Haley Schwan is from Howell, MI and became a member of the Corps de Ballet, Staatsballet Berlin in 2010. On her way to Berlin, she spent two years as a full-time student at the legendary Vaganova Academy in St. Petersburg, Russia. Founded in 1738, the Academy and the training method that bears its name have given to the dance world most of its superstars. To say it is extremely selective is an understatement. Among the thousands of children that audition for a place in the beginning class, approximately 60 are selected each year. Only recently have they begun to admit a few foreign students. Look for Haley on Saturday night in a variation from Don Quixote, and in the contemporary work ‘Come Neve al Sole’, choreographed by Rolando d’Alesio, which she will dance with Ludovico Pace.
HS: I studied primarily at Glenn’s School of Dance in Howell, Michigan. And actually, ballet was my least favorite class until Sergey [Rayevskiy, of the Academy of Russian Classical Ballet in Novi, MI] started teaching classes at Glenn’s.
dp: Then where did you go?
Looking for a way to improve my technique for jazz, I went to a summer program at the Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington, D.C. and after about a week into the intensive I fell in love with ballet. The following September (2004) I began my first year [there as a full-time student], and I stayed until 2008. In September 2008, I went to St. Petersburg, Russia to study at the Vaganova Ballet Academy. After studying there for two years, I graduated and moved on to work for Staatsballet Berlin in August 2010.
The Kirov Academy became a second home to me over the four years I was there. I was quite an outgoing kid, so leaving home at 12 years old, I’m not sure I fully understood what a big step I was really taking, it was more like an adventure. But by the end of my time there, the people of the staff were like aunts and uncles, classmates like brothers and sisters. Moving to Russia was a huge shock at first, it was definitely the most challenging experience I’ve ever had. But I grew up a LOT as a person and as a dancer from going through it – In such a situation you can realistically fathom how important dance is to you. When you’re living unbelievably far away from home, almost no one speaks English, and you’re being yelled at and worked to the bone everyday…. You’ve got to either love dance or be a masochist. And so there is where i really understood how much I want this, and luckily I was in the absolute best place to nurture that. Not being able to understand the people or the culture was something that obviously took time, but I would say that by the beginning of my second year I was comfortable there.
I kind of got ahead of myself in the previous question about this, but I would say I was 16 – when I moved to Russia. It was there that I really saw how much goes into succeeding in the dance world. I’ve always been quite a hard worker in class, but there are so many things that you need to do outside of the studio to keep your body in shape. It really is a full time job.
t first, yes it was scary….but I was more scared before I started to audition places. I didn’t feel ready to begin working and there were still a lot of things I wanted to work on before becoming a professional. But then I went to my first audition, in Berlin (which was actually a company that I had wanted to go to), and they offered me a contract. From that day on, I was honestly just really excited to start working and have more time on stage, which is what I’d been working for!
bout 90 people. I am not sure what the most exciting thing is….but I love working with choreographers on a new creation. You have long days in the studio just trying different movements and piecing them together until you’re dead – then you come back the next day and keep going! Starting from raw movements and watching as it all comes together bit by bit is exciting, it’s like you also grow with the piece and your name will always be there as the original cast. Kinda cool I also love just being on stage. In school you were always working for months and months at a time for one weekend of performances twice a year. It was just never enough! The thrill of being able to perform so often keeps me on my toes (literally) and excited to come to work the next day.
HS: Honestly, I have always wanted to end up in Europe. I find that ballet is much more appreciated outside of the U.S., and the repertoire tends to be a bit more my style. I have also always found Europe more appealing as a place to live because it’s so inspiring and charming. There is a different feel to ballet when it’s in an original opera house, or when you walk on your way to work you see beautiful historical architecture. There is so much to learn from other forms of art and Europe is just like a walking museum. In the company I don’t feel like a foreigner at all because there are actually only 3 or 4 Germans! Even though we are in Germany, all the classes and rehearsals are given in English, but of course outside of the studio some people tend to hang out with other people who speak their native language. But I don’t mind because it’s a good opportunity for me to keep up with my Russian and learn other new languages!
I would have to say that some of my short term goals would be for this next season to be able to dance the roles that I was given the opportunity to rehearse last season, but didn’t dance. This includes things like 11 couples in Caravaggio (Mauro Bigonzetti), 4 friends in La Esmeralda, etc. Other than that, I would just say that my goals would be to keep working and improving my technique and hope that brings some exciting roles to work for! As far as dream roles…I would say Tatjana from Onegin (John Cranko), Juliet from Romeo and Juliet, death in Le Jeune Homme et La Mort (Roland Petit) and be able to work with choreographers such as Jiří Kylián and William Forsythe.
I think that as a dancer you have a lot of opportunities to have a good time. Of course work is work, but when you are at work surrounded by people like you everyday, things can be really fun. Everyone always says that dancers are really their own kind of people – we’re artsy people and so on stage there almost always seems to be a little joke or even a change of your character that keeps things entertaining. But one thing that no one can ever take away from me, are the moments I had on the Mariinsky stage. Having the opportunity to dance on such a historical stage was exhilarating and gave me this amazing feeling of success.
HS: Work until you feel like there is nothing more you could possibly do, but make time in your day to relax and take care of yourself – there has to be a balance in your body. Always be respectful and listen to your teachers, but don’t ever let someone discourage you – If you want something, nothing should be able to get in your way.