Rutger Klauwers is a physiotherapist and the head of Dutch National Ballet's health team. Besides looking after the dancers on a daily basis, he also develops policy to improve their health.
How he creates such a policy? "It is based on four pillars: prevention, injuries, rehabilitation tracks and performance improvement. Prevention is executed through education and preventive training. Our goal is to make dancers resilient. You want dancers to report the small aches and pains in order to prevent the bigger problems that can keep them from being able to use their bodies to the full 100%."
"You also want dancers whose injuries have taken them completely out of the running to be back on stage as soon as possible and to minimise the chance of relapsing."
"For the performance improvement pillar, you primarily look at the problems a dancer is facing. This may be a problem with the artistic staff, but also a setback in his or her own development. You then take steps to improve this, by working on their fitness for example."
As a physiotherapist, Rutger is very dependent on the planning of the ballet company. "The dancers know their schedule three days in advance, so based on that they know when they have time to come by and that varies quite a bit."
But how often the dancers come by does not just depend on their schedule. "The repertoire they are dancing also plays a big role: while classical dancers often have more trouble with the modern pieces, modern dancers usually struggle more with the heavy classical works.
Based on the dancer and the repertoire he or she specialises in, we try to determine where the risks of injuries risks lie."
Consequences of the corona virus
The corona virus and the measures that are established to combat it have changed the normal course of events considerably, posing different challenges for both the dancers and the health team. Before the pandemic, the dancers rehearsed a lot and had many opportunities to show their hard work to audiences. Now, both these rehearsals and performance opportunities have been declined significantly. "We are very busy with making sure that the dancers can 'survive'. These new forms of training do not necessarily come natural to the ballet company, because they are not always directly related to a performance."
Whereas the dancers could normally be found in the building of Dutch National Opera & Ballet for six to eight hours a day, this time is now limited to two to four hours a day. "So we have to be clever with the time and the team members that are present in the building."
It is common in the dance culture to push one's own physical and mental limits for the sake of the art. That makes the current situation all the more difficult, especially considering the risk that the dancers overload themselves because they want to dance to the fullest. In a way, the dancers have to be protected from themselves."
This different kind of strain also causes different types of injuries. "Normally the injuries can be easily traced back to the hours of work and the repertoire, but now we see a lot of acute injuries that we don't usually see in dancers."
Furthermore, the problems are not only physical. "The situation also gets tougher on a mental level. . Dancers continue to feel the pressure to perform and get the best out of themselves, but that's not always possible now."
Nevertheless, these times have also led to beautiful developments. "A lot of new initiatives are being started up, which also means we have a lot of contact with other companies. We consult, encourage and motivate each other and exchange new techniques."
"Working with the team and together with other companies to see how to get the best out of the dancers is very special. It's very inspiring to work with dancers who have so much drive and perfectionism, and to be able to contribute to the final result in the background in this way."
"Within Dutch National Ballet I work with a very nice and professional team that does a good job for the dancers. Covid is an odd factor, but also a huge catalyst for all sorts of conversations that would otherwise never have taken place."