Thursday, 31 December 2009



Huge congratulations to Northern Ballet Theatre's Artistic Director, David Nixon OBE.

The New Year Honours list has been published today.


Emma Stanworth attending English National Ballet's performance of The Nutcracker

Our recent competition winner, Emma Stanworth, attended a performance of ENB's The Nutcracker

Emma said afterwards "it was beautiful, utterly amazing! My favourite part was the pas de deux between Clara and the Nutcracker. It was also really good to see the dancers who were nominated for the Emerging Dancer Award, they were all so good and I can't wait to hopefully see them in the future!"

The dancers short-listed for the Emerging Dancer Award are :  Esteban Berlanga, Anaïs Chalendard, Crystal Costa, Ksenia Ovsyanick, Junor de Oliveira Souza and Venus Villa.

If you'd like to know more about the dancers short-listed for the Emerging Dancer Awards, I have published interviewes with some of them, including Venus Villa, Crystal CostaAnaïs Chalendard and Esteban Berlanga.  I will shortly be publishing interviews with the final two nominees.

Happy New Year !!

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Ruth Brill interviewed for "Cupcakes & conversation with..."

Cupcakes & conversation with Ruth Brill, Artist, English National Ballet

What motivates you at 8am on a Monday morning?
Putting some music on and making a big cup of coffee.

What are you looking forward to dancing this season?
We performed Giselle this season. I love the English National Ballet production, Mary Skeaping’s version. I love the style, as I was trained in the Cecchetti method. I particularly enjoy the mad scene at the end of Act 1, trying to imagine how you would react if this happened in real life. You are watching your friend becoming destroyed by love and completely losing her mind - it is quite scary when you think about it! I love the acting side to ballet; you get the chance to play such a wide range of characters. I was one of the Wilis in Act 2; it is great to play a “supernatural vampire-like spirit… determined to be revenged on all men”. It is very empowering!

Who would you most like to dance with?
Anyone who is interesting and inspiring to work with, that I can learn from. I would love to dance something that had been created in collaboration.

How do you prepare your pointe shoes?
I darn around the edge of the block, sew on elastic and ribbons, shellac inside, bend the backs and squash the fronts. I wear pointe shoes made especially for me by Freed.

Photography :  Peter Teigen

What is your daily routine at the moment?
Up, coffee, walk to work, class, Pilates, rehearsals, eat, meet friends, chat on the phone, listen to the radio, shower, read, green tea, bed.

You can ask six famous people to dinner - who would you invite?
Chris Martin from Coldplay: Conveniently positioned next to the piano
Stephen Fry: Stimulating witty conversation
Vivienne Westwood: What a legend!
Michael Palin: Funny, warm, with plenty of good travel stories
Professor Robert Winston: To challenge my assumptions about science and human development
Wendy Cope: Pudding poetry?!

What would surprise people about you?
I always have a plan! I get bored very easily if I do not have enough to do. I like to have something to look forward to; someone to see, something learn or read, somewhere to go.

Who inspired you to dance?
Old musicals I used to watch over and over again as a child… Gene Kelly in Singin’ in the Rain, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, West Side Story - I can still picture the choreography when I hear the music.

Of course, my first dance teacher Judith Wilson. My teachers at Arts Educational School, Tring, and at English National Ballet School. In particular, Eve Pettinger whose evening Cecchetti lessons at Tring kept me inspired.

How would someone else describe you?
Big brown eyes, enthusiastic, determined, open minded.

What is your best piece of advice?
Believe and go for it!
As my friend Hilary always says “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”

Ruth's 21st birthday party
Photography :  Ambra Vernuccio

Which role has tested you the most & how?
One evening around 8pm, I was in my flat, in my pyjamas, watching ‘Breakfast at Tiffanys’, when my phone rang… It was the ENB company manager…

“Hi Ruth. How are you? Are you at your flat? Now, I know that you don’t know ANY Coppelia… BUT… Someone was injured in the rehearsal today… Do you fancy coming down to Southampton… NOW?!!”

I got out of my pyjamas, threw a few things in my case, grabbed a taxi to the station and got on the first train to Southampton. I arrived in the foyer of the hotel at 11.30pm. I was greeted by the complete ballet staff of ENB, including Wayne Eagling (the Director). We sat down with a drink, and they showed me a DVD of Coppelia. I scribbled down the place I was to learn in “Dance of the Hours”. They wished me good luck and good night, as the doors of the lift closed. Once in my hotel room, I pushed the bed to the side, put on the DVD and pranced around until I had learnt it. Next morning, lots of coffee, did class, had a placing rehearsal, few corrections, 2 shows that day, and for the rest of the run!

Those 24 hours took the phrase ‘proving yourself’ to a whole new level. I am sure it helped me secure my contract at ENB!

What is the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you?
Having to lie dead, on the floor of a derelict pump house, with fake strangle marks and bruises, for my appearance as a murdered teenager in ITV’s Trial and retribution!

If you designed your own stage costume, what would you create?
A Midsummer Night’s Dream ethereal fairy costume and wild headdress.

What are you most proud of?
My family and friends and getting my contract at ENB.

Who would play you in the film of your life?
Me? Or the chance to be considered for it, at least?! I love acting and have a bit of experience in front of the camera. I would love to be in a film!

Ruth Brill in Swan Lake tutu
Photography by Zoe Stephenson

What is your favourite quote?
Life can only be understood backwards, it has to be lived forwards - Soren Kierkegaard

Do you have a ‘signature step’ – one that comes naturally to you?
Something that moves, travels and ‘gobbles up the floor.’

