Kristóf Szabó: „You can be beautiful, happy and active in all spheres of life. With no exception.”

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What is it about dance that cannot be found in any other kind of art?

Dance combines different arts. For me, it is complete. Man needs inspiration from many other arts to perform a role in the dance. It is also special to me because of the music. Thanks to movement, we make music visible. I always think about it – so that the viewer can see the music.

Do you find it difficult?

Dance always looks different. You can’t repeat a move in precisely the same way. There is no such thing as symmetry. This is also the most remarkable thing about the body. When I dance, I am aware of these things. In classical dance, according to science, all movements should be perfect, symmetrical. Identic. Even rows on the stage, even to the right and to the left. In my opinion, that’s not quite the point. I was very inspired by the Israeli choreographer, Ohad Naharin, who said that „there is no symmetry in dance and when you finally realize it, you become free.” It freed me from all the stress that I would never feel, look or dance exactly like my colleague from the company. This is a massive advantage of dancing. It allows me to convey my individual character.

But let’s look at it a bit differently. Being in a team – you perform the assigned task, assigned role. Being a soloist has other options.

In my opinion, this is an advantage that I don’t have to do something like the other person. I do not have to and do not want to be identical. Even when I make a mistake. Each performance has its own advantages that we should be happy about. Dance is all about the moment. It is not permanent. I love performances that happen live. Now I miss them so much. The recording of the performance takes some quality, and when in contact with the audience, the dance takes place here and now. It is up to me, from the beginning to the end, how I present myself on stage.

Glove: Adrian Fabian, white suit: Rodrigo de La Garza, pearls: YES, ring: ZoZo Design

How do you prepare emotionally for your roles?

Each dancer has his own individual approach to preparation. Each role is a challenge. For me, it is very exhausting – emotionally and physically. Especially if I believe in a role. I always „go into” it one hundred percent. I don’t play, but I experience emotions. This is what makes me shiver when I think about it. I have the ability to become a character. Then these feelings are most substantial. The viewer trusts us to be authentic. The best example is the ballet „Lady of the Camellias”. In fact, we were required not to act but to become a given character. Since then, my approach to dance has changed.

I try to experience – not to pretend. The most important thing for me in preparing the entire choreography is telling a story. Gathering envelope as the whole of the role – what is its intention, the past, who it is. I hate it when someone shows me a move and then tells me what it was supposed to mean. For me, they must have some idea first and not be automatically displayed on stage. Sometimes I get the impression that we don’t talk about dance enough. We practice a lot – it’s true, but as dancers, we should think about what we want to convey with movements. When you think about traffic, it looks much better. If I do not get the information „what the author meant” initially, I try to learn what I can show in a given role during the rehearsals. I look for inspiration everywhere in every field of art that will introduce me to the authentic world of characters.

Once I got comments from a ballet master that „I shouldn’t react like that on stage.” In that situation, I reacted like this because I would have acted like me. And here is the most valuable sentence I heard – I should have the same reaction as my hero. It stuck in my mind that I should think about my character’s situation, not my private one.

Let’s go back to February last year – now that we talk, it’s been exactly a year since you were diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Have you already realized that something might be wrong with your health?

Something must have been going on for a long time. I lost a lot of weight, but I thought it was a question of the shows’ stress and various other turmoil. Natalia, who is also a dancer, and privately my girlfriend, kept telling me that I was getting thinner. It surprised me because – I will not hide it – I love to eat. I have eaten loads. I was exercising all the time, and my body shape did not prove it. I had different thoughts. It all ended up justifying them with dancing and rehearsals. After all, for a professional dancer of classical dance, increased thirst or sweating is an everyday reality.

