When you try to fit yourself to a certain life like your foot is supposed to fit inside a pointe shoe, you’re depriving yourself of immense opportunities to grow into something better. For dancers and the dancing industry as a whole, there is always room to grow and we need to recognize that in order to be able to put out the best that the art can offer into the world. Joining Susanne Puerschel for a chat, Xenia Wiest shares her beautiful ideas on how to make the world of ballet better. Drawing from the lessons that she learned from her career, Xenia believes that there is so much that the industry can do to take better care of their dancers and bring out the best in them. She also advises young dancers to develop the will to strive after constant learning and progress and to not always chase after the perfection that doesn’t exist.
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Room To Grow: Open Up Your Heart For Greater Possibilities With Xenia Wiest
Xenia Wiest is my guest. I cannot wait to share this conversation with you. She is sharing with us how she got started and what her struggles were, her rock bottoms, how she rose from these and how meeting her husband was her saving grace. What she is up to now, how she’s going to take the artistic directorship in a company and what beautiful ideas she has to make the world of dance and ballet different, and take the learnings from her career and implement things that haven’t been done yet. I cannot wait to share this conversation with you. Thanks so much for tuning in as always.
Xenia, thank you so much for being on the show.
Thank you. I’m happy to be part of this.
I start my interviews by asking my guests how they started dancing and what was it that made you want to step into that art form.
It was a very unconventional way because I was old, let’s say older becoming a professional dancer. I was almost 13 or 13.5 or something like this. I’m coming from a family of musicians. My papa is a jazz drummer. My mom is a violin teacher. Mia was playing the concert flute. I was singing in the choir. We came from Moscow to Germany. Music was my heir. I always liked to dance in general. Not specific jazz dance or whatever, just dancing. I decided why not go to a dance school. I started a little bit of hip hop and jazz dance.
My teacher told me, “Xenia, you have such a nice neck and arms. Maybe it would be great for you to do some classical ballet. You can be even better and grow more.” I was like, “I hate classical ballet.” It’s so cheesy and all these girls had pink tutus. I didn’t like it because in Russia, everyone goes to ballet. It’s a thing. My mom took me to these ballet classes. I had to put this tutu on. We went out and I was like, “Mom, I’ll never go back to this.” I didn’t like it especially because I grew up between boys. I was a little boy because I’ve been always around my father’s students. I’ve been fighting a lot. This was not somehow my world at all. My teacher told me, “Take these ballet classes.” I was against it. I was like, “Let’s see.” I took the first ballet class. I was like, “I like it.” I liked this hard work and dedication. Everyone was concentrated and the teacher was demanding. Maybe it’s crazy but somehow, I liked it.
I fell in love with dance. I started to fall in love with classical dance and then slowly bit by bit, I dropped my choir. I dropped my concert flute. I kept going to this jazz dance and classical classes 3, 4 times a week and so on. I said to my parents like, “Maybe I can be a professional dancer.” In Russia, you don’t become a professional dancer at thirteen years old. It’s way too old. In general I thought, “I don’t know.” I was self-confident when I was a child. I decided, “Maybe I can do it.” My parents were not happy about it but they said, “We’ll try. The reality will show her if she can or if she can’t be a professional dancer.”It’s always important to stay open and leave ample room for improvement. Click To Tweet
I stopped jazz classes and I went to a private school to have a classical education. My first teacher like my second mom until these days. Her name is Marie-Francoise Gery. She was a dancer in Paris Opera. She moved to Germany. She is a great teacher. She took me in. The first thing that she said when I came with this idea of, “I would like to be a professional dancer.” She was like, “You are too old. You are too bad. I don’t think it’s going to work.” I was like, “I’m going to prove this lady wrong.” I started to work a lot and dedicate all my free time to this classical ballet.
After three months, she told me, “We’re going to try it. It’s not going to be easy. You have to learn so much. You’re bad. You have to have this knowledge and you have to learn this and that. I was overwhelmed but I took this challenge. I’ve been two years in this private school. We started to audition for professional schools in Germany. I went to Hamburg. I went to Stuttgart. They didn’t take me the first year. My teacher was happy that they didn’t because she said, “I can work with you more. You will be better for the next year. We try it again.” I auditioned again for the John Cranko School and I got accepted. From there on, I was in the professional ballet school for three years. This is how I came to the dance and became a professional dancer.