What’s been your best on-stage moment so far?
It is a bit cheeky to choose 3 but I really can’t choose between...
Performing at the Princess Diana Memorial Concert, at Wembley Stadium
Being chosen to represent Great Britain in the Cecchetti International Ballet Competition, Calgary, Canada
Performing in MacMillan’s Rite of Spring. WOWOWOW

Do you have a secret skill which no-one knows about?

Thursday, 24 December 2009



The fabulously talented dancers of Northern Ballet Theatre recently danced in a Gala night, and here are the highlights, set to Only By The Night by the equally great Kings of Leon.

There will be much more from the company dancers next year, right here.


Ballet Theatre UK have now finished their current tour of The Nutcracker. Here are some highlights.


A fun documentary montage featuring today's most famous ballet dancers.  The video is set to Paralyzer, Finger Eleven, Them Vs. You Vs. Me


Have a peak behind the scenes and hear Principal dancer Stephen McRae talk about dancing in The Nutcracker.


Here is a seasonal treat for you from Scottish Ballet - a short film showing the transformation of dancer Diana Loosmore into the superbly sinewy Dame Mouserink, villain in our Christmas ballet, Ashley Page's The Nutcracker. The Nutcracker is on at Glasgow’s Theatre Royal until 31 December, and will tour to Edinburgh Festival Theatre (6 – 9 January), Eden Court Inverness (20 – 23 January), His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen (27 – 30 December) and Theatre Royal Newcastle (3 – 6 February).


Today - 24th Dec Christmas Eve
8:15pm - BBC4 - Swan Lake with the Kirov, Uliana Lopatkina is Odette/Odile, presented by Darcey Bussell. This is a repeat - I'd recommend it for the precision of the Corp de Ballet. 78658188

Fri 25th Dec Christmas Day
1:10pm - More 4 - Balanchine’s Nutcracker with Kevin Kline 87886380

1:25pm - C4 - Only When I Dance - a documentary about two Brazillian teenagers who want to become ballet dancers.  25831699

9:00pm - More 4 – The Royal Ballet in Cuba - a documentary following Carlos Acosta on the summer tour to his home country.  This is the first time it's been shown on TV.  54727699

10:00pm - More 4 - Strictly Bolshoi - a documentary following Christopher Wheeldon as he attempts to be the 1st British choreographer to work with the Bolshoi.  This is a repeat but I'd recommend it for the way in which it reveals the differences of working in Russia and elsewhere. 27451125

Sat 26th Dec Boxing Day
10:00pm - More 4 - The Car Man by Matthew Bourne

I hope that you have enjoyed these seasonal treats, and all that remains is for me to wish all my readers around the world a very Merry Christmas and to thank you all for your loyal support throughout the year. Cheers !

Happy Christmas, Joyeux Noël, Feliz Navidad,
聖誕快樂,Buon Natale,
Vrolijk Kerstfeest en een Gelukkig Nieuwjaa

Monday, 21 December 2009

James Forbat interviewed for "Cupcakes & conversation with..."

Cupcakes & conversation with James Forbat, Soloist, English National Ballet

What motivates you at 8am on a Monday morning ?
The fact that it is a new week, full of possibilities. That I am surrounded by fun, intelligent and creative people who will all help me to get the best from myself, and especially if it is sunny!

Who would you most like to dance with ?
Sylvie Guillem, Marianela Nunez. They are both inspirational dancers in different ways and every time I see them dance I get tingles!

What is your daily routine at the moment ?
I like to take my mornings fairly slowly so as to have a little time for myself before work begins. I always have a good breakfast, usually cereal, then public transport (urgh!) to work. Work always consists of class then rehearsals during a rehearsal period and rehearsals and one show (or just two shows) during a block of performances. When I get time I like to go to the gym, and go for a drink with friends in the evening before bed (not too early as I don’t function too well on more than eight hours sleep!)

James Forbat as a Dancing Gentleman in Manon

You can ask six famous people to dinner - who would you invite ?
Amy Winehouse, Sylvie Guillem, William Shakespeare, Pedro Almodovar, Dawn French and Jerry Springer just to mix it up a bit!

What would surprise people about you ?
I love working hard and dedicating myself to my work, but I also love to forget about it all, let go of it and just go out and have fun!

Who inspired you to dance ?
When I originally started I was very young and I just did it because I wanted to dance - so in a way me! Some kind of realization that I might want to do it professionally came when I was working with The Royal Ballet at age 8 as a page boy and a gargoyle in Anthony Dowell’s production of Swan Lake. The magic of it all and seeing stars like Darcey Bussell performing up close definitely inspired me to carry on my dream of being a dancer.

How would someone else describe you ?
Talkative. Motivated. Decisive. Organised. Tidy. Hard working. Opinionated.

What is your best piece of advice ?
Do something you really love as a job and never hesitate to be bold. Only you have control over what happens in your life.

Which role has tested you the most & how ?
Probably dancing Albrecht in Giselle. I was very excited but it was a test because it combines all the factors of being a true classical dancer. Acting, technique, pas de deux, stamina and the ability to move an audience.

What is the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you ?
There are too many to fit in here – I love to laugh and growing up with my friends in The Royal Ballet School we had many hilarious moments!

James Forbat as The Prince in The Nutcracker

If you designed your own stage costume, what would you create ?
Something easy to move in which shows off the dancers body but is unique and colourful.

What are you most proud of ?
Making it as a classical dancer. It is a truly gruelling process even to make it to the corps de ballet of any company and so many people aren’t suited even if they put everything into it.

