Exciting Times

To say I’ve been a little busy recently would be a rather gross understatement. Both in life and in ballet things have suddenly got stratospherically mental, but thankfully it has mainly been for the better, not worse. Well, what have I been up to?

Summer Intensive

You might remember me talking a little while ago about applying to a summer intensive with Ballet Cymru in Wales. I was rather nervous to apply, unsure if I would have anywhere close to the technique for the course and if I would be suitable considering I’m probably 6 years older than most applicants.

After a bit of pushing and cajoling from friends back in January or February I decided to email and ask whether I would be able to apply. After describing my background and current level I got a lovely reply and was asked to send in a picture of me in first arabesque and tendu a la seconde. I never thought taking a simple picture like that could cause me so much stress! Being a bit too embarassed to ask any of my friends to take them I locked myself in the university studio for an hour or two with my camera and a tripod.

After testing a few different backgrounds I found a relatively clean wall and set the tripod up. My only options for a timer shot were 3 and 10 seconds so I chose 10 thinking I’d have plenty of time to get into position. Not so. Put it this way, I am now the proud owner of lots of pictures of me halfway into a first arabesque or falling forwards as I run into position!

Somehow I managed to get some just-about-half-decent shots and narrowed it down to a shortlist of potential pictures. With the help of a couple of great twitters (thanks Robin and Mark!) I selected some not-so-awful shots and sent them off. I got a lovely reply saying they’d be happy for me to apply when applications opened in March.

Promotional picture of Ballet Cymru's "Lady of the Lake" (photo credit: Ballet Cymru)

March came around and the application forms were sent out. There would be three levels of ballet courses – level 3 (Elementary/Intermediate), 4 (Intermediate/Advanced) and 5 (Advanced/Pre-Professional/Professional). I was recommended to apply for the Level 4 course and another batch of nerves came over me. Would I be anywhere near good enough? Girls applying to this level needed at least 4 years of pointe experience – I haven’t even been dancing for half that time yet! I decided in the end to just go for it – the Education Director assured me that she thought I would be fine in that level and if it was really unsuited I could always move down to the Level 3 classes.

Then a couple of weeks ago I got a letter in the post that was franked from Ballet Cymru. I got a major case of butterflies in my stomach, put it on my desk and didn’t touch it for a good hour or two. When I finally slid my letter opener under the seal and pulled out the paper I couldn’t believe what I read – I HAD BEEN ACCEPTED!

Yup. That’s right. I’m going to a Summer Intensive! A week of non-stop wall-to-wall ballet. Each day will start with ballet class before the girls go off to do pointe and the guys do men’s class (every day! Men’s class EVERY DAY! How amazing is that?!?!). This is followed by a Pas de Deux class (actually being taught Pas de Deux technique instead of half-making it up like I usually do!), then Pilates. There’s a session of learning repertoire (I’ve seen clips of Ballet Cymru and their rep is amazing!) followed by a Contemporary class. Finally there’s an option each day to work on your own choreography and get some feedback (definitely going to work on my Tchaikovsky piece). Then on the Saturday we’ll be performing at the theatre for an audience of family and friends. How amazing does that sound?

Sorry for getting a little over enthusiastic in that last paragraph – I’m rather excited (huge understatment). I know it’s going to be a really tough week but I’m sure I’m going to learn so much. Just the men’s classes and Pas de Deux classes alone are worth the trip in my eyes.

But I’m also being realistic here. I’ve already started to up my weekly classes (now at a minimum of 7.5 hours) and added cardio and gym sessions to build up my stamina. I’m trying to lose a little weight beforehand too – nothing drastic but I would appreciate a few pounds being shed. And then I’m making sure every day I’m stretching, doing some core work and working my feet with my theraband. If I want to make the most of the week I’ve got to make sure I’m at my fittest – I don’t want to waste the opportunity!

TV Interview

So what else have I been up to? Well a few weeks ago I was in London for the Royal Ballet’s La Fille mal Gardée double (Morera/Cervera in the matinee, Cojocaru/Kobborg in the evening – both couples absolutely sublime). Before the matinee though I met up with someone who contacted me on twitter about being interviewed for a TV program. She was doing a feature on boys/guys who do ballet and wanted to ask me a few questions.

