Interview: Darren & Lilia Q&A

Tuesday 26 May 2009

Darren Bennett and Lilia Kopylova 'Latin Fever' 27 May - 28 June, Peacock Theatre Darren Bennett and Lilia Kopylova are two of the regular professional dancers on BBC1s Strictly Come Dancing and they are married – to each other. Both have been winners – Darren with actress Jill Halfpenny in the first series in 2004 in and Lilia with cricketer Darren Gough the following year. They maintained their successful partnership away from the TV screens, becoming British National Professional Latin Champions in 2005, retaining the title in 2006.

Darren & Lilia are in the midst of putting together their first West End Show – Latin Fever, an exhilarating journey in dance, from Brazil to Spain, via the tango, paso doble, rumba & cha-cha-cha (Peacock Theatre, 27 May – 28 June) – but they found time out to answer a few questions for us…

How did you both get in to dance?
Darren: I got into dance when I was six years old because both my parents were professional dancers with a very big dance school in Sheffield

Lilia: I started dancing when I was four because it was part of my ice skating training, and then I changed to ballroom and latin when I was nine.

And how did you meet?

Lilia: We met because we were both without dance partners and were looking. At the top level you don’t necessary look in your own country you look worldwide and you find the best person to suit you. Most partnerships are international. We were introduced by Darren’s brother Dale and had a try out and it worked out.

So tell us about Latin Fever, opening next week…
Darren: We will be developing the show right up until it opens to make sure that we can put the best show on the floor that we can. I think it will go right to the wire when it opens – we know what we want and we have to make sure the quality of what we want is represented every night.

It’s described as a journey in dance from Brazil to Spain – do you each have favourite parts of the journey/favourite dance styles?
Lilia: The swing section is my favourite – it is so long and I am very excited about that one but not to say that I don’t like the others. But really I love them all – because we have tried to put them all together with character to get across the particular dance or country they are all so different it is difficult to pick. The swing number has a great characterization and story to it.

Darren: For me it would have to be the Samba. Brazil is one of my favourite songs and the arrangement is fantastic and it gives
some real energy to kick off the show.

Darren and Lilia in rehearsal

Darren and Lilia in rehearsal

You are both so well known for Strictly – but how big a part of your working live is it?
Darren The Strictly Come Dancing television show and tour takes up 7 months of our year and when we are not doing Strictly we are still very busy – we do all sorts of things including our big dance event on Thomson cruises every year. And now we’ve got Latin Fever and the Essentially Dance project as well as our every day normal shows and corporate events

It must have brought you to a wider public – are you recognized in the street – and do you enjoy that?
Darren: the recognition from Strictly is all very positive – you do get recognized in the supermarket or gym and the great thing about Strictly is that it is such a positive show and everything we get from the public is positive feedback. If you don’t want to get recognized you can always stay at home and watch telly!

Lilia: We do get recognized and it is all really positive – I am not sure if I enjoy it but I am used to it. Sometimes you get a surprise when you get recognized when you least expect it perhaps when you are abroad on holiday in Dubai or Spain.

How does it feel to be competing against each other – once even in a dance off?
Lilia: Fabulous – as long as I beat him it’s great!

Darren: – As long as Lilia beats me it’s great!

You’ve been incredibly successful in competitions in the past. Have you left competition dancing behind now?

Lilia: yes we stopped competing two years ago. But we are still competing with ourselves to perform at the highest level every day.

Last year you danced with English National Ballet in Strictly Gershwin at the Albert Hall. Was dancing with a ballet company a new experience for you? How was it different?

Lilia: It was absolutely fantastic and we enjoyed it very much and felt that we learned a lot from working within that environment and also from the choreographers in the ballet world and how they work. It is very different to what we are used to and it taught us a lot and it gave us a lot of experience for choreographing our show. So it was a really positive experience.

Darren: The difference is that they work in a very structured way within a group environment whereas in ballroom and latin we work more one on one. The experience was fantastic and we learned a lot.

Tell us about Essentially Dance, the project you’re involved in which aims to introduce ballroom dance to schools. Is it something you feel passionately about?
Darren: Yes we both feel very passionately about it as we come across so many people now wanting to learn to dance, not just kids, adults as well and we see the real positive benefits. Not just physical but emotional too. Ballroom and latin dance really help with improving self awareness and self esteem. We put together Essentially Dance which is part of the PE Curriculum in Schools and the response has been brilliant, both from the teachers and pupils. It’s a really great programme and we have seen some fantastic results from the schools where Essentially Dance (www.essentiallydance.com) has been piloted. The resource is being evaluated at present by Roehampton University and will go national in June when hopefully it will help to get as many children in the country as possible dancing

Latin Fever - Darren Bennett & LiliaKopylova

Latin Fever - Darren Bennett & LiliaKopylova

You spend so much time together working – do you have any hobbies you do separately?
Darren: With what we are doing at the moment the shelf life is so short that we want to perform as much as we can while we can. That really goes for every dancer because at some point , like any athlete or sportsman, it will come to an end and there is plenty of time for hobbies when you retire in your late thirties.

What kind of dance do you like to watch. Do you go to see dance performances at the theatre?
Lilia: I like to watch any kind of dance because you can learn from every style as they all add something different and I enjoy it all. If we had more time I would see every show going.

Darren: As well as seeing the dance and the choreography we both love seeing how the dancers connect with the audience. We like to see how the dancers interpret the choreography in their own way and if they as individuals can draw us in.

Where is home for you now Lilia? Would you ever consider returning to Moscow to live?

Home is the UK. Since my Dad died last year it has really changed everything and home is now definitely here – before it was sort of 50/50.

What’s next for you both?

LATIN FEVER !!

Latin Fever is at the Peacock Theatre from 27 May to 28 June. More details/online booking

Related press articles
“Darren: There are dances that are very spontaneous, like jive, but the paso doble is really quite severe. The tango is a bit give and take: me asking the question, Lilia giving me the answer. A bit like a chase.” Interview by Chris Wiegand

Guardian, 26 May.09

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