A whole load of questions…

This post is a little bit of a ‘cheat post’ – because I didn’t write most of it!

I’ve been honoured recently to be asked to give an interview with a couple of ballet blogs. It’s been really interesting for me to look back on my ballet journey so far and what my aims are for the future. I thought I’d share them both here – let me know what you think and if you have any more questions for me!

The London Ballet Blog:

When LBB Met…Dave Tries Ballet

(You can find the original here.)

 

Reckon ballet is all about romantic tutus and pink leotards? Think again! In 2010 Dave decided to give ballet a go. What’s more, he set up a blog and began logging his progress. Since 2010, Dave Tries Ballet has transformed into a cult media success, challenging traditional preconceptions about the dance form. Naturally, LBB was keen to have a chat with Dave about his thoughts on ballet and the gender divide. Lucky for me, I managed to catch up with him last week.

“Why lift weights when you can lift girls?” This is what happened when LBB met…Dave Tries Ballet:

Hi Dave, can you tell us a little bit about your blog?
I started ballet a little over two years ago (when I was 23) and my blog has chronicled my journey so far. I started out with absolutely no dance experience so to begin with my posts were about the intimidating side of starting as an adult: buying my first dance belt, taking my first class and so on. I’m now taking over 10 hours of ballet a week and performing with three local groups (an adult repertoire group, my university’s dance society and a youth ballet company) so the posts have shifted to my experiences performing for an audience and constantly striving to improve my technique. Alongside these posts, I also write reviews about performances I’ve seen, talk about where I get my inspiration and have even written about the links between maths and ballet!

What made you “try” ballet?
I have no idea! I was studying for a Masters (in maths) across in the States two years ago when the idea to take a ballet class sprung into my head. I had recently completed a triathlon for charity and wanted to get away from the whole swimming/cycling/running thing. Ballet seemed the perfect way to stimulate my artistic side whilst staying in shape. Despite having only seen one ballet in my life (which I couldn’t really remember) I headed to my first class and was soon hooked!

Most men assume that ballet is just for girls – what can it offer aside from pink tutus and why should they give it a go?
The first shock I got when I started ballet was how hard it is! It requires a combination of strength and agility that I didn’t have when I started (the jury is out as to whether I’ve got it now!). I’ve found since going back to other sports such as swimming, cycling and rowing
that ballet has improved my performance immensely through greater fitness, flexibility and core strength. Guys also get to do the really cool stuff in ballet – all the big impressive leaps and lightning-fast turns. Then there is the opportunity to do partnering (my favourite
part of ballet) where you show off the girl’s grace and your own strength (as a friend pointed out: “why lift weights when you can lift girls?”). Finally I get to do something I love, which also keeps me fit, whilst surrounded by gorgeous ladies – what is there to complain
about?

Dave flexes his muscles…

What would you say is the biggest misconception about ballet?
I think there are two major misconceptions about ballet. The first is, as you mentioned above, that ballet is not manly. Male ballet dancers are in top physical shape and male ballet roles tend to be all about guys who can’t help but make women fall in love with them! I think the second misconception is that ballet is elitist. Again, this is completely wrong – I can go see the Royal Ballet for £4 and go to my local cinema to see the Bolshoi or Royal Ballet whilst munching on popcorn. I think English ballet companies (RB, ENB, BRB) are really leading the way worldwide in terms of making ballet accessible: initiatives such as Royal Ballet Live or ENB’s Agony & Ecstasy are paving the way forward.

Which ballets would you recommend for a man to try if he’s never been before?
Personally I think triple bills are the best introduction to ballet – you get to see three different pieces in one evening. There are a few great triple bills coming up in London this season. The Royal Ballet have their Viscera triple bill (featuring three of the most exciting current choreographers) and their Apollo triple bill (showcasing the Royal’s male principals in Balanchine’s iconic role). ENB’s Ecstasy & Death bill features Kylian’s abstract and powerful Petite Mort (which begins with six men on a darkened stage holding swords – amazing!), Roland Petit’s male showcase Le Jeune Homme et la Mort and Lander’s
superb classical piece Etudes. In terms of full-length ballets I wouldn’t hesitate to say MacMillan’s Romeo & Juliet. Not only, in my opinion, the best choreography ever created but this ballet has it all: love, heartbreak, sword-fighting, stunning music and even a collection of harlots!