Who would play you in the film of your life ?
If I were famous enough for anyone to make a film about my life, I would want to play the role myself!!!

What is your favourite quote?
Carpe Diem.

What’s on your iPod ?
Lots of laid back music – Amy Winehouse, Jack Johnson, Jason Mraz, James Morrison alongside a lot of dance/trance music which I use to motivate myself. I really like music in Spanish, especially from Latin America in particular Mercedes Sosa. And far too many ballet videos!

Do you have a secret skill which no one knows about ?
I can do a backflip!!!

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Our ascending Stars... Elisa Badenes

Ascending stars

Drawing by noomiedoodlesfashion

The quite fabulous noomiedoodlesfashion very generously gave up some time to work on my brief, which was to use her fashion expertise to conjure up traditionally dressed dancers but with a fashionable twist.

'Our ascending stars'…. follows the progress of professional dancers who have graduated this year. Regular readers will know that all of the dancers featured here were interviewed just as they made the transition from vocational school to professional ballet company. Here we see how they've been getting on....

Photo :  Gene Schiavone

Elisa Badenes, Stuttgart Ballet

What is it like now that you are working as a professional ballet dancer ?
I think that at the beginning every time is hard. A lot of things are very different from being at school. You have to be really focused on your body because it is not like it is in school where you have people to look after you. Here you are alone, and you have to develop your technique and personality on your own, so that you don’t limit yourself and so that you can dance as you want to.

Which roles have you performed so far and what did you enjoy ?
One of the reasons I came to Stuttgart Ballet was the amazing repertoire they have. Things here are moving so fast. We did Giselle at the beginning of the season, then I had the opportunity to go on tour with the company to China where we did a Cranko ballet called "Taming of the shrew" which I had never seen before, and it was really funny to dance ! For Christmas we are doing another Cranko ballet, " Onegin" and I fell in love with this ballet. We have the opportunity to dance so many different ballets, (one comedy, one drama), each with a different technique and style.

What have you learnt that’s been unexpected ?
I have an apprenticeship contract at Stuttgart which means that they normally use us for covering people, but in a company a lot of things can happen so even if I was the second cast in all the ballets I could dance it!

The hard thing when you join a company is learning all the repertoire, and if you are second cast you have to learn so many different places and you never know where you will dance. At the beginning of this season we were performing Giselle, and I had the opportunity to learn the peasant pas de deux. That was really important for me! I didn’t perform it but I hope that in future I will be able to do it.

What’s been the best thing about Company life so far ?
It has a lot of good things going for it but I think the best thing is that you realise that you are working at the one thing you love - dance, and you can live with it.

Which roles are coming up for you in the New Year ?
The first thing we going to do for the next year is a show with a four ballets (Cranko, Forsythe, Kylián, Scholz). I’m so excited about the new year.

Our Ascending Stars....
Drawing by noomiedoodlesfashion

Thursday, 17 December 2009

The Royal Ballet - The Nutcracker

The Nutcracker
The Royal Ballet
December 16th 2009

There is something quite infectious about The Nutcracker; no matter how many times you’ve seen it before the magic, sparkle and snow will get you every time. Everything glitters and resistance is futile.

The Royal Ballet’s production is full of magic, brought about by Gary Avis’ interpretation of Drosselmeyer. He is a dancer who compels you to watch even when he’s perfectly still, so give him a cloak and the stage and who needs the tricks ?

Photo :  Bill Cooper

Everyone loves the children in Act 1, and the students of the Royal Ballet School, White Lodge, danced with absolute joy, whether they were toy soldiers, mice or Gingerbreads. The Christmas Angels, present in all the important transformational scenes, are danced by the students of the Upper School, seemingly on wheels.

The first three scenes are full of props and tricks, and I thought that Paul Kay as Clara’s partner, at her parent’s party, danced with ease and easily outshone Harlequin, Columbine, Vivandiere and the Soldier. I’ve seen them all look sharper than this.

Once Clara, Iohna Loots, has defeated the Mouse King by bashing him on the head with her shoe, it’s time for a lovely pas de deux with Hans-Peter/The Nutcracker Ricardo Cervera. I’ve seen Cervera in this role many times and he always dances fully with the music, beginning the adagio solo with such ardour that Clara can’t help but melt. I’m not convinced that Loots is a great turner, and Cervera had his hands full keeping her on balance and avoiding flying feet. I do worry that Cervera is forever stuck in this role – with some rehearsal surely it is time for him to be cast as The Prince ?

Photo :  Johan Persson

Melt she does, and the Christmas Angels guide them to the Land of Snow. The corp de ballet are always impressive here, the swirlingly uplifting music, the brilliant white glittering costumes, the interaction with Clara and The Nutcracker, and finally all the snow – filling every inch of air if that’s possible.

There were some cast changes in Act 2 but our celebrated couple journey to the Kingdom of Sweets with the help of Drosselmeyer, arriving in the Sugar Garden of the Palace to meet the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Prince. No doubt about it – the tickets sold out long ago because of the chance to see Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg in these roles. Both started nervously but had the divertissements to master them.

The Russian Dance, with Tristan Dyer and James Hay, was particularly good, Cervera joining in – I like the way that Clara and The Nutcracker dance a soupçon of each divert. Avis is an instrumental figure again here – providing a clue as to the next dance or gesturing for the audience to be quiet. This he did before the Arabian Dance, where Johannes Stepanek was mesmerizing.

The Dance of the Mirlitons is an audience favourite, and Leanne Cope used every single beat of the music to maximum effect. Her facial expressions & her timing were absolutely on the money.

