Following Johan: Dawid Trzensimiech on his new life in Bucharest
In March 2014, the Polish-born dancer, Dawid Trzensimiech, left The Royal Ballet – where his career trajectory appeared to be firmly on the rise – to join Johan Kobborg, then recently appointed as the artistic director of the ballet company at the Opera National Bucharest (effectively, the Romanian National Ballet). I caught up with him in his new environment to find out more about this move and his new life in Romania.
What made you want to leave The Royal Ballet to come to Bucharest?
Johan. Just Johan. I have to be honest and admit that I didn’t really know much about the company before he took over as director. He was the person that really gave me a chance back in London, especially when he gave me the opportunity –while still a corps de ballet member – to dance as James in his production of La Sylphide. When I worked with him, I saw how passionate he is about ballet and experienced his great strengths as a coach and mentor. He was exactly what I needed at the time.
You took a big plunge to follow him here to Romania?
I wasn’t sure that I wanted to dance anymore. I was going through one of those crises, which many dancers experience, where you start questioning if ballet is the way to go. And so, I decided to come here and see what the company is about; and, especially, to see whether working with Johan would inject the passion that I had lost in London.
That was over a year ago…so the answer is….…?
Oh, I made the right decision! I’m definitely happy to stick with dance. Johan is doing great things with this company and with the repertoire that we are doing now.
What kind of director is Johan?
Well, he’s certainly not one that sits behind a desk all day! He’s always with the dancers in the studios and that’s great.
You must be getting more opportunities here?
Dancers love to dance and, to be fair, I was beginning to get lots of opportunities in London, too. I was doing soloist roles and, occasionally, landing a principal role. As well as James, I did Nutcracker and Lensky [Onegin], for example, and I was down to do the Prince in Sleeping Beauty but I left before that. I was being given the roles that I was obviously well suited for.
If you were getting the opportunities in London, why leave?
It was harder to push for roles. You had to wait for them. Also – and this is the main reason – with so much rep and so many dancers in London, I never felt fully prepared for any role. So I was hoping that here, I would get more time to develop roles and to feel comfortable on stage.
So, you arrived more or less exactly the same time as Johan?
He became director in January 2014 and I joined at the beginning of March.
How were things when you came?
No matter where you move, it’s always difficult. I remember when I moved to London, which is one of the best cities in the world, I still felt lost and I was not sure that I had made the right decision. So coming here, of course, was difficult to begin with because Johan was the only person that I knew. It was tough, but I made a lot of new friends, very quickly.
Did you get caught up in the dynamics of change management, particularly as one of the new director’s first recruits, almost as if you were his protégé?
Well, because I don’t speak Romanian I didn’t really know what people were saying, which was probably an advantage! This is the ballet world and everyone wants to succeed quickly; so I guess that when you have got someone coming in from outside to become a principal and immediately getting all the roles that other dancers want, then I totally understood that there might be some resentment, because I’ve been in that situation myself.
However, it didn’t happen here (well, at least, not to my knowledge). I didn’t get any bad reaction and, certainly, no-one was mean to me! So, it didn’t affect me that much. Johan created more than 100 debuts in soloist and principal roles in his first full season so I think everyone who has the talent is being given the opportunity. I think that the most important thing is that Johan has galvanised the energy and passion of a younger generation of dancers here in Bucharest, and I feel very much a part of that.
What about facilities here when you joined? How did that compare with what you were used to in Covent Garden?
We were very spoilt with facilities at The Royal Ballet. So obviously it was not the same here; but it didn’t bother me too much, probably because I’ve been healthy and injury-free since I came here. We still don’t have a physio department yet, but thanks to Johan we now have a deal with a local hospital that means if something happens we have a place to go to get it sorted.
What changes have you seen over the past year?
Johan has brought a lot of talented dancers to the company and he is bringing very good guest teachers on a regular basis. We also have a masseur now. When I arrived, the floors were pretty bad and now all the studios and the theatre stage have sprung floors. The rep has been extended and hopefully there will be more new ballets coming in the next season. It has been a lot of change in a year.
You have made debuts recently as Colas and Armand. How was that?
Fantastic. Colas is a good role for me and the company here is very well equipped to provide several excellent casts for Fille. Dancing as Armand was funny because it doesn’t seem that long ago that I was performing Marguerite and Armand in London, but I was just one of the guys standing behind the chaise longue in Marguerite’s boudoir! I never imagined that I would graduate to dancing Armand so soon.
So all-in-all it has been a good decision to come to Bucharest?
To be honest, when I arrived, I thought that I’d made a mistake. Not in terms of leaving London but in sticking to dance. At that time, I was really ready to call “time” on my dance career. It took a while, but I’ve had my enthusiasm for dance completely refreshed by coming here.
Being here has helped me get a grip on handling the big roles better. That’s the only thing I do now, whereas before – in London – I found it very hard to deal with the nerves, particularly being in the corps for one performance and then doing an important soloist role (often for which I felt ill-prepared) the next.
As dancers, we are so self-critical, so judgemental; we want perfection from all that we do and if we aren’t getting enough preparation for being fifth-cast in a role, then we feel it. It gets to you. Now every night I’m out front and I feel well-prepared. I have had a proper build-up to my performances and I haven’t had to juggle these rehearsals with five other things. If I’m learning a principal role here, like Basilio in Don Q, then that is the only thing I have to focus on and I have the time to prepare properly. As a result, I have felt ready for my performances and altogether happier because of it.
What is now on your wish-list?
Des Grieux [Manon] is my dream. I could happily retire if and when I do it! The standard of the company is definitely good enough to do Manon, so let’s hope it happens.