Company dancer Adrian Durham starts his Friday off early at 6:45 am and sticks to his daily routine of black coffee and some ab exercises. With the sun just starting to come up he prepares a smoothie with protein powder, green vegetables, and frozen fruit. “I’ve found that a high protein diet helps me stay strong and speeds up muscle recovery,” says Durham. “I mentally track my protein through the day to make sure I am getting enough.”
Adrian joined Ballet Arizona this season after completing the 2017-2018 season as part of The School of Ballet Arizona’s Studio Company. Originally from Houston, Texas, Durham’s family moved to Lake Charles, Louisiana where he began his ballet training at the age of 10. At 18, he received a scholarship to the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, where he trained for the following three years.
He is at the studios by 8:30 am to warm up for company class taught by Rehearsal Director Maria Simonetti which he describes as simple but highly effective because it’s not overly technical which is needed for a long day. Durham’s first rehearsal has him understudying for the opening scene of Artistic Director Ib Andersen’s new work The Firebird. While watching rehearsal, it’s common for dancers to stretch or do exercises, Durham opts for shoulder stabilization exercises which is a key focus in his training. “I tore my labrum in several places a couple years ago,” he says. “I had a corrective surgery before moving to Phoenix and was able to fully recover as I trained with the studio company last season. A combination of school partnering classes and physical therapy helped me through what can be a long and discouraging recovery process for many dancers.”
The following two rehearsals are full run-throughs of The Firebird and first act of La Sylphide. There is a lot of energy in the studio since it will be the first time that the majority of the dancers have seen both ballets as a whole as many have just seen their specific sections. The first run is also a mark of the dancer’s stamina. Andersen’s choreography is known for highlighting dancer’s athleticism along with their artistry which has them constantly moving. “This can feel overwhelming at first,” says Durham, “but it is important that we push through these rehearsals early in the process so that by performance week we are confident and able to fully enjoy our role.”
Whenever he has a break, he heads to Ballet Arizona’s in-house gym. Now at the professional level, he finds it even more important to stay strong and healthy. Twice a week, he attends a dancer-specific conditioning class at Foothills Accelerated Sports Training. He also focuses on cross-training regularly and will lift weights or do cardio on other days. “I really enjoy working out, and finding ways to improve my ballet performance through new exercises is a big interest of mine,” he says. “If I was not a dancer, I would definitely consider a career in the fitness industry.”
4:30 pm marks the end of the day, something Adrian is still getting used to since his training would normally just be starting. Going from a 12 hour training day to an 8 hour work day has been a change but it is something he believes has vastly improved his performance and ability to focus during the day. However, the transition from being a student to professional life is something that he has definitely noticed. “My biggest leaps towards becoming a professional came from the times that I just kept my head down and focused on myself,” he says. “Perseverance is key. Sadly, being a professional isn’t always how we imagine it as a student. When it becomes your job, you see it as a source of income rather than a creative outlet and it’s easy to lose some of your passion for the art.”
What has made this adjustment easier is finding someone to look up to in the professional ballet world, and for Durham, that is Steven McRae of The Royal Ballet. “He is a role model of mine, due to his well-known work ethic. He is a reminder that even those at the top of our field are still staying motivated and striving to improve, continually setting the bar higher for our entire art form.”