Friday 19 January 2018

Waking hours with... ballet dancer Ludovic Ondiviela

Ludovic Ondiviela (29) is a ballet dancer and choreographer. He won a scholarship to train at the Royal Ballet, and he went on to perform with the company for 11 years. Born in Perpignan, France, he lives alone in Shoreditch, London

Ludovic Ondiviela - 'as a dancer, the job demands so much of you physically'. Photo: Eva K Salvi
Ludovic Ondiviela - 'as a dancer, the job demands so much of you physically'. Photo: Eva K Salvi

Ciara Dwyer

I live by myself in an apartment in Shoreditch in east London. For breakfast, I have a coffee, and that's about it. I'm never hungry in the morning. When I was dancing, if I had a really big performance, I'd force myself to have some cereals and fruit.

As a dancer, the job demands so much of you physically that, if you are not healthy, there is no way that you could go through what is asked of you and your body. You don't have a choice. If you are not healthy, your career is not going to last very long. Ballet is not a natural thing to do with your body, so you end up with a lot of injuries. You learn how to deal with them, and to dance through them.

I retired from the Royal Ballet last year, but I don't consider myself retired yet. I'm still dancing and I'm still keeping ballet fit. Because I'm freelancing, work can be anywhere right now. That's quite a luxury. After breakfast, I'll go for a run or do a yoga class or ballet class. Having exercised so much all my life, if I don't do exercise every day, I don't feel right. I need to sweat and to make my body work. I never did extra exercise as a dancer, because I had enough physical work during the day. I used to have classes from 10.30am, then we'd rehearse for upcoming productions from noon until 5.30pm, and in the evenings there would be a performance at 7.30pm.

I joined the Royal Ballet when I was 17, and I had my whole ballet career there. It was exactly where I wanted to be, because I loved the repertoire with ballets that told a story. Working there was like a constant audition, because the choreographers and directors were always keeping an eye on who was doing what, especially as they were casting for the next ballet.

I went from being in the ensemble to becoming a first artist. I pretty much had a solo part in every production. I had some incredible experiences, but, after 11 years, I found myself stuck in a loop. I was doing several roles that I'd been doing since I was 17, and as an artist, I was growing beyond that. I'm the sort of person who has always wanted more.

Deciding to leave was a really hard decision because, as jobs go as a ballet dancer, the Royal Ballet is probably the best company to work for; it's very secure. But I never wanted a career that was safe, so I decided to take a big risk. I left and since then, I have experienced other things. I had already started to do choreography, and I was able to do more of that. When you're a dancer, there is a creative part of the job, but you mainly execute what the choreographer asks you to do. So, it's like you become the colours of the painting. But, when you're the choreographer, it's your vision. You are free to create, and I found that really exciting. Also, I still wanted to perform, but I needed new experiences.

At the moment, I'm working on Lost. Ballet Ireland commissioned me to create this short ballet, which will tour Ireland. I wanted to produce something that would be relevant to Ireland and an Irish audience. I stumbled upon mythology and the legend of the fairies. I was interested in the concept that fairies were fallen angels who weren't good enough to go to heaven, so they were stuck on earth like a sort of purgatory. I think we can all relate to that, because most of us have something to feel guilty about, and we have to live with it.

Once I found the concept, then I had to find the music. I needed to get visual ideas and an emotion as well. Choreographing a ballet is a bit like writing a book, because you start with a lot of material and then you edit it. The rehearsal process is quite intense, especially because you don't get much time. It's a lot of pressure, but I enjoy it.

Ballet is very big in France, but I come from Perpignan, which is quite a rugby town. In fact, when my dad was younger, he played for Perpignan. I wouldn't say that ballet was a natural thing to do for a boy growing up there, but I've never been one to care much what people think. Back then, I did acting classes, horse-riding classes and ice-skating, but I think ballet won out because I enjoyed the physical challenge.

Also, I've always loved performing. Some of my male friends went through a lot of discrimination because they did ballet, but I didn't have any problems that way. Maybe this was because I had really great friends, or that I was oblivious to it. My family was always very supportive.

The majority of male ballet dancers aren't gay, but it's like the way we assume that all male hairdressers are gay, and the way we assume that all footballers are straight. I think in society people want to put other people in boxes, because it makes them easier to understand. Ballet is a very artistic and lyrical art, so some find it strange that straight men can perform it. I've had relationships with ballet dancers and some who weren't ballet dancers. Ballet is a big side of my life, but I don't want it to be my whole life. Being with a ballet dancer all day and then talking about it all night sounds boring to me. I need to be intellectually stimulated too.

Since I retired from the Royal Ballet, it's been such a novelty having my evenings free. Living in London is amazing, and there is so much going on. I'm a big fan of theatre and I go a lot. There are so many live gigs every night. The options are endless. I go to bed really late.

I often speak to my family in France when I get home at 10. Being a dancer, you end up with friends all over the world. I might Skype some of them in Australia or the US. Then I might listen to music for inspiration. Having this new freedom is exciting, but it's scary too. I don't know what I'll be doing in a year, so I need to focus. I concentrate on the present. But I'm evolving as an artist and I'm enjoying it.

'Lost' will premiere as part of 'Tutus & Beyond', at Project Arts Centre, D2, from April 9-11 and then tour nationally until May 3, see

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