Simona Noja

The International Dance Festival in Constanţa presented in the final gala a special guest: Simona Noja, prima ballerina of the Vienna State Opera, another Romanian who, having left her native country for 10 years, has built a successful career on the world's stages. Her destiny changed when, in 1990, she won the first place at Jackson, Mississippi, in the United States of America. And today, the manager of the Oleg Danovski Ballet Theatre, Ana Maria Munteanu succeeded in bringing her to Constanţa for the first edition of the Festival.I did not know her. I heard and I read about Simona in all the magazines of the kind, but I was curious to see her face to face. Having left a rehearsal at the House of Culture of Constanţa, my eyes fixed on a petite, fragile person, who made her way, with elegant but sure steps, to the backstage entrance. It was Simona. I want to introduce myself to her. Her smile, kind but in the same time cold, determines me to postpone this moment. I come back to the theatre in the afternoon to see her at the rehearsal. I sit silently in a corner and I watch. A diaphanous body draws lines of imponderability on Strauss' music, as if having the power to stop time, to cancel it, something that one can only rarely see. She seems to be a breeze, wandering towards us… Is it a dream or reality?She has divine grace. Excerpts from international reviews:Buenos Aires, September, 2000"Simona Noja es una balairina de honda expresión y excelenta tecnica. El credor de esta peiza monumental le dió facetas varidas que asmismo se refleján en lo que tiene que bailar. Esmeralda se deslumbra con la fisonomia y personalidad de Phoebus, con quien tiene un torrido y magnifico pas de deux." Sun Sentinel, South Florida, September, 2000"The heroine of the evening, though, turned out to be Simona Noja of the Vienna State Opera Ballet. Noja and her partner…revealed in Zanella's 'Beethoven Opus 73', a deliciously animated reflection on what drives dancers, a perfect commentary for festivals, where style often takes precedence over substance." El Nuevo Herald"El sabado trajo a una iguras mas carismaticas de este festival: la rumana Simona Noja, estrella del ballet de la Opera de Viena. Desde su primera aparicion en 'Beethoven Opus 73' ella conquisto al publico con sua limida ejecucion y su divertida sensualidad." Danza & danza"…e la Grete di Dimona Noja a sorprendere per la pulizia della sua danza e la sincerita della sua sfaccettata interpretazione." El Mercurio, Chile"La pareja protagonica (Medora y Conrad) dio una hermosa vision de los personajes a traves de una tecnica impecabile y brilliante. Ella, con gracia y seguridad, perfectos equilibrios y un notable e ingravido salto." We met each other the next day. We spoke for several minutes, but I realized she had her mind busy with the next evening performance. We postponed the interview for some other day. The last day of the Festival. An overcrowded room. Due to the complexity of the styles approached, the program outlined by Ana Maria Munteanu and Răzvan Mazilu proved to be a success, captivated the public in attendance by gathering, besides the ballet dancers from Constanţa, many others from Bucharest, Chişinău, Vienna and Mainz. A golden gala, I would say.The next day, while I was packing my baggage for departure, Ana tells me smiling: "You know, Simona has agreed to become from this moment associate artistic manager of 'Oleg Danovski' company. She will be back in a month to put on stage the maestro's Swan Lake."I decide to return to Constanţa to make a documentary on this event. September 3, 1999. Together with the shooting crew I have returned to this place that brought me so much satisfaction for the last months. I head towards Constanţa's House of Culture. Many people on the stage. Intense preparations… I enter backstage and I don't hear any screaming or yelling I have been used with in such events. I wonder: am I in Romania?"Yes, it is possible," Simona Noja tells me, "why not? Why are you so shocked? Everybody knows what he or she has to do, so why should we yell at each other?" We decide to have the interview tomorrow in the afternoon. Full of joy, I go to the hotel. 4 p.m., September 4, 1999"Good afternoon, dear Mrs. Noja. I had never seen you until two months ago, even if I have permanently watched your growth and change. I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to take your profile for the Romanian Television. Do you agree with starting with your first steps done in the field of dance?""This is a difficult task. Simply because I don't know which were my first steps. I just know that at a certain moment I was attending the High School of Choreography in Cluj, probably due to some circumstances. I do not know whether there was anything planned. But I guess not. Of course, with time I have noticed that any coincidence has its own role that makes it more than that, but at that time I considered it to be a coincidence. And I will tell you why. I was part of Bela Karoly's team, in Oneşti, for a whole year. I was selected for the Olympic team, but I was so weak, extremely slim and extremely fragile, so