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Julien & Natalie 1

Julien Keulen and Natalie Ogonek, two new dancer of the Royal Swedish Ballet. Photo Cristian Hillbom

Characteristics that can make interesting artists

STOCKHOLM: They are young, enthusiastic and versatile, seeming to fit perfectly into ballet director Nicolas le Riche’s team.

Meet two of the new dynamic dancers of the Royal Swedish ballet: Natalie Ogonek and Julien Keulen.

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Natalie Ogonek and Julien Keulen in Dansmuseet Stockholm. Foto Cristian Hillbom

Natalie Ogonek is 25 years old, she grew up in Canada where she went to the school of the National Ballet. She continued there as an apprentice for one year.
After that she came to Europe and joined the Bundesjugendballett in Hamburg, the first national youth ballet in Germany. John Neumeier started this within his ”Ballettzentrum” in 2011. She also worked with the Hamburg ballet and from there she went to Hongkong before coming to Sweden.

Julien Keulen is 20 years old, was born in Belgium, but he and his parents are Dutch. He first studied dance in the south of the Netherlands. At thirteen he moved to the Hague where he went to the Royal Conservatory. In 2015 he participated in the Prix de Lausanne competition. With a scholarship to the Royal Swedish Ballet School he lived in Stockholm during the season 2015-16 and danced in The Nutcracker with the RSB company. Julien then returned to the Hague to finish his studies. He did an audition in Stockholm and entered the Royal Swedish Ballet in 2017.

I ask Natalie what Hongkong was like

She says that she learned a lot, but also that it was very different from Hamburg in every way.

It was a real challenge to find yourself in a situation where everything you think you understand and believe in, is different and questioned. Natalie says she felt quite dazed for about six months.

This state of mind made her think through many things in life, like ethical standpoints, why she is dancing and what she enjoys doing.

She points out that director Madeleine Onne was very supportive and helped a lot during this period.

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Natalie tells us about how she started to dance. Photo CH

I wonder why the Royal Swedish Ballet became her choice when she wanted to move on?

Natalie tells me that she got an advice she felt was suitable for her, namely that if you should go somewhere you should do it as an action, not as a reaction. Meaning a wish from within more than other circumstances. 

So, she started a search for companies she liked, for places she found interesting, considering their repertory and way of working, their philosophy and so on. Sweden was one of them.

Julien has a different story. 

In his case the participation in The Nutcracker (while he was on scholarship at the school) made him feel strongly for the Swedish company and their repertory. During his time with the school, he says he fell in love with the amazing city of Stockholm.

With many connections – like his teacher Katarina Wester being a Swede as well – it seems to have been a quite natural choice to return to Stockholm. On his last day at work, former director Johannes Öhman gave Julien his contract. 

Julien says that although he did not know who would be the new director, he was familiar with the theatre, the staff and the dancers and thus felt confident. When M. le Riche was presented, Julien calls it a big bonus… 

How is it to look for a new job? Traveling around, doing auditions?

Natalie’s answer is a little surprising. She recalls that she did put a great effort into planning, and she managed to create her own “auditioning tour”. 

She travelled for a month, even visiting companies that had no contracts to offer, only because she was interested in their work. She met lots of people, took classes and says she had a real good time!

It must take a lot of preparations to make such a trip work. Natalie says she learned many things about herself, and that sometimes the company she came to, proved to be not at all what she was looking for. 

Thanks to her “age” (25) she had a mature approach to this process, and says it was “empowering”.

What she really wanted was a company where the dancers can be individuals. She claims she is not the most technical dancer and explains how she loves to play with movements and experiment with dance to express her personality. 

Addressing Julien – sitting beside her (they work together) – she says maybe she’s driving him crazy with her ideas. She tells us that she can be creative within the corps de ballet.

We agree, all three of us, on the importance of the dancers in the corps de ballet.

On the issue of favorite styles in dance and preference, Natalie says she has a broad taste as long as there is a content in the movements, emotions and character, rather than totally abstract dance.

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Julien is really interested in choreography. Photo CH

What is Julien looking for in this company?

“When I was younger I always wanted to be a modern dancer, but within my time in the conservatory, I trained both ballet and contemporary dance and I came to love both techniques equally. Classical ballet is always a challenge and I love challenges.”

This diversity is suitable for the Royal Swedish Ballet of today.

I ask what their expectations are now and for the next season?

Natalie answers that she tries not to have any, but prefers being like a sponge. Adopt what is coming and just dance…

Julien’s dreams are mainly to dance a lot, stay healthy and be able to have a long career. He is really interested in choreography and hopes to develop that side. Julien has created one piece that was well received.

His expectations are not about a certain ballet or choreographer, nevertheless Julien is excited about next season’s repertory, looking forward to ballets by Jiří Kylian – who he ranks among the very best – Lucas Timulak and a full-length ballet by Jiří Bubeníček in May.

Talking about his strong sides Julien says he likes everything from ballet and modern to hiphop and salsa. No preferences. He thinks he has no specialty, but tries to become a mover in all steps and likes improvisations. He explains how he can be very inspired by the modern dancers who have skills that can impress in many ways.

I am curious about how dancers of today prepare their working day, if there is a choice between traditional class and modern training?

Gaga classes have been optional in periods, but Julien for himself feels he gets the best placing of the body from a ballet morning class.

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Julien and Natalie are supporting each other in a warm respect during the interview. Photo CH


How have both of you managed to find somewhere to stay?

Natalie: “I searched at websites and found an apartment which belonged to a hiphop dancer. I was chosen first because I am a ballet dancer! He lives with his girlfriend and sublets his flat to me, so I have my own apartment.” Call that luck!

Concerning living, Julien had the opportunity to get help from the theatre to find an apartment, which Julien shares with his colleague Lisa from Belgium (with their language in common).  

For social contacts Julien has an advantage with his previous time spent in Stockholm. He has friends from the school, he has his mentor from that time and his family can visit often since the distance is short.

I wonder about their favorite food and how they prefer to relax or spend their free time?

Natalie has no favorite dish but eats most everything, as long as it is vegetarian. To relax in her free time she likes to read, take on-line courses and talk to friends that are now spread around the world.

Julien is addicted to Swedish meatballs, especially those at the restaurant “Bakfickan” (The Backpocket) in the Opera house. Pasta is another favorite.

And relaxation, I ask?

It depends on the situation, says Julien. Sometimes, as this afternoon, he will just lay on the sofa doing nothing. But he likes to find an empty studio and sit and play the piano. He loves to sing and practice at home.

I say goodbye to these two dancers, thanking them for letting us take part of their thoughts. I let Julien go home to his well-deserved sofa.

When I wave to Ms. Ogonek she is on her way to an English-speaking theatre group. This is her free Saturday afternoon, but there is still energy.  

A sparkling young woman – Natalie seems to be curious about many things. Characteristics that can make interesting artists!

Marie Louise Waldenström

29 January 2018

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Dans i Nord
GöteborgsOperan

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