Laura Morera, as the Rose Fairy, brought vivaciousness and brilliance. The choreography suits her personality and she lit up the stage effortlessly.

Cojocaru and Kobborg hit their stride for the Grand pas de deux. Cojocaru is tiny but her arms have a regal grace which is so essential in this role. Kobborg is an exemplary partner, though I did think some of the steps had been changed, perhaps to accommodate Cojocaru’s recovery from injury. Nevertheless theirs is a great partnership, eminently watchable, though Kobborg in particular looked to be gasping for breath at times. Who wouldn’t ? The solos are a test for both – Cojocaru with the Gargouillades and Kobborg with fast turns and high jumps.

By the end, with the whole company on stage, everyone looks to be having a ball, and you’ll find yourself hoping for snow (it’s forecast) with feet itching to waltz out into the Piazza. What better way to twirl yourself into Christmas ?

Friday, 11 December 2009

Diarmaid O'Meara, professional dancer, interviewed

Diarmaid O'Meara - behind the dancer

Diarmaid O'Meara @ The Royal Opera House
Photograph :  Mo Greig

Most of the expert dancers you see on stage have been through rigorous, repetitive training to become an elite athlete – because that’s what professional ballet dancers are. ‘Expertise’ is defined in a study (1) in 1993 as ‘the result of intense practice for a minimum of ten years’. The study went on to describe the specific type of practice an expert needs to acquire this expertise as ‘deliberate practice’, which means getting the best instruction but also several hours of focused practice every day. What is missing from the study is that these ten years of deliberate practice must be completed before puberty, because of the very high level of flexibility needed.

Malcolm Gladwell, in Outliers (2) explains that achievement is talent plus preparation, and that preparation almost always totals 10,000 hours. It’s not enough to practice for an hour a week for 10,000 weeks if you want to be an expert; the conclusion of the 1993 study - the requirement for ‘deliberate practice’ - is fundamental. An experiment in 1995 (3) concluded that it takes 180 practice trials for the human brain to consistently reproduce new, simple movement patterns. There is nothing simple about ballet choreography and you can see how a much longer training period becomes necessary.

That said, it’s not unheard of to start a vocational career in ballet at a later stage. Royal Ballet Principal dancer Johan Kobborg started his career with the Royal Danish Ballet School at the age of 16. Darcey Bussell had a lot of catching up to do in her first years at the Royal Ballet School and found it hard to pick up the steps. It’s been said that the classical Greek Philosopher Socrates learned to dance when he was 70 because he felt that an essential part of himself had been neglected.

But there’s late and then there’s meeting yourself coming backwards. I’m at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden to talk to Diarmaid O’Meara, who started training at 22. That’s not a typo. He had never considered doing ballet, there were no family links and he didn’t start vocational training until he’d passed a degree in Genetics, started a PhD and had a job as a research assistant (researching arthritis). His heart wasn’t in it, “I just didn’t love it enough, and I need to really love something to do it”. The reality of being in a lab six days a week was not for him, “it was just something that I could never see myself doing as a career.”

When you meet him it’s easy to see why. He’s chatty, intelligent & attentive - our wobbly table was distracting me until he whipped out a notebook to steady the leg - not someone I can see in a white coat and those dodgy blue shoe-covers. He’s very open and will talk to anyone, but dig deeper and he’s wary at first; my guess is that he makes strong and loyal friendships, but only after taking his time to get to know you first. One of his friends, fellow professional dancer Megan Wood, with whom he is currently working, tells me “Diarmaid always puts a smile on my face. When our feet are hurting and we're exhausted, he will always make me chuckle! He is a very genuine and sincere person and his hugs are always the warmth of friendship. I definitely consider Diarmaid a true friend.”

So what alchemy can account for the professionally trained ballet dancer in front of me? In his native Ireland there is no vocational ballet training, and Diarmaid says “any Irish people that have gone anywhere in dance have had to leave and come to London. Or gone abroad to France or Russia”. Of ballet he says “I’d seen it on TV and I was a bit mesmerised by it, but because there wasn’t any dance presence, it was something you didn’t think about.” Diarmaid was “really involved in sports so that took up all my extra energy.” He modestly tells me that he “represented Ireland in decathlon at one stage”. The choreographer George Balanchine said “ I don't want people who want to dance, I want people who have to dance”, and I think this sentiment applies very much to Diarmaid.

Moving to Dublin proved to be the catalyst, and in typically understated fashion, just as in all success stories – think Carlos Acosta in the backstreets of Havana – cut to 10 years later and he’s centre stage at Covent Garden - "a friend of mine was doing a few dance classes and invited me to go along with her. I did some contemporary, some hip-hop and then I wandered into a ballet class one day.” The way he tells it, it’s almost impossible to imagine how transformative that class turned out to be. “It all happened pretty quickly from then. I started taking regular classes in Dublin, and one teacher I had, Stephen Brennan, said ‘if you want to make anything happen, you need to move to London’.” Diarmaid was taking five classes a week by this stage, but only for a few months – nothing like the ten years or more of his contemporaries.

He applied to Central School of Ballet “and luckily, Bruce Sansom was the director at the time, and he was very long-sighted. He thought that they could do something with me.” Given that Diarmaid had earlier told me “I had this idea in my head that it was too late : that ship had sailed, it was never going to happen”, what made him take the plunge and leave his job ? “I hedged my bets - something I love vs. something that merely paid the bills”.

