Ernst Meisner tijdens online balletles
Ernst Meisner during ballet class online | Photo: Altin Kaftira

‘We keep reinventing ourselfs’

8 March 2023

Junior Company celebrates its tenth anniversary with Ten!

Text: Astrid van Leeuwen

Dutch National Ballet’s Junior Company was founded in 2013, so that young dancers were not ‘thrown in at the deep end’ straight after their education. Artistic coordinator Ernst Meisner says, “Alongside intensive support and coaching, we give them the chance to clock up lots of flying hours.” Ballet master Caroline Sayo Iura says, “And we teach them that you don’t have to be beautiful and elegant in every ballet you dance.”

Five years ago, when former principal dancer Caroline Sayo Iura was given a per - manent position with the Junior Company, she set herself a single goal. “When the group had been in existence for ten years, I thought that at least a quarter of Dutch National Ballet should be made up of for - mer Junior Company dancers.” She laughs, “Well, we did it! In fact, we’ve even got up to half, as more than forty Juniors have now moved up to the main company!” Ernst Meisner, who has led the Junior Company since the start, says, “On the one hand, I can hardly believe that ten years have passed, and on the other the group has developed to such a great extent in just one decade. In the beginning, it was really a question of pioneering. We had to secure our place in the ballet world and find out – literally step for step – what was needed in order to make the initiative a success.”


Bringing out the best in each talent

Just how successful it has been is reflected in the international reputation the group has gained. Meisner says, “We’re now about on a par with American Ballet Theatre’s Studio Company, which means that young dancers from all over the world want to dance with us.” But he adds, “Such a position is always temporary. Maintain - ing this high standard demands constant effort.” An extra challenge is the continually changing composition of the Junior Company. Meisner says, “As far as repertoire is concerned, we’ve now built up our own identity, in which we also give many opportunities to young choreographers and composers. But each year, there are big changes to the line-up of dancers. You’re always having to deal with different individuals, who also need another approach and different coaching.” Iura adds, “We keep on reinventing ourselves, and searching for ways to bring out the best in each individual talent.”

‘Young dancers from all over the world want to dance with us’


Energy and daring

And yes, that’s a big responsibility. Meisner says, “They’re young people, with passions and dreams that can also change. It’s up to us to respond to that as well as possible.” The thing that really gets to Meisner and Iura is the enormous energy of the young dancers. Iura says, “Even the pianists comment on it: ‘We get so much energy from these dancers’. In addition, this generation is so much more advanced than my generation was. They dare to question things, which means I learn a lot in turn.” Meisner says, “It’s wonderful to see how they keep on developing. Also those who move on to other companies than Dutch National Ballet.” The fact that they fly the nest after one or two years is something that Meisner thinks is fantastic. He says enthusiastically, “That’s our goal: preparing them for a major company.” Iura clearly finds it more difficult to let go. “I’m a sort of mother hen who suffers from empty nest syndrome. I always get a lump in my throat when another group leave.”

Claire Tjoe-Fat  – Corps de Ballet, Junior Company class of 2019
“My time with the Junior Company gave me much more confidence in my dancing. I used to suffer from stage fright at times, but now I can enjoy performing to the full. The group is incredibly close, and everyone gets a chance to prove themselves in bigger dance roles. I’ll never forget the time we all went on tour to Indonesia together. It was a really incredible experience!”

Joseph Massarelli – Soloist, Junior Company class of 2015
“My year in the Junior Company was probably one of the most important in my career to date. It helped me build the strong foundation you need for a dancing career, and the opportunities I received there have had a tremendous impact on my development within the main company. The Junior Company also showed me how valuable it is to have people in your life who support you – as a dancer and, more importantly, as an individual.”

Jessica Xuan – Principal, Junior Company class of 2013
“The Junior Company provides a great opportunity to gain experience in the professional dance world, along with getting to know the company and allowing the artistic staff to get to know you better as well. You get to dance a lot, both in groups and as an individual, and you forge very strong bonds. Everyone comes from a different country and has a different personality – and it’s precisely this individuality of each dancer that makes the Junior Company so special.”

  • Season 2023-2024
    From 3 February to 17 March 2024, the Dutch National Ballet's Junior Company will tour Ten through the Netherlands to celebrate both the ten-year anniversary of the company and that of its artistic coordinator Ernst Meisner.

    Info & tickets

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