I hated classical ballet. I was the same way I had such a struggle with becoming a woman or that girl or getting that girl to shine.
In my puberty, I was also a rebellious child. It took me some time until I found my way. Even though I started to fall in love with classical ballet, I was still hanging out with my friends from the school who were skaters. I used to wear these pants, which would you had to wear lower than your hips with boxers. I was one of those. I tried to do skateboarding and that was a big mistake. I was a failure. It was such a contrast. In my afternoon, I was with my friends, trying to learn how to drive skateboard with these hoodies. In the evening, I was having my bun. I was being a ballerina or I tried to be. It was me.
Were you sixteen when you joined John Cranko?
Can we talk about that experience a little bit? I know from my own experience, I have not yet unearthed all the things that left scars in my soul about my eight years in a professional ballet school. I feel like the more and more we talk about it, the more we help each other to heal. It brings up memories. It brings up more and more things that I found so many things that I learned in the school helped me back in my professional career, which sounds paradox but that is what happened. Tell me how was that experience? What have you learned so far?
I learned a lot of positive and negative things. Especially in 2020, all these sensitive subjects are coming up in the dance world. Looking back to this time, many things were so normal. It was fine. To have this super hard discipline, which for us it was normal but maybe nowadays this would not be normal anymore. By this time, at this age, you didn’t know any better.
I don’t think we still know better. If we’re looking at the scandals that are bubbling up to the surface, if I look at how companies are run and how they’re treating their dancers at the moment with COVID, etc., I don’t think we have learned yet. I don’t think we have quite stepped into the 21st Century yet. I don’t think we’re asking the right questions. You may, for your new company, you’re doing that. For people that are in the position that it’s working perfectly at the moment, I even can understand. It’s comfortable. We as human beings are not at any cost, pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zone. Even though we’re still in the pandemic, it is still somewhere comfortable.
The thing is I see also developments in general, maybe in professional companies. I don’t have so much experience from professional schools because I’m not there. I hope the people who are in power in these positions are willing to open up and take also external knowledge in order to improve. Before coming to this whole school thing, in general, for me, in my point of view, it’s very important to stay open in general. If you say in this position, “I know it anyway or this is like that,” for me, there’s not so much room to improve. I was always this curious child and I always ask questions.
I want to keep asking my questions in the future too. It doesn’t matter which position I will end up in. I cannot say I’m a very proud person and also I don’t have such a huge ego that I have to defend and fail all the time with doing this clapping on their shoulders but I would like to keep this window open for room to improve and also to think that I can say, “I didn’t know this. What does it mean? How can we do better? I believe this is the key. Let’s see if it is.” I cannot say right now because we can have another interview in a few years and I can tell you much more.
Staying curious is always the way to more. Being willing to learn and it’s that Carol Dweck mentality, fixed mindset versus learner’s mindset. The fixed mindset can only see straight forward. They’re not able to adapt and learn anything more. The learner’s mindset is always able to expand, adapt, change their mind and say, “Yeah, that didn’t work. I’m going to go with this or I’m going to go try this.” I feel like that is so important particularly in the arts.