Diarmaid O'Meara @ The Royal Opera House
Photograph :  Mo Greig

Crucially, he has incredibly supportive parents, who, if they were worried, never voiced it. “They tell me now, that at the time when I said ’I want to go to London to Central School of Ballet and I want to be a dancer’, they were a bit like, ‘this is a bit hare-brained’. But at the time they were like, ‘if this is what you want to do, go for it. We’re behind you 100%'. They’re ultra-supportive, which made making a big decision like that so much easier, knowing that they were behind me.” Many studies have shown that parental support is one of the key drivers when it comes to opportunities to succeed.

The training was “really tough. In first year I discovered that I had really bad posture and I was really uncoordinated, and I just had to scrap everything and begin from scratch. I think because I had spent so many years not doing ballet, I really needed to just concentrate on the basics. At the beginning of the 3 years I didn’t really know what I wanted from it. I knew I wanted to perform but I didn’t really know what direction I wanted to go in, because I didn’t know if I was any good, or if I was any good, what area was I good at. But over the 3 years I realised that classical ballet was what I really absolutely loved.” In between training Diarmaid worked (and still does) at Sadlers Wells Theatre in Islington.

“The teacher I had in second year, Paul Lewis, was just phenomenal. I don’t think I would have got a ballet job if it wasn’t for him, because he really just pulled it out of me. He was really, really hard on us, on all of us, and he was really hard on me. But it totally paid off because he knew what he wanted to get out of us, and it was all for us, you know, he wasn’t hard on us just for the sake of being hard on us. He was hard on us because he wanted us to do really well. And I’ve huge respect for him because of that.”

Paul Lewis confirms the hard work but points to Diarmaid’s incredible work ethic and level-headed attitude towards his training, “Diarmaid came to us with having very, very little previous experience and we thought it was a bit of a long shot really, but he was very determined and so we gave him a chance at the school. I enjoyed having him around enormously, watching him overcome the challenges that the course presented. He took it all in his stride. He surpassed all our expectations really, he was incredibly focused. He was coming to this very late so he knew he had to knuckle down and really try and catch up, which he did, and he worked incredibly hard for his three years here. But he’s managed to change himself physically as well, because he’s a strong man anyway, but he looked more like a rugby player than a ballet dancer when he arrived, and he’s managed to completely change his physique.” I ask whether he had to adapt his teaching to accommodate Diarmaid’s late start but he says emphatically not, “the information was the same. It just meant that in terms of trying to change your body already when you are a fully formed man - it’s one thing when they’re younger and physically they’re still growing, they’re changing - Diarmaid was pretty much set. But he still managed, through stretching and just working his body using different muscles, really working very hard at it, he did manage to completely reshape himself. He had co-ordination issues and things which, a lot of it he managed to overcome. He’s still working on it, and I think for any dancer that’s always an on-going thing, you’re always striving to improve and he’s still going to do that but his work ethic was phenomenal."

Approaching Christmas in his first term of third year, recovering from an injury proved, as it does with many dancers, to be a pivotal time. Again, the understated way that he talks about breaking his foot in class, “I landed awkwardly on a patch of slippy floor, and my foot just cracked, and that knocked me out for 8 weeks”, belies how testing an injury can be, particularly in the important graduation year when dancers audition for professional work. “But when I got back from that, I came back way stronger than I’d been before. I literally started again with the basics, while my foot was healing.” A Cuban lady at the school looked after injured students and “she was all about finding connections in your body, all movements were very organic, using your breath. She did lots of visualisations. So I went into class every day with my foot up in a chair and I used to visualise myself doing each exercise. And I imagined how it would feel, what my posture was like, what my arms were doing, all the co-ordinations, and what muscles I would feel doing the exercises. So then when I came back I didn’t feel uncoordinated, everything felt right.”

Diarmaid O'Meara & Anna Blackwell in Ascent by Mikaela Polley
Photograph : Bill Cooper.

Diarmaid created several roles in his final year; two roles in Matthew Hart’s Whodunnit and one part in Mikaela Polley’s Ascent, which she describes as “a blend of classical ballet and contemporary dance” and “it starts in one place but by the end it’s very high energy.” Polley initially watched the whole year in a workshop, because her style was classical with a contemporary edge “so I was looking for dancers that could help me creatively create the piece, and who had that something a little bit different, who were willing to take some challenges and some risks.” The next step was to choose around 18 dancers with whom she wanted to work, and she included Diarmaid. “It was a cast of 6, but I had several casts because it’s important that the students have this opportunity to work with choreographers.”

Diarmaid’s broken foot was still healing at this point, but Polley remembers “he was always present, he was always there. He just wasn’t able to physically join in. I knew that I wanted him to do one of the roles and that there were multiple performances and that he would have that opportunity.” In fact he ended up dancing all of the performances in that role, “and taking it to the next level in the performance side of the piece, and he was fantastic. He’s a very clever man, he knew his work, he was prepared, and I think it gave him an opportunity and challenge to show what he was able of. I think the school were amazed because he came to dance so late, that he had this ability that shone through.”

With graduation fast approaching, Diarmaid auditioned when time allowed. He tells me of one audition in Poland which really tested his mettle. “I couldn’t make the actual audition date (because of his performance schedule on tour with Central) so I said ‘can I come up and take company class ?’ Big mistake. There were about 70 dancers in the studio, and the class lasted less than an hour. It was just so fast, everything was in Polish, I could not pick up a single step, and back then, because I was nervous as well, not being able to pick up the steps, nobody helping me and the director watching me - I just looked like I’d walked in off the street and I’d never done a class in my life. That was just horrific. It was horrible.” It’s impossible to over-emphasise the strength of character Diarmaid demonstrates; graduating students have been through years of constant sifting and evaluation from their teachers, but one of the most challenging adaptations to company life is the reality of working for yourself.

