For a few months and across continents I’ve been catching up with Claudia Dean, one of this years graduates of The Royal Ballet School. Dean begins work this month with The Royal Ballet, one of only three students in her year to be awarded contracts with the company.
I mentioned Dean in both my reviews of the Royal Ballet School Annual School Performance at the Royal Opera House in 2010 and 2011 because she excelled not just in technique but also in artistry and stage presence.
Regular readers will know that the Ballet News ‘From Student to Star’ interview series tracks the progress of graduate year students as they prepare for life as a professional dancer, and it’s quite a transition!
What have you gained from training at The Royal Ballet Upper School in particular ?
When I arrived at The Royal Ballet School, I had only been used to small classes, so when I arrived in London, I knew it would be really different; the classes bigger, the competition greater, and the days more demanding. But I was totally prepared for it, and in the 2 years, I knew I had to prove myself to my teachers and Director, that I had what was needed to get the best job offer I could possibly get. Also being Australian, I knew I had challenges ahead of me; living in a different city, country, missing my family, but the RBS and Ms. Stock and its wonderful team of teachers and students made it easier for me to feel at home, so I gained many friends for life, wonderful memories and exceptional entry to my career as a dancer with The Royal Ballet. I am forever grateful.
Did you find it harder to join the Royal Ballet Upper School without having had 5 years at White Lodge (the Royal Ballet Lower School in Richmond Park, Surrey) or were you already familiar with the style of training ?
I found it different to my usual way of training. British ballet training is different but it was definitely a good change for me, being at the point of commencing my career – it’s what I needed.
What have you enjoyed the most about being at The Royal Ballet Sschool and what are your highlights ?
The people make the RBS the place that it is. Each of the teachers I had through the 1st, 2nd and 3rd years were very concerned and guided me through every day. I had the most amazing opportunities with the RBS; like going on tour to Japan with the 3rd years when I was still in 2nd year, flying to New York representing the school in the Youth America Grand Prix in 2010, representing the school in Milan at a huge Dance Expo, and this year our 3rd year tour was to New York again – I love New York! The highlight would be the Graduation performance at the Royal Opera House this year in July when I performed Neumeir’s Spring and Fall, and then the Grand Defile on stage before my family who flew all the way from Brisbane, Australia.
What have you found to be the hardest aspects of the training and living so far away from home ?
I have to say I thought moving away would be much harder, but when you’re surrounded by such amazing people and because I was in the environment I loved, I haven’t looked back. I have to say though, Skype is a blessing! Of course I miss my family a lot, but they know I have my career ahead of me, and they support me 100%.
You were offered three contracts (with Birmingham Royal Ballet, English National Ballet and The Royal Ballet) without having to audition. How did you make your decision ?
Well, when I moved to London when I was 16, my ambition had always been to one day be in The Royal Ballet company. I knew that was exactly what I wanted, so when I was offered The Royal Ballet, it was a dream come true. I was so thrilled to be offered contracts to two other very prestigious companies as well.
How are you preparing yourself for your first professional contract with The Royal Ballet ?
My contract starts on 10 August 2011 and I am so excited! As I have already been performing with the company regularly since December 2010, I guess I have been preparing myself for a while now, getting to know everyone, knowing my place in company class, becoming familiar with the management of the RB and knowing how the Opera House runs – knowing all of this is so important to our day to day work. The Royal Ballet School allowed me to spend the time being groomed up for my contract to start, so I think the blend between the School and Company is really important.
How much contact have you had with the company beyond performing with them ?
I have been working with The Royal Ballet during the whole time I have been at The Royal Ballet School, on and off, but since December 2010, I have been doing more regular performances with them – Cinderella “Stars”, Giselle, Manon, Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet at the O2 which was an amazing experience, and taking company classes where I can. Beyond this contact, there has not been any further involvement apart from seeing the company members behind the scenes, and everyone is so friendly and welcoming.
What are your expectations of professional company life and how do you think it will differ from student life ?
I think it’s going to a bit of a change for me. I will be my own person having to be responsible for myself. At school, you have teachers guiding you, although we work for ourselves, there is still a lot of extra support. Also, no uniform! I will have to decide what to wear each day which will be very different !
Do you have a dream role and dance partner and if so what/who are they?
My dream role is Odette/Odile from Swan Lake and I haven’t thought about a future dance partner yet….???
What advice would you give to next year’s graduate year ?
Enjoy your graduate year because it goes so fast and don’t take a second of it for granted! It’s an exciting year because of going on tour, which is a lot of fun, hard work and learning about another country and culture. Listen to your teachers because they have been there, done that, and really know their stuff, and honestly, they want you to succeed. Also, your first contract is your first, so it will be a stepping stone to the next one, or the next part of your life, so enjoy and take every opportunity you get offered to show your talents. Last of all, always remember why you dance and what you love about it because when it gets tough, that fire keeps you going.
I’ll be keeping in touch with Dean and hope to bring you more news very soon; for now here is a rehearsal clip showing Dean and her dancer partner Aaron Smyth in Le Corsaire, which they performed at the Sydney Royal Opera House on 31st July, receiving a standing ovation.