I’m read this back in and let’s talk about school because these are formative years. I’m not here to place blame. What I found is us sharing more and more gives other people the confidence to dig in and to listen to what’s coming up when they’re listening to our stories. That gives them the permission to, “Maybe that wasn’t the right thing.” Here’s an example that I even thought, “That was a huge light bulb.” I posted an eleven-year-old me sitting in a split and the caption was that I was labeled as overweight, which I was. You say that’s normal. I thought back then that was normal until I looked at that little girl and she was nothing. Not a gram was too much on her. She was not overweight. I got so many comments and people reached out to me and said, “Suze, what? That’s not right.” I thought it was right.When it comes to limits of pain or injuries, ballet dancers can be very numb. It’s an unhealthy tendency that needs to be addressed. Click To Tweet
I have also photos of me where I remember the day that this photo had been taken. I saw the photo and I was like, “I look so fat, horrible.” Now, several years later, I’m looking at it and I’m thinking, “I was skinny.” The thing is maybe to start with I always knew that myself, a dancer, I always knew that I don’t have the perfect classical, typical ballerina body but it’s also not the worst. I knew I have nice feet. I have a nice neck and my arms are good. I have a very flexible back. I did have some requirements that would be important to become a classical ballerina but it was not perfection. I was aware of that but in school, it was very tough to sometimes hear these phrases, “You’re not perfect. You put on weight. You have to lose weight.” According to that because you were so young and now comes the very important point that all the schools should have. It’s very important to start in school with some sports psychology or mental coaching because this is essential.
If we look at athletes, they have this coaching. I don’t know how many coaches they have but for everything that is out there, they have a coach that specializes in one aspect of their life or their ability or their training. When we look at dancers, they have a coach and a studio that tells them how to eat, how to behave, how to perhaps think without being an expert. Without looking back at their career, analyzing it and saying what worked, what didn’t work. It’s being regurgitated and spoken again without taking it into the times that we’re in.
There is so much research out there already now from many people that are doctors and experts or colleges or even people that have done the work. You can find everything on Google or even have lived through it and helped themselves. We’re still telling our youngsters or people in the studio that they’re bad. They’re not perfect. They need to work harder, eat less and you will be successful. That is the mentality of the ‘70s and ‘80s. Changing that and changing the belief in every single person who wants to dance that understanding that things don’t have to be done this way. There are so many options between black and white, explore the gray because growth is in between your two obvious options.
There is much more between not becoming a dancer and becoming a dancer. There is not a straight line. There are many offsprings. There are many other things you can do not to fill your plate more but to become more versatile, to have more arms and necks that you can stand on. It’s a business that is building income streams. You don’t just have one. You’re not running on one highway. You have 5, 6, 7 or 8. I find that with dancers, us, having the ability to have more resources that we can count on when our body physically is tired, how can we then use our mind or meditation or affirmation or getting into the flow state or perform on a high level. Maybe it’s not 110% but maybe it is 80% but it still is being presented with joy and love versus the good old, “I have to.”
There’s much external knowledge, which couldn’t be applied in order to improve. People are in general scared for the new because they want to protect what they have. If you have the experts or the right tools in order to grow and to improve your students or your dancers, this only can benefit the whole company. I’m still not in this position. I can talk about my wishes or more about my personal experience as a dancer, which I collected over the years and especially also about my time in school. If I think about it for the time that I’ve been in the school, we would have someone, who would tell me how I can deal with stress or how can I lose weight without having bulimia or without eating a peanut a day but have good nutrition. The thing is, it’s all possible.
You get a nutritionist. I don’t say not anybody has it but in my times, we didn’t have it. For example, my self-confidence after graduating was very much on a low. It took me at least 2, 3 years until I developed my self-confidence in general. I met my husband at some point and he’s a psychologist. He helped me with everything. I started again to believe in myself. This work could have been done already in school. That would be so great if leaders and directors who are in school would implement this or implement this more and the ones who have it.
What is coming in for me in having these conversations, every single day that we are comfortable and I’m putting this out here without a label. We are comfortable in the world of dance and ballet because it has been working for a certain amount of time. The inability to stay curious, to wanting to learn and to make it perhaps better or different so that we don’t have to worry when the next donation is coming in or we don’t have to worry about our dancers getting injured because they’re tuckered out because they have to work twelve hours a day. If we were to ask different questions, if we were to look at the gray in the between, not our two obvious options because there are a million options in between, we would easily and very quickly make such a huge amount of progress that we wouldn’t even know what to do with all the people that want to come to see us, theater or not. Success will always follow love.
