Sunday, 11 August 2013

Daria Klimentová Autobiography

Agony and Ecstasy: My Life in Dance (book) by Daria Klimentová and Graham Watts

English National Ballet principal Daria Klimentová is one of my favourite dancers to watch onstage. Her autobiography, 'Agony and Ecstasy: My Life in Dance', co-written by dance critic Graham Watts, was released at the beginning of March, but I have only just finished reading it.

It is a frank and fascinating account into the life of a dancer; unafraid to be honest, Daria describes feigning sickness to avoid performances, unhappiness with partners and the extreme pain of giving birth, as well as the many joys and successes of her life and career. Here are just a few of my highlights and thoughts from the book:

1. What did little Daria thought of switching from gymnastics to ballet training? "I asked Miss Cezarova, 'can I swish my legs up high in ballet, like I do in the gym?' and when she said 'yes', I thought 'well, OK - I don't mind trying something new'."

2. Daria trained in the Vaganova method, with the same main teacher across her eight years at ballet school. She believes it is better to have just one primary influence such that the same style is learnt well, unlike British training in which students regularly change teachers. Clearly the Vaganova method produces sterling dancers, but is it as effective as the English method in educating them to be versatile and able to adapt to different styles and choreographers' works?

3.  Daria describes how she and dancing partner Vadim Muntagirov work well together because they both disagree with the excessive focus by modern-day dancers on multiple pirouettes and high elevation in  jumps. It used to be about artistry and "both Vadim and I feel that much has been lost in this increasingly acrobatic/gymnastic age. He feels it even though he can do so many pirouettes astonishingly well and jumps higher than anyone I've ever danced with."

Daria Klimentova with Junor Souza in The Nutrcracker
Photo: Patrick Baldwin
4. Although at first Daria felt uncomfortable being partnered by someone much younger than her, she states how that it is only when dancing with Vadim in Romeo and Juliet that she feels like a teenager: "Vadim was the first partner to make me feel like I am 16, even though I was approaching 40 when we first danced together. When Vadim dances you can see that he is Romeo in every possible way."

5. The verbal abuse Daria has suffered at the hands of choreographer Derek Deane is made clear both in this book and was also televised in the 2011 ENB documentary, 'Agony and Ecstasy'. On TV, Deane's criticism that Daria was "too old and too knackered" to dance in his Swan Lake made her cry. But her book responds stoically: "I'd like to see how he'd react if I said, "This is shit choreography and I have to dance it'."

6. Daria finishes her book with a chapter entitled 'I'm still dancing', which describes her plans for the future: "I am still committed to dance for ENB and I don't know what is just around the corner." But, she would eventually like to return to her birthplace of Prague and become the director of the Czech National Ballet. I'm sure Daria would make an excellent company director, but I just hope there are many more years to enjoy her performing onstage in the UK first.
Daria Klimentova's book is available from Amazon here.

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