Hometown: Ipswich, England
Years with PBT: First-year dancer
Backstage Ritual: I always make sure I get a nap in before a show and eat something good for lunch. I’m not too superstitious or anything like that, I just make sure to warm up well.
Top-played song on your iPod: “Don’t Wake Me Up” by Avicii
Non-ballet hobby: Golf & Tennis
Family: My older sister is Helen, and she has a dance school in Dubai; my older brother is David, and he is in the Stuttgart Ballet in Germany; and my younger sister is Rebecca, and she used to dance and is now in the theater in stage management.
Dream Role: I’d say to dance anything by Jiří Kylián, because he’s my dream choreographer.
Favorite Food: Steak
What are three things in your ballet bag right now? I don’t have a ballet bag, but if I did, I would say a roller, a Thera-Band, and let’s say a granola bar or energy bar of some sort.
Q: Your first main-stage production as a PBT company member will be “An Evening of Twyla Tharp.” For you, is this a particularly challenging and/or rewarding work to start with?
A: I think I’ll be in the best shape I’ve ever been in, having danced this. It’s challenging in all aspects, physically and mentally, and you can’t hold back. You have to give everything completely, and it’s enjoyable.
Q: For anyone not familiar with the choreography, could you describe what makes it so artistically challenging for a performer?
A: The change of directions, the use of highs and lows, the dynamics and your distribution of weight all make it challenging. And although it looks classical, there are lots of very stylized bits that Tharp added in that use different muscles we might not use in our day-to-day classical ballet. And generally, just how fast and hard it is. But it’s a lot of fun. I don’t think it would be easy for anybody. I don’t think there’s a dancer in the world that would not struggle or be challenged by it.
Q: You’ve choreographed contemporary works yourself. Do you have a special appreciation for mixed rep or abstract works like this? For Twyla Tharp as a choreographer?
A: Definitely. Nine Sinatra Songs is just a masterpiece, just with the difference in style from one section to the next. She’s obviously got such a broad spectrum of dance. It’s so engaging, because although it’s got repetitive music and repetitive dance…you’re seeing lots of different styles of dance. I always respect a choreographer who has work that’s so engaging. It’s (In the Upper Room) just got so much energy, and you can’t ignore the energy. There’s no way that you could be bored by it. I think it’s one of those works where every single audience member is involved in it and enjoys it on the same level. In The Upper Room is just a masterpiece, quite simply. Everyone wants to be involved in it one hundred percent, and I think that says a lot for a choreographer and her work. I think the dancers’ respect for the piece shows. If the dancers love it and everyone’s involved, then it’ll be a good finished product. And in terms of her movement and choreography, it is phenomenal.
Q: What is your personal contemporary choreographic experience?
A: The piece that I did in Estonia I didn’t name because I had this crazy idea that dance shouldn’t have to be written down. I don’t believe in having to read something about a visual art form. So that’s how I feel about ballet: I don’t feel like you should watch a ballet and then have to read about it to understand it. If it’s something that you’re watching, you should be able to understand it. My piece didn’t have a narrative or a story, so therefore I didn’t name it because…it was just movement. I just wanted to create exciting, engaging movement. It was an 8-minute piece, and it was cool. Well, I thought it was cool!
Q: When was your ballet epiphany, i.e. the moment you knew you wanted to pursue dance professionally?
A: My brother went to The Royal Ballet School [in London]. It’s a grand mansion in the middle of the park with deer running around. I just thought, “I want to do this.” Once I got into the Ballet School, that’s when I really learned to love dance. And then just growing up around other dancers—it’s a great life, it’s a good world and there was lots to learn.
When I was maybe 16, I was full-time at the Lower School of the Royal Ballet School. If you’ve got a class of 20 boys, maybe seven will be taken on into the Upper School, so it’s very elite. There’s no guarantee that you’ll get into the Upper School. Once I got in, I realized there’s no point in not pursuing it as a career. You’re opposite the Opera House and you see people dance there, and I think you just realize that’s what you want to do.
Q: In just a few words, describe what ballet means to you.
A: Well my school’s motto was “Strength and Grace,” so that’s what I think of ballet—a combination of strength and grace.
Q: If I wasn’t a ballet dancer I would be….
A: I’d like to be a professional tennis player. I’m really not very good, but that’s what I’d want to do.
Q: After a long day of rehearsing or performing, what is your go-to relaxation activity?
A: Cooking. I like to cook a roast dinner. Like your Thanksgiving dinner, it’s a Sunday roast in England, with chicken, roast potatoes and carrots.
Q: Your brother was recently in town from the Stuttgart Ballet – can you tell us about the strong presence that dance has in your family?
A: Almost all of my siblings left home at a young age for dance, and it’s definitely a huge part of our lives because you have to make sacrifices for the art form. It’s definitely a big part of our family life because of the amount of work that we put in. My brother visited Pittsburgh earlier this month. He joined Stuttgart Ballet in Germany, and he’s been there six seasons. He was promoted to a soloist this season. They created a new ballet called “Krabat,” which is a very famous German book, and my brother was Krabat. It was a new creation based around him, so he starred in this new piece that premiered at Stuttgart Ballet. He’s done very well.
Q: What makes it all worth it?
A: Ballet is one of those professions where everyone has to get along. A company is like a family. We don’t have our immediate family here, but you still feel like you have one. Everybody comes together to create something, and I think that’s the nicest thing. It’s no single person—it’s not the choreographer, it’s not the stage crew, it’s not the dancers, it’s everybody. I think that’s what’s nice about it, the teamwork.
Q: How do you like Pittsburgh so far?
A: The food’s been exciting. The people are incredibly friendly. The weather’s been great. I just love Pittsburgh, I really do. Pittsburgh is one of the few places where you can be in a downtown, high-rise city and then go a couple miles, and you’re in a suburban area, and that’s what I like. You’ve got Walnut Street, bohemian little shops and quaint suburban areas, and you’ve got the big city life Downtown, and then you’ve got the sports, so you feel like you’re in different places all the time. That’s what I like about Pittsburgh. I don’t feel like I’ve touched on what it’s like to live here yet, but I’m constantly seeing new things. It’s an exciting city and place to live. And everyone speaks English!