Reflecting on 2012

This year has been a bit of a rollercoaster for my ballet journey, but thankfully there have been a lot more highs than there have been lows. It was only whilst talking to a childhood friend over Christmas that I started to grasp how much has happened over the last twelve months, and how it has shaped my dancing.

Spring

As the new year opened, I was settling in to my new flat, PhD, and life in Bath. I had been lucky enough to find a great RAD class in Bath (Intermediate level with an ex-Royal Ballet Principal teaching) and had joined Ballet Bristol, a local adult repertoire group, although I hadn’t started learning any repertoire yet.

After a successful gala in December (so successful I couldn’t even get a ticket!) it was time for everyone to start learning new repertoire at Ballet Bristol, and that included me! The first piece I learnt was a fun Pas de Quatre, Pas des Déesses, which I would dance with three of the ladies in BB. This meant I had to do some basic partner work in the main section (promenades and assisted pas de chats) and had my own little variation (involving lotsof entrelacés!).

Me and my three gorgeous partners in my first performance of Pas des Déesses

After a few months practice I had my first ever performance with BB – a charity gig at the local hospital’s Serious Brain Injury rehab unit. Although the room was a little smaller than we were used to (and had a pillar in the middle!) it was great to perform in front of an audience, and the patients and their family seemed to really enjoy it! This would be the first of a few charity performances throughout the year, and every single one was rewarding and fun.

The next big ballet adventure was a fantastic day of dance in London which included a BalletBoyz workshop with their Ballet Master at Sadlers’ Wells. Not only was this a chance to dance in such hallowed studios, but also a chance to really work on my technique and get some tips. With an emphasis on bringing out the masculinity of movements and, more importantly, truly performing everything we did, it was a fantastic opportunity. I seriously hope they repeat the workshop in 2013!

Summer

My summer started with a bit of a rollercoaster all to do with my classes in Bath. A film crew were coming to Bath to shoot a new TV 2-part drama (with a cast including Rupert Everett, John Hannah and Natalia Wörner!) in which one of the characters auditions to dance Giselle with a ballet company. The auditions were being shot in the gorgeous Assembly Rooms in Bath and all the choreography was by my teacher and one of her old dancing partners from the Royal Ballet. As it would be a bit weird to have an empty studio for auditions they needed a few “ballet extras” to be other auditionees warming up and they picked a few of us from the dance school. As such, I got to spend a day being paid for hanging around in ballet gear and chilling on set with some amazing actors (who were all lovely) – pretty good if you ask me! The film hasn’t been released in the UK and US yet but was shown on German TV over Christmas, so you could see part one and part two with German dubbing online (although I think the videos have been taken down now). You can spot me around 25 minutes into the first part and dotted in a few other scenes :)

After this fun I was a bit shocked to be taken aside by one of the receptionists before the last class of term. She told me they would be starting rehearsals for their March school show when thet came back in September. I hadn’t expected them to necessarily include me in the show (I was nearly ten years older than some students in my class) but was surprised to be told that they wanted me to “take a break” from class until March. I was a little hurt that after 9 months of hard work I would suddenly be taking a massive step back in terms of my RAD teaching. They later told me in August that I could come back to class until they started rehearsals proper, but got a call on the day of the first class back to say that they would be starting straight away. According to the receptionist, the ballet piece would be “girly girly” and none of the boys in my class (there were two others, both amazing dancers) would be involved – something I’m really quite disappointed about.

My favourite pic from the Big Screen Performance. Surprised myself by actually being nicely turned out!

After all that ballet turmoil I also had my PhD work to do, and in the process was sent to Canada for three weeks in July, followed by a (free!) trip to NYC staying with a friend for five days on my way back. Simply being on a different continent was not enough to stop me on my ballet journey – I took class in Toronto and London (the one in Ontario, not England) and saw the National Ballet of Canada (including one of my top three performances ever – Song of a Wayfarer). New York is kind of a Mecca for the dance world and (now I’m a little further on in my training than when I left) I made full use of it! I took 14 hours of class in three days, saw ABT three times over, saw one of my old teachers, saw loads of awesome tweeps and fell in love with tap dancing thanks to Anything Goes.

Back in the UK I had another performance with Ballet Bristol, and this one was rather special. We would be the warm-up and interval act for the BP Big Screen of the Royal Ballet in Titian: Metamorphosis! I’d be dancing Pas des Dessées and after surviving a technical hitch and a wet slippy floor we had a ball – definitely one of my more memorable performances!

Promotional shot of Ellie, Fi and myself taken after the performance.

It’s hard to pick an absolute highlight of my year, but I’ve got a feeling my week at Ballet Cymru would top the list. The chance to spend every day getting taught by amazing dancers and learning new repertoire was fantastic and I tried to make the most of it. It was certainly hard work but it did convince me that in another life I would have loved to dance for a living! I also got to share a flat with some fantastic pre-professional dancers who I made really good friends with and were all willing to share tips and tricks. I got to see one of my flatmates, who is studying at Elmhurst, perform in Cinderella with Birmingham Royal Ballet recently – amazing to see him on stage rocking it! The week ended with a performance for friends and family which was so much fun – although by the end of dancing two pas de deux pieces, the Mazurkas from Coppélia, part of Franz’s Act III variation from Coppélia, and a contemporary piece I was absolutely knackered!