that my parents considered that an artistic career would be more suitable for me than following a sport. They thought it was less difficult to become a ballet dancer than a professional gymnast. And I started to attend the High School of Choreography where I had the chance to meet great teachers like Vasile Solomon and Larisa Şorban to whom I owe my decision of becoming a ballet dancer.""We don't know much about the High School of Choreography from Cluj." "I am sorry for this, too, because this was the school that is at the foundation of my career and I am proud of it. Those teachers helped me to see the beauty that lies in the world of dance. Otherwise, like any other child who, accidentally goes to such a school, at the age of 10 I was not very sure that I wanted to become a ballet dancer. I was not that kind of child. Let's say I rather loved poetry than sports. So that other things were in my mind, but not a career as a ballet dancer. Maybe I was not yet absolutely decided I wanted to make a career even when I graduated the high school. And as a matter of fact I even took the exams, followed and four years later I graduated from the Faculty of Philology.I took my decision after participating in the Jackson, Mississippi contest. But even this contest, for me, did not come out of the blue. It was the result of four years of extremely intense work and of my participation in other contests, so it was a sort of artistic fever of those years spent in Romania, extremely important for me. At that time I used to spend a lot of time in the company of actors from Cluj, whose driving force was Mihai Măniuţiu. It was a challenging milieu, which inspired me. Then I met maestro Oleg Danovski, and subsequently I performed together with the maestro's company, I came to Bucharest, I worked with maestro Ştefan Bănică and with Florin Brânduşe… there were several events that preceded this contest and each of them contributed to my development and to the getting of the medal I won at Jackson."For ten years we have not had the opportunity to see you on the Romanian stages, while Western Europe praised you. I ask you, honestly, is it difficult to assume the staring role in the present world of dance?""I do not believe Romania has lost anything. I rather think Romania has gained a lot by me representing it abroad. Without this ten years' experience I could not have come back and offered you everything I know now. This is how it was meant to be. I was meant to leave, to face several extremely difficult situations, namely the loneliness. I was there by myself, not with my family or with my friends. My English language knowledge and my professionalism helped me a lot and allowed me to join renowned international companies. I had to start from nothing and to bear the handicap of being born in a country like Romania. Any insignificant error was severely sanctioned: 'I can tell you are from East'." In fact, the impact of the West was shocking for me. I lived an existential shock.""Is it possible to make your way by yourself in the ballet world, meaning by self-confidence and patience?" "I do not see how else, except by yourself. I was educated in the spirit that anything you wish can come true and that everything depends on you to make things happen. You asked me earlier how it is to be a star in today's ballet world. Well, it means to confront your own being in a complete isolation. You are by yourself everywhere and in every moment of your life, you can have even very close friends and yet in these moments of your life you are by yourself and in the moments of performing, even more, you are on your own.""A simple question: for dancing is it enough to be talented?""Definitely no, you need something else too. You need to meet great choreographers. Spoerli's Company from Duesseldorf offered me a basis, time to get accustomed to the Western mentality, with their way of studying and rehearsing, with a certain type of behavior. I owe Spoerli my start and for trusting a no name dancer and giving me the opportunity to be a leading ballerina in an international company. I still remember my first months spent there… I used to cry all the time. I was not exactly that type of enthusiastic ballerina who wins prizes all the time, who has the feeling she will be able to realize everything she has in mind, I was just a kid, simply desperate and unable to fit to the new circumstances. But Spoerli, with patience and sympathy, helped me, made me understand what was all about. It was extremely important." "Only few ballet stars can be proud of having worked with one of the greatest choreographers of our times, William Forsyte? How did you manage to persuade him?""I do not know, ask him. Leaving aside the joke, I can tell you that for me this meeting was vital. And a unique moment in my professional life. It happened in a crucial moment of my life, as any other events, but this collaboration propelled me internationally. You can imagine that, when William Forsyte comes and says to everybody, including Kylian and all the other personalities from the world of dance, that Simona is as good as Sylvie Guillem and he wants her