A Competition and ‘Performing’

Saying that I’ve had a rather busy month would be a huge understatement – my PhD supervisor suggested last month that I aim to get my Transfer completed before the Christmas break. This is a mid-PhD assessment to make sure you’re doing enough work and have a clear plan for the remainder of your PhD. For me, this meant writing a 60-page report (well, actually it started as a 105-page report I had to trim down), giving a 45-minute talk (with 15-minute public questions), and a 60-minute viva with two professors questioning me. Pretty scary stuff! Thankfully, I completed this all on Thursday and have (unofficially for the moment) passed! It’s such a relief, and I’ll be celebrating by seeing Birmingham Royal Ballet dance their fantastic production of Cinderella tomorrow.

But this blog isn’t for me to complain about PhD work, thankfully. So what has been happening in my ballet world? Well, I’ve been pretty busy with ballet too! This last month seems to have centered around ‘performing’ in one way or another, so I thought I’d concentrate on that in my post.

University Competition

I’ve mentioned before that I have been dancing with my University Dance Society this term. Weeks of rehearsals, and a bit of drama (people walking out of rehearsals, last minute illness, …) culminated last weekend when we packed on a coach in the freezing cold and headed to the Royal Holloway competition.

My university would be entering all five categories (Ballet, Tap, Jazz, Contemporary and Hip Hop) but I was only dancing in Ballet – which was up first. We were the last group to dance so we had to wait as the other Universities took to the stage. There was 9 of us dancing (8 girls and myself – the only guy in the whole ballet competition) to the Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker – hence I ended up dressed as The Nutcracker himself! Taking to the stage in darkness and applause, we took our opening places.

Me in my Nutcracker costume!

The lights rose, the music started, the crowd cheered and we started our 4-minute long piece. Even with a smaller stage than we were expecting, we danced our hearts out and gave everything we had. I tried to be light on my feet for my solo petit allegro section, tried to get that little bit extra lift during my ‘stag leap’ entrance, made sure I was rock solid during my partnering section, and tried to whip out my a la seconde grand pirouettes as fast as possible!

Unlike my past performances, the crowed cheered and whooped their way through the performances – big cheers happening during the most exciting sections: the girls fouettéing whilst I did grand pirouettes; any partnering sections; and the grand finale. This was a new experience to me but helped to keep the adrenaline pumping and ensure I was ‘performing’ at all times.

We only went and bloody won!

I’m not sure I particularly like the competition atmosphere – and I’m not feeling too sad that I won’t be dancing with the university for the next competition. Everyone was perfectly nice and there were some truly amazing dancers there, but there was an underlying atmosphere that wasn’t my cup of tea. To me dance (or rather, ballet) isn’t about competing but more about the act of dancing itself. That being said, I’m happy to say that we won!It was really nice to know that our hard work over the past few months had paid off. :)

On a more personal note, winning meant more than just a trophy. I still struggle quite a bit with confidence in my dancing – I’m always aware that I’ve only been dancing a couple of years, and find it hard sometimes to share a barre or stage with others who have been dancing for years. Knowing that I was part of a group who won a competition gives me a little more confidence that I can’t be too bad and it was nice to get some comments from the judges on our feedback saying how great it was to see a guy in the ballet competition.

Class Photographers

Me suspended mid-air - with pointed feet for once!

Photographers in classes seem to be like buses for me – they come in twos! First up was a photographer in class/rehearsal for the Russian Youth Ballet Company a couple of weeks ago, followed by one in the advanced class I take in Bath.

There’s something a little intimidating about having a photographer in class – but I think there’s also something empowering about them too. They remind you that every class is a performance – that just because you’re not on stage doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be selling yourself to your ‘audience’ in every exercise. It reminds you to lift your chin with confidence, keep that smile beaming, and make sure every step is as beautiful as you can make it.

That being said, having a photographer there also seemed to make my rate of mistakes in class just about quadruple! :)

Here are a couple of pics from the classes…

Photo from the Russian Youth Ballet Company class - don't know why my back knee is bent... Perhaps I was about to do something?!

My favourite picture from all those taken - I've definitely got my 'concentration face' on!

Swan Lake Excitement!

One more thing… For the last few months that I’ve been dancing with the Russian Youth Ballet Company we’ve been learning bits and pieces from Swan Lake Act II. Turns out that we’re going to be putting on a condensed Swan Lake in April! The YBC will be doing the whole of Act II (not condensed at all) and then the Russian Ballet School will be dancing various parts of Act I and III. I was a little shocked to be told that I’ve been picked to be Rothbart! This means I’ll have a solo variation at the start of Act II as well as being involved throughout all of Act II-IV. I am so excited!

On top of this, as I’m now taking classes at the Ballet School, I’ll also be dancing other parts in Act I and III. I don’t know about Act I, but this week I started learning the lead male part for Spanish in Act III. I will still be Rothbart – after introducing Odile to the prince I will dance Spanish. So much fun!

What has really struck me about learning both these parts so far is how important characterisation is within performance. My first attempt at summoning the swans at the start of Act II was immediately stopped by my teachers. They pointed out that my summoning was “too princely” – instead of an upturned palm I needed to make a downward claw to impress how evil I truly am… Similarly, the last time I tried to act ‘Spanish’ (in Basilio’s Don Q variation) I got told that I looked too much like a pirate… I’m learning that little changes can make a big difference to the performance – it can be tough to remember it all whilst dancing hard steps (like using ‘claw hands’ whilst doing pirouettes in attitude devant!) but I’m sure with enough hard work and practice I will get there.

I’m really excited to perform in April. It’ll be tough to dance for so long and including variations but I’m willing to work my butt off to make sure I’m ready. We’ll be doing two shows – a matinee and evening – and I’ve already had quite a few friends say they want to come. It’ll be the first time any of my good friends have seen me dance; I’m already a little nervous!

So that’s all the ‘performing’ I’ve been up to – have you been performing recently? It might have been on stage, in class, or even in your living room – did you learn anything about your dancing in the process?

Until next time, keep on dancing!

P.S. The guy taking pictures in my class in Bath also took a couple of videos… Here’s the class (including me) doing the Adage combination

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