Feature: In the studio with New English Ballet Theatre

Thursday 19 June 2014 by Symone Keisha

New English Ballet Theatre dancers in the studio at Sadler's Wells.

New English Ballet Theatre are preparing to present a new programme of work at the Peacock Theatre next month. Symone Keisha spent some time with them to find out more about this dynamic young company…

“There are a lot of modern dance companies but there aren’t a lot of opportunities for classically trained dancers in London,” says Artistic Director Karen Pilkington-Miksa, explaining why she set up New English Ballet Theatre (NEBT) in 2010, with the aim of giving classical dancers professional performing experience in the first working decade of their careers. As NEBT prepare for performances at the Peacock Theatre I was lucky enough to spend a morning in a Sadler’s Wells studio with other dance writers, watching – and even participating in – their company class.

The fourteen dancers in the company were chosen from over 600 applicants, showing just how competitive the ballet industry is. NEBT seeks to give young artists, including designers and musicians as well as dancers, a platform to develop their career. Karen aims to do this by enlisting the expertise of renowned choreographers to work with the company ( Wayne Eagling, Michael Corder, Jenna Lee amongst others ), and create works of “high quality, originality and beauty” which will generate wider audiences.

There’s a very noticeable difference upon seeing a dancer on stage in performance and a dancer in their company rehearsal. Luckily I got to witness what most do not see as I was ushered into the last half of NEBT’s company class. On stage, dancers are bedecked in costume, make up and pointe shoes, but in rehearsal a more natural vibe is present. Leg warmers are slung around one dancer’s ankles, a thick jumper is wrapped around the slender waist of another. The poised face of a ballerina dancing on stage is gone as a shout of laughter fills the studio. The rehearsal reveals a glimpse of the dancers in their relaxed state. The class is taught by Daniela Cardim Fonteyne – Project Manager and Ballet Mistress of the company. Her calls of “glissade, jete and passé” are answered by the talented group of dancers as they travel, leap and turn in groups of threes and fours. Even in rehearsal the proficient ability of each dancer is obvious. The jumps that the dancers execute soar high up into the air and finish with the lightest of landings. The class was very beautiful to watch but also produced a feeling of pressure because next it was our turn to take a short class with Daniela!

The elaborate steps that the dancers of NEBT were capable of doing were put aside as Daniela, who has danced for Dutch National Ballet for eleven years, taught us the fundamentals of classical technique. She walked us through the five positions of the feet and arms, taught us tendus at the barre and how to grande plié correctly. “The challenge of ballet is the co-ordination,” Daniela said as she taught as the waltz step; her words rang true as adding arms to the leg movements made it even more challenging.

Coordination clearly wasn’t a problem for the company as they performed an excerpt of their new piece Mad Women,which will be part of the programme at the Peacock Theatre. Choreographed by Royal Ballet dancer Kristen McNally, this work departs from the traditional classical movement of ballet and adds a “modern and funky” twist to the movement which is refreshing to see and should appeal to that wider and younger audience NEBT want to reach. The ballerinas don’t go up ‘en pointe’ and they use more articulation of the torso. As Kristin refined her material, her feedback to the dancers was to “groove it more” – a surprising choice of words in the context of ballet which only served to increase my anticipation of their upcoming performances!

New English Ballet Theatre will be performing Mad Women as part of their Tryst: Devotion and Betrayal programme
at the Peacock Theatre , 2 – 5 July.

Symone Keisha writes about dance and theatre and has just finished her BA in Dance with English Literature at Kingston University. Read more from her at symonek.wordpress.com and on Twitter @SymoneKeisha

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