in his company, this is the best advertising one can do.""I saw you in one of his choreographies and I can tell that at least physically you resemble Sylvie." "My mentality is very close to hers. This is a strong resemblance. She has always been a model for me and she will be a model as she has proved not only her technical and artistic abilities, but also spiritual qualities. She is a communicative person in a different dimension and it is very important for me that these encounters should take place in a different dimension.""But why did you leave Duesseldorf?""I left because I wanted to meet with other choreographers and this could happen only at Vienna State Opera. Here I could have the opportunity to diversify the repertoire of my performances working with choreographers like John Cranko, McMillan, Balanchine and Neumaier, a chance that I could not find anywhere else, except perhaps for Paris or London. And there is another reason also. I worked with Renatto Zanella who created for me several pieces. He created a lot, I could say. There were four years of hard work. I will give you one example: I had 14 premieres alone in the first theatrical season, all of them very important roles. There were several years of incredible work and, of course, all these years turned into a result at a certain moment. What I am now is the result of those years." "Does your relationship with Renatto Zanella have any other special meaning?""Yes, we have a child together. My son is one year and four months, his name is Alexander and he is extremely dynamic.""How did you assume the risk to become a mother while being a famous ballet dancer?""There is a certain degree of risk in everything we do. Each ballet performance, for me, had its own risk, every change we make means taking the risks, from the United States to Frankfurt, from Frankfurt to Vienna, everywhere I went I took the risks. Everything presupposes assuming the risks… but why are you surprised that I took the decision to have a baby while I was at the climax of my career?... Because it is natural. There is a sense of self-control, at a certain extent you feel secure. I needed motherhood and somehow it seems to me that subsequently everything was far easier. My career had an ascendant line, but after having given birth it ascended vertically. It seems that it was the right decision at the right moment. Fate has been generous with me and for 30 years I have been the one who received and who was in the center of my interests, of my own universe. My son determined me, forced me to think differently, to put him in the center of my universe.""Vladimir Malakhov is now considered one of the best dancers from all over the world. I saw you dancing together in the ballet The Bayadere, some fragments from the general rehearsal. How did you work with him?""Working with Vladimir had different stages, from passionate love – I mean professionally – to absolute malignity, and it was natural to be that way since we both have a strong personality. Of course, I cannot compare him with Manuel Legris, for instance, with whom I worked in absolute harmony, but with Vladimir it was different as we danced together several parts. In Manon we were permanently in a conflict, while in The Bayadere we worked together perfectly.""But you never show this tensions while dancing in front of the audience. How do you manage?""But these tensions are not visible in the ballet room either. These are rather inner tensions… it is a sort of struggle, a certain conflict with yourself… however I did not show off these tensions – not even in the ballet room, they were more subtle, but they existed.""Looking back, I understand you love both classical ballet and contemporary dance. And since you were present at the Constanţa Festival from the beginning to the end, you probably noticed what happened. I mean the clash between the classic and the modern, the not very positive opinions as regards the young Romanian choreographers, that shocked both the public in attendance, but especially the seniors of Romanian contemporary dance.""This dispute seems to me completely out of place. You probably know that I even took up an attitude in this respect. Since ever, my dream has been to cover a diverse range of styles and I simply cannot understand why some people frown and limit themselves to a particular genre. I do not see anything constructive in this attitude. I consider that nowadays a dancer should demonstrate having this opening to any kind of dance. A larger and more complex opening towards dance. When I went to the West I was happy to realize that besides the pure, classical dance, I was in contact with contemporary dance, and eventually this experience helped me to enrich my body language, my dancing techniques, but also it enriched my being. It was a tremendous benefit for me. As if someone had given me an invisible treasure. I consider it to be a matter of necessity for all the current dancers to be able to master as much knowledge as possible, including contemporary dance knowledge. In the absence of this knowledge one cannot reach professionally the international standards, since