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A career in the world of professional dance

Interview with Martí Gutiérrez Rubí

Some people are born to dance and Martí Gutiérrez Rubí certainly falls into this category. He started dancing in his native Mexico at the tender age of three, after being introduced to the arts by his parents.

Interview By Conor Shilling, photos by Gregory Batardon, may 14, 2021

At age fifteen, he moved to Cuba to study at the Cuban National Ballet School in Havana. In the middle of his second year there, while performing at the South American Grand Prix semi finals, he was spotted by François Petit, Assistant Director at the Ballett Schule Theater Basel. Martí was offered a scholarship and has been living in Switzerland since February 2020. Moving to a new country just weeks before the start of the coronavirus pandemic has had its challenges, but Martí has remained dedicated to his studies and used the additional time to learn to speak English fluently in just over a year. Although performance opportunities have been limited during this time, he was recently named a finalist in the prestigious Prix da Lausanne competition. Following a coronavirus-enforced break from performing, we caught up with Martí as he prepares to dance on stage once more in June 2021 as part of the school's Summer Gala. He explains how he has adapted to living alone in two different countries at such a young age, discusses how he manages the physical demands of being a ballet dancer and tells us all about his hopes and aspirations for a career in the world of professional dance...

How have you adapted to living in a new country?

It's important to mention that I went to Cuba to live alone when I was fifteen. The change was difficult as it was a socialist country with a different society. I didn't have all the commodities I have here in Switzerland or in Mexico like Wi-Fi or going to a shop and finding everything you need. It was difficult as well to be fifteen and live on your own in a country like that, but I survived! I was at the ballet school all the time, so I wasn't thinking about any problems I had. When I came here, the hardest thing was the language and also the food. I came here and then had to quarantine, so I didn't have time to see more of Basel before the lockdown. However, overall it has not been difficult at all. I like to discover new cultures and have new experiences. I do miss my family, the food and everything of Mexico, but it's worth it to be studying here in this school.

What does your typical week look like?

My day usually starts at 6am. I wake up, have breakfast and then have class at 8.15am or 9am. We start early in the morning with our ballet classes, which are around 1h45 to 2hrs. On a Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, I go to school to learn history of dance, history of music and about the anatomy. On Thursday and Friday, we don't have school so there is more time to train in the theatre, with modern and classical classes and rehearsals. We also train on Saturdays and then I rest on Sundays. I go to bed around 10pm as I need lots of sleep. It's very busy, but I like it! 

I've also learned to enjoy the process. Most of the time, ballet dancers are in the studio doing classes and rehearsals, not on the stage.

Martí Gutiérrez Rubí, Professional Ballet Dancer

What have you learnt so far during your time in Switzerland?

I'm at an amazing school here and the most important thing I've learned is to dance for who you are and show your skills. Sometimes my problem was to do things someone else was doing and not dance like me, so I've learned how to take the skills I have and dance with them. I've also learned to enjoy the process. Most of the time, ballet dancers are in the studio doing classes and rehearsals, not on the stage. As a result of coronavirus, we haven't been on the stage for a long time, so it's important to enjoy rehearsals and classes every day as most of the time we are training and not dancing. 

How do you cope with the physical demands of training?

The most important thing is to have a complete and adequate diet. People think that we don't eat or we should be skinny, but we need to be strong as we do a lot of exercise. Resting is also important, you need your hours of sleep! When it comes to training, I take care of my body – I like to arrive an hour early, warm up and do extra exercises to improve my strength. There are things that I'm good at, but others that are weaker so I need to work on these muscles. If you have pain, you need to understand what type of pain you have and how to take care of it. Our body is the instrument we use every day and we only have one, so we need to take care of it. Young people need to realise that they need to take care of their bodies early as when we start to train for a professional world, it's really young at age fifteen. Not everyone is conscious of this, we have to grow up fast in ballet. 

What has been your favourite ballet to dance to so far?

The favourite piece I have done was a contemporary dance called Urge by Heinz Spoerli. I liked it so much because it was my first time experiencing contemporary dance. I researched a lot and I looked inside me to interpret the piece. In the end, I really enjoyed the work I did. There are also some pieces I would like to dance which I haven't so far. I have done a version of Sleeping Beauty, but would like to dance the whole ballet and I would also like to dance Romeo and Juliet.

Do you prefer to dance contemporary or classical ballet?

I have done classical all my life and only started to do contemporary over the last year. I practised contemporary in Cuba, but it wasn't as developed as it is over here. Contemporary is really new for me but I like it so much and I am discovering new things my body can do. I feel more comfortable doing classical, but I'd like to have more experience of doing contemporary.

You qualified for the Prix de Lausanne this year - what was that like?

It was different from what I expected due to coronavirus. However, it was a really good experience that I worked really hard for. I'm proud of the things I did and the improvements I made. I had great support from all the people around me - the school here, my friends in Mexico and my family. All the teachers I have ever had supported me and sent me good vibes. They were so proud of my participation as well. It was hard work as I have never done contemporary dance and I had to look for new movements. It was complicated, but in the end I am really happy with the results.

What do you enjoy most about dancing?

When you are comfortable dancing a piece, the best part is to free yourself, let yourself go with the music and enjoy that moment. It's also great to be on the stage, when you finish and the audience are clapping. When you're really enjoying a piece in front of an audience and you let yourself go, you'll never have a feeling like that – it's amazing. 

What are your biggest strengths and are there any areas of your dancing you're looking to improve?

I have good technique. I am lucky to be born in this body! I am really tall and long, which is a good quality in ballet. I have good musicality and good coordination, too. Of course, I also want to improve more. Partnering is something I am not so good at and I need to work at this. I have good turns, but ballet companies are looking for even better turns - ballet is becoming more demanding. 

It's difficult to be consistent and constant all the time. You need to work every day, but not every day is going to be a really good day. You can’t keep up in every moment in every discipline.

Martí Gutiérrez Rubí, Professional Ballet Dancer

What do you believe is the hardest part of being a ballet dancer?

It's difficult to be consistent and constant all the time. You need to work every day, but not every day is going to be a really good day. You can’t keep up in every moment in every discipline. There are so many sacrifices in ballet. For example, for me it is to be so far away from my family. We don't have a normal lifestyle, but it is worth it in the end because we want to dance. Sometimes when you stop and think 'What am I doing in this country? What am I doing right now?', it's kind of weird. But then I remember I want to do this and I chose to do this. 

What is your biggest achievement in ballet dancing so far?

I have participated in a lot of competitions where I have won gold and silver medals. The most important was the last competition I did in Cuba. It was the 15th international ballet competition for students in Havana. It's really hard to get gold in that competition, but in the end I did it. It was also a big achievement as I had to do four classical variations. People said it was fair that I won and that I did great work. I really appreciate it when people come and say that to me. The other most important thing is being named a finalist in the Prix De Lausanne this year. 

What are your hopes and aspirations for your future career?

I hope to become part of a professional company and dance a lot! I would like to have lots of different experiences and dance as many things as possible.  Life is short, especially for ballet dancers so I want to make the most of it. I am a bit worried due to the complications caused by coronavirus. I just hope I can become part of a company and dance as much as possible. 

What advice would you give to people ballet starting ballet for the first time?

The first thing they should know is that this is not an easy career, it's a discipline. You need to make so many sacrifices. However, if in the end this is the thing you want to do, you just have to go for it – all the sacrifices will be worth it. When you look back and see all your achievements and all the things you have done, it will be a real pleasure. To be on the stage and to dance is a beautiful thing. You have to be constant, work for yourself and not for others. 

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