Is she Dutch or American? Ballerina Valerie Valentine has a hard time deciding for sure, because she's spent more time in Holland than she has in the United States since she joined the Dutch National Ballet 15 years ago. But she returns at least once a year to visit her parents, Dan and Elaine Valentine of Salt Lake City, and to get a hands-on course in re-Americanization.
It's been a busy 15 years of advancement for Valerie in Rudi van Dantzig's prestigious and busy company of 90 dancers. She's been a principal dancer for the past four years, but has danced solos from her earliest days in the corps. She is by no means a lone expatriate in Amsterdam, since most of the soloists in DNB are Americans.She will take a leave of absence from the Dutch Ballet next season to join the Berlin Ballet in West Berlin, a company of 50 dancers. She's pleased about the change, with new repertory, a lighter schedule, and the opportunity to do guest appearances, a thing that has been nearly impossible in Amsterdam. With 14 performances a month, all must be on hand in case of emergency or injury.
The DNB does about 150 performances a year and tours widely, "all over the world, to Russia and the Eastern Bloc countries, the Far East, South America," she said. She's been with them to the United States three times, dancing in New York, Chicago, St. Louis and San Francisco.
"Since we moved into our new arts center, perhaps the largest and one of the most beautiful in Europe, we go less to the provinces," she said. "We bring the people in to see us and the center, which is very impressive. The theater has three stages on a movable base, you can actually change scene from `Aida' to `Swan Lake' in 15 minutes!"
Valentine began ballet with Willam Christensen, and spent the year she was 14 apprenticing at Ballet West. She left Salt Lake City at 15 to study at the Royal Ballet School in London, graduating at 17.
A talented dancer with the desirable elongated look, she was "picky" about who she auditioned for. As it happened, she tried only for the Stuttgart Ballet and the Dutch National, and was accepted by both. "I chose the Dutch mostly because I liked Amsterdam better than Stuttgart, and I also liked Rudi," she said. She does regret not working with John Cranko, who was then at Stuttgart.
Van Dantzig favored her from the start. At 17 she danced many solos, including creating one of his memorable choreographies, "Four Last Songs," to music of R. Strauss.
As her favorite roles, Valerie cited Titania in Ashton's "Dream," Balanchine's Theme and Variations, Odette-Odile, and the Firebird. She especially enjoys such works as "Five Tangos" and "Twilights" by Hans van Manen, until lately DNB's resident choreographer, and she likes character parts like Carabosse in "Sleeping Beauty" and the Fairy Godmother in "Cinderella."
Quite recently she danced Odette-Odile in van Dantzig's own beautiful new "Swan Lake." The Dutch National does all the Russian classics, with one exception - no "Nutcracker;" it's not as popular in Holland.
Though she had no prior training in the style, she took naturally to the Balanchine works, of which DNB has quite a number, "probably because of my long lines and energy. Americans understand Balanchine better, we move that way, and we are used to taking risks, it's part of our mentality."
When she leaves Salt Lake City she will go directly to Berlin to learn "The Blue Angel," a ballet by Roland Petit in which she will dance the sultry role that Marlene Dietrich made famous in the 1930s movie.
"DNB's corps is huge, and it's excellent," she said. "Berlin is noted for great soloists, but not such a precise corps. But there will be a `Nutcracker' in Berlin for sure, and Cranko works like `Taming of the Shrew' and `Eugene Onegin.' Berlin stresses modern repertory, and Juri Kylian of the Netherlands Dance Theatre will be doing a work for us there."
Valerie has also married - to a Dutch film producer, Roeland Kerbosch, who ironically enough spends a great deal of his time in Hollywood and elsewhere in America. The couple has a house on an Amsterdam canal, just a two-minute walk from the theater. They have two resident cats - which have proven injurious to her health.
"I had a virus that you can only catch from cats, similar to mononucleosis, and I was right at the worst of it when I was learning `Swan Lake,' " she said. "I would stay up only five hours a day, taking class and rehearsals, and I slept the rest of the time! I was still very tired when we performed, and even now I have traces of the virus."
She likes living in the Dutch society pretty well, though she finds the people there not quite so open, perhaps because of the miserable weather. "There are stretches of two months when it never clears up - rainy or cloudy all the time," she said. "The country is below sea level, and all that water sort of gets in my bones."
She enjoys moving outside of ballet circles, into the film world. "I have inherited a lot of my husband's friends, we see more of them than of mine, and I need that badly. You have to live, you can't just work, work, work and stress your body. I am trying to hit a happy medium."