Review: Imagine: Bolshoi Boy at BBC1

Performance: 23 October 2007
Reviewed by Libby Costello - Thursday 25 October 2007

From watching Imagine: Bolshoi Boy on Tuesday 23 October (BBC1) you couldn’t help be feel that Russia has it all in terms of ballet. The setting of the Bolshoi school, covered in a layer of snow and surrounded by Imperialist buildings, could itself have been an impressive backdrop from a luxurious ballet. However, within the school the image is the polar opposite with blood, sweat and tears at their plenty; this binary may very well sum up the world of ballet.

The young British dancer who is following a lesser trodden path, being only the second British dancer to train at the Bolshoi, spoke many truths about British dance education that we should really take note of. Henry Perkins, 15 from Hampshire, was faced with not only a language barrier in Moscow, but a realisation that his ballet training in England did not stand up on the world stage. A worrying thought since the gap in top British ballet dancers urgently needs filling.

Perkins comments throughout the programme, suggesting that British dance training could note stand up to its Russian counterpart due to the fear of political correctness, were level headed and honest. Although many students in British dance schools would argue that their training was rigorous and demanding, watching Perkins ballet master, Ilya Kuznetsov, yell brought a new kind a terror. Kuznetsov’s teaching style of questioning the students desire to be dancers meant only the strong would continue, but the weak would be left emotionally scared and demoralised. A teaching strategy not overly endorsed in this county.

Perkins is definitely not your average 15 year old boy, his focus and dedication was evident from the star but not in an X-factor fifteen minutes of fame kind of way. Perkins knows the odds are stacked against him yet still wants to dedicate his life to the art form. It would be wrong to place the title of role model on this boys young shoulders, but he is a shining example of how British children can and do behave, rather than the media portrayal of ASBO kids.

It would be nice to say that ballet has brought a discipline to Perkins life, which could not have been replicated in any other pursuit, however this would be untrue. The well rounded individual who felt he had to move to Russia at the age of 15 to become a ballet dancer, would only have been able to so this with a supportive network around him. This is not to say that dance does not offer young people benefits. Dance can bring joy, exercise and creative fulfilment to the mind and body that is not found in any other activity. Even if people do not go on to consider careers in dance it still build important communication and inter-personal skills that are relevant to any career path.

The most worrying issue that needs to be addressed in light of recent changes and developments in dance education is the need for training excellence. Although education for all is an great opportunity, we must learn how to train and push our gifted individuals, a job that sounds easier than it is.

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