Building artistry and savouring the experience: The Royal Ballet School’s Summer Performance Season

The Royal Ballet School in 'Paquita' rehearsal. Photography by ASH.
The Royal Ballet School in 'Paquita' rehearsal. Photography by ASH.

Well-rounded dance training involves a whole lot more than tendus, pliés and pirouettes. In order to blossom into mature artists – whether or not that’s on a professional performer track – students need to also experience learning repertoire, working with a variety of choreographers and ultimately putting it all out there on the stage to dazzle audiences…as a short list.

Hearing more about the The Royal Ballet School’s Summer Performance Season reveals that teaching artists and administrators at its helm deeply understand that pedagogical ethos. Over 200 students will perform the eight-performance season at three different venues – Linbury Theatre, Opera Holland Park, and the Royal Opera House – 19 – 29 June. The creative process will also steep them in all of those aspects of performance artistry.

José Carayol. Photo by Julia Forsyth.
José Carayol. Photo by Julia Forsyth.

Dance Informa speaks with José Carayol, Head of Artistic Programmes and Productions at the School, to learn more about the season: the classical and contemporary works on deck in programming, how the experience contributes to The Royal Ballet School students’ artistic development, what’s most special about the experience, and more. 

It’s all part of what shapes the artists that these students will become. At the same time, Carayol notes the importance of taking a step back and appreciating what they’ve achieved at this landmark on their dance journey – the fruits of their consistent hard work. Savoring the magical moments when all of that pays off, such as this performance season, also matters. Let’s hear more insights like that from Carayol! 

It’s clear that The Royal Ballet School sees fully-produced performance opportunities as a vital part of a comprehensive dance education. Why is it important for dance students to get those opportunities?

“Performance opportunities, both in School and on stage, are an integral aspect of our curriculum at The Royal Ballet School. They are essential for preparing our students to become artists. It’s important for any dancer to learn how to transform what they learn in class into a moving experience for an audience and, more so, how to prepare physically, mentally and emotionally for performances. 

Our students have opportunities to perform from the first year they start at the School, when they’re just 11, so this is an important learning curve for them. Performing is a crucial element of a dancer’s life in a company, and we want to give our students these opportunities while in the formative stages of their training so they can shine on stage when they become professionals. 

Iva Lesic's Royal Remix. Photo by Rachel Cherry.
Iva Lesic’s Royal Remix. Photo by Rachel Cherry.

These shows are about more than just performing; students get to work with a symphony of renowned choreographers, répétiteurs, rehearsal directors, choreologists, musicians, costume designers and photographers. They gain invaluable insights into the production process, from studio to stage.”

The upcoming Summer Performance Season will include both classical and contemporary works. Similarly, why do you think it matters for students to be able to explore, master and perform such a range of works?

“Each year, Artistic Director Christopher Powney carefully curates the works that the students will perform across the Summer Performance season. The shows bring together everything they’ve been exploring in their classes at the School, which include contemporary and other styles alongside classical ballet. The inclusion of heritage works pay homage to our history, while also helping students develop the technique and artistry required to perform the English style of classical ballet.

Given the wide range of repertoire companies perform worldwide, our dancers also need to be versatile. We want them to be able to seamlessly transition between performing traditional romantic classical ballets and new contemporary creations or large folk pieces. It’s also more exciting for audiences to see such a range of works — there’s something for everyone!

This year, audiences can expect to see classical ballets Paquita and La Valse alongside new works from leading choreographers like Gemma Bond and Ashley Page. Allowing students to experience new works in the studio and to have new works created specifically for them teaches them valuable skills for life as professional dancers.

The Royal Ballet School in rehearsal for Gemma Bond's 'ASSEMBLAGE'. Photography by ASH.
The Royal Ballet School in rehearsal for Gemma Bond’s ‘ASSEMBLAGE’. Photography by ASH.

The Artistic Director also includes character and folk pieces for our White Lodge students, and challenging repertoire like Didy Veldman’s TooT and Jerome Robbins’ Mistake Waltz. That allows our students to develop their acting, storytelling and expressive abilities.

One of my highlights is seeing a selection of student choreography showcased on stage at the Royal Opera House and Opera Holland Park. Developed by our White Lodge and Upper School students, the shows feature works developed each year within our in-house Choreographic programme. It’s a delight to see the progression of these works and the smiles on the student’s faces as they take their bows.” 

The students will also be able to work with some truly world-class choreographers for this season. What do you think they can meaningfully take away from those experiences? 

“Our students are fortunate to work with some of the UK and world’s leading choreographers, répétiteurs and rehearsal directors. Over the years, we have welcomed Carlos Acosta, Christopher Wheeldon, Sir Anthony Dowell, Joseph Toonga, David Bintley, Charlotte Edmonds, Morgann Runacre-Temple and more. 

These world-class professionals collaborate with our students, sharing valuable insights into how a work can transform from the studio to the stage. Our students also benefit from seeing first-hand how different choreographers and repétitéurs approach the creative process, serving as a source of inspiration and guidance. This exposure opens a world of possibilities to which they can aspire.” 

Looking forward to the season, what do you think the students are most excited about? What unique capacities do you think that this cohort, which will come together as an ensemble, can bring to the work? 

The Royal Ballet School in 'Paquita' rehearsal. Photography by ASH.
The Royal Ballet School in ‘Paquita’ rehearsal. Photography by ASH.

“With over 200 students from 25 countries, our Summer Performances are often one of the only occasions when family members, friends and supporters can travel to London to see our students perform. There’s a palpable energy and buzz in the audience. Students relish the chance to perform in front of their loved ones, who have been such crucial support systems in their journeys.

Now that assessments have concluded and the focus is 100 percent on our performances, this year is set to be another outstanding year. Our students always bring such youthful energy, passion and