Annika Lisa Verplancke
Edited by: 
Anna Prelack

Q: How did you begin dancing?

Well, the first time I took an actual dance class was when I was four years old.  I was just dancing all over the house and had a lot of energy and would always just be freestyling.

Q: What has dance taught you that you apply to your everyday life and how you engage with the world?

I think so many things, but definitely the movement side of it and just even simple things such as spatial awareness.  But then the education that I've gotten through it, like your different focus that you use your breath has just helped me in so many ways, as a dancer, but also as a person. That's a hard question.

Q: Have you always lived in the Netherlands? What brought you to the Netherlands Dance Theater?

I've not always lived in the Netherlands, I was born in Belgium. I grew up there.  I'm half American; my mom is American but I live in Belgium houses.  I always lived there until I moved to France for two years, the last two years of high school, to a pre professional dance school. Then, I did some auditions and went to Juilliard for a year after I graduated high school.  When I was at Juilliard I auditioned for Netherlands Dance Theatre because the audition was when I was in Belgium during the Christmas holiday and I thought, “Why not go for the place that I really always dreamed of being?” And it was only two hours away driving, so I came to the audition and was accepted into the company.  Then I decided to move to the Netherlands the next year.

Q: What have been some challenges in either your pre-professional or professional career?

I'm really short and quite petite. So, just partnering with people and placing me on stage is always being looked at for maybe longer than people that are just the average height to see how it may work and things like that.  So, I think that has been a struggle throughout my whole dance career or education. Probably body image, I somehow think that would be the biggest.

Q: How do you think that dance can be a platform for social justice issues?

I think just like any art form it can inspire people to open up their minds to different things. Sometimes we forget that art is also a type of intelligence and there's a lot of work that goes into it.Yeah. I think it can be very inspiring.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected you as an artist?

When it first started, I was quite lost at the time.  We were in the middle of just finishing our premier week and we were going on tour. A lot of the company was burned out. We were planning on dancing lots of shows for our new program and then once that ended I stayed in the Netherlands for a little bit. Then my parents asked me, “Do you want to come home to Belgium?” and I think it only took a few hours for me to decide “Yes, I want to go home.”  I felt a little bit lost and out of my routine when I wasn't dancing. So I went home and honestly, for me it has been such a refreshing, rejuvenating, reflecting time. I went home and started getting creative choreographing something that I've always been really interested in and wanted to make more time for. Because of actually dancing, it was very hard for me to stay actively encouraged and I started developing new interests and doing new things.  The biggest thing that happened is I decided to sign up for a yoga teacher training online, and I did that for four weeks. It was the most life changing thing. I came back to the Netherlands and I feel like I've now been enlightened somewhat and that has really changed my way of doing things. I feel like once quarantine started, I immediately found myself reflecting on the past. My whole dance career education and starting to question why am I doing what I'm doing.  What are these patterns that I've created over time? Good habits, as well as bad habits-why are they there? And what do I really want to do in life? So, kind of deep questions, but it was nice to actually be able to ask myself these questions and think about them.

Q: Can you talk about what it looked like when the Netherlands started to shut down and what process you were in with the company and what that looked like immediately when the pandemic started to affect everything?

We started noticing that other companies in the Netherlands were starting to close their doors, so we decided to as well. Honestly, it's been quite hard. We've been having a lot of zoom meetings and that's what started immediately, trying to see if we're going to come back. This was before the actual lockdown. Then lockdown really happened and the government started having these press conferences with new measures every three weeks. Then I realized that it was going to be quite a long time before I will be able to return to the studio, so that's how I actually was able to decide to go home.

Q: How has the company been supporting you during this time? What have you been doing in terms of zoom dance classes or keeping in touch with company members? What does that look like for you?

The company is offering us ballet classes, one on Monday and one on Friday, completely optional. And we have pilates also optional every day with our plots feature and strength conditioning. Every other day. So that's what the company is providing as far as physical training or activity. Then we have at least once a week a Netherlands Dance Theatre II  meeting. We've recently been having combined meetings with the main company and the whole staff and direction because we might be starting soon. I think we might be starting Monday. Actually, we just had a meeting. So, kind of always keeping updated and seeing when we can come back and what we can do.  Also, what has probably been the coolest thing is that some dancers created new groups on WhatsApp, like group chats. So like that basically means that we're putting in things like videos to watch, and articles to read, anything basically that's been really nice. One of the main company dancers was missing this idea of live performance, and he thought it was great that we're watching all these videos, but he missed that feeling of live performance-going to the theater seeing something in real time. He was wondering, maybe we can do something on zoom and stream it live.  We all were really interested in it and tried to see how it could work and there were three main company members who really wanted to do the tech stuff and all of the zoom things and try to make it work. We started calling this switch screens, because switch is this annual performance in which it's  organized by only the dancers, and the money in the performance goes to a different charity every year. The whole organization of the event and promotion of the event is by the dancers. So basically now what we're doing in this quarantine edition is streaming dancers’ choreography on Facebook. We did the first edition. There were eight choreographers. It was such a big hit, people really wanted to see a second edition, and about a week ago we had another edition where there were 14 new creations. It's been a really nice way to show how the company is still active and to show the public that we're here and that we want to create. We want to share. And we want to create that live experience like going to the theater grabbing your popcorn and watching the show.That's been really nice.

