Laura, congratulations on your film Becoming Giulia. How are you feeling at the moment?

Very good, I’m happy that the film is won the audience award at the Zurich Film Festival. I think that’s the biggest reward. It’s heartwarming to see how the film moves the audience. I didn’t just want to make a film about the dance world. The film talks about collective social issues. Giulia and I are very happy about the interesting feedback from women and men. That these topics speak to so many of us is very powerful. Watching the film now, I realize once again how challenging it was to shoot the film over 3 years at the Zurich Opera House.

Many thanks to you for this great work. To show the challenges female artists, especially dancers face when becoming a mother in a film and what that means for them and their whole environment is brave and very important. There were times when it was impossible to become a mother as a ballet dancer. It is one of the greatest challenges in the life of a woman in the midst of an artistic career to decide for motherhood, which is certainly one of the most enriching moments in life, and to successfully pursue the stage career.

At the time when I was dancing, there was no question about being a dancer and a mother. I remember that, even just speculating that a dancer would become pregnant and thus a position in the company might open up, such thoughts were normal. It was clear that a dancer who became a mother was not coming back. To reconcile the two was unthinkable in society at the time. I also wanted to show that this profession is very demanding and women should be treated better, especially if they have a family. The amount of abuse you experience as a young woman or as a teenager is enormous in the dance world.

Do you think that this is still because women are used to this role and don’t take the space they need for motherhood and a parallel career?

Giulia started training 3 months after giving birth. That’s also when i started to shoot the film in the opera house. I think it’s because of our society. The problem is not because women don’t empower themselves. It is because of how we have been socialized and how work/life balance is organized. Especially in big cities, which are very competitive, you don’t have a choice. Most of us don’t have a family regiment around us that can support us 24/7. We live in big cities away from our family and society is not yet ready to support a woman’s career to the extent that she can be a mother and pursue her career on the same level als before, especially because of daycare hours and the lack of flexibility in working hours. Giulia said she sometimes has a rehearsal schedule with a big hole in the middle of the day. The rest of the rehearsals are in the evening, which doesn’t fit with daycare hours. With the current structures and collective thinking, it is not yet possible for the management to adjust rehearsal schedules for dancers with families. In the Vienna Ballet Company they have two years of maternity and paternity leave, which is great and in my opinion a step forward. You don’t have to be afraid of losing your job. In Zurich, the contracts are still annual, season by season. So the question of starting a family is linked to great fear, because if you don’t perform in the year after motherhood, you’re gone.

In Austria, there is a different system in terms of maternity leave. Everyone gets two years of maternity leave. Even outside the dance world, it is a challenge to become a mother in a creative environment, especially in theater. The support from management is usually not there and the focus is too much on numbers, less on people. Was showing that your original inspiration for the film?

I went through the same process and questioned myself at the same time as Giulia, who told me about her fears of returning to work as a mother. There are also many of my friends who, after motherhood, don’t return to their jobs until 6 or 7 years later to make the next film. Because of this, I was in a way scared to start a family at an early point in my career. The idea of continuing to pursue my ambitions and managing a family at the same seemed to be an unsolvable challenge. I want to clarify that the word ambition has a positive or negative meaning in different languages. I think it’s positive to have ambitions and Giulia had the same ambition as me at the same age. I wanted to make a film about that. Giulia suffered even though she had a child and would go back to the stage. Our questions and fears were the same. My thought was, if she and I have these different experiences with motherhood and yet we feel the same about it, many other women will feel the same way. It was this universality of the issue that connected me and Giulia at that time.

Let’s go back to the beginning of your career. You were a ballet dancer and so far you have had a very successful career, as a dancer and film director. You are originally from Ticino. What would you say has influenced you the most from there?

I always like to go back to the lush nature of Ticino. Maybe Hawaii is similar to that, in Ticino you can still find large parts of untouched nature. Of course there are small towns, but as soon as you get into the valleys, they are unchanged, as they were twenty or thirty years ago. I need the feeling of freedom. This freedom feeds my art and I have always felt very connected to the valleys in Ticino. My great-grandfather was part of the Monte Verita community of artists. This work and especially the work of my great-grandfather has almost invited me to dive even deeper into art and discover the artistic family vein. I feel a great heritage that somehow drives me forward.

You left at the age of 14. Was it always clear for you that you wanted to become a dancer? Or were there other inspirations to go to a bigger city?

I fell in love with the art form of dance at an early age and I also had the talent for it. But I think it also had to do with the fact that Ticino was very conservative at that time. I always had the feeling of needing something bigger. From the age of 7 I attended several summer camps to learn about different dance schools and teaching styles. I fell in love with what I got to see there and the possibilities of who I could become in this more diverse, inclusive and artistic environment.

Did you have a scholarship to finance your education?

Yes, many from Ticino and others.

Was the path clear for you then away from dance and towards your film career? How did this transition work out for you and what were your challenges?