So I found myself stood outside the ROH talking to a camera for a good twenty minutes about why I do ballet, why I love it and what it’s like being a guy doing ballet. It was all a bit exciting really! I’ve been told that it’s going to screen on May 29th at 8pm on the Community Channel here in the UK, but it’ll be online too so I’ll pop a link up when it does.

Looking back, I don’t think I said anything too bad during the interview. What I mean by that is that I’m always a little conscious that as a straight guy who does ballet it can be really easy to sound kinda creepy when talking about enjoying being surrounded my girls…! The interviewer said I came across well on camera though and I’m looking forward to watching. Hopefully I might even convince some of the viewers to give ballet a go!

Film Extra

Then last week I found out that I’m going to be gracing British TV screens a second time! My ballet teacher here in Bath is working as a dance-consultanty person on a new TV film (not sure if I’m allowed to mention the name so I’m keeping schtum at the moment). Part of the storyline involves a dancer who is either a student or teacher at a dance school (no idea which!).

The film needs some extras to be students at the school so my teacher has asked a few of her older students to be extras. It’ll mean spending the day pretending to rehearse Giselle and Romeo & Juliet in the Assembly Rooms here in Bath. I’m going to need 5 different changes of rehearsal gear and I’ll be on set for about 12 hours. All very exciting! Expect more details after next week.

More Classes and Choreography

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned that I recently started another pair of classes here in Bath, taking my weekly class/rehearsal time to 7.5 hours. On top of that I’ve just learned about another group nearby that I might get a chance to perform with. I’m waiting to hear back about auditioning.

A sneak-peek at my notes for my choreography...

I’ve also been working hard on my choreography. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s set to Tchaikovsky’s 1st Symphony, 2nd movement. It doesn’t have a name yet but is a Pas de Quatre for two couples. In essence the two couples represent two stages in a relationship, the first just falling in love and sharing a first kiss, the second many years down the line and still devoted to one another. I’ve got the first 2 and last 4 minutes choreographed but am still working on the middle section. I’ve worked out some ‘themes’ for the characters – little sequences of movements that define their characteristics. Impulsive for the young man, stately for the older woman and so forth. I’ve just bought a minature score of the Symphony which is helping me identify where musical themes are reprised so I can try and utilize them in the dance. I’m hoping I’ll be able to put the piece together whilst on the summer intensive.


Finally, I have been really busy with work.

But one benefit of all this work is my first ever academic publication, entitled “Speeding up Cylindrical Algebraic Decomposition by Gröbner Bases” – sounds thrilling doesn’t it! Talking with my mate Jack (who specifically wanted a shout out…) we worked out that my Erdös number is a rather nice 4. For those of you who don’t know, your Erdös number is a measure of your proximity, via academic collaboration, to the mathematician Paul Erdös. The equivalent in TV/Film is the Bacon number, which corresponds to how close you are to Kevin Bacon via costarring in movies. The combination of these is the Erdös-Bacon number, which is defined as you Erdös number added to your Bacon number. As of this coming Thursday, when I’m extra-ing in the film, I’ll have a Bacon number of 2 (via Michael J Reynolds) giving me an Erdös-Bacon number of 6 – the same as Natalie Portman! This may be really geeky, but I’m totally proud of this fact!

But although this is fun, work itself is rather intense at the moment. Lots of things to do, and lots of upcoming conferences. The benefit is that when I’m in Canada I’ll get a chance to see National Ballet and take a class in Toronto and will be visiting NYC on the way back, with a couple of visits to ABT, Steps, Broadway Dance Center and my two old ballet schools there. I’ve also got conferences in Bremen (Germany) and Grenoble (France) so will see if I can work in a ballet class or two whilst there!

So that’s what’s happening in my life at the moment. It’s all a bit crazy and outside of work and ballet I have virtually no time spare. But, you know what? I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Until next time, keep on dancing!