there are contemporary dance techniques which are applied to the classical dance. Sylvie Guillem had the merits to fulfill both tasks. She first worked with Béjart. And do not ignore the fact that she has worked on these two planes since she was 16: classic and contemporary. We can no longer afford to be limited. Any limitation triggers exclusion. I think it is important to confront, to breathe the air, to live in the universe and be in the light of other choreographers. It is vital. This is the reason why at this moment, in the West, there is a tendency to intermix these two genres. All that matters is to keep the balance. But you cannot acknowledge your own value except in the international competitions.You can no longer say that we are brilliant by having seen only our classical ballets. Our target has to be at another level. And I think that the Constanţa Festival succeeded to impose one. It brought into light all genres of dance, different generations were put together here and, what is most important, the 'Oleg Danovki' Company had the chance to work with several choreographers from Romania and from abroad.""Heraclitus states that 'destiny is our own character'. Should I consider that your coming to Constanţa was part of destiny? And why Constanţa, why not Cluj or Bucharest?""I believe that our entire existence is an inner journey. What matters is to discover what we really want, to find the meaning of our lives. From that moment on it means that we are on our way to spiritual development. Destiny was kind and generous with me, in that I had a family that educated me seriously, I have always had the power of discernment, the ability to make the right choice at the right moment.Since for 30 years I was given and enriched, spiritually speaking, I have assimilated, and now I feel the need to give myself, to offer to all those who are in this field everything I have learned. The treasure I discovered is valuable from the moment it can be transferred to others. Why Constanţa and why not Cluj or Bucharest? Very simple. Because they asked me. That simple.I came here as Associate Artistic Manager, while keeping my position at Vienna State Opera. Now I am staying a whole month to put on stage maestro Oleg Danovki's Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky. I have many memories related to this performance. This was the first choreography of the 'Swans' I was confronted with, when I was only 18, a young debuting dancer, aspiring to the position of prima ballerina. I love maestro Danovski's choreography as it has a happy ending. He gives us hope, and in a larger sense, hope in a better future for the Romanian dancers.Here, in Constanţa, I discovered a huge potential, an uncommon willingness, and communication. I realized that my words are correctly perceived, my suggestions are followed and respected as such, in fact that my dreams come true. When I arrived here I thought to put the right person in the right place. I was interested in clarity and order. The maestros and Mrs. Munteanu work together with me, from early in the morning till late in the evening. We have got only one month to make this premiere and at the same time we have to work at the program that is to be performed in the tour, which will take place in November.""What new elements have you brought in the artistic concepts of this company?" "A certain authority and will. I made 6 castings for the 'Lake'.""I think this is quite a unique case in Romania.""It might be. In fact I believe only competition can stimulate people, it motivates and creates the right image of this company. All of them were equally advantaged and all of them behaved excellently.""I watched you last evening while rehearsing in the room and I discovered an unusual practice in our country. For three hours you changed several castings, keeping an untouchable calm. How does the company react to this healthy rhythm imposed by you?""I believe this is the only viable way of working with people. My calm is not gratuitous. It is about controlling the situation. I think people panic and start yelling when they feel they can no longer master themselves. And I do not want to leave aside my principle, no matter what might happen. I want the dancers themselves to grow and change with this responsibility of the role they play, of stepping on the stage and of paying due respect to their partner, to the choreography, to the music and to the audience. Eventually, the most important thing is to illuminate each individual with the consciousness of his own value. This is the starting point for everything. I consider this company works very well in this system because everybody is motivated and each of them must be able to enter the stage if necessary.""As a final point, I would like to ask you where you come from.""Well, I originate in a place in neighborhood of Cluj, to be more precise, I was born in Huedin, probably only few know where this place lies on the map… but more probably I come from the planet of 'Little Prince', where, in fact, we all originate if we succeed to uncover our original candor and purity. I must confess that I had this