wendy lucking 88.
(photo credit: )
When Berta Yampolsky, the artistic director of the Israel Ballet and a renowned choreographer, asked 19-year-old ballerina Wendy Lucking to join her ballet company in 1981, Lucking began to laugh.
"She [Yampolsky] saw me audition and asked me to come immediately to Israel. I looked at her, started giggling and then politely declined. The prospect of moving to a place like Israel was so far-fetched that I didn't even want to consider it," says Lucking. But a few days later, after she ran into Yampolsky again at another audition in London, a mentor convinced her that going to Israel "just for one year" would be a good career move. Nearly 25 years have passed since that auspicious meeting and Lucking is still living here, happily raising a large family and spending many hours at the Israel Ballet's new studio in Tel Aviv.
Lucking says she tried ballet as a small child but didn't like it enough to continue, so she got a relatively late start - eight years old - for a professional ballerina.
"I could have been influenced by my grandmother. She was a professional ballerina at a time when it was not considered respectable," says Lucking.
"When she married, she stopped touring. But even after moving to Kenya, my grandmother danced and taught all of her life. She might also be the reason why it was an acceptable career for me in my parent's eyes."
But it took much more than genetic propensity and talent for Lucking to become a professional ballerina. Years of hard work, motivation and focus were necessary to earn her a steady position in a dance company, albeit one she had not imagined working for in her youth.
"Tel Aviv was a very different place in 1981. I arrived two weeks after they had bombed the nuclear reactor in Iraq, so it was a tense period," says Lucking. "My sister had volunteered on a kibbutz and loved it so I knew where Israel was, and with a father in the military, I came from a background with a wide world view."
When she first started dancing for the company, it was made up of nearly half British girls, so everything was in English. And because the company was small, she had opportunities to dance many different parts in pieces Yampolsky choreographed.
"It was an exciting time, and the work was very interesting. I enjoyed myself a lot," Lucking says. Just two weeks after her arrival, she met the Israeli man who would become her husband nine long years later.
As an Air Force brat, Lucking grew up all over England. Following the custom for military families, Lucking started attending boarding school at age 11.
"People in the service move around so much that they often send their children to boarding school so that they receive a more cohesive education," Lucking says. "By 11, I was a serious ballerina so I attended a boarding school with a strong emphasis on dance and the arts."
Lucking lives in Ramat Gan with her husband, Yossi, and their four children - who range in age from six to 12.
"For years we lived in Tel Aviv, but when we started our family I wanted to move to a place with a garden so we bought a house in Ramat Gan. Maybe it's cultural, but for me, couples live in apartments but families live in houses," says Lucking.
Lucking says she is still not fully comfortable reading and writing in Hebrew.
"The second year I was here, a group of the girls and I from the studio went to ulpan," says Lucking. "But after about a month I was falling asleep in class so I had to gradually pick up my spoken Hebrew over the years. For a long time all I could say was 'shalom, shmi Wendy mi anglia [hi, I'm Wendy from England], but I hate to tell people my name because they associate it with Peter Pan and there's nothing I dislike more."
Lucking worked full-time for the Israel Ballet until she had her second child at the age of 31.
"After I had my first child, I was able to return, but after the second, it was too hard to keep the intense focus that I needed to dance," Lucking says. In 1996, she gave up ballet dancing and performances and became a ballet mistress, consulting on the performances and helping to fine-tune the body movements of the dancers before they go on stage.
During the week, Lucking's day begins at 6:20. She says that rising early leaves time to make sandwiches for her four children and get them to either school or gan. Once everyone is off, she heads to the ballet studio until late afternoon.
"My routine centers around 'hugim' [after-school activities]," says Lucking. "And as the kids have gotten older, the taxi service has expanded."
"My closest friends are all dancers from the company," Lucking says. "The bonds we made while we were dancing together are the strongest of my life. The support and friendship will always be with all of us."
Aside from former ballerinas, the majority of Lucking's friends are Israelis whom she met here.
Raised Protestant, Lucking says she is not a practicing Christian but enjoys celebrating the cultural connections to Christmas and Easter.
"We have a tree every year and the kids get chocolate eggs at Easter, but it's for the sake of tradition, not religion," Lucking says. She adds that by celebrating the holidays she grew up with, her children get a better sense of their mother's roots and origins. Not a believer in conversion, she opted not to undergo the process and strongly maintains that being Jewish is something one cannot suddenly decide to do.
"I don't think people should convert for convenience, and it has never been an issue with my husband or his family. As for my children, they are growing up Israeli and don't feel any different from other kids. They will have to make their own choices about what to do with religion later," she says. The Lucking kitchen is not kosher, but during Pessah no bread can be found in the house.
"My father won't come over Pessah anymore because we don't have beer," says Lucking, laughing.
Lucking says she feels more at home in Israel than she would in England, despite not having citizenship and paying annual visits to the Interior Ministry to renew her work visa.
"I see myself as English, but I don't think I could live in England again now. I would feel like a foreigner there, but at the same time, I don't think I will ever feel fully Israeli either."
"I'm living very day-to-day at the moment," says Lucking. "My plans revolve around my children, and although the relationship with Israel is certainly love/hate, I can't imagine living anywhere else."
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