What have you learned through doing this blog? Any feedback from fellow guys trying ballet?
I’ve definitely learned from my blog how inclusive and supportive the online ballet community is. I can write a post about my (eternal) struggles with multiple pirouettes and the first comment might be from a similar amateur who is also struggling, then the next might be from a professional sharing how they got the hang of it. What is amazing for me is when I get emails from guys who were in exactly the same place as I was two years ago; hopefully I’ve helped calm a few pre-class nerves for them!

If you could pick your no.1 professional male ballet dancer who would it be and why?
Personally, my favourite male dancer and biggest inspiration is Federico Bonelli from the Royal Ballet. He embodies everything I want to be in a dancer and is as comfortable in classical roles as modern abstract pieces. This last season I was lucky enough to see him in a range of roles, my highlights being the Prince in Sleeping Beauty (opposite Tamara Rojo) and my favourite male role, Romeo (opposite Lauren Cuthbertson). His technique is flawless, his acting impeccable and he seems one of the most attentive partners in pas de deux work. Watching him on stage is like a masterclass – I learn so much every time.

Could you share your top London ballet spots?
Well my favourite company is the Royal Ballet so the Royal Opera House tops my London ballet spots. The range of repertoire the Royal Ballet perform each season and the depth of talent in the company make every trip to the Royal Opera House unique. Other spots for watching high-quality ballet include Sadler’s Wells (upcoming highlights: BRB, National Ballet of Canada) and the Coliseum (upcoming highlights: ENB, Mikhailovsky, BRB). In terms of doing ballet, my favourite places to take class are Danceworks and The Place, although the proximity to Covent Garden means I often pop into Pineapple for a class between a matinee and evening performance at the ROH!

Adult Ballerina Project

Ballerina Profiles: David Wilson of Dave Tries Ballet

(You can see the original here.)

 

Check out our awesome interview with David Wilson of Dave Tries Ballet. He started ballet at the age of 23, and now takes classes in the UK and performs in a couple of repertoire groups.

Adult Ballerina Project: When did you start doing ballet as an adult?

David Wilson: I started ballet two years ago, when I was 23.

ABP: Did you ever take lessons as a kid?

DW: Nope, I had never really done any kind of dancing before I started ballet classes.

ABP: Why did you decide to take ballet as an adult?

DW: I’m still not entirely sure! I was studying for a Masters in the States (in mathematics, so nothing arts-related) and had completed a triathlon for charity. I decided I wanted to do something completely out of my comfort zone and for some reason ballet popped into my head. At that point I had only seen one ballet in my life (an ex-girlfriend had taken me to see Swan Lake during my Undergrad degree).

ABP: Where do you take classes?

DW: When I was living in the States I took class at the Princeton Ballet School and in New York (mainly at the Joffrey Ballet School). Now I’m back in the UK (living in Bath) I take classes all over the place, including with a couple of repertoire groups I’m performing with.

ABP: What is your favorite part about ballet?

DW: It’s the absolute freedom you feel when everything ‘clicks’. As cliched as it sounds, it feels like you’re flying! It might not even be a big jump or multiple pirouette, sometimes even a simple balance can feel beautiful.

ABP: What is your least favorite part?

DW: I honestly can’t think of a single thing I dislike about ballet, except perhaps that I didn’t start when I was 3 years old!

ABP: What motivates you to keep dancing?

DW: Ballet doesn’t come naturally to me. In fact, before I started I would have certainly described myself as having two left feet. But it is amazing to be able to see my own progress and I guess my motivation is to see how far I can go. Since coming back to the UK I’ve joined a couple of adult repertoire groups and a Russian Youth Ballet Company which has allowed me to perform. The rush you get whilst performing I certainly something that keeps me hooked!