Photograph :  Bill Cooper

For the same reason he also missed an audition for Ballet Theatre UK, so he asked the Director and Choreographer of the company, Chris Moore, to watch him in class. Moore says “I was keen to offer Diarmaid a contract after seeing him in class at Central School due to his clean and well finished class work. As I was looking for a partner for Maria (Engel, who dances the Sugar Plum Fairy), it was essential that I found someone who would bring a lot of character and style to the role of 'Nutcracker' as well as the right height and physique.”

Polley confirms this, “he’s an excellent partner. I could see very instantaneously that he was a very good partner and he was able to experiment and was very strong and could do some of the more difficult lifts, so I could specifically pinpoint him into a role which was great.”

Diarmaid O'Meara & Maria Engel in the Arabian Dance from Christopher Moore's The Nutcracker
Photograph :  Mo Greig

Ballet Theatre UK began rehearsals this Autumn and I’ve watched them several times since. I can very clearly remember being impressed by Diarmaid’s ability to portray the characters in various roles even in the rehearsal studio; necessary here because the Company has ten dancers and two alternate casts. When I ask Moore about Diarmaid’s performances, he tells me, “Diarmaid has worked very hard in his characterisations and has great skill in switching from a 'classical prince' to other characters such as the Harlequin doll and the Butler. Diarmaid has also become very good at working on stages of various sizes while still staying true to the choreography and production.” A choreographers dream then.

Diarmaid O'Meara as The Prince & Maria Engel as Sugar Plum Fairy in Christopher Moore's The Nutcracker
Photograph :  Mo Greig

The central pas de deux between the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Prince is famously tricky, “performing the pas de deux was actually really, really scary, because its ultra-classical, ultra-formal and then I’m responsible for Maria, for making her look fantastic, not that she needs any help, and thankfully I had good pas de deux training at school.” Back to Paul Lewis, “he’s a very good partner, being a strong lad is a huge asset. He’s a good looking guy.” How did Maria and Diarmaid form the trust they needed ? “Luckily when we met we just instantly had a rapport, so we were able to talk to each other, which made it very easy to get comfortable with it, so now the pas de deux is actually the most comfortable part of the ballet for me.”

I ask him what he’d like to dance and with whom, given the choice. “I’d love to do Balanchine, something like The Four Temperaments and Theme and Variations, I absolutely love it.” He also mentions Onegin and “if I was dancing something dramatic, it would have to be Laura Morera, she’s just so intense when she’s on stage. She’s just so passionate.”

I’ve watched several of Diarmaid’s performances and it’s true that he makes it look easy, which it isn’t. The company have been travelling all over the UK, and I wonder where he considers home now that he’s been away from Ireland for years, “where my loved ones are, lucky for me, that means many places.” Performing is what he loves, but he’s smart enough to start planning for the future, which may involve teaching “even now, if I see someone doing something wrong technically, I’ll give them a correction, and I like others to do this to me too”, and, as he already has a B.Sc. (Hons.), re-training as a Physiotherapist is a possibility, “I have already researched where and how much it will cost me”.

Diarmaid O'Meara as The Prince & Maria Engel as Sugar Plum Fairy in Christopher Moore's The Nutcracker

Photograph : Mo Greig

Polley wants to know whether I too encountered the force-field that is the charm of the Irish (I did), and adds, “I found him to be very intelligent. He was obviously slightly older than some of the other students but that maturity shone through in his professional approach to working, not only with me but within the company. He was always eager for feedback, and to improve, and I think that’s what will help him into his professional career, just to keep working hard. He’s got a very lovely nature about him, and I think that will stand him in good stead in the future. He’s got a nice presence on stage and he has some very nice attributes to him. He was a very delightful man to work with. I wish him well for the future.”

Lewis says “he’s doing really, really, really well. He needs to keep working as he is, because there is still room for improvement, he’s going to grow, but I’m very, very, very pleased with what Diarmaid has managed to achieve. I’m thrilled that he’s working now; he’s left the school and gone into employment and I’m sure there are going to be other opportunities for him as well after this. I think he’s going to have a very interesting future.”

Once the tour is over, he’ll be home for Christmas, and then the gruelling process of auditioning begins again (but don’t expect Diarmaid to make a drama out of it – after all, his favourite quote is ‘what’s for you won’t pass you by’), “I don’t know if I’d like to leave London, but if there’s a job outside London, there’s a job outside London.” I can’t imagine that London wants to lose him, so what does the future hold ? “I’ll just keep working and putting myself out there and the rest is for someone else to decide.”


1. The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance, K. Anders Ericsson, Ralf Th. Krampe, and Clemens Tesch-Römer, 1993
2. Outliers, Malcolm Galdwell, 2008
3. Relative phase alterations during bimanual skill acquisition. Journal of Motor Behavior, Lee,T. D., Swinnen, S. P., & Verschueren, S. (1995).
4. Hot House Kids, produced by Neil George, presented by Deborah Bull, BBC Radio 4

I would like to thank those who have contributed to the making of this interview – Paul Lewis, 2nd year men's teacher, Carol Been & Anya Clifton at Central School of Ballet, Steven Drew & Mikaela Polley at Rambert Dance Company, Christopher Moore at Ballet Theatre UK, Megan Wood, Mo Greig, Neil George at the BBC and Deborah Bull.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Nathalie Harrison interviewed for "Cupcakes & conversation ..."

Cupcakes & conversation with Nathalie Harrison, First Artist, The Royal Ballet

Nathalie Harrison received a very well deserved promotion at the beginning of this season, and you can see her dancing at the Royal Opera House.