I believe if you make the dancers that you’re working with, they are the product. They’re the most important tool to produce what you want to produce on stage. There’s a better way to organize maybe the working times, the resting times or in general, maybe the organization. Their health, how they take care or how it can be taken care about the health, the physical workout, functional training or mental coaching. There is much room to improve. That’s such a big vision of mine that we want to establish and make some progress in this field for the dancer. That’s a very big goal of mine.You can only bring the best out of yourself if you free yourself from the fear of not being good enough. Click To Tweet
I’m not sure if you guys have it over there, but we have Disney Channel here and New York City Ballet School is there. One of the staff members said that when he got injured and he was a dancer at New York City Ballet, he always waited out, “Is this injury something I can dance through or do I need to take a break?” I found this quote so profound because I can relate to it. I have thought about this particular topic many times in exactly the same way until I realized that I had a pretty awful relationship with my body. I always wanted my body to function without giving it anything.
Without giving it any break, I completely relate to that. Speaking from my personal point of view but also knowing that many of my friends and colleagues that I was working over many years with, we are always used to push until the last beep limit in order to execute, deliver and perform because the truth is the career of a dancer is short. You don’t want to lose not one minute that you can regret or you would say, “If I will write myself sick, I will miss this opportunity to dance this or to dance that.” They’re extremes. I went many times over my limits. The most extreme ones I had two things that I remember very much I had to dance. I was invited to France with a colleague to dance Paquita. We rehearsed so much. Two weeks before, I had a fracture in my foot but did I stop? Of course, not. It was like, “How can I stop now?”
How did you fit in your point shoe?
I did somehow. I was cutting also a little bit inside the shoe and then my husband would massage or we would do some magic. I use my magnets. I use this cream and everything. I didn’t stop. I was dancing on a fracture. This is, for example, one extreme. Another extreme, in my whole career, I almost never, when it was not that I was almost missed the show. I was always very responsible. I hated to be sick. Now, it’s not possible or you would not do it with the whole situation but before, people would come. I also came when I was having a little cold. That was not a big deal. I remember in the past few years, we had every year, Swan Lake, 14, 15, 16, 17 shows. Even if I would have the flu, I also would have got on and danced all four acts.
I strongly remember, I had a virus. I was vomiting the whole night and the whole morning. I was afraid to say that I cannot come because I was afraid to let the company down if I don’t come and someone has to replace me so they will have to work more. I decided I will do the show. It doesn’t matter how. I did Swans. There like a variation of the Prince. The music started and this would be the moment where you start to breathe and you’re getting ready.
The tone of it keeps thinking about stretching your feet. You go through the points and the corrections that you were working on. Two minutes before I’m feeling like shit, “I need to run.” I ran. I threw up. I hear the music before Odette is going off stage and I’m hearing the music. I ran from the toilets on the stage and I don’t know how I survived it but this was a horrible thing. I had antibiotics. Even like this, I danced the show, which now I’m thinking back and I’m like, “Xenia, you’re crazy. You cannot do it. First of all, it’s not good for your heart. Second of all, it’s also not good for your colleagues.”
Neither the quality that I delivered that evening because I remembered there was a friend watching the show and she came to me after the show and she was like, “Xenia, are you okay?” I’m like, “Not so good. I’m not good.” She was like, “Yeah because you didn’t stretch your feet so much. I was surprised because it’s not you.” I was like, “I don’t feel anything.” I didn’t do anyone good, not me, not the colleagues on the quality. It’s a bad decision.
Why are we making that decision? That is the point that we should explore here because I have found myself in the same situations. I danced with my tendon ripped before I stepped on stage. I did a whole show with a ripped tendon in my ankle out of fear to say, “I can’t because I am right now putting myself, my health and my wellbeing before anybody else.” When you don’t have enough self-esteem, feel that you’re worthy of taking care of yourself first then you make these kinds of decisions then you feel like that, “If I am not showing up tonight, I am letting everybody else down.”
In this situation, this was my feeling because also it’s not that it was not that I danced the solo part but for me it was such short notice. It happened overnight, I can let them down.
We never explored and learned how to ask a different question. Meaning, what are the options here? We had many times somebody goes sick overnight. In the morning after class between 11:45 and 1:00, we would rearrange the core. We would take two out if we didn’t have an understudy. How do we look at it? With you being sick, could it also have been with me being sick? Could we give an understudy a chance to go on stage and feel what it is?