ABP: Do you take any other dance classes?

DW: Not at the moment. I’ve taken a couple of contemporary, jazz and theatre jazz classes in New York and London but I personally like the structure of a ballet class. Knowing that you’ll start with barre (including plies, tendus etc) is reassuring, especially in a class you’ve never taken before. That being said, I really would like to try tap – bring out my inner Fred Astaire!

ABP: What are your hobbies outside of ballet?

DW: Before I started ballet I had rowed and cycled for my University and completed a triathlon. Although these have taken a backburner since starting ballet I still enjoy subbing in to the occasional rowing outing and cross-train with running, cycling and, especially, swimming. However, I’m currently doing up to 12 hours of ballet a week to there isn’t much spare time (at least, not if I want to get my PhD!)

ABP: What advice would you like to give to those who want to start ballet or have just started?

DW: Don’t let yourself be your own worst enemy. Just throw yourself into it. As an adult it can be really easy to get really nervous or self-conscious in class. Try to ignore that feeling! You’ll soon realise that no-one is watching (except perhaps the teacher, which is a good thing!). Don’t worry if you make a mistake or fall over either; I have a teacher who was a Principal in the Royal Ballet and after falling square on my backside during a pirouette exercise she simply said: “Good. That means you committed to it.” So I guess falling over can sometimes be a good thing!

ABP: Anything else you’d like to add?

DW: I guess just to say that if you’re a guy don’t be intimidated! You’ll probably find yourself heavily outnumbered in a class, but teachers are usually aware of this (and you sometimes get extra attention which is nice!).

 

I hope you enjoyed reading these just as much as I enjoyed giving them! Let me know what you think, or what your answers would be in the comments below. Oh, and if you have any questions you’d like me to answer then pop them below too!

Until next time, keep on dancing!

Royal Opera House 2012-13 Cinema Season Preview

This Thursday saw the launch of the Royal Opera House Cinema Season at 12 simultaneous press events held at cinemas across the country. I attended the Bristol event and although we may not have had special guests like other venues (the London event was graced by Principals Lauren Cuthbertson and Edward Watson!) there was still plenty of excitement generated about the upcoming performances.

The 2012/13 Cinema Season comprises of 3 ballets and 6 operas, 7 of which will be relayed live. The full list of performances is:

  • Swan LakeTuesday 23rd October 2012, featuring Zenaida Yanowsky and Nehemiah Kish;
  • Les Troyens (pre-recorded) – November 2012, featuring Westbroek, Hymel and Antonacci;
  • The NutcrackerThursday 13th December 2012, featuring Roberta Marquez and Steven McRae;
  • La BohemeTuesday 15th January 2013, featuring Villazon and Kovalevska;
  • Eugene OneginWednesday 20th February 2013, featuring Keenlyside, Stoyanova and Breslik (note, this is the opera, not the ballet!);
  • Alice’s Adventures in WonderlandThursday 28th March 2013, casting to be announced;
  • Nabucco (pre-recorded) – Monday 29th April 2013, featuring Domingo and Monastryska;
  • La Donne Del LagoMonday 27th May 2013, featuring Florez and DiDonato;
  • GlorianaMonday 24th June 2013, featuring Bullock, Spence and Royal.

These will be shown in over 900 cinemas in across 32 countries. The Royal Opera House will be hoping to capitalize on the success of last year when La Fille mal Gardée was the third most watched film in UK cinemas on the day of the live screening and Romeo and Juliet became their most successful live relay to date with 16,000 people watching it in 150 cinemas in the UK alone.

As part of the press launch we were shown a preview film of the season featuring clips of each production and interviews with various dancers, singers, conductors and directors involved. Once again the Royal Opera House proved what a polished organisation they are and the resulting film is exciting, insightful and informative. Here’s a short clip of members of the Royal Opera House explaining why cinema relays are so exciting.

