The exhilaration of the stage

From Zurich Dance Academy to the great stages of the world: Dancer Aram Hasler is living her dream. Photograph: Rahi Rezvani, Nederlands Dans Theater

When it comes to new trends and creations, the dance world looks to the Nederlands Dans Theater. The contemporary company from Holland sets standards in dance quality and innovation and places the highest demands on its members. One of these is 29-year-old Aram Hasler, a graduate of ZHdK’s Zurich Dance Academy. A portrait.

BY JUDITH HUNGER
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It is 2009 and the occasion is the gala performance of Zurich Dance Academy at the Schauspielhaus Zurich. Aram Hasler dances the “Erdbeeri Mareili,” a short solo to music by Vivaldi, choreographed by Birgit Scherzer. “What, a solo performance of Vivaldi? By a 16-year-old? Will she do justice to the music…?” the audience wonders. What then happens on stage in the following minutes is overwhelming. As soon as the last note has faded away, the audience rises from its seats — utterly thrilled by the experience!

“The girl has a gift from God!” This is how her teachers described Aram already as a five-year-old. And Steffi Scherzer, artistic director of Zurich Dance Academy, has a similar view: “Aram was born to dance, she feels and lives music, has natural grace,” she says, remembering her former pupil. Unwavering hymns of praise. And that’s not all: Aram has played the violin since her youth and wears the black belt in karate. Does this high-flyer also have a dark side? Laughing, she talks about herself as a stubborn person who can also passionately reject something or someone. A guest tutor, for instance, whose lessons did not convince her. Which is why she was summoned to the director’s office at her former dance school.

“Make something of it”

Her years as an apprentice in Zurich were extremely demanding: she was challenged and nurtured, she says. But this hard work bore fruit when she secured one of the most coveted engagements in the scene — at the Nederlands Dans Theater. She began in the junior company NDT 2, the talent factory for dancers aged 17 to 22. She has been a member of NDT 1 since 2011. Nobody talks about technique here anymore, it is simply expected. Expression, interpretation and verve: joining the Dutch company provided exactly what Aram was looking for after her strictly structured training in Zurich.

Nevertheless, entering the professional world was anything but smooth for the young woman from Zurich. Authorship is increasingly demanded, a requirement that needs getting used to, she says. “Make something of it” is a typical instruction from a choreographer to the dancer after the basic steps to the music have been worked out. Satisfying this further demand requires creativity, imagination and enjoying improvisation. Alone in one corner of the studio she tries to rise to each and every challenge, always bearing the choreographer’s signature in mind. “Will it please? Am I on the right track?” This is highly demanding and at the same time highly satisfying. When the magic of a brilliant performance develops into intoxication, “when a choreographer manages to guide me to where movement, music, emotion, time and space become one. Then I exert myself so much — three hundred percent — that I almost vomit after a performance.”

 

Strategies for body and mind

Aram’s instrument is her body. To withstand the permanent physical and mental pressure, dancers develop their own coping strategies, in a long process of learning and suffering. “Consulting a personal trainer is the latest trend,” she explains. Such “boot camps for dancers” make sense. For choreographers like Ohad Naharin, Hofesh Shechter or Crystal Pite demand a kind of physicality that barely any training prepares dancers for, regardless of stylistic orientation. Aram explains that before every training session, before every performance, she also does special exercises to warm up her joints and strengthen her muscles. Being open to all possible movement languages is her credo, versatility a word she often uses.

When Aram is not touring, her day starts with a one-hour train ride from Amsterdam, where she lives, to The Hague, where the company is based. She uses the time on the train to get some peace and to read. She also finds distraction from dance through watching movies — in the cinema or on Netflix.

And where does she see herself in ten years? She doesn’t know, she says. But she does know one thing for sure: “I would never ever trade my profession for another for anything in the world.”

Judith Hunger (judith.hunger@zhdk.ch) is responsible for communications at ZHdK’s Department of Performing Arts and Film.
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