to talk to a dancer who is happy with the company and its Artistic Director. “I really like Nikolaj – he creates magic on stage. And he is a very nice person as well, I feel like he supports me and takes care of me – I don’t know if he knows it, but that’s how I feel anyway. And I love Bournonville. His ballets are just pure happiness and a joy to dance – and that’s what I want to do. That’s why I am a ballet dancer!” Having already reached one goal of dancing Neumeier’s Juliet, surely there must be another dream role out there, even for a genuinely modest young artist? “Well, I think I would quite like to dance La Sylphide one day. Yes, I would.”
About the Author:
Mette Windberg Baarup has a Master of Arts in Dance Studies and Communication & Arts Journalism from the University of Copenhagen. She is based in London where she works as a freelance writer and producer.