Q: You mentioned that you had a meeting about possibly starting on Monday, does that mean you'll be doing a zoom rehearsal or actually physically being together again?

This is about coming back to the studio and also why I decided to come back, about two days ago, because I wasn't sure if I was going to have to be quarantined even though I was just in Belgium and all I did was really drive up here.  I wasn't sure about that, and I knew we were going to start soon because the measures have kind of now become more loose in the Netherlands. So, the company created all these protocols for if we would be able to go back to the studios and take ballet class in groups of approximately 10 people. This would allow for people to have four meters in between each other, and a minimum of two meters. And we would take ballet class in four groups, different time slots, different teachers.  I would have all these protocols of our route to go into the theater, we know our theater quite well. So it's not that hard for us to have our own route and go into the different dressing rooms and go out and exit. But the big issue has been for the company to get the government to approve of these protocols, and we're not quite sure if the government actually has to approve our protocols. There's been a lot of confusion and we've been waiting for quite some weeks. So now we're trying to follow other companies in the Netherlands, such as Dutch National Ballet.  They are deciding to just start on Wednesday.  We're trying to see if it should just be voluntary or if it should be mandatory. So, yeah, I think a lot of us said they would go on Monday if it was possible. So I think Monday is when we would start taking ballet class in small groups.

Q: What does it look like in the Netherlands right now? Because in the US we're still very much on lockdown.

I'm quite shocked because I've only been here for two days.  Belgium, which is next door, is still locked down, and I did not leave my house pretty much the whole time that I was there. Now some measures have loosened, some people can go to school for a few hours but it's still quite a lockdown. Here it was warm outside today and it's not always sunny in the Netherlands. So when it's sunny people always take advantage of going outside. I was in the city because I had to go to the grocery store, and there were so many people outside. So, it really looked like people were living their lives as if there was no virus going on at all. There were shops open, people were just shopping at Primark, and things like that. So, it was quite shocking for me coming from a place that was so close to being in lockdown. I wasn't living in the city in Belgium, but I know that the cities are pretty silent. The Netherlands, it looks like it's normal, honestly. The Netherlands has either lifted the lockdown or people are kind of going out as they please.

I feel like it never was really in the “lockdown lockdown.” I feel like they tried to do this other strategy of “these things are still open” and there was never this “you need to have a reason to go somewhere” whereas in Belgium, it was like, if you are on the street, you would have to be prepared to be stopped by policemen, and they would ask you, “Where are you going?”, and you'd have to have a valid reason for that. Whereas here I don't think that ever happened. It was just like, “we suggest you stay a metre and a half away,” and things like that, small measures, but not a full lockdown.

Q: What would you like to see change and shift in the dance world after this pandemic is over in terms of anything really?

One of the big things that I've noticed now and that I really love is how close and tight communities online are, and it's been incredible to take class from people that I admire across the ocean, that I would never be able to take class from.  And that has been so nice. I know it's because people have time now, we have time to actually give class and take class.  Also, all these people are doing projects and reaching out to people about FaceTime photo shoots or video projects, which I think is amazing. They're also reaching out to people more now, and also to people that they maybe wouldn't think would respond to them.  I've been getting lots of product offers and I feel so I feel so happy to be a part of it.  A lot of us have time for these things now, and aren't doing much else, so I would love to see that continue as things go back to normal in the dance world that we stay connected and use social media more as a tool to connect and rather than just show off. Also, one thing that I really like is that a lot of people have been dancing in their living rooms, and it's so normal now. I remember usually seeing videos on stage, it was like “wow!” Sometimes in the living room people get different feelings like, “Okay I don't know, I'm not going to look at that video, it's in the living room, I don't know.” Now we're all in this together, and it's nice to see that environment shift. To see how it really doesn't matter where you dance.

Transcription courtesy of