Friedemann Vogel is a world-renowned ballet dancer who has performed in front of thousands, but today his only audience is a camera that’s capturing his every graceful movement. In town to reprise the titular role of Romeo in the John Cranko-choreographed re-telling of Romeo & Juliet, Vogel’s talent shines through even when he’s offstage. As he prances around the photo studio like a bird soaring through the skies, the ends of a trench coat trailing in his wake, every elegantly-executed pointe, pirouette and flex of his sinewy muscles is mesmerising to watch.
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With his handsome good looks and piercing gaze, Vogel was destined to be a dancer. Born in Stuttgart, Germany, the 38-year-old comes from a family of five brothers whose passion for art flows through their veins. “It was very natural for me to pursue something in the field. One of my brothers is also a dancer, so my parents didn’t find it unusual at all that I’d eventually walk the same path,” he adds.
After a childhood spent putting up impromptu performances for his parents, the young Vogel showed so much promise that he landed a coveted spot in the Princess Grace Academy of Classical Dance in Monte Carlo. Since then, Vogel has taken home top accolades at many prestigious international ballet competitions such as the Prix de Lausanne and the Prix de Luxembourg. His biggest achievement thus far? His induction into the famous Stuttgart Ballet in 1998, where he proved his mettle and was promoted to principal dancer in just a few short years.
What is it that you love most about ballet?
I like how ballet allows you to move and express yourself with your body. I was a child who had to constantly move. I couldn’t sit still in one place to read. If you do ballet every day professionally, it becomes something like bread and water. When I’m on holiday for two weeks and I don’t do ballet, I find my body needing it. The body hurts more when I stop than when I train.
Can you remember the first time you stood on stage?
When I was little, I’d wear my costumes and put on many shows for my parents. However, the first time I took to the stage was in ballet school. I was super excited to finally get the opportunity to perform. When you’re a child, you don’t think about the consequences—you just go out there and have fun. I always try to remember that and think about the essence of dance. The best performances I’ve had were the ones where I dove right into the music. Most of the time, the music comes from a live orchestra. When everything comes together, it’s like a miracle; an addiction. That’s the hard part if you were to stop ballet; when the time comes, that’s the part that dancers will miss.
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What role do you think dance plays in the world?
I think it plays a very important role. I believe that everyone who wants to dance will find a way to do so. Professional or not, it doesn’t really matter because dance isn’t always about performing for other people. Dance is about self-expression and finding that connection. It is not bounded by language or geography.
Do you think talent is born or can it be nurtured?
Talent is something that cannot be described. I think it comes from a place of love. When you love something so much, you’re deeply into it. I believe that there’s a strong power somewhere that guides you. You have to be open-minded about where that takes you.
What’s next for you?
Besides continuing to dance, I want to support young dancers out there who don’t have the means to pursue their interests. My parents couldn’t afford the best education for me, but I was lucky I got a scholarship from my academy in Monte Carlo. As such, I have set up a foundation to support dancers, choreographers or anyone who wants to express themselves through dance. I want to give them the opportunity to chase their dreams—not just in ballet, but other dance scenes as well. It is so important for our culture.
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If a ballet performance was made about your life, what would it be like?
There would be a lot of emotions in this performance, from happiness to self-doubt, and a lot of ups and downs. But you’ll never know where life takes you. I just hope it won’t be a dramatic ending!
Photographed by Gan
Styled by Windy Aulia
Makeup: Larry Yeo
Hair: Bosco Eng/Hairloom
Stylist’s assistants: Syed Zulfadhli, Teo Shi Yun