But one day, I felt that it was getting awful. I was without strength and energy. I did the research. It was unfortunate that I got the results on the day of the performance. I didn’t go on stage anymore. They didn’t let me go. I did not accept this information that I am sick with type 1 diabetes. I didn’t know anything about this disease. Just as a small part of the public knows about ballet, I was utterly ignorant of this disease and what it entails. I said no option. I have to step out tonight. I’ve been preparing for this role too long for me to waste this chance. The more than I did a rehearsal the day before. I was ready to do my best. The performance was something for me. Unfortunately, I had to come to terms with the fact that I cannot leave the hospital.

Tracksuit & vest: Robert Kupisz, shoes: Adrian Fabian, sunglasses: Cukier Puder Vintage Store

Can you say your life has changed overnight?

For sure. I had to „pull” on very high sugar for a long time. This was evident in the research results. According to the doctors, my prognosis was inferior for three months. I was fortunate that nothing more serious happened to me. I had to quickly accept my illness and deal with it. There was a lot of crying in the beginning, but I didn’t break down.

Instead, did you take the approach that this is another challenge that you have to face?

I knew little about this disease then. What Diabetes Can Do? I also wanted to do something useful with this disease, despite it.

And this is where the „Najsłodsi” Foundation came to your mind?

I was wondering a lot what I could do to find some positive aspect of this situation. Since I already have diabetes, I would like to present this disease in a „nicer way”. Unfortunately, we often encounter stigma. Also, the topic of diabetes. I knew from the beginning that I would be able to live with it, but I listened a lot, including in the hospital, that I should think about a profession, that I can always lower my sugar, but a career as a dancer is not the best idea, that I should generally consider quiet and easy life. However, I wanted to approach it positively and decide for myself what is best for me.

How do you want to support people with diabetes together with the Foundation?

„Najsłodsi” Foundation is a place that was established relatively recently. It interested me a lot. I got to know them through the director – Andrzej Dragan. It was he who introduced me to the founder of the Foundation – Michał Figurski. The Foundation’s main goal is to look for the so-called lost million, i.e. people who have diabetes but do not know about it and are destroying their body, which leads to serious consequences. This was the case with Michał, who was aware that he had diabetes. Still, he did not treat it and did not admit it for many years because he was afraid of the social exclusion we have mentioned. The Foundation is also supposed to educate, diagnose and provide entertainment. I would also like to pass on the knowledge of how sick people can cope in everyday life. Talk about things that are not commonly talked about. We will be publishing an e-book soon, featuring me also, in which we talk about how to lead badly to live well. We show that this disease should not be stigmatized and not be afraid of living with it.

It means? What things do you mean?

I would like people with diabetes, not to be afraid to live a normal life. For example, it is said that we cannot drink alcohol—shell we. We only need to know what and how much we can consume. What insulin dose to take, to what alcohol, how to lower the base on the pump after consuming it, etc. What is very important – how to adjust the insulin dose for the night. Because that’s when the worst moment comes. A lot of people don’t wake up after drinking alcohol. I would also very much like to make a „spectacle for a drop of blood” at the Polish Great Theater, that is, to measure the sugar level of each audience member at the entrance. This will help find the „lost million” we talked about earlier, and people with elevated sugars will also have a chance to spot adverse changes earlier.

Is there anything you fear about this disease?

Many things. At first, I did not realize and did not have the full picture of the complications of diabetes. I was angry that why nobody told me about it at the beginning. A psychologist at the hospital told me it was terrible that I had diabetes, and it would be mourning and a great tragedy for her if she were in my situation. I have never heard what this disease is related to and how to act, to take insulin, control sugar, etc. Emotional support, in many cases, does not exist in the health service. But that’s a topic for another conversation. I learned about everything from other diabetics, or I was looking for information that would be useful to me.

Another aspect is that people are ashamed of this disease. As I mentioned, stigmatization does not help. Diabetes is still a taboo subject in many areas of life — even sex. There is not enough talk about it. This disease is associated with the equipment that you are wearing all the time. For someone, this can be a problem, and people can feel a lot of discomforts, and you need to keep your blood sugar levels under control. Often even in intimate situations with another person. This can be very stressful and embarrassing for many people. Especially if someone is not in a stable relationship. I would like to find a way that will make it possible to show this aspect in an interesting way. You can be beautiful, happy and active in all spheres of life, with no exception.