Particularly in this situation, I’m sure the ballet master would not have a problem doing so because I had the reputation to be very responsible in general. This would not have been a problem. In this particular situation, that was more my problem that I could not let go of. I had also other colleagues who were much more, “No, I’m sick or I have pain, I won’t do it.” In my situation, it was not like that. For example, we’ve been on tour in Torino. It was Nacho. A dancer got sick and I got the opportunity to jump in a very nice part that I always had a dream to dance but I had a small injury. It was the same foot even that I had the fracture before. It started like maybe to come back or whatever because of the stress and a lot of work. We had many shows also in this tour and I got this opportunity.
I was so happy to have this opportunity and I didn’t want to let it go. I went over my limits in order to be able to perform this. It’s your fault. Many dancers think this way especially in these big companies, “If you’re not taking this chance, it will disappear. For this, you have to make some sacrifices.” I’m sure it’s possible to find some balance. There are also probably people who say much more often, “I’m getting sick or I’m injured,” or I don’t maybe because they don’t feel like or, “I’m not coming in,” or whatever but this is another extreme. If we speak about limits of pain or injuries, ballet dancers are very numb.
When we talked around diversifying the injuries that a dancer has or receives during their training and can develop during a career, you can help yourself healing through like visualization. You can help yourself minimize pain or the amount of pain that you’re feeling by certain breathing techniques and visualization. I find that these kinds of tools would come in so handy for these moments. I’m not talking about abusing them, but for these moments where we want this chance where we are being presented with the chance and we are injured but yet we cannot say no to the chance. Let’s ask again a better question. How can I perform on my highest level without compromising my body? How is that possible? There are many tools out there that you can use for these moments that will carry you through where can 100% rely on your body without fearing that you’re going to break or that you’re going to experience pain that will inhibit your ability to perform and to find joy on stage.
First of all, my husband is coming from sports. I’m very into this physical training, personal coaching and stuff. He’s 100% into the dance world. He worked with dancers and one of my best friends, she’s studying Dance Science. With all this around me for a long time and seeing how it works and having the hope that it could work better. I believe that physical work is essential for a dancer and I would like that it gets a little bit more present and more important during the daily work of dancers. With this I mean that I can speak from the experience of Staatsballett or maybe in Hannover.
This means the offices, for example, cannot be very far away or that you have shorter ways to get to where you need to get, or especially the physio people that they are able to join the rehearsals, the classes and to analyze how the classes are. How are the rehearsals? Is it good? Is it healthy? What can be better? I do have to say in Hannover, we have a person who did come also at the start. We have a doctor who is coming in sometimes and checks it out. It has to be essential. It has to be super important. It doesn’t matter how big is the company but every small company has a physiotherapist that dancers don’t have to go somewhere.
They pay for an extra. They should have access to it 24/7.
This is another investment in your dancers, in your product because if they’re healthy, they will be happy. They can perform better. It’s all prevention but it’s also a smart investment. This is one part. Another part is in general to prevent injuries. There’s an organization. We’re used to having classes at 10:00 every day. We used to also very often have stage rehearsals if it’s was the orchestra and for the classes at 9:00, which is horrible. It’s the worst thing that you can do to your body. You can say, “Guys, you don’t need to come. It’s voluntary.”
At the same time, if I don’t come, how I can be good? How can I deliver and do my work at 10:00 rehearsal? It’s impossible. The question is, is there a possibility in the future? Maybe not immediately right now because everything is complex machinery, how things are working in the theater. I know in general, there’s never enough time and everybody is asking for things. It’s very complex. I get it. Maybe in the long-term, it’s possible to think maybe it’s not necessary to have class every time at 10. Maybe it’s good to start sometimes a class later. You can rest more than you should because your contract is saying so or your union is saying so. Maybe it’s worse to rest a little bit more but then be much more efficient in the hours that you have. In Germany, we’re supposed to work not more than eight hours, but how efficient and good can you work in eight hours? It’s better sometimes to do less and then being better the next day.Don’t be afraid. It’s just dance. Click To Tweet
At this point, it is proven that the human body, this whole eight hours of work, and that depends on people, have a productive number of hours that are anywhere between 3 and 5. Anything above is a waste of time. You could use it differently. You could use it for resting, rebuilding your energy, for learning, for anything but working. If you look at your normal 9:00 to 5:00 people, and I’m putting dancers into that factor as well. Particularly in Europe, you have your contracts started at 10:00 until 2:00, 6:00 until 9:00. That’s what it is. It is very organized and it is there to protect, and I get it.