Growing up between two film festival cities, Locarno and Cannes, I was always a cinefile and could see great films, not necessarily the blockbusters, but films by great film directors and good discussions about film and film reviews. I saw all the 50’s musicals from Hollywood and in school in Cannes we loved to watch movies. That’s why my dance education developed quasi parallel to my film education. When I was about 27 years old, I came to a point in my dance career where I stopped dancing on pointe shoes. My dance style became more contemporary and I worked on a project basis. My last director was Jan Fabre. I didn’t like his creative process and the way he treated women. At that point it was clear to me that I wanted to do more and do better in terms of storytelling. I had known the dance and theater world very well for almost 20 years, and I wanted a progression, a change in my art form. I had already worked as an actress and I could see myself enjoy and doing well behind the camera. It was very clear that film directing would be the right path for me. I was also aware that it would be a long process, because film needs a different language.

A transition is challenging in many ways, financially on the one hand, mentally on the other. You have to completely restructure your knowledge and skills. SSUDK supports performing artists in this challenging process, especially to make them aware of skills they might have used less until now. Have you had anyone to support you along the way?

That’s right, you need the right people around you. These are better not those who are in the same situation at the moment, because at such a moment you can’t see completely clear yourself, respectively you don’t think pragmatically. When I played in a TV series, I became friends with the scriptwriter. She was 10 years older than me. I remember telling her over coffee about my idea for a short film. I was looking for a director. In response, she said straight out that I should direct the short film. I was very unsure at that time, maybe it was still because of my dance background. Dancers tend to be very modest. Most of them have a problem with their self-confidence. This is because they are trained to stand in a line, to be silent and not dare to speak up. I worked very hard to become more confident because that was what I needed.

If I wanted to achieve something, I had to learn to ask for it, otherwise it would never happen. As a dancer, you are trained to be the best in your field and then you get chosen for a role. In a transition, it is important to learn that you have to be the one to take action. No one is going to pick you. Flipping that switch in my head was not easy. But I realized what needed to be done. I had a professional coach who was very supportive in this process. I also had to do my first budget calculation for reorientation. It took a few steps to get here and even now, in the midst of my film career, it’s not a no-brainer. I am still moving in a very competitive new environment. Personally, it helped me that I felt called to join the fight for equality and diversity. In doing so, I met the right people and producers and got my foot in the door, so to speak. Without my coach and psychological support, my transition would not have gone so well. For me, it was important to face my fear and go for what I wanted in my life.

How did you find the right coach for you? What is your recommendation for other artists to find the right coach?

I found my coach at the same time that the book “The Power of Now” was released, which was at the beginning of the “positive psychology movement.” As a yoga teacher, I was already in an environment that was actively exploring positive psychology. In order to find people for your team who can support you, you have to get to know them. I still do that. When I consult a specialist in a field, whether it’s an acupuncturist, a coach, or else I ask for a 30-minute trial session. I want to find out if we have the same chemistry and if we can work well together. I recommend to everyone to do research on this and meet several people to find the right person. It is definitely easier for a dancer to find a coach these days. I feel that dancers are being ripped out of their teenage years, their young adult years in their family because of this short career. You have to be an adult in your teenage years. This has in consequence that many of the natural phases of a teenager are simply skipped. Therefore, it is worthwhile to take a look back during transition, as this is the first moment to reflect and pause and find out who you really are.

In my opinion, what would help aspiring dancers a lot would be to deal with the fact of a transition in parallel already in the dance training and to get the necessary tools for such a process. As a “teenage dancer” I didn’t spend a thought to a possible end of my dance career, because an age of 40 felt so far away to me. In the last Berlinale, I saw a film about an elite ski school in Austria who were in training, similar to dance training. They were dealing with issues like what happens when they get injured, what happens at the end of a career, what could they do after a career, etc. in class. It felt so encouraging. I wish there was a dance education that had that kind of curriculum. A curriculum that prepares dancers for the brutal moment of the end of their career. Every institution should think about the moment of transition, as SSUDK does. I currently know several dancers at the Zurich Opera House who have ended their careers. A transition is and remains a great challenge.

The fact that people did not want to deal with the fact of the end of their career certainly had to do with the fear that they would not be successful if they did not focus 100% on their career. However, it is important to become aware of your abilities and capabilities outside of your dance career at a very early age before the fear of not finding a fulfilling job sets in. Every person usually has more than one talent. Practicing this in parallel at a young age brings tremendous security and perhaps greater stability for a successful career.

In the last three years, while shooting, I was among many adult dancers and as soon as they turned 31 or 32, they questioned themselves. And that brings an enormous fear. What really amazed me is that most of them don’t want to think about it earlier and they don’t have any idea yet how it could go on for them. A paralyzing fear accompanies many of them to think about it. For me, this is really a big shortcoming in dance education, because it’s a fact that your career doesn’t last your whole life and you have to face it, the earlier the better. If you face these questions as a teenager, you might even be able to enjoy your career more because you already know what’s next. I believe that this is the responsibility of the schools and the dance companies.