Nathalie Harrison
Photo :  Tom Birkett

What motivates you at 8am on a Monday morning ?
Firstly a good cup of tea and during my brisk Bloomsbury walk to work I get into gear and look forward to the day and the week ahead.

Who would you most like to dance with ?
Unfortunately I feel I've just missed out on Jonathan Cope - that was always a dream, however last season I had the honour of dancing with Gary Avis. He is one of the most professional and talented people I've worked with.

How do you prepare your pointe shoes ?
Reluctantly! I seem to always have a pair only half done. I darn the ends, shellac them, sew ribbons and criss-cross elastics then bash them about before they're allowed on my feet. I wear my shoes hard.

What is your daily routine at the moment ?
Well, after the aforementioned compulsory cup of tea, I get to work to sort my shoes for the day. Then after our daily class, it's straight into rehearsals until about 5.30pm. Before the evening show, I'll try and pop out for food and fresh air and to call my loved ones to say hello. After curtain down, when I'm finally home and sitting in my living room, over a glass of wine I look at the decorating that needs doing in my little flat!

You can ask six famous people to dinner - who would you invite ?
Keith Richards, Tony Benn, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Fry, Mae West and Paul Merton. My boyfriend would cook for us. (He's famed for his cooking and hospitality.)

Nathalie Harrison in Alastair Marriott’s Sensorium for The Royal Ballet
Photo :  Andre Uspenski

What would surprise people about you ?
I'm thinking about doing a history degree. Is that surprising? Although I'm told there's no future in history....

Who inspired you to dance ?
My family. Growing up in a household with great music playing and their encouragement to explore all possibilities.

How would someone else describe you ?
Chatty, hard-working, generous and impatient.

What is your best piece of advice ?
I believe that the harder you work at something, the greater the reward. Easy achievements aren't as fulfilling. Most importantly, make the most of every moment. Enjoy it. Live it!

Which role has tested you the most & how ?
Opening night of DGV, dancing the Pas De Deux created for Darcey. One of the best experiences of my life. I was heart-broken to suffer an injured wrist the following week. Dancer unable to dance = unhappy person!

What is the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you ?
I seem to be a magnet for 'funny things' happening to me. There are so many and they're mostly embarrassing so my lips are sealed.

If you designed your own stage costume, what would you create ?
I love Bakst designs, so I would probably steal from him and mix it with a little Westwood.

Nathalie Harrison and Gary Avis in Christopher Wheeldon's DGV for The Royal Ballet

What are you most proud of ?
Without hesitation, my Dad.

Who would play you in the film of your life ?
Chloë Sevigny or Kate Hudson and the sound-track would have to be the Rolling Stones and Tchaikovsky.

What is your favourite quote ?
Elwood: It's 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark, and we're wearing sunglasses.
Jake: Hit it.
(The Blues Brothers)

Do you have a secret skill which no-one knows about ?
I'm not that secretive, and I'm not that skilled. But I'll work on it and keep you posted!



Congratulations to ‘Two sugars please’, who wins our exclusive competition in association with English National Ballet.

Please get in touch with your details and I'll arrange the rest.


This summer The Royal Ballet embarked on a ground-breaking tour to Cuba with Guest Principal Carlos Acosta in his home country. You may recall that the press coverage, in the UK at least, wasn't massive, and you may want to know more about the tour. 

The Company were followed by The Ballet Boyz, who made a documentary to be shown on More4 on Christmas Day at 9pm.


Birmingham Royal Ballet is delighted to announce a brand new production of Cinderella to be performed at Birmingham Hippodrome during the company’s winter season in 2010.

Cinderella will be choreographed by Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Director David Bintley with designs by John Macfarlane, lighting by David Finn and music by Sergei Prokofiev.

The full-length, narrative ballet reunites the design team behind the company’s ever-popular and Christmas family favourite, The Nutcracker. John Macfarlane’s extravagant and magical designs are currently enthralling audiences of all ages at Birmingham Hippodrome in The Nutcracker until Sunday 13 December. The production will not be performed at the Hippodrome again until 2011.

David Bintley, Director for Birmingham Royal Ballet said:

‘I am very excited to work on a new production of Cinderella. Not only I am delighted to work with John Macfarlane, David Finn and the company’s new music director Koen Kessels but 2010 also marks Birmingham Royal Ballet’s 20th anniversary year in Birmingham. The announcement of a new production shows the company continues to go from strength to strength in this great city.’

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Our ascending Stars... Jeremy Curnier

'Our ascending stars'…. follows the progress of professional dancers who have graduated this year.  Regular readers will know that all of the dancers featured here were interviewed just as they made the transition from vocational school to professional ballet company.  Here we see how they've been getting on....

Ascending stars

The quite fabulous noomiedoodlesfashion very generously gave up some time to work on my brief, which was to use her fashion expertise to conjure up traditionally dressed dancers but with a fashionable twist.

Jeremy Curnier, Northern Ballet Theatre

What is it like now that you are working as a professional ballet dancer ?

To actually reach the status of being a professional dancer and no longer a student is a great satisfaction in itself. It is only the difference of one day from being a student to being a professional in a company, yet you must take on the responsibility that you are now part of a team of people who have the demanding task of staging various productions throughout the year. You know it is your job to work and perform to the best of your ability and to do your part to ensure that the audience, whether for a production that night or in a months time, will leave the theatre with great appreciation for what they have just watched. That is why, when the curtain goes up at the end of the show and you hear the enjoyment of the crowd it is an awesome feeling to know that you are a professional dancer.

