Feature: In the Studio with New English Ballet Theatre

Monday 31 October 2016 by Rachel Elderkin

Our contributor Rachel Elderkin – a professional dancer as well as a writer – spent some time in the studio recently with New English Ballet Theatre to take part in class, talk to the dancers and find out more about the opportunities available through this relatively young, modern ballet company. Founded in 2010, they are committed to the creation of new work and to supporting young artists in the first decade of their career – not just dancers, but musicians, designers and visual artists as well… So how did she get on?

New English Ballet Theatre’s Founder and Artistic Director Karen Pilkington-Miksa was struck by the number of talented arts graduates who, having given their life to their training, come out into an industry with very few jobs on offer. She felt that, all too often, many of these graduates ended up disappearing from their chosen industry. “We have world class institutions across dance, theatre and art – one of the main aims of this company is job provision for this generation of young graduates. Eventually we want to hire dancers for longer, so that we are able to really develop the company,” she says.

In establishing NEBT, it became apparent that there were also many dancers working in companies who wanted to choreograph and who didn’t get that opportunity. As a result, NEBT has become a choreography driven company, creating new, modern ballets performed – as much as possible – to live music. They also focus much of their work on female choreographers, (currently a much discussed topic in the dance world), with two of the five pieces in their latest programme Quint-essential choreographed by women (Daniela Cardim and Kristen McNally).

“We want to give these artists the opportunity to work and dance in London, perform in the theatres here and to be reviewed by the national press,” she says. “ It’s so helpful to dancers at the early stage of their career.” In this respect the company is a step towards helping young artists move forward with their careers. Performing in new works with NEBT, the company members get to dance in the kind of roles they would only have access to as a soloist in a large company. It’s an opportunity that seems to pay off. Previous company members have gone on to work in ballet companies both in the UK and internationally – including The Royal Ballet, Rambert, English National Ballet, Scottish Ballet, Dortmund Ballet and Sarasota Ballet (USA), amongst others.

A typical day for the dancers begins with class, then continues into rehearsals. If the choreographer is not present, a work will be run through under the direction of one of the creative team, such as Ballet Mistress Jessica Edgley. The rehearsal process continues after the creative period is over, so Edgley knows the works she must rehearse with the dancers in detail. On the day I spend with the company Jessica is rehearsing Kristen McNally’s new work, Moonshine. Her knowledge of the work ensures that the piece stays true to the choreographer’s intentions and, when we have a go at the choreography ourselves, this is clear in the precision with which she teaches us each movement and its corresponding count.

Dancing in a programme that consists of a number of works, each created by a different choreographer, can be a challenging process. The dancers have to learn to switch between styles, to go from the grounded movements of contemporary to neoclassical and traditional ballet technique. “It’s hard,” dancer Riccardo Rodighiero admits, “but it’s interesting to challenge yourself across different styles.”

Some days will involve shorter rehearsals on a number of pieces. “Last week we were rehearsing eight new pieces,”_dancer, A*lexandra Cameron-Martin* explains. _“It’s a challenge for our brains!”

“One day we had six fifteen minute rehearsals, one for each piece, before lunch,” continues dancer Alexander Nuttall. “It’s difficult switching from one thing to another but it’s a rewarding experience – we get to experience a massive diversity.”

On other days more time may be given to working with one choreographer. After lunch choreographer George Williamson rehearses with the male dancers in his new piece Strangers (pictured). A work about the end of a relationship between a man and woman, Williamson is using three dancers to represent each character, enabling him to show three different psychological identities. The work is still in its creative stage and, as Williamson works with the three male dancers, the second cast follow each movement he creates, and each correction he gives, in the background.

The young dancers of NEBT appear focused and committed. The company may still be relatively new but they are clearly keen to promote young dancers and provide them with the opportunities they need to develop as artists.

If you’re interested in joining the company, look out for notices about auditions, which happen once a year.
They are starting classes for children at the Lyric Hammersmith in January and are also planning a Summer Course for next year.

Quint-essential: Five New Works
The Peacock, 9 – 12 November

Rachel Elderkin is a freelance dancer and dance writer. She has written for a number of arts publications and regularly contributes to The Stage, Fjord Review and British Theatre Guide. Twitter: @Rachel_Elderkin

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