Can you give a quick background leading up to how and why you finished up as a Trock?
I was born and raised in Barcelona in Spain. I grew up always wanting to become an actor, and studied acting, as well as taking voice, Spanish guitar and magic lessons. It was later, when I was 17 years old, that I discovered the dance world. Ballet was something really hard and unknown at that time. I enjoyed learning and getting into ballet a little more every day, but my main interest was always musical theatre, jazz and contemporary dance.
The Ballets Trockadero came and performed in Barcelona in 2004. I left the theatre awed by their show, but never imagined I would become a Trock one day. I asked my ballet teacher to let me start taking class on pointe. It was basic, but wanted to know the feeling of dancing on the tip of my toes like the Trocks.
After becoming a professional dancer and dancing in several musicals for three years in Madrid, as well as being an aerial artist, I moved to New York City in 2008 and danced with different contemporary choreographers. It was in 2012 when I saw that Les Ballets Trockadero was holding auditions in NYC and I went! I was offered a place in the company and I joined.
The Trock dancers have two stage names, one male, one female… what are yours?
My ballerina name is Maria Paranova, and my male dancer name is Boris Nowitsky.
Maria is kind of a goofy ballerina by nature, with a Spanish flair. I have created a role that she takes herself serious but is not too crazy. Maria is not very different from who I really am in real life, but I like getting inspired by different people depending on the role I play. I even take inspiration from my real grandmother's sense of humour!
To prepare for my Dying Swan, I have researched old videos of both Pavlova and Makarova. I watched carefully how seriously they danced it. Beautifully done, but adding a lot of drama, or even melodrama, which nowadays can look somehow funny.
Also, while I am doing my make-up I like to start transforming into Maria by doing faces in front of the mirror and posing.
What was your previous experience with pointe shoes, and how have your feet and body developed dancing on pointe so often?
I tried taking basic ballet classes on pointe at the beginning of my training when I was 17 and 18 years old. Just a few exercises, some relevées at the barre. I liked it, but it was a bit painful. I always had admiration for this art form, that is why once in a while I would take classes at the barre on pointe, but barely dared taking a whole ballet class wearing them.
When I saw that the Trockadero was holding auditions, I started wearing them more often in preparation. But it is not until you are on stage every night that you really develop the physical and mental strength you need for this job. Dancing on pointe changes your centre of balance completely, and puts a lot of pressure on ankles, toes, tendons… The in-between steps are even harder than just standing on pointe. Also the male body is built differently than the female one, which changes the rules a bit for men on pointe. We have to take into account that most of our weight is in our shoulders, whereas women tend to carry their weight in their hips.
While dancing on pointe, we put three times the pressure of our body weight on only two to four toes, and it hurts! We do it so often that we build up a very strong pain tolerance, leading to some injuries and constant pain. I would say I did not have enough previous experience with pointe shoes before joining the company. Usually male dancers do not grow up with pointe technique. It definitely takes a lot of practice, strengthening, maintenance and mental power.
At first I used to get terrible blisters everywhere on my feet. Now, not as often. My alignment has changed, my strength has improved, and specific muscles of my body have developed differently through length.
What do you use to protect your feet: before, during and after a performance?
It is very important to warm up the feet and the whole body in general. Stretching is important, but activating the muscles, too. I like to go on stage already sweating, with the body feeling ready. I use a baseball to roll under the bottom of my feet to release tension.
Over the years with Trockadero, I have discovered where I tend to get blisters so I have learned which toes I like to protect by wrapping them with paper medical tape. I also use a little gel toe separator between the big and second toes in order to align them and have less pressure on my second toe. Since it is a bit longer than the big toe, it has caused me tendinitis in the past.
After the show, I massage my feet while taking a shower. Most of the time, I like taking a hot bath, then running cold water at the end to help blood circulation. Before going to bed, I like to make a mask of Arnica, Lavender Oil, Horse Tail and Green Clay. When I rinse this off, I massage my feet with Arnica with Menthol. And I always make sure my toe nails are perfectly cut and filed. Genetically, I tend to get ingrown toe nails, and it can really be very painful sometimes.
What shoes do you use, and how do you adapt or treat them?
I certainly have big feet and I am only 173cm! I have the biggest feet in the company and it is quite hard finding a pointe shoe maker that provides my size. I do not think there is any ballerina in the world wearing a size 45 (European).
I use “BLOCH Serenade”. Unfortunately, I do not get the chance to choose from different makers and have customized shoes. So when I get them, I have to make sure they fit the best they can by wetting some parts to soften them, and Jet Glue-ing other parts to harden them. Also I bend the sole, or shank, and sew on ribbons and elastic.
The Trocks work hard: how is it putting on the pointe again for a day's second show?
It can be quite challenging sometimes. By that moment of the evening our feet are swollen already, and very tired. It takes an extra push, especially mentally.
Make-up is so important: how long does it take to do your make-up? Do you have any special tricks to keep it from running? And what happens between shows if you want to nip out and get something to eat?
We usually get 1 hour before the show to get ready, including doing our make-up, putting the wig in a bun, putting tights, costume and pointe shoes on, and warming up. Over the years, I have learned how to do my make up in about 30 to 40 minutes, which is very quick! Using professional stage makeup is essential, especially for the foundation. To keep it from running we powder with professional products.
If I am hungry in between shows and I did not bring anything to eat to the theatre, I simply go out in full make-up. I am a performer, I really do not care what people may say on the street. It is my job, my reality.
You tour continuously to a wide variety of theatres: how difficult is it to adapt to different stages?
The hardest thing for me and my body in general is to adapt to the different stage floors. Some are harder, some feel better. When it comes to adapt to the facilities and backstage of a new theater, I get used to the changes pretty easily. Also, our production staff works hard for us to get used to our workspace as fast as possible.
Humour is the same the world over or do you notice differences? Do you adapt certain comic elements according to where you are?
Humour provokes laughter, and laughter is international. I think audiences may react different depending on the country and the culture, but they all get our humour. Even though the humour and the jokes are choreographed and rehearsed, I believe in the spontaneity of “the moment”. Being right there, feeling the audience and feeling how the show is going. And above all in order to make them laugh, I do commit to the jokes making them as real as possible and I do not “try-to-be-funny”.
Do you have any stories about technical problems with costumes, wigs, make-up or shoes?
When we are getting ready for the show, some of the dancers glue their eyebrows in order to make them disappear with professional make-up and draw new ones higher for a more feminine look. At the beginning I tried this technique, but I sweat a lot. A lot! And during a show the glue started falling apart showing my real eyebrow underneath, making my whole face fall in pieces and I looked like Michael Jackson in the Thriller video! Now I have developed my own technique to create the illusion of my brows being higher, so that I don´t have to constantly touch up my make-up.
How has being a Trock changed your life?
Being a Trock is definitely a life style. Touring can be hard sometimes. Being away from home, from one country to another, from hotel to hotel, from theatre to theatre. It is a rhythm that not everybody could handle. Personally it took me quite some time to get used to the new job, the new life, all the travelling and the hard work. Dancing on pointe was a challenge too. At first there was pain everywhere!
I have grown not only as a dancer, actor and performer in general, but also as a person. I have had the chance to visit new countries, learn from their cultures, eat new foods and perform in many different theatres and opera houses I had never thought I would. It is a very fulfilling experience. Being on stage and being watched by hundreds, or even thousands, of people is not easy, but it humbles you somehow. Being a Trock has made me appreciate the art form even more. I have such an array of interests and passions in the performing arts that it seems it all came together in one place.
I love being a ballerina!