It just breaks my heart when I see young dancers, knowing that their training is not up to date with today’s current issues, especially regarding their own lives. If in some way we can make a small contribution to a positive change, that would be great. I think the film is already making a contribution.

If you could give three advices to dancers at different points in their careers, what would they be? One piece of advice for dancers during their training, one piece of advice in the middle of their career, and one piece of advice near the end of their career.

For the teenagers during their training period, my advice is to read up as much as you can on all the choreographers in the dance world, especially dance magazines. Find out about the work and approach of the choreographers so you can find out who you have an artistic connection with. You can’t expect anyone to come looking for you without this preliminary work and research. You can pick any choreographer for you just as they can the other way around. Your training is not just about the physical, the mental and the artistic education, but it is immensely important that you find out and research for yourself who you want to be as an artist, who you want to work with and who can support you on your journey. This kind of research, which also means looking at the performances possibly with your parents and finding out who you want to develop with, is crucial. If you don’t do this you will lose a lot of time while working with people who may not give you the right role. They may not give you the right role because you don’t match.

For dancers in the middle of their career at the age of twenty-something who may have gotten the feeling that they are not being seen, that they are not in the right place, and they are not happy with what they have achieved so far, it is hugely important that they also invest time in researching to find out who they want to work with. Fortunately, there are numerous online videos, the internet and it is important to be diligent in your research to learn about all the major choreographers and their dance language. Then it’s important to convince them of you and your commitment and explore possibilities for collaboration. This requires a certain amount of perseverance. It’s important to lose the fear of rejection, because what is rejection anyway? Maybe you met someone on a bad day. If you want something you have to push it. Giulia in my film is very good at that. I remember saying to her, this month we’re going to take it a little easier. Giulia replied to that, if I stop pushing, I might as well stop dancing. And if I’m honest, I do the same thing. I always keep at it to move forward, otherwise I might as well stop working.

How do you figure out for yourself if a “no” is an absolute “no” and guides you on a new path or if you should keep at it because it wasn’t the last “no”? For that, you have to be very self-reflective to figure that out for yourself. How do you do that?

This is difficult because it’s very personal. I know both situations. Sometimes a clear “no” is for the best of all and it shouldn’t be. And there are situations where I know for sure that it was not a real “no”. Of course, it’s worth sticking with it. It takes a lot of self-confidence not to be intimidated by the first “no”. I would also recommend a coach to someone in the middle of their career. It pays to seek a coach at an early age. Many who refuse to get support usually don’t even know what it means and what that coaching brings.

For someone towards the end of a very successful career, what would you advise them to do if they have failed to prepare in any way for an upcoming transition.

Don’t expect the transition to be easy. Saying goodbye to your stage career, especially if it was very successful, is hard enough. It’s a big step. But it is also probably the first moment after a career of over 30 years, when you find time for reflection. We don’t get many moments like this in our lives. These moments are scary and hurt, but they also hold enormous potential. You have the chance to examine who you are, what you want and who you want to be. This takes time and you should give yourself time to try different options until you find something that touches you as much as your dance career did. If you don’t have a coach yet, I definitely recommend consulting one, because it’s not your partner’s or your family’s job to support you in this process in the way you need to. It takes an external, pragmatic person who has no personal connection to you to help you see things clearly.

You can finally be gentle with your body and stop living with this pain and find and enjoy the beauty of this new stage of your life. Finally, many people have a career change in their mid-thirties in today’s generation and a transition is not just something dance-specific anymore. To realize that we are not alone in this process, but maybe several people are in such a transition right now, gives courage.

For me, a transition is a moment of opening, learning and rediscovery. To have the awareness that we will never lose what we had on stage and what dance has given you is also immensely important. I would not have become a film director in my twenties. Looking back, I’m very glad I danced until 27/28 and then went into my transition. That part of my life has enriched me and now at 44, it reflects that to me as well, that it is special to be able to have these two careers and this wonderful life. Dancers in their mid-thirties, I think, can look forward to being able to enrich other people with their experiences. We need role models like this. The time of transition will not be easy, but you will be setting an example. That’s a pretty good attitude to have towards it.

The way you describe the whole process in retrospect and how clearly you can name the necessary steps is admirable. Thanks for getting to the heart of these important topic.

You’re welcome, I’m very glad to see this being transported.

What is the next step for you? Is your further vision already clear and would you like to share it with us?

At the moment I am preparing my next film and I really enjoy talking to different people about my work, the film Becoming Giulia and my life and sharing my knowledge. This enriches my life tremendously. I’m looking forward to more of that, to making more interesting films and talk with interesting people. I find the same dedication as a film director that I had as a dancer and that makes me happy.