What roles have you performed so far and what did you enjoy ?

So far we have performed three productions in various venues around England. My first role with the company was in Dracula where I danced as a guest in the Engagement scene. It was the first step I took to gain more on-stage experience as a dancer. Our next production was Wuthering Heights in which I was a guest at Catherine & Edgar’s wedding. I also had the great opportunity to play the role of young Heathcliff, which has probably been my most demanding role so far whilst here at Northern Ballet. This was great fun to perform as throughout the ballet Heathcliff has flashbacks to his past in which his younger self seems so innocent and happy! I danced with Antoinette Brooks-Daw and this was a great chance to work on some of my partnering skills. Most recently we have been all over the place with A Christmas Carol which has been a light and merry ballet compared to the tragedy of Wuthering Heights! It involves lots of costume changes from priests to phantoms and many others!

What have you learnt that’s been unexpected ?

The thing that I have learnt since leaving The Royal Ballet School is how much experience shows in a dancer. As we mature and progress as dancers we may lose some aspects of our youth, but what we lose in those areas we gain in experience. After speaking to some of the more experienced dancers in the company it is interesting to learn how they cope with the continual heavy load. I started work with Northern Ballet at the end of July and since then I have had far fewer days off and holiday breaks than I had at school. I did not expect to find my body, at times, to feel as exhausted as it has. I am only twenty and I’m one of the youngest in the company. I therefore had to learn quickly about how to take care of my body even more than I did before, and to really know when to push myself physically and safely in order for me to perform to the best of my ability over many shows, not just one. Experience shows in many aspects of a dancer and this is one of many I have to learn about!

What roles are coming up for you in the New Year ?

The New Year brings many new productions, one of which is Peter Pan. We are almost done learning this as we have a couple of weeks of this ballet before Christmas. This is an awesome show as it involves flying! I have (or have had) flying lessons for this show as I have been cast for Michael and also Peter in different casts. I have been very fortunate in my casting so far. I will never forget to value it. Other shows coming up that we have yet to learn and rehearse are Romeo and Juliet and Dangerous Liaisons.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Venus Villa interviewed for "Cupcakes & conversation with..."

Cupcakes & conversation with Venus Villa, First Artist, English National Ballet

Venus Villa has been nominated for The Emerging Dancer Award, which is an annual competition for English National Ballet to recognise and nurture the phenomenal talent of their up-and-coming dancers. The Award encourages excellence and potential within the Company, with the winner being awarded a £5,000 cash prize.

During the Summer English National Ballet’s artistic, musical, administrative staff and Principal dancers have been voting for their Emerging Dancer and the top six nominated dancers are Esteban Berlanga, Anais Chalendard, Crystal Costa, Ksenia Ovsyanick, Junor de Oliveira Souza and Venus Villa.

There will be an Awards Evening on the 25 February 2010 to announce the winner of both The Emerging Dancer Award and The People’s Choice Award.

What motivates you at 8am on a Monday morning ?
Well, most of the time on Mondays I’m motivated after sleeping for more than 12 hours on a Sunday. Certainly some Mondays I am not motivated, but as I start class, I find my motivation.

Who would you most like to dance with ?
I don't have a specific name: there are many good dancers all around the world, all of them with something special to offer. Personally I love to dance with someone who is a good dancer of course but especially a good interpreter.

How do you prepare your pointe shoes ?
I sew them in a very specific way that I like, then I cut them on the third part. I need 1 or 2 hours to prepare them. I spend all that time because I like them to be perfect and beautiful.

What is your daily routine at the moment ?
A routine day for me is: wake up at 7 am, always have breakfast before I leave home. At 8am I do training at the gym until 9am. Then I start ballet class and my daily rehearsals until 5 or 6.30pm. Sometimes after that I spend one hour more working on solos for my next gala. Finishing at 7.30pm. After all of that I come back home where I spend most of the time watching movies, calling my family and resting for the next day.

You can ask six famous people to dinner - who would you invite ?
William Shakespeare, Leonardo da Vinci, Charlie Chaplin, George Balanchine, Roberto Benigni and Dante Alighieri.

What would surprise people about you ?
The strength of my will.

Who inspired you to dance ?
I have many dancers who have inspired me, but the first dancer was Paloma Herrera. When I was 9 years old I saw her dancing with Angel Corella in the Don Quixote pas de deux. I remember how much I loved that DVD! I watched it millions of times.

How would someone else describe you ?
Well, my friends say that I am a very happy person, generous, and very entertaining. I hope that is true !

What is your best piece of advice ?
Be happy, respect others and love everything you do.

Which role has tested you the most & how ?
I believe that the one that tested me most has been the Don Quixote pas de deux. I have danced it at lot of galas: Kitri is something that I have in my personality, and I will never get tired of it. My dream is to dance the whole ballet.

What is the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you ?
I have a lot of funny stories, especially from English National Ballet where we perform a lot. But the one I really remember was during Sleeping Beauty. I was dancing a fairy and my friends and I had a
fit of laughter watching Yat Sen Chang interpreting Carabosse for the first time. He was so funny and I could not control my laughing. It was horrible!!!

If you designed your own stage costume, what would you create ?
Definitely something very soft, but with a very strong colour like red!!! And with a lot of sparkling decorations...

What are you most proud of ?
Definitely my family (all of them).

Who would play you in the film of your life ?
Thais Pedroso.

What is your favourite quote ?
Love everything you do and everything you have.... that is the most important thing for me.

Do you have a secret skill which no-one knows about ?
I am very good at playing baseball.