Ballet School : behind the barre update – Ellie Sharpe wins professional contract

March 4, 2011

Backstage, Ballet, Ballet News

ballet dancer headshot

“I couldn’t even bring my knees to my chest, it was painful; I could not do that. We started yoga, and yoga’s supposed to be a relaxing thing and I couldn’t do it. It was all parallel and contemporary. It was a nightmare.  So, thinking it was just tendonitis or something, or I was hoping that was what it would be, I was referred to a great surgeon.” This is a quote from vocational ballet student Ellie Sharpe, as she discovers that she has bone spurs on both of her hips, and that she’ll need surgery on each.  I met Ellie Sharpe last year, during her graduate year at English National Ballet School.  At that time, Sharpe was approaching the round of auditions that will determine her future as a ballet dancer.

It seems topical now, given the massive success of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and it’s star Alice, Lauren Cuthbertson, to recall how I described Sharpe.  At the time I wrote “Ellie is a great communicator, a mixture of Royal Ballet Principal Lauren Cuthbertson and (retired Principal) Darcey Bussell in looks and technique.”

Those of you who have read her inspring story will know that she has taken an extra year in school (it was necessary for her to have the operation on each hip, one at a time, to allow for recovery, which meant much longer out of school) and has overcome the challenges of surgery and recouperation, and will graduate this summer.

dancers from the corps de ballet sit on their legs in Swan Lake tutus

Corella Ballet in Swan Lake Photograph : Rosalie O'Connor

I’m delighted to be able to tell you that Sharpe has been offered a short term contract with Corella Ballet, in Segovia, Spain.  The company will be touring their production of Swan Lake and Sharpe will begin rehearsals on March 31st. 

dancer in pose for the camera

Before that, Sharpe is busy preparing for the assessments at school and rehearsing Napoli for the end of year show – and auditioning for the time when her contract with Corella Ballet is complete (it cannot be assumed that the company will take her on a full time contract).

Visa applications

Auditions are difficult enough, but a recurring theme among students is the difficulty of obtaining work visas – in particular the 0-1B non-immigrant visa to the US.  Last year I interviewed Duncan Lyle, who had been offered a place with Boston Ballet but had to submit references and many, many other documents before his visa application was approved – causing lengthy delays which he kicked his heels back home in Australia (he graduated from The Royal Ballet School).  Sharpe has found the same problem and says “a point I want to make is how hard it is for students from the EU to get opportunities in the US. I did the Boston Ballet audition and the director showed an interest but said that the immigration required performing experience for those trying to get in Boston Ballet II. The whole point of the second company is to provide opportunities for up and coming dancers.” This is a subject that I shall be returning to shortly, so if you have any experiences that you’d like to tell me about, please get in touch via the contact form.

For now, I’m sure you will join me in congratulating Ellie Sharpe on getting this far and wishing her the best luck in the world as she begins her professional career.  I will be keeping you posted !

Black swan dancers

Ashley Ellis & Joseph Gatti in Act III - the 'Black Swan' act from Swan Lake Photograph : Rosalie O´Connor

Can you help ?

Ellie Sharpe’s story brings me to another subject I’d like your help with, please.  Audition tours around the world are very expensive for ballet students.  Travel and accommodation costs generally are the responsibility of the dancer and can mount up quickly. As a vocational ballet student, all of their time is taken up with studying – there isn’t any spare time for part-time jobs.  I know that Sharpe has travelled to some diverse cities as she is invited to audition with ballet companies around the world.  If you feel that you might be able to help meet some of these expenses, please do get in touch because I know it would be a great help to our budding professional dancers. Your help would be greatly appreciated and I’d love for Ballet NEWS to be at the forefront of this initiative. Thank you.

dancer in arabesque

If you are concerned about bone spurs, bunions and other problems that can occur in ballet training, please have a look at my recent feature on chiropractic for dancers.  I don’t know the specifics behind Sharpe’s diagnosis, but in some cases surgery is not necessary, especially with bone spurs.  The key is to prevent them from occurring by making sure that you have properly aligned feet and that your spine is aligned.  Chiropractic adjustments re-align your joints, and if you start having adjustments early enough, can prevent mis-alignments from occurring.  Once you have early symptoms, it’s still very possible that chiropractic treatment will be successful (it is usually painless) but it really is important to get it checked as soon as you can.  Even if you’ve got a huge, painful bunion, chiropractic can still help you – the pain can be treated; the bunion itself will remain but won’t hurt & you can still dance.
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