I’m talking about the best-case scenario also a little bit from the dancer’s point of view, I also understand when I’m putting myself in the choreographer’s point of view, which I will have to do. I’m cutting into my own heart with what I said because I know it’s never enough time in everyone, “No, we need to rehearse more.” Maybe it’s still possible because I don’t have maybe to have every day the classical training because maybe it’s good to have classical training. Once a week we have functional training with the physio coach or a personal coach. There are many things to improve which can be done better.
I want to put another nugget and I heard this over and over from you, there is never enough time. If we’re in the theater, if we’re the choreographer, if we’re even the dancers, we have that feeling. I want to challenge that because it is something that can change that feeling by how we’re looking at it. What would it look like to have enough time? What is enough time? There are so many questions in between that I feel should be explored before we can get nervous and anxious about the fact that there isn’t enough time.
Sometimes people don’t use the time efficiently. Sometimes people love or they don’t even maybe consciously do it but they waste time. Time management is something that’s important. Many people also don’t know but it’s a very important thing. This time management or this not enough time, it also comes from somewhere. This also could come maybe from the organization or like the people who are organizing or preparations. It’s like a puzzle. If the thing at the start does not work then it continues. It’s like a domino effect. One thing you do not so well then it goes to the next person because he cannot do something because someone else didn’t do good and so on.
Maybe there are also some possibilities to improve that. From my point of view, it comes also for example, that everyone who you are working with, and I include dancers, I include the ballet master. I include the company manager and everyone, your whole team, if everyone knows what responsibilities they have and which responsibilities they have to cover that it’s not going to be like, “That’s not my job.” In the end, there will be also things that it’s not particularly my job but I will have to help or to cover it up. If in general, the structure and organization of this, the responsibility tasks are given right to the people, this is a good and a big step and that’s why this is one of the hardest things to do. What I was like reading now a little bit like culture management. It’s how to find the right person for the right job.
This is the most difficult thing because it requires so much preparation and a lot of hours of work and thoughts that you have to put on it in order to write all your requirements. It’s also something like this is your main field but this is cooperation. It’s like, “There are many things.” If anyone who would read a book about like management or something like this or what I read until now, it’s everywhere standing, the better you define your areas of responsibility, the better it is for the future because everybody will know where lies their responsibility.
For example, if my biggest responsibility is to have an overview of the whole thing to create. My responsibility is 90% to be in the studios, create and be with the dancers. I have to find the right team and the right people that I could delegate, lead and give tasks so I can do my job very well. This goes basically for each member. I try also to find the same also for the dancers. What do I expect from them like a choreographer or secondary also an artistic director? What could be the fields that could apply to the dancers? Their main area is 90% dancing, but maybe there are more fields to be covered, to also be involved in the creative process or think about concepts or to have teamwork, artistic developments or one certain idea. There can be thousands of things that people can be more challenged or dancers could be more challenged.
On that point, it is important to have a vision for everybody. What is your company’s vision? What do you want to reach? What do you want to do? Why are you here? That is so important and that will assist everybody with carrying their weight when they know what they’re working towards. Second, I wanted to mention Chris Harder. I am in a mastermind with him. He’s been my coach for a few years now. He has been able to build great teams that support him in everything and anything. What he has been talking about it is not only about the right people but it’s also about the right chairs. The right chairs are your right positions that are needed for your organization, for the business that you’re running to push it forward towards your vision.
