January 24, 2016
BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
Fairy tales come true. Just ask Caroline Baldwin.
The breathtakingly beautiful ballerina – who recently danced the dual leads of Odette and Odile in “Swan Lake” at the Royal Danish Ballet in Copenhagen – was just eleven when she first enrolled in a neighborhood ballet class at the Menomonee Club at their first club house on North Park Avenue in Chicago’s Old Town. Now she performs to the enthusiastic applause of Queen Margrethe II of Denmark in the country’s national theater built in 1874.
Caroline appeared last month on the cover of the arts section ofPolitiken, Denmark’s leading newspaper, as the Sugar Plum Fairy in “The Nutcracker” — a ballet she danced as a young girl while studying at the Ruth Page School of Dance, where she received her foundational training. During her teenage years, she also spent many summers at intensive programs offered by the Royal Ballet School in London, the School of the American Ballet, and the Houston and San Francisco ballet companies.
“I came to ballet a little later than most and was completely swept away from the first class I took. As a young child, I had taken a few tap and jazz classes, but ballet really spoke to me. I loved everything about it — the classical music, the movement, and the discipline,” she said on a recent three-day holiday visit to Chicago. “The realization that I could ever be a professional ballerina was not on my radar at all until right before I was hired at the Royal Danish Ballet Company in Copenhagen.”
Always open to the notion of dancing abroad, she was spotted in 2007 at the age of 17 by the Royal Danish Ballet at a large international competition in New York. There are three levels in the company: corps, soloist, and principal. She was promoted to soloist last year and has danced numerous leading roles in “Sleeping Beauty,” “La Bayadere,” “Les Sylphides,” “ A Folk Tale,” and “Apollo,” to mention but a few.
Now fluent in Danish, Caroline is one of the eight U.S.-born dancers who are part of the 80-member corps of the Royal Danish Ballet. The company travels once a year to other cities to perform, and, in 2016, Caroline will dance in Beijing and Shanghai.
“What I love about living in Copenhagen is how magical the city is and how much history is engraved on each street corner. Almost everywhere you go, you can see water. I love walking along the canals, seeing the charming and colorful historic buildings. And who wouldn’t appreciate a city that is still laying cobblestone sidewalks and streets to preserve the charm of the city? I enjoy their famous contemporary design and the award-winning progressive cuisine that is all the rage on the international scene now,” she explained.
Her parents, Lucy and Dan Baldwin, often attend her performances in Copenhagen and speak to her daily as she bikes home from the theater.
“Queen Margrethe II loves the ballet and attends performances several times a year. She sometimes helps design the costumes and attends some rehearsals,” Lucy said. “The Royal Danish Ballet really takes care of its dancers. They have beautiful facilities and endless support for any injuries or medical conditions. The dancers’ contracts are issued by the government, so basically they are state employees and are also part of a dancers’ union. They dance in a country that is so very proud and supportive of their arts system.”
When she is not performing the dual and doubly difficult role of both Odette and Odile, where she must switch characters midway through the ballet, she dances as part of the corps de ballet. “Caroline is in all the swan parts, and she says that this is very demanding because so much attention is paid to detail. The swans have to have just the right arms, just the right spacing and just the right timing. It takes a lot of focus,” Lucy shared. “The life as a ballet dancer is so physically demanding, and there is so much heart and soul that goes into the love of this art that a dancer becomes so passionate and committed to it. The race to become the best that you can be starts when you take your first class.”
Lucy recalled looking at her when she first started dancing with the Royal Danish Ballet. “It was ‘Swan Lake,’ and she was standing behind the curtain as one of the swans before the curtain went up. The live orchestra began playing the prelude, and her eyes welled up with tears because the music was so beautiful and she knew every measure of it because she had seen the ballet so many times and had listened to it growing up in Old Town, dancing with her sister Greta in children’s costumes to this beautiful music. I think she just couldn’t believe that she was there in a real ballet, onstage, about to perform in a real production with a world-class company.”
Caroline says that she never forgets her Chicago roots. “This is where I first fell in love with ballet, and I am so proud that Chicago has such a strong dance presence. There are so many great local dance companies as well as big international companies that come to town. There is much support from the City of Chicago. Sometimes I am lucky enough to be home visiting when an amazing company is in town and get tickets,” she said. “Of course, what I miss most is living near my family and coming home for dinner.”
Caroline feels very lucky to be able to live her dream. “I was influenced and taught by so many wonderful teachers in Chicago and had some great friends who, like me, were training very hard every day as dance students. What I love is that with Facebook and social media, I keep in touch with lots of these people today who landed in the dance world in so many different areas.”
She feels lucky to have a reminder of her ballet history just steps from her family’s Old Town home. While walking her Chicago dogs, Ruby Slippers and Tulip (with her own dog, a dachshund named Scarlett, home in Copenhagen) around the neighborhood while she was in town, Caroline was able to give the Menomonee Club a loving salute