Cupcakes & conversation with Anna Blackwell, Apprentice, Northern Ballet
What motivates you at 8am on a Monday morning ?
A strong coffee usually wakes me up with a good breakfast and a brisk walk to work. Once I’m in work I try and make the most of the morning, I like to get a good warm up in before class. Once I’m in the studio it’s easy to feel motivated – there’s a really nice atmosphere in class and I enjoy the responsibility that comes with being a professional dancer and taking control of your own training.
What are you looking forward to dancing in 2010 ?
2010 seems to be another busy year for NBT. In the near future we will be doing ‘As time goes by’ and ‘Angels in the Architecture’ and several other short works including the ‘Powerhouse Rhumba’ which David choreographed for the 40th anniversary event. This is particularly special, as it was a celebration of the Company where it is today so being involved as a new member was an honour. The way it was choreographed was a great experience too – we had the chance to play around with the movement so it was a little more personal and specific to our styles. We will also be doing Romeo and Juliet. This is such an exciting prospect – the drama of the story really draws everybody into it and it is so important that everybody on stage is in the moment to give it its authenticity and sentiment. I’ve been to see Romeo and Juliet in the past numerous times and so being a part of it is really special.
Who would you most like to dance with & what would you dance?
I saw Rambert Dance Company perform a section A Linhna Curva a while ago at Sadlers Wells, which was incredible. I also remember seeing Dutch National perform The Second Detail and Impressing the Czar (both Forsythe pieces). They are such breathtaking ensemble pieces, I can imagine the energy is incredible on stage and certainly resonates to the audience. My dream would be to perform Juliet, it’s such a demanding role and so emotional and you get the chance to change from a young innocent girl to a woman driven by love over the course of a couple of hours! I would also love to dance with my close friend – James. It was wonderful having the chance to in school and I think the experience is so special with someone you are close to!
If you could dance anywhere in the world (not only in a theatre), where would you dance?
Anywhere really! I love to travel and hope to get the chance to in the future. I’ve always liked the thought of performing on an open air stage – I remember English National Ballet did a performance on a stage set up over water in front of the Chateau of Versailles in France, which I can imagine looked stunning in the evening!
How do you prepare your pointe shoes?
I usually stand on them to flatten them a little, bend them, and pour super glue into the toe. I sometimes shave the sole of the shoe a little so it has less of a ridge. Sew ribbons and elastics on, and if they’re looking a little worn – I darn the toe to try and make them last longer.
What is your daily routine at the moment?
It depends whether we are touring or not. When we aren’t performing, we are rehearsing at West Park. My day usually consists of a coffee on the way to work, a good warm up, class for an hour and fifteen minutes followed by rehearsals, usually to around six thirty. When we’re in the theatre however the day is much longer. Class is usually a little later, and then there will either be a matinee performance or rehearsals on stage, followed by a performance in the evening.
You can ask six famous people to dinner – who would you invite?
Sue Perkins, Tim Minchin, Steven Fry, Hugh Laurie, Michael Roux Jr., Beyonce. Random, but I think it would be interesting!
What would surprise people about you?
Probably that I’m quite a shy when I first meet new people. Also that I’m northern(ish)… often surprises people as I don’t have an accent!
Who inspired you to dance?
I used to religiously watch a video of the Royal Ballet’s Swan Lake that my mum bought me when I was young. It was Nathalia Makarova dancing the role of Odette/Odile and I was transfixed. I’d never seen anything so delicate. I also had a lot of energy and did gymnastics and lots of sports but I seemed to have a passion for dance and performing and the rest is history!
What is your best piece of advice?
Believe in yourself. It has been one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced since I started dancing, but I believe if you have confidence in what you do you will enjoy it to its full extent.
How do you prepare in the hours before a show?
Usually with another coffee! I like to relax too – usually by listening to my music whilst I’m doing my hair and make-up. I’ll usually warm up on stage or try and get some cardiovascular exercise in and a few strengthening exercises. I always go over my parts in the show – there are so many cast changes in some of the shows it can get a little confusing at times. I usually use the stage to go over difficult steps and find my centre of balance… always a challenge on raked stages!
Which role has tested you the most & how?
It would have to be David Nixon’s Swan Lake. It provides so much for the corps, and there is room for a little more artistic interpretation of the swans in David’s production and I always felt liberated after a performance. Although I was still a student at that point so I lacked the strength the professional dancers had so I really had to push, which left me feeling extremely sore and tired and red faced and out of breath! Although that changed the more we performed.
Another role which really tested me was the classical variation I chose for Prix de Lausanne. The whole experience was new to me – and I found it hugely daunting. I chose the Gamzatti solo from Act Two of ‘La Bayadere’, which really pushed my stamina. I don’t consider myself a classical or virtuoso dancer so it really helped highlight my weaknesses. I didn’t have long to work on the solo so I had to
find time at the end of the day at school when the studio was free to rehearse. I learnt so much from this, I had excellent coaching from several different teachers who all provided me with huge amounts of help and support.
If you were asked to design your own ballet costume, what would you create?
It would have to be something simple – I always feel a little uncomfortable in frills and bows! I love the costumes for Forsythe’s ‘Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude’. They show off the dancers legs and are an unusual take on a classical tutu.
What do you look for in a dance partner?
I like to dance with someone who has qualities I can relate to, someone relatively tall who can sympathise with how difficult I find it to move fast! I suppose I’m quite lyrical, and I really enjoy throwing myself around. It’s always easy to work with someone with good energy and approach to the work and shares the passion for it that you do.
What is your favourite quote?
I can’t think of any quotes. Maybe ‘nothing is more prolific of conflict than misunderstanding.’ I vividly remember reading it and think it couldn’t be truer!
Do you have a ‘signature step’ – one that comes naturally to you?
I don’t think anything comes too naturally to me! I quite like jumping … but I wouldn’t call it a signature step!
A phrase I use far too often is…?
I’ve lost my… (Usually followed by ballet shoes, phone, purse, keys, warm ups, etc…)
What’s been your best on-stage moment so far?
I suppose it would be performing the Neumier Variation at the Prix de Lausanne. I learnt so much from the coaching we got whilst we were there and it was the first time I’d performed to an audience of that calibre. It was great to have my parents and teacher – Sara Matthews – in the audience and supporting me.
Do you have a secret skill which no-one knows about?
I quite like cooking when I get round to it. Although my critics are usually quite close friends or family so they’re probably just being polite… I used to do gymnastics – that’s an old skill but I hope it still counts…?!
In terms of your ballet career, where would you like to be in a year from now?
I generally take each day as it comes; working hard and enjoying the fact I’m being employed to do something I have a passion for and have spent a long time training to do. I hope to still be with the company, and I’d hope to see a progression in myself and my work. Dancing seems to be an elusive career so it’s difficult to determine where I will be – I’d like to travel at some point but I feel these are still early days!