Book: The Ballet Companion


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GM Artists > Dancer Profiles > Ulla-Maria Mäakelä



Ulla-Mari Mäakelä, Principal Dancer with the National Ballet of Finland, exudes so much positive energy over the phone athat one can feel it thousands of miles away.

As she discusses her healthy, confident outlook and her commitment to the art of dance, it is clear that this mindset has been the key to her fascinating career. Now in her nineteenth year of dancing professionally, Ulla-Mari is continuing to rise to new challenges.

The opportunity to dance cherished classical ballet roles such as Nikia in Makarova's staging of La Bayadere, Juliet in Cranko's Romeo and Juliet, and Kitri in Don Quixote have just recently been offered to her and have brought her rave reviews. The critics delighted in the chance to see Ulla-Mari dance the great classical roles, and praised her, "unique temperament, grace and sensitivity."

Although her chance to dance the really big classical roles has been a long time coming, she feels that her years dancing major roles in the more modern repertory of the company, e.g. works by Mats Ek, John Cranko, William Forsythe and Jiri Kylian broadened her as an artist. Her experience dancing mixed repertory matured and prepared her to capture the nuances of the purely classical roles.

Her moderate and reasonable approach to dancing also emphasizes taking great care of her best asset, her body. She feels dancers must treat their art as a way of life and must be willing to fully commit to it. "Of course," Ulla-Mari says, "the pay-off is the experience of dancing, the greatest reward of all!" She recommends that all dancers look after their bodies by finding teachers who work the muscles properly and by being open-minded to new ideas. Ulla-Mari was advised to try Gaynor Mindens by her physical therapist whom she sees regularly. She was impressed by the comfort of the shoes. The added cushions with which she could custom-design the interior of the box were an added bonus. She first tried Gaynor Mindens two and a half years ago and has been wearing them ever since.

For dancers living in Finland, the main supply of pointe shoes is mail order. Ulla-Mari had problems obtaining other shoes by mail because the quality of the shoes would constantly differ from one to the next. With Gaynor Mindens, Ulla-Mari found that she could depend on a consistent level of quality with her shoes, each shoe would arrive and fit just as perfectly as the last ones. They met the same high standards of excellence that she sets for herself.

Ulla-Mari believes that her open mind has allowed her to appreciate and seize the great opportunities that have come to her in her dancing life. After training for fifteen years at the Finnish National Ballet School she spent two years at the radically different Kirov Academy in St. Petersburg. She began her professional career back at the Finnish National Ballet, and after two years with FNB she joined the Stuttgart Ballet under Marcia Haydee. Ulla-Mari cherishes her experience with the Stuttgart because it was such a multi-cultural company (she jokes, "I think there were ten Germans and then sixty other people from sixty different countries in the company!" ) The experimental repertory of the company added to making her time there a very enriching and educational period in her life.

After eight years with the Stuttgart, Ulla-Mari returned to her native Finland and to the Finnish National Ballet where she has remained for the past nine years. She has allowed herself to smell the full bouquet of flowers life as a dancer can offer. She has performed so many kinds of ballets, and traveled to many different countries on tour including China, France and Russia.

Now in the prime of her career she is prepared to joyfully meet the challenges of ballet's greatest and most demanding roles. A positive spirit, an open mind and high standards have made Ulla-Mari Mäakelä a mature and powerful artist.

By Christina Towle and Eliza Minden
Photo: Kari Hakli, courtesy of Finnish National Opera