The Royal Ballet School meets on stage


LONDON – When the students of the Royal Ballet School scattered around the world at home during Britain’s first lockdown last spring, classes went virtual and at first proved to be quite tricky.

It wasn’t just about jet lag, with students from China, Australia and Japan, among others, unwilling to get up in the middle of the night to meet their classmates on the virtual bar during the day in Europe.

There were also technical problems because the recorded music played by the teachers was not synchronized. “When I was looking at my screen, we were kicking and our legs were in different positions, and everyone was at totally different times,” recalls Ava May Llewellyn, a 19-year-old British ballerina who has been to the show. school since the age of 11. “And the teachers would always say, ‘Yeah, really good work. However, in terms of musicianship, I’m not sure who is right.

But things have improved.

During England’s second (October) and third (December to March 2021) closures, teachers and students had reconfigured their digital settings, allowing them to work with a live attendant, and living rooms, bedrooms, kitchens and back porches around the world had become makeshift. dance studios.

Next week, the students’ hard work during the blended training – they returned to teaching in person in early March – will be on display at their annual summer performance on the main stage at the Royal Opera House. On Saturday, for the first time in two years, 88 of the 210 dancers will be able to perform in front of a sold-out and socially distanced audience.

This year’s showcase, eagerly awaited as the pandemic canceled last year’s showcase, includes classic and contemporary works like “Elite Syncopations”, which choreographer Kenneth MacMillan premiered for the Royal Ballet in 1974.

Founded 95 years ago by dancer and choreographer Ninette de Valois, the Royal Ballet School is the official training center for the Royal Ballet, headquartered at the Royal Opera House, and the Birmingham Royal Ballet. Over the years, both ballet companies have recruited the majority of their dancers from school graduates.

In an email, Kevin O’Hare, director of the Royal Ballet, called the showcase “a fantastic opportunity to witness some of dance’s most exciting future talents today,” and Caroline Miller, managing director of Birmingham Royal Ballet, said that the “The school’s excellent classical training developed what is now celebrated around the world as” the English style “.

Dancers aged 11 to 16 live in college on the outskirts of London; others, aged 16 to 19, are in high school, linked by a footbridge to the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.

Each year of class has about 30 students, divided almost equally between boys and girls. By the time of the last show on July 10 – which this year will only feature older students – the school will have put on 32 shows at various venues around London, mostly for parents and school supporters.

Famous graduates of the school include Margot Fonteyn, Darcey Bussell, Marianela Nuñez, and Sergei Polunin. “A lot of people are really yearning to go there,” said Clark Eselgroth, 18, who returned home to North Carolina during the first lockdown. “I grew up watching Royal Ballet videos so I always thought it was my dream.”

Like many international students during confinement, Mr. Eselgroth could not be in all the same classes as his promotion or have his regular teacher. “But I had other teachers that I maybe didn’t have that many, which was really great,” he said. “The more eyes you have for different things, the more hope you have to grow up.”

Ms Llewellyn also found a silver lining in isolation. “I have definitely learned to be self-motivated, motivated and able to correct myself further,” she said of her job at a small bar in her bedroom with her parents in Bristol. “In the studio at school, you do all these exciting performances” so you might not have time to think about working on “those little details”.

The teachers have also found a certain fulfillment. Ricardo Cervera said digital education was “uncharted territory for everyone”, but there were surprising benefits. Not only were the students forced to go back to basics – most didn’t have space at home for movements like jumping and pirouettes – but they also focused more on things like Pilates and weight training. .

“By the time we got back to school we were able to fly and go much faster,” said Mr. Cervera, former Royal Ballet principal soloist and school alumnus. “All the bases – the participation, the placement, all their alignment – we had so much time to work. And in fact, as a result, I saw real advancements in their technique, coming back really strong and confident in their own abilities.

He added that the school could incorporate some digital learning as a tool to strengthen the basics of ballet.

While all of the dancers were eager to return to the studio, the school’s health care team mobilized to assess, with teachers, how to help the dancers return injury-free and take care of their health. mental.

“It was a bit of a shock at first,” Ms. Llewelyn said of her return, “but you know, it comes back quickly.”

Mr Eselgroth, who will join the Finnish National Ballet’s youth company in the fall, said he had butterflies when students recently started costume rehearsals for the showcase. “It was like ‘Wow, that’s why I’m doing this,'” he said, “and it’s a source of happiness for all of us.”

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