Interview Michaela DePrince: inspirational dancer

Michaela DePrince came to perform in Holland in 2011. Soon after, her dream came true to dance with the Het Nationale Ballet. This interview with Michaela is in English. 

Interview Michaela DePrince

Michaela was born in Sierra Leone. At the age of three she lost both her parents during the civil war. She was taken into an orphanage and later on got adopted. When she moved to the United States she started taking dancing lessons. After her training at The Rock School for Dance Education she worked with Arthur Mitchell at the Dance Theater of Harlem summer intensive. Michaela ended second place at the Youth America Grand Prix, the world’s largest student ballet competition. Michaela DePrince is one of six dancers profiled in the exciting new ballet documentary First Position. She is in Holland to perform with De Dutch Don’t Dance Division in the production of Abdallah.

Michaela danced together with Sem Sjouke in December 2012 in De Notenkraker by De Dutch Don’t Dance Division. In 2013 she joined the Junior Company of the Het Nationale Ballet. Michaela’s career is now booming. She is dancing with Het Nationale Ballet as a coryphée, she published her book Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina and in April 2016 features a new video by Beyoncé.

Michaela DePrince, where and what are you dancing now?

‘I am still finishing my classical training with the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (JKO) School at the American Ballet Theatre (ABT). During the last few months I have been taking classes with the ABT Studio Company and learning ABT repertoire. I’m often invited to dance with small contemporary companies, or for galas and benefits outside of ABT, which I do with the approval of ABT.’

Who or what has been the strongest influence on your ballet life?

‘I have been influenced by so many people in ballet, that it’s difficult to decide who has been the strongest influence. I can say though, that the people who have had the greatest impact on my dancing life have been my parents, who have sacrificed so much to make this happen for me; some of my teachers at the Rock School for Dance Education; my teachers at The Dance Theatre of Harlem Summer Intensive; and my teachers at JKO who recognize that there is more to becoming a truly great ballerina than just dancing. I am also tremendously influenced by some of the world-class dancers that I watch on Youtube videos, but especially Natalia Osipova. I must have watched her grand jeté’s in Don Quixote a thousand times.’

What does a typical day look like for you?

‘I wake up early and help my nieces get ready for school, then I head off to rehearsals or dance classes at JKO. Usually, I am done dancing in the early evening, unless I am performing with a small company. Then I will have extra rehearsals that can run into late night. At the end of the day I return home, eat my dinner, get ready for sleep. I don’t have much time for hanging out with friends, but I try to take some time on either Saturday or Sunday to meet up with a few of my best friends. I try not to stay out late because I need my sleep to keep up with my hectic schedule of dance.’

As a little girl back in Sierra Leone you found a picture of a ballerina. What was it about that picture that you liked?

‘Remember, I was only four years old and lived in abject poverty, so I was most influenced by her luxurious costume and pink satin shoes. However, I also was fascinated by the fact that she was standing on pointe, so I spent a lot of time trying to walk on the tips of my little bare toes.’

What did you like about being in First Position?

‘The documentary film, FIRST POSITION, gave me an opportunity to speak out and dispell the myths that people sometimes have about black dancers in classical ballet. It also gave me a chance to show that young ballet dancers don’t all starve themselves, and that the struggle to achieve is often painful.’

What is your idea of being a good dancer?

‘I think that a good dancer must have a combination of grace, artistry and strength. The ideal of the sylphlike waif won’t work in the modern world of ballet, because dancers are expected to do both contemporary and classical moves. In order to dance more contemporary ballets, the dancers must be strong, yet very artistic and delicate for the classical ballets she will be expected to dance. Personally, I have the strength, so I am working very hard for the delicacy and artistry.’

What have you noticed about dance in Holland so far?

‘I get a sense that the Dutch are more willing to take chances in their choreography. It seems to be more daring. The dancers are incredibly strong as well as artistic. You don’t always see that combination. I was inspired when I took my first class with the Dutch National Ballet.’

This interview with Michaela DePrince was being held in December 2011. Danspubliek likes to thank De Dutch Don’t Dance Division for the arrangement of the interview with Michaela.

(Photo: Jade Young)

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