Having not visited since 2012, the 18 young dancers that make up Nederlands Dans Theater 2 will shortly be touching down on UK soil for their 2016 Spring tour. In the midst of rehearsals, Dance Consortium pinned down NDT2’s only British dancer, Grace Lyell, to grill her about life as an NDT dancer and how she feels about performing on home turf for the very first time…
What are your first memories of dance?
My very first memories of dance come from reading the Angelina Ballerina books with my dearest Grandma who I would visit in the countryside just outside of London when I was 3 or 4 years old. I desperately wanted to be a twinkle toe fluffy white mouse like her!
So how did you get into dance?
I really started to get into dance when I had to join a special schooling system for intensely trained dancers, sports people and musicians at the age of 12. It was the only way, at the time, for my mother to afford for her 4 children to take culturally and physically rich extra activities outside of school (students of National Conservatoire’s in France get free education!)
And was your journey into dance an easy one, or did you face challenges along the way?
I had a few struggles with keeping my big mouth quiet during ballet class, asking too many questions and organising protests in my school when I was younger. And I also have this medical hitch in that my Achilles tendon is literally non-existent, so that wasn’t always fun, nor easy…
I also grew around 15 cm only a few months before joining NDT, which forced me to totally re-invent my way of moving my long weak floppy limbs, my balance, posture and movement! It takes time, but it all works out in the end!
Please tell us more about your early years training and professional dance training…
I was actually not so intensely into dance until quite late. I was a bit of a tomboy and wanted to become a Formula 1 driver for a long time… yeah Louis and Jenson! It wasn’t until I joined the Conservatoire à Rayonnement Régional de Toulouse, that I started to explore my connection to the songs of dance, and free artistic and human expression. I then discovered that my constant urge to tell stories, and externalise the busy activity of my soul, was actually best satisfied through dance (rather than behind a wheel!)
I then had the incredible opportunity to join the prestigious Ecole de Danse de Cannes Rosella Hightower, and received a classical/modern training. I was dancing with NDT2 by the age of 17, and have been learning more about dance and – more importantly – love and respect for myself, others and the world everyday since! EVERYDAY MORE, MORE MORE MORE!
So young! So tell us about a day in the life of NDT2…
Let me start by saying that a day in the life of NDT2 IS FUN, RICH, FULL OF INTENSE LOVE AND PASSION (for the world, the dance and each other), SWEAT AND GIGGLES!
I wake up at 7:30am every morning, drink a huge glass of water and then blast some groovy beats, or a mind tickling pod cast whilst having a big old breakfast. Next, I hop onto my bike (we are NETHERLANDS Dance Theater after all) and head out for our 9:30am ballet class (11 if we’ve performed the night before), which is our time to warm our engines up, check that our knees and hips have enough oil, and connect with our inner selves and with our physical body and mind, in preparation for the day of rehearsals/performance that’s just ahead of us.
At 11am, the rehearsal marathon starts with whichever piece needs to be rehearsed on that specific day, and our lunch break generally goes from 12:30 – 1:30pm.
Lunch break is very entertaining in NDT – a lot of conversations and loud giggles are to be heard coming from our beautiful canteen, with arms and legs flying all over the place, big debates, silly jokes, sleepy people on benches, long lines for delicious fresh food, a lot of singing, making the most of our shared time with the gods of dance – NDT – people from the offices, guests. It’s an hour of sharing, and relaxing with the people we love.
Then back into the studio for another 4 hours, working on different pieces, or creating new ones. We generally finish at 5:30pm and then I like to either bike by the beach and soak up the last rays of sun, go for a swim at the gym just around the corner from work, go for a sauna, a steam, a massage, a coffee… Or I go home and draw, cook, Skype, read, go to or invite a couple of friends over for diner, watch a documentary, meditate… we sometimes even have little jam sessions!
And then I’ll go to sleep around 11pm, with the biggest smile on my face (I think it stays on my face the whole night!)
What dance work/s are you looking forward to dancing in the UK?
All of us always look forward to performing Cacti by Alexander Ekman. It is basically a human body version of the most exciting, colourful and noisy firework display you’ve ever seen! It is so much fun to dance, I think mostly because of the direct connection to the audience in the first part, and to each other in the second. It’s a very accessible, human, fun(ny), exciting piece, to watch and dance. It’s a kind of staged celebration of our happiness.
Cacti, Alexander Ekman.
Photo: Rahi Rezvani
Is it exciting returning to perform in the UK, where you were born?
I have never performed in the UK before so I am very curious to know what kind of audience the Brits are, and how they interpret our special NDT work. I’m also excited to meet up with some of my friends and family, and reconnect to the British source. I have heard great things about the places/theatres we will be going to and can’t wait to experience them all myself!
What city in the UK are you looking forward to visiting and why?
I can’t wait for Brighton and London – my two favourite British cities! Brighton, for the sea, the crazy crazy people, the coffee shops and the vintage stores. And London, for LONDON (no further explanation needed), and it’s also kind of home I guess…
And finally, what do you enjoy doing when you’re not dancing?
I draw and paint, I love photography, I do embroidery, I love to read (books/articles), listen to pod casts… I have volunteered with young children, I love a good bike ride, making videos, I love to swim, work out, make and eat good food, take care of my plants, listen to some sweet music, go to the sauna, have big Pinterest sessions, go for coffee with my friends, Skype with my friends and family, hang out in the evenings, have big dramatic conversations about life, or just be very silly and loud!
Grace Lyell was born in London in November 1996 and joined Nederlands Dans Theater 2 in August 2014. Read more about NDT2’s 2016 UK Tour here.