Catching up with Biscuit Ballerina®
We recently caught up with our fave ballet collaborator Shelby Williams, the creator Biscuit Ballerina® to find out about her move to Ballet Zurich.
What made you decide to move to Ballet Zurich?
I worked at the Royal Ballet of Flanders (Opera Ballet Vlaanderen), for 7 years and adored my time there, but with careers as short as they are in the dance industry, I started to think that if I wanted to experience one more company before my career ends, I would have to do it soon.
Ballet Zurich's audition announcement caught my eye before the idea of actually leaving Antwerp even crossed my mind. The audition announcement stated that Cathy Marston would be the new artistic director and that she was looking for dancers who were creative collaborators and interested in narrative work. I adore being given tasks and trying to be a problem solver in choreographic environments. I also love storytelling, so it was immediately appealing. I had never crossed paths with Cathy during my career, however, so my knowledge of what she might be like to work with was very limited.
I applied and went to the open audition with the mentality that there was something to be gained from the experience, no matter what the outcome. If I was cut early, I would get to have a city getaway in stunning Zurich. If I made it further through to the end but didn't get an offer, it would be like a free workshop where I gained the experience of working with a choreographer that I hadn't had the opportunity to work with before. If I was offered a contract, an exciting new chapter to my career might lay ahead.
The audition was a ton of fun and it left me really hoping that I would get some sort of offer out of it. A few days later when I got a call from Cathy with an offer to join the company, I knew immediately in my gut that I wanted to go.
How did you prepare yourself to join a new Ballet Company in a new country?
I can't say I did much dance-wise to prepare myself for the new company. I try to remain present and curious at all times in the studio, so I tend to stay pretty focused on what is in front of me rather than looking too far out into the future. This meant that I was concentrating on the current programme we were performing in Antwerp with the Royal Ballet of Flanders, rather than already getting preoccupied with what was to come at Ballet Zurich.
I did make sure I had a proper vacation that summer where I disconnected from dance and spent time with family. I knew we would have a busy start to the season with all of the exciting new repertoire premiering in Zurich. Our first programme is a triple bill that includes Snowblind by Cathy Marston, Infra from Wayne McGregor, and Glass Pieces by Jerome Robbins.
Probably the most prep work I did before the move was researching all of the things I needed to take care of to live in Zurich: healthcare, bank accounts, phone plans... the boring stuff! As a dancer who has moved countries several times, I've learned that researching these things before arriving in a country can really help reduce the stress of relocating.
What are you enjoying/looking forward to the most regarding moving company in terms of your career (repertoire, new colleagues, choreographers etc)?
Since moving to Zurich, I've really enjoyed diving into repertoire that is new for me and being inspired by different dancers that I've never had the opportunity to cross paths with, so far in my ballet career. To come here, I was sad to leave behind a really wonderful group of colleagues in Antwerp, but it's been such a delight to get to know the dancers here in Zurich and find that they are equally as fun, kind, and hardworking. It's such a wonderful environment to work in!
I love storytelling, and I am really looking forward to the variety of narrative works that we'll be creating with Cathy Marston, in the future. We've already started working on some of her pieces, and it's the first time I've had the opportunity to work with her. She's such a lovely person, and artistic director to share the studio with. I'm enjoying the analysis and consideration of each character and how their movement says something. Cathy creates a very collaborative environment in the studio, which makes it all the more interesting because there's the opportunity to bounce ideas off one another to find something new.
What is the most challenging aspect of the move and how are you handling the challenges?
It is always a challenge to catch up on existing repertoire when joining a new company with some of the past season's programming coming back. For example, right now we are currently learning Nachtträume, a wonderfully dynamic and complex piece by Marcos Morau. It's a lot of information to take in, but taking notes, listening carefully, and working together with other dancers to review material before rehearsal helps to make it less overwhelming for the brain. From my experience, changing companies in the past, I am familiar with the repertoire learning curve, but know that it’s all part of the journey.
What's your favourite dancewear piece at the moment?
I've been wearing the Barcelona Ruched Half Sleeve Leotard in Illusion a lot since I got to Switzerland! I love the fit and I always feel better wearing something with sleeves when I have to do a lot of partnering work. I've also worn my Cilicia Boatneck Leotard in Ocean Blue Ombre because I'm still trying to draw out the feeling of the beach and summer as long as possible. I'm looking forward to trying out a pair of your new black tights, which I have just received.