Reflecting on their live-screened performance of Romeo and Juliet last season, Lauren Cuthbertson and Federico Bonelli were obviously excited about the live relays. As Bonelli pointed out, the relay means you are “sitting in the Gods and the stalls at the same time… Maybe it’s the best seat in the house?”. Cuthbertson agreed adding that it was “much more personal” due to the extreme close ups.

The Royal Opera House contains 2,200 seats but, as Principal Steven McRae points out, the relays allow for a much bigger audience. This was emphasised again by Cuthbertson who recalls that during Romeo and Juliet the Royal Ballet had trended on Twitter – a modern day validation that the cinema relays allow the performances to reach people on a totally different scale.

So what about this year’s productions? Obviously I am very excited to see the three ballets but, after seeing the launch film, I’m also planning on seeing most of the operas too!

Opening the season is Anthony Dowell’s production of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. I completely agree with the Royal Ballet Musical Director Barry Wordsworth, who mentioned how great the score for the ballet is, in particulars its “extraordinary thematic unity and grandeur.” Indeed, it contains one of my favourite musical moments from any ballet: the finale to Act IV. As the strings crescendo and the brass enter with a reprise of the main theme I never fail to get shivers – sheer perfection. I’ve been told by many balletomanes that Zenaida Yanowsky is the Royal Ballet’s greatest Odette/Odile, so I can’t wait to see her interpretation.

Next up is Berlioz’s epic Les Troyens. Following the Trojan warrior Énée after the fall of Troy this is a five and a half beast of an opera, and the Royal Opera House production lives up in every way possible. It even features a giant fire-breathing horse! Seriously!

If you want to get that magical Christmas feeling then the relay of Peter Wright’s production of The Nutcracker is guaranteed to get you in the mood. Steven McRae talked of how wonderful it is to dance the Act II Pas de Deux (which is set to the most fantastic music) and it certainly ranks highly in my favourite Pas de Deuxs to watch. Having never had much opportunity to see Roberta Marquez, I’m also really excited to see her as the Sugar Plum Fairy.

After the happy and joyous Nutcracker, January features the rather less-cheerful La Boheme. Set in Bohemian Paris, this masterpiece by Puccini is truly timeless. As Pappano points out “after so many performances [La Boheme] is still one of the most touching operas in the repertoire”. I’ve never seen the full opera but just the clip of Rodolfo singing “Mimi!” at the end of the opera made my hairs stand on end. Can’t wait!

On a much happier note is the broadcast of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, just before Easter in 2013. Created in 2011 by Christopher Wheeldon this was the Royal Ballet’s first new full-length ballets for over a decade and has received critical and public success. Featuring a host of characters it is lead by the eponymous role (created by Lauren Cuthbertson) as she finds her way through this strange and magical land. A definite highlight is the Queen of Hearts Tart Adagio which Yanowsky says is “a dream come true” to perform. Not to be missed, by children and adults alike!

The rest of the season are brand new opera productions. First up is the directorial debut of the Royal Opera House’s Director of Opera, Kasper Holten with Eugene Onegin, featuring Simon Keenleyside (it’ll be interesting to compare with the ballet Onegin which the Royal Ballet is performing this season). This is followed by Verdi’s Nabucco with opera superstar Placido Domingo (listen out for the gorgeous Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves). May brings Rossini’s Donna del Lago which features Joyce DiDonato and a “tenor battle” between Juan Diego Flórez and Colin Lee. Rounding off the relays is Britten’s lesser-performed opera Gloriana, about Elizabeth I. Originally choreographed by none other than John Cranko, this new production will be headed by Susan Bullock and Toby Spence.

In case you couldn’t tell, I’m really excited about the upcoming Cinema Season! The Royal Opera House have put together a nice mix of pieces and all offer an affordable slice of magic. Last year, the Romeo and Juliet relay was one of my highlights of all the ballet I saw, offering a depth to the performance that is not possible when sat in the Upper Amphitheatre… Hopefully a few of this season’s screenings will have the same effect! To get you in the mood, here is the trailer for the first live relay of the season – Swan Lake:

Let me know in the comments which screenings you’re looking forward to, and what your favourite screening from last season was!

Until next time, keep dancing!