Living the Dream in Ballett Zurich

Royal Ballet graduate Daniel Mulligan writes about his life as a dancer in Ballett Zurich in Switzerland’s most glamorous city.     

I spent two years in the Junior Company and was lucky enough to stay with the main company after that period. Our director then was Heinz Spoerli and he used me in his pieces very often and pushed me from a young age, which I’m very thankful for.

It helped me build my strength and gain experience.

Since 2012, we’ve been working under the direction of Christian Spuck and the change came at a good time for my career. As well as creating new works for the company, Christian has brought ballets he created in other companies.

The repertoire is varied and satisfying: we have a good mix of classical and modern works.

This season we started with a fantastic triple bill of In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated by William Forsythe, Gods and Dogs by Jiří Kylián and Minus 16 by Ohad Naharin. I danced the Kylian and Naharin pieces which requires two very different approaches and styles.

For Gods and Dogs, like with all Kylián works, the musicality and emotion of the piece are very important.

Mulligan in Gods and Dogs photo Gregory Bartadon
Mulligan in Gods and Dogs photo Gregory Bartadon

There is a beautiful shimmering silver curtain at the back of the stage and a sole lit candle at the front, both of which add to the atmosphere of the piece. The score blends Beethoven music with a modern electronic reworking by Dirk Haubrich.

It was such a pleasure to dance this touching ballet, and even more so as we actually had the chance to work with Jiří Kylián in the studio.

Then to something very different with Minus 16 by Naharin! While Kylian’s work is modern, there is still a strong classical base within the choreography, whereas Ohad Naharin created his own movement language known as ‘Gaga’.

We had quite a few ‘Gaga Classes’ with the assistant who set the piece to discover this different way of moving, and it was a very liberating feeling.

The mirrors are completely covered for Gaga class so it really enables you to focus on all the sensations in your body; and there is a lot of room for movement exploration with direction from the person teaching the class.

I really enjoyed this process and it definitely helped with the actual performances of Minus 16.

Physically, it is a very demanding piece. In quite a number of the performances I danced the opening solo which goes on for about 15 to 20 minutes whilst the audience return from the break and it’s all improvisation!

It is so much fun, you can be really outrageous and crazy and it’s great to get a response of laughter and bemusement from the audience.

My professional life is very important to me, but I definitely like to find a good balance with my home and social life too. I strongly believe that this keeps dancers happy: creating new and exciting life experiences and meeting people can also help you develop your artistry.

I travel when I can, go to concerts, museums, the cinema, watch other companies perform, cook at home, eat out at a restaurant, check out flea markets and design stores, go clubbing… the list goes on!

I love living in Zurich! Switzerland in general has a very high standard of living and its stereotype of being super organised and clean is true!


I find it very important to try and experience as much art as I can and Zurich is a good city for that. It’s not a huge metropolis like London, which is my hometown, but for its small size it packs a punch and you can find a lot of interesting things to do.

Plus, it’s in a perfect spot in Europe.  It’s easy to travel to many destinations, and when I get time I like to travel to see friends, often dancer friends, so I can see them perform and catch up.

That’s the beauty of this profession; you end up with friends all over the place, which gives you a good reason to travel and usually there will be a spare bed or a couch for you to sleep on!

The summer months in Zurich are awesome, there are lots of nice cafes and bars to hang out in (I prefer the more alternative side of town to the postcard image of downtown Zurich) and you can finish work with a nice refreshing dip in the lake or the river.


Just around the corner from where I live is a great place to socialise all year round!

It’s known as ‘Frau Gerold’s Garten.’

In the summer months there is an outdoor bar, which is built out of old shipping containers with tables and seating improvised from pallets and other second hand furniture.

In the winter it doubles up as a cheese fondue restaurant with a cosy indoors.

I love taking friends here when they visit as, of course, cheese fondue is a very traditional Swiss dish; but here it’s served in a slightly quirkier environment than a mountain chalet.

I like to browse second hand shops and flea markets on Saturday afternoon after work, if I don’t have a show. I like looking for old records or second-hand furniture; if you’re lucky, sometimes you can find something great on the street that somebody has left out to be taken away for free.

I’d recommend a visit to anyone. And while there why not pop into the opera house too, to see a performance?

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