You’ll find the right people for the right chairs. Having that analogy in my head has helped me personally in building teams for quite some time now. I may have had the right chairs but I didn’t have the right people on the right chairs at times. Having that was helpful for me. I wanted to add, the dancers, them knowing what they’re responsible for, meaning it is not only your job to show up at 10:00 in class, train and keep yourself in shape, but you’re here for a bigger picture. You’re here because this is our vision. This is what we want to create. That’s so important. This is why we’re having this conversation to share that you know now through your experience as a dancer how important that is for yourself and for the success that you want to see in the company that you’re taking over in September or August 2021.
In general, also the effect in this point that you mentioned before and we spoke about this the first time that we met, the big why, these three letters. For everyone who is reading, check Simon Sinek out.
He loves dance too. He is a big supporter and lover of ballet and dance.
Think big or don’t sync at all. My next idea would be like, “Maybe we should reach out to him for whatever networking or something like this.” This big why when I checked him out, I was also so inspired. It’s true. I need to put this why in my studio in a big graffiti or something like that so that everyone can see and always have it in front of their minds. I include myself in this, why we’re here and why we’re doing that. It’s important and essential. I remember I told you I have this amazing woman who is a business consultant. She is not coming from a ballet background but she is inspiring. Each time that she’s posting some stuff on Instagram, I’m responding in whatever she has to say. She was the one who told me about this white guy from Apple.
She is someone who is interested in contributing to the arts and to the dance world. We are someone, I consider my team and me, who are interested in getting to know more external knowledge from the business and apply it a little bit to theaters, to this institution and to this art form because we only can get better. It’s such a great help. In general, how to approach things, how to see things and being curious, think curious. As a dancer, I was always curious. I like to be versatile and dance many different styles. I know everyone is different and I understand it.
As a young artistic leader or director, my wish would be also to have my team and the dancers who will be in this team that they’re all are inspired and passionate about what they do, and that they all have something to contribute. It’s not something about me and that it’s something a little bit bigger picture. We’re all somehow trying to achieve something bigger than what time I’m going to dance in the next show. I’m sure I will face the routine or the reality, which will not be always positive. I would like to take it to the next level of improving the communication and to have feedbacks and stay open and be able to talk about problems and to be able to confront each other if something is not working right because this is how we will grow. This is the only way to grow.
Having a growth mindset, not a fixed mindset and understanding that growing means that we’re shedding old layers of us, and that sometimes hurts. It is in us as human beings, it is hard to step into uncertainty to let go of something, which by the way, hasn’t even served us for a long time yet it is hard for us to let go of. Understanding that the room, the space you’re creating is a safe place to do so. I think that is the most important thing to be vulnerable and to let them be them without fear of not being good enough in who they are.
This is exactly why what you say is so right. Without this fear to be good enough, you can bloom or bring the best out of you. In order to deliver things, there are some frames or some rules that we all have to follow in order to be professional. Within this frame, you still have a possibility to be basically free. I found it many times horrible if I cannot be able to talk openly and say what I feel to my superior. That is something that is important to me. If someone is able to do it, you can be honest. I can see the problem without any covering up or going around the sink. If you’re honest, it’s also easier to be also honest. If you also feel if a person is afraid to say and it’s going a little bit super careful, then you also don’t know how to approach or how to deal with that.
Last question for you, what would you tell your sixteen-year-old self with what you know at this point so far around yourself, life and how things go?
I would tell her to always keep believing in herself, which is nothing new. It’s something very important. Another very important thing that I would tell myself is to stop thinking what other people are thinking about you because you will never make all people happy. This is what I will tell my sixteen years old, “Don’t be afraid, it’s dance.” This is what I will probably also tell to myself. In the end, if I look back and I’m thinking, “I’m privileged and I’m happy to have been able to do my hobby being my profession.” I didn’t have to invest millions of euros to be able to do that. I had to fight for it. There is no discussion in that or to fight with my parents and tell to them, “No, I’m sure it’s the right decision.”