revelation about my own origins by giving birth to my son, which, like any other birth, makes you re-think your entire existence." THE MYSTERY OF SUCCESS OR "ALL ABOVE SILVER" "The human being turned into human from the point he started to put his body at the disposal of his mind. And so, the useful move appeared, meant to create material things. But in a continual search, the human mind reflected on itself, learning to find its amazement, joy and fear and many other unbelievable feelings that a human can live and express through his body. And so the dance appeared, whose age is lost in the mist of man's past." "In respect to its means of expression, dance is the most imperiled art by redundancy. While music has at hand an unlimited combination of sounds, plastic arts is based on the diversity of colors and forms that equals the complexity of nature, while theatre and literature are founded on the ever prolific amalgam of words, dance is limited by the human body, persuaded to tell a story, to make feelings visible, to suggest ideas though an effort of aesthetic value in itself, the same way in which in Blaga's metaphor the morning's dawn is nothing but drops of sweat from the nightingales that toiled all night singing. This is why, dance is in itself the bravest attempt of the humans to unburden their bodies, to free themselves from their flesh and bones, to ascend to their soul and reason." "Ballet represents the most severe fracture in the history of dance. Up to its appearance, the art of dancing was exclusively based on the human body's natural data and the coordination of movements according to the natural laws. Instead, ballet aimed to force the body's limits of expression, tried to restructure the human body in certain positions, attitudes and movements beyond the known limits, without a utilitarian finality, but meant for an aesthetic metamorphosis. The model of the body furnished with nothing but its own beauty had not stayed as a unique model. This one was put in balance with the model of the body that creates beauty through is artistic acts, as a concept of body – a mean of ideated and metaphysical opening, a means of participating in the union of earth with air." "In order to ascend in dance, the dancer has first to descend. In arts, like in beliefs, one can ascend only by descending. This fact inspired Hegel and determined him to treat art as a specific component of religion. Art is a spiritual state and it has a circumstantial and connotative genesis. It does not operate with facts, but with possibilities, it does not engage the realm of real but that of the believable, it does not establish rules but unrepeatable acts, and it does not prove, but persuades by revealing." "Arts, in general, and especially dance presuppose an inner humbleness. The dancer's body assumes the humbleness of being someone else at that moment and at that place, so that the character he plays should shine on the stage. In this case, creativity presumes self-denial. Each interpreter wants to accomplish this. But not all of them succeed. This is the privilege of those who, besides work, will and discipline, had been gifted with talent and have the luck of reaching the state of grace." "Perfection in dance, like in life, is unattainable. It is a continual temptation and accessible as a target, but it never turns into a finishing line. To challenge the one who searches perfection, it glimmers now and then, presents itself as a promise, like a twinkling star above the top of the next hill." "Perfection has something in common with the positive despotism of universal causality. Imperishable and pure ideal, the same as the Eminescian cold and eternal evening star, perfection exists due to the fact that we need it and we cannot attain it in spite of our wish. The particular circumstance, where the dancer tries to appropriate perfection not by the abstract reasoning, but by an objective, concrete physical effort made though his own body, makes his own search look like a ritual. As you cannot give birth to a myth or a legend using a disobedient body, unaccustomed to displaying its soul. Only by climbing on purifying Golgotha every day, you may dare to frame music in a space and to draw a state of spirit with your own body." "Purity and simplicity are Sunday's attire of love, since for genuine love every day is a Sunday. The Bible postulates: 'if there is not love, there is nothing.' The assumption invests this feeling with universal gravity, sublimating it. But the sublime contains inherently the tragic essence of its own potential negation. This must be the reason why love, in its most profound manifestations, is a profound test in the arts. As such an overwhelming feeling should be brought to light in the simplest forms. The idea that, in His humanly most accessible forms, God himself is love is the only thing that might come to the artist's succor." Simona NOJA (Thoughts about the theme of the art of dancing expressed by Simona Noja at the Romanian Cultural Center in Vienna on the occasion of an evening party dedicated to the artist, prima ballerina of the Vienna State Opera)

by Silvia Ciurescu