Autumn

Autumn started with some new repertoire at Ballet Bristol, preparing for our Gala show (originally December 2012 but now hopefully March 2013). I started working on the Jewel Fairies from Sleeping Beauty, with two partnering sections and the Gold variation to learn. I worked on the Wheat Pas de Deux from Coppélia which has been a lot of fun – tricky partnering but a joy to dance, especially with my awesome partner Laura! Finally, I’m going to be working on the Act III Wedding Pas de Deux from Coppélia and a new, more contemporary, Pas de Deux in the next few months – all very exciting!

I was thrilled to attend the first ever #UKBalletTweepMeet – a chance for a few of us twitterers to meet up and take a class together. The fantastic Karis from EverybodyBallet put us through our paces in a great 90 minute class and this was followed by lots of ballet-chat – it’s all about “post-barre bar”! I’m definitely looking forward to attending more of these in the future :)

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

After all the furore at my ballet school in Bath there was a silver lining. Knowing I’d be losing a class for at least six months (I still haven’t decided if I want to go back after March – my teacher is amazing and lovely, but I don’t like the way the school has treat me) I emailed a few other local(ish) ballet schools to see if they had space for a 25 year old guy. Contacting a Russian Ballet School I got a reply asking whether I’d be interested in auditioning for their Russian Youth Ballet Company. It didn’t take long for me to reply saying I’d love to! The audition was a little nervewracking (4 hours of class and rehearsal knowing you’re being watched is intense!) but I was thrilled to get in, and have been loving it ever since. With fortnightly rehearsals the girls have been working on Act II Swan Lake whilst the guys have been learning some cool variations. Starting with two variations for Rothbart from the Kirov Swan Lake we’ve now also gone through Basilio’s variation from Don Quixote and the Pas D’esclave variation from Le Corsaire – I can’t get enough of it!

Winter

They say things get better with age, and that was certainly true about 2012 for me. In the final couple of months I had a jam packed, exciting time full of ballet opportunities.

Me in my Nutcracker costume for the competition with the Uni!

I was honoured to be selected as a Royal Opera House Student Ambassador. This means I get to promote the Royal Opera House (and Ballet/Opera in general) at my University and I also get the chance to shape how the ROH outreaches to students in the future. I’ve already had the chance to see the Viscera triple bill with the other student ambassadors (even walking past Liam Scarlett backstage before the performance!) and will be heading in on Monday for #ROLive (the follow up to the fab #RBLive last year).

I danced with my University for the first time this year which lead to me competing, something completely new to me. Although it had been a bumpy road in rehearsals (dancers falling out with each other, including one rehearsal where the choreographer refused to speak after an argument with another dancer – I steered well clear of all this!) it was fun to perform and we were thrilled to place first! If you had told me 2.5 years ago that I’d be in a winning ballet group I would never have believed you. I think winning has also helped a little with my confidence – I’m always aware that I haven’t been dancing that long but being part of the team has convinced me that I can’t be too bad if we still won even with me in there! All the drama means I won’t be dancing with the University again next term but I’m glad I did it anyway.

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

I was really pleased when the couple who run the Russian YBC asked if I wanted to start taking their Advanced class at their Russian Ballet School – I’m now taking class every Tuesday and Friday along with the fortnightly 4.5 hour class/rehearsals on a Sunday – I can’t get enough! They also announced that in April we will be doing two performances (matinee/evening) of Swan Lake – the Youth Ballet Company dancing the whole of Act II (and, I think, some of Act IV) and the Ballet School dancing condensed versions of Acts I and III. I couldn’t believe it when they asked me to be Rothbart- meaning I’ll have my own variation at the start of Act II (to the awesome, iconic Act II theme) and even have a little partnerwork with Odette/Odile and some ballet mime! I’m also going to be dancing Spanish in Act III (as Rothbart) so have plenty to learn. On top of all this we’re having a Masterclass with a Vaganova Academy teacher in January, and hopefully our Patron, Elena Glurdjidze (Senior Principal at ENB) will be giving a Masterclass soon as well! And to finish it all off, in my final class of 2012 I managed to (finally) complete the grand pirouette and coupé jetés en manège combination – I’ve never been able to make the full circle en manège before! Woo!

Then just before the end of the year we had a photographer in a couple of my classes and one took a video of some of the combinations – here’s me in the adage from one of the classes!

On top of all that I had my PhD Transfer in December – a major milestone on the way to my degree. Submitting a 90 page report, giving an hour-long presentation and having an hour-long viva (Q&A) with two professors pushed my sanity to its limits but I passed and the next step is hopefully submitting my final thesis in 2014! It’s a big relief to get it over with and ballet certainly kept me sane whilst working on it – now I just need to decide what I want to do career-wise…

So that was my year – and what a year it was! I’m not sure how 2013 will top it but with BRYBC/BRBS Swan Lake and the BB Gala coming up I’m sure it’ll be a good one! You can be sure I’ll be working hard to improve my ballet technique. I’m also going to have to work hard on my characterisation and acting skills for Rothbart – something I’ve never had to think about before (although I keep forgetting that practicing silent evil laughs probably shouldn’t be done whilst walking down the street…)

How was your 2012? Have you got any exciting plans for 2013? I’d love to hear about them in the comments section below :)

Until next time, keep dancing!

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