At the same time, we’re living in Germany. This is a country where you’re so safe and you have many possibilities to do what you want to do. This is the biggest privilege that we have. Many people don’t have this chance and then sometimes these little problems that are so big for us, like dancers. I still am on the big picture, they’re so small. It’s also very important what I would tell myself is don’t worry so much. Try to enjoy what you have because the time is flying. People told me so many times this, “Xenia, now you’re young but time is flying.” I would be like, “Yeah, whatever.” Everybody thinks that but it’s true. Time is flying. It’s going fast. Stop complaining, enjoy it and make the best out of it. People in Africa, there are many poor people who cannot afford anything. We can be happy to be able to do what we love.
Thank you so much for staying curious, learning and opening up your heart. I am certain that you will make a huge difference for these people that you are going to work with. The last thing, are you holding auditions? I had Ashley after our last conversation and I put it on Instagram. People were messaging me. When are you going to start auditioning? How is it working?
I already had one little pre-post on Instagram. I’m planning to make this official one. I’m a little bit afraid that I will be overwhelmed by how many people will apply. What I’ve heard from my other colleagues and the theater that they received over 1,000 applications. I hope I will not receive over 1,000 because I will not sleep for the next two weeks. I will want to see everyone and every application in order to make the best decision. Let’s see. You’re welcome to share it.
I’m more than happy if you want to send it to me, I’ll share it gladly on every platform that I have.
We will have also a trailer in general for this company. What we will be working on, in general, is to spread the word that this beautiful city in the north is existing. We need an audience to come, see us and support us. We would like to create interest, people come and visit us, see the shows and see how we work. To spread the word in general that we are new and we are existing. We are very ambitious. We will try to make all the best, what’s possible to improve and put great shows on stage.
Here’s a nugget that I heard. It’s not about building an audience. It’s about building a community. I know we’re using that term audience so much in the art world because they’re sitting there. They’re taking it in. This step-up though from it because it is not only anymore. What you’re building is not only people coming and watching. You want to build something bigger, interactive, not only the rich and privileged can go to. That is for everybody, and everybody functions in a community like we’re in tribes. We’re people. We’re humans. We have that still in us. We need people around us. Thank you so much for being here.
About Xenia Wiest
Xenia Wiest was born on the 8th of February 1984 into a musician family in Moscow. Her mother is a violin teacher and her father a Jazz drummer. In 1993 the family immigrated to Germany, which became their new home.
She started to develop her interest in music and art quite early which is not surprising because her parents used every possibility to take her out to theaters, operas and museums.
So she started playing piano and concert flute. She also sang in a choir where she had many opportunities to participate in operas of the State Theatre in Braunschweig like “Tosca”, “Midsummernight’s Dream”. Her biggest success was to sing the First Boy sopran- part in Mozart’s “Magic Flute”.
Xenia Wiest started taking jazz-dance and ballet classes at the same time. At the age of 14, she finally decided to become a professional ballet dancer. She made her first steps in a private school “Academie de danse“ in Braunschweig with her teacher and close friend Marie-Francoise Gery.
When she was 16, Xenia joined the John Cranko School in Stuttgart where she graduated in 2003. In the same year she received her first engagement at the Deutsche Oper Berlin followed by a guest contract as a soloist in Theatre in Görlitz.
Since 2004 until 2014 she has been working with Staatsballett Berlin under the direction of Vladimir Malakhov. Since August 2014, the company is directed by Nacho Duato. In the past 10 years, she has had opportunities to work and dance ballets of world-famous choreographers such as George Balanchine, Maurice Bejart, William Forsythe, Mauro Bigonzetti, Angelin Prejlocaj and Marco Goecke.
Xenia Wiest with Mauro Bigonzetti Ballet choreographies is another passion of hers, apart from dancing! She presented her first work in the ballet evening for young choreographers “Shut up & Dance“ in 2005. Because of the big success and popularity among the audience, this event was held again in 2007 with the cooperation of the famous Berghain Club in Berlin and in 2010 at Komische Opera Berlin. Since then, Xenia has created many choreographies and commissioned works for dancers all over the world.
Furthermore, Xenia Wiest is trying to integrate and explore dance in other fields. This can be seen in projects like Berlin Fashion Week 2010 and advertisements for NIKE Look Book 2013.
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