Interview: Suzanne Kirnbauer Q&A

Wednesday 14 October 2009

Spitze/Toe is one of the shows on offer in this year’s Chelsea Theatre’s Sacred season of contemporary theatre this year.

Developed by Doris Uhlich, Spitze/Toe is an examination of classical dance: its people, its hierarchies, its world of illusions and its body images. Uhlich who only learved to dance in pointe shoes at the age of 30, is joined by Susanne Kirnbauer, one time first solo dancer in residence with the ballet of the Vienna State Opera, now in her sixties – and once again dancing on stage, on pointe.

Over the years Susanne Kirnbauer has worked with Balanchine, Hans Van Manen, Ji?í Kylián, William Forsythe and Rudolf Nureyev. So what’s it like to be back in the limelight…

What is it about Spitze/Toe which tempted you back to performing?
It was Doris Uhlich who made me want to dance on stage again, because she made me curious and I trusted her. The dramaturgy of Andrea Salzmann seemed to be interesting also. The challenge of climbing into my pointe shoes, after such a long time was another strange idea.

Has it been a long time since you last danced in public?
I haven’t stepped onto a stage for about 20 years.

You are a classically trained ballerina – and this show is described as ‘an exploration of modern dance theatre’. Have you had to learn new techniques?
Of course I had experience with the neoclassical style, but not in modern dance theatre. I didn’t really learn a new technique, the difference between classic and modern, was another kind of rehearsal completely. Doris Uhlich changed movements and dramaturgy quite often and did a lot of experiments.

How does it feel to be dancing ballet in your sixties?
It feels strange and wonderful on the same time! But I’m happy I never seeing myself in a mirror when I dance now!

Are there any advantages to being an ‘older dancer’?
There are advantages for an older dancer for example, to create a role like Giselle or Juliet, your experience in life and on stage helps to act better and makes you look like a young girl.
The disadvantage is that you feel your body is getting tired, does not clicking in immediately like before at my best times. All dancers, especially classically trained, know that the time to stop comes very soon, but it works anyhow and then you feel unwanted very quickly! What a wonderful, great idea from Jirí Kylián to form a 3rd company, for his beloved older dancers!

What advice would you give to younger dancers who are concerned that their careers might be over when they reach their mid thirties?
Our system in Austria allowed me to get a pension after 28 years and because of this I was never afraid of what would happen after my career. I also had a big challenge to direct the Viennese Volksopern ballet company and did a lot of my own choreography. There are not enough challenges like this and the situation of dancers all over the world is very difficult. My advice would be to try to learn another profession also.

When you look back at your career – what have been the highlights?
Of course in a 28 year career I’ve had a lot of highlights, some of them are very special, like dancing with Rudolf Nureyev, showing him a Viennese waltz from Grete Wiesenthal in our flat, presented by Margot Fonteyn for the BBC.

And who have you most enjoyed working with & why?
I enjoyed and learned a lot by dancing with Jirí Kylián, William Forsythe, Anthony Tudor and last but not least with George Balanchine. The challenge was to realise all this different styles and to dance all these, sometimes on one evening.

After this project, would you like to dance in further productions?
Yes, I would love to “dance” and perform in further productions and maybe to be forced to act in a modern dance theatre style.

Sacred logo Sacred – a season of contemporary theatre runs at Chelsea Theatre, 21 Oct – 22 Nov 09
Spitze/Toe 21 & 22 Oct
More details online booking

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