The only The Hague native at NDT

Interview with Fay van Baar

text: caroline ludwig

For a long time, she dreamt of becoming a classical ballerina. Slowly she realized that modern dance is a much better fit for her. Fay van Baar from the Benoordenhout is currently the only person native to The Hague at Nederlands Dans Theater.

Watch a video portrait of Fay

Within the hodgepodge of nationalities – many Asians, Americans, some Europeans – of which Nederlands Dans Theater (NDT) consists, Fay van Baar stands out with her blonde hair, blue eyes, small posture, and her open face. Since August 2019, she has been a part of NDT 1, the elite group of the top company from The Hague. Four years before that, she was allowed to become a member of NDT 2, the group for younger dancers.

Home game
It may sound obvious, a top dancer from The Hague dancing at the company from The Hague that’s one of the best in the world. However, this did not happen as a matter of course. Many stumble on their way to the NDT stage. The road taken by Fay, who now is 24 years of age, has also been long and not always easy. Seeing her in restaurant De Luca in the Haagse Passage, you wouldn’t immediately think that she is a dancer. She’s wearing a wide coat and doesn’t wear any make-up. Sipping from a cup of fresh ginger tea, she talks about her remarkable career.

Fay van Baar: “Since I was in elementary school group 7, I was taking classes at the Royal Conservatoire. For high school, I studied at havo level at the School voor Jong Talent, which is part of the Conservatoire. While other teenagers were living with host families, far from their parents, I could simply cycle home after classes. I did experience culture shock, though. They suddenly gave me notebooks and tests. I wasn’t used to that at the Vrije School. Suddenly, I had to meet all kinds of requirements, and at the end of each year, they would tell you it was all over because you weren’t good enough. I would have daily ballet classes and only barebones classes of all other creative subjects. I missed the drawing, craftwork, and music classes of the Vrije School. No, not the eurythmy classes, those were boring. It wasn’t really dance but rather a method of expression. They made us form letters with our bodies.”

Iron discipline
She grew up in a family of four children in the Benoordenhout in The Hague. She says it was a warm and loving home. “Vincent van Baar, my father, is a graphic designer and taught at the photography department of the Royal Academy of Art. He used to take us to museums and loves classical music. My mother is a dietician and used to dance at an amateur level. Our upbringing was very free, featuring lots of music. There’s a gap of two years between the ages of the children, so it was a chaotic household. We still go to our parental home each weekend. Often, Louis, my oldest brother, can’t join us. He is Martin Garrix’s regular photographer and travels around the globe.”

When she was a young girl, she dreamed of becoming a ballerina. “Wearing a tutu, on pointe shoes, and with glitter – the entire romantic image. I loved the discipline of classical ballet, as it was a way to create order out of chaos. When I commit to something, I give it my all. At first, I adored the emphasis on ballet technique since I could clearly see how I was progressing. Later on, I began to feel it was a burden. Suddenly, I could only see things that were not good enough. There’s always room for improvement in classical ballet, and there is a very clear ideal. This can be extremely frustrating, as sometimes your body has reached its limits. Ballet is almost a fit, a perfect model, very black and white. Still, I wanted to dance at a classical company for at least a year, to dance the Nutcracker and Swan Lake. I discovered that modern dance suits me better. It is less exact and gives me the confidence and space that I need to be creative. Everything is defined; it is history. Modern dance is a reflection of what is currently happening.”

In 'The Grey' by Imre van Opstal & Marne van Opstal. Photo: Rahi Rezvani.
In 'Signing Off' by Sol León & Paul Lightfoot. Photo: Rahi Rezvani.
"As dancers, we interpret the voice of the choreographer."

When I commit to something, I give it my all.

Fay van Baar
In 'Wir sagen uns Dunkles' by Marco Goecke. Photo: Rahi Rezvani.

An arduous year
After her first year of college, Fay went to the U.S. She received a scholarship to study at the Kirov Academy for Ballet in Washington DC for half a year. A move from the Dutch C average culture to the hypercompetitive American mentality.

She looks back at that time. “It was an arduous year. The institute was very narrow-minded. For instance, there was a dress code; I wasn’t allowed to wear clothing with spaghetti straps or a V-neck. Giving each other hugs was not done. I also had a boyfriend, which was frowned upon. They encourage a certain way of eating, and I saw young girls starving themselves there. It simply was an unhealthy environment. I learned a lot that year, about dance as well as about myself.” This made her so self-assured and she is not afraid to state bluntly her opinion. She didn’t have to think twice when she was asked to take part in auditions for the company in The Hague in 2015.

“I actually had already received an internship position at Introdans. I was so afraid that NDT would reject me that I didn’t dare take part in its auditions before. Here, they stimulate us to be ourselves and to develop our own voices. It’s so different than at Kirov in Washington. It’s taken a long time, but I’m not afraid to increasingly let go of technique. I focus on the intentions of a piece and conveying emotion to the audience. This makes a piece come alive. As dancers, we interpret the voice of the choreographer. I can really let go on stage, and I will do things that are very different than what I might to in the studio. Every night is different.”

Her peers have taken note of her powerful stage performances. In 2018, she was awarded the Aanmoedigingsprijs Dansersfonds ’79. The judges felt that “Her mature, independent presentation, her subtle musicality, and how she clearly can forge a connection with the atmosphere and energy that the choreographer wants to evoke sets her apart.”

Her first year at NDT 1 is characterized by the company’s 60-year anniversary. In autumn, one of the pieces she danced in was Situation, a 50-year old piece by Hans van Manen. In early March, the company performed in the New York City Center. Fay: “It was an amazing experience. New York audiences are very discerning.” In May, the celebratory program will be concluded with Schmetterling, in venues such as the Zuiderstrandtheater.

She tells us that since she has joined NDT 1, her life has moved into calmer waters. “NDT 2 is very heavy, physically as well as mentally. You dance in so many shows, and there is a strong combative competitiveness to be cast. There are more dancers at NDT 1 and there is less pressure.”

She can only consider being able to work in the city of her birth as a benefit. “I have a life outside of dance. This year, I can spend more time with family and friends. Everybody needs a place of their own, and I enjoy having some distance.”

In: 'Epoch' by Bryan Arias. Photo: Joris-Jan Bos.

Video portrait of Fay

ABN AMRO enjoys taking responsibility by encouraging passion, and to stimulate and celebrate it. This is why it supports Nederlands Dans Theater and has been offering NDT’s top dancers and choreographers a stage as a Founding Partner since 2012. Such a partnership results in inspiring stories that they gladly share. Together with ABN AMRO, NDT has made a video portrait of Fay van Baar, who dances at NDT 1. What motivates her? Being able to say something without words. Watch the video #aworldtowin.

Appeared in

This interview appeared in LEVEN! Magazine Den Haag, #44.