Tracksuit: Hugo Boss, sunglasses: Cukier Puder Vintage, shoes: Adrian Fabian

What was your return to the stage like?

Getting back to work was a bit frustrating. To dance with the sensor was a bit of a problem. There were times when it fell out because I caught my hand on it. In the first week of returning to dancing, I removed as many as six sensors that measure the blood sugar level continuously. After a time, I learned how to secure it with an elastic bandage. The need for insulin also worked well. Exercise helps me regulate its quantity. When I dance and exercise, I don’t have to „recharge” so often.

Usually, when we do not know something, we are afraid of it. Did the ballet company have this approach too?

In the beginning, I had sugar drops. I had to learn to control it. There was often shortness of breath, leaving the studio to eat something sweet, but I managed. I was afraid that other dancers or choreographers would see such situations and end up not getting a more significant part to dance. Now I hope that everyone is used to it, that I dance with something on my shoulder and realize that I can do all the parts even better than before because I take care of my body much more and put a lot more effort into my work.

Do you feel a little pressure?

I don’t really feel the pressure, but I can see that they are also worried about my health. We agreed to work at my own pace. I did not feel that I was doing anything worse, and it did not work out. On the contrary, I thought that I was giving my total energy as always. I had a lot of support from Natalia. It was she who motivated me and was my coach. For which I am very grateful to her. She helped me get out of the hole. If you want, you can. A positive attitude is most important. I’m also happy to be cast in prominent roles again and looking forward to dancing the leading party – probably in June this year.

Suit: Adrian Lewandowski, shoes: Hugo Boss

You also founded your „Little Paris” in Ochota, Warsaw…

The SztukStudio idea was born from the need to have a place to exercise. Not only for yourself. As it turned out, many dancers also during the pandemic, especially at the beginning, struggled with the place’s problem to train. The theatre was closed, there were no classes or performances. This gave us the motivation to create a unique place with Natalia, which will not be just an ordinary dance studio. Hence the name of the place. We combine various forms of art. We invite artists and interesting people to create a unique atmosphere in this place. We are happy to host people related to the cultural industry.

We want the place to be vibrant with life. In a small group, we provide classical dance workshops and communing with art through workshops or meetings with authors. The home atmosphere is conducive to sharing inspiration and insights on various topics related to movement and various forms of art. I was also surprised that many men want to participate in classical dance workshops.

Jacket: Rodrigo de La Garza

Why did this surprise you?

It did not surprise me that they came but that they were the first people who contacted us and signed up for classes, The more that we did not advertise ourselves too much. We finally made a website, and the gentlemen started calling. I am delighted that it allows us to break the stereotype of a guy in ballet. We just do our job.

Kristóf Szabó – Artist dancer, leading soloist of the Polish National Ballet. He dances the main parts in all productions of this ensemble, which he joined in 2013 after graduating from the Roman Turczynowicz in Warsaw. He was then chosen the best graduate of ballet schools in Poland, represented the country at the Eurovision Song Contest for Young Dancers, and received an award from the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage for outstanding artistic achievements.

In 2019, in the first edition of the Pearls of the Dance competition, he was awarded for the best stage creations and dance roles. In February 2020, diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. He returned to the stage. In his activities, as the ambassador of the „Najsłodsi” foundation and the Dance to Be Foundation, he actively supports artists and diabetics.

Photographer: Anna Pabijańczyk
Video: Konrad Koterba
Make-up artist: Aleksandra Chojnacka
Stylists: Adrian Fabian
Stylists assisitant: Dominika Lipok
Production: Krzysztof Malcher, Kamila Kobus

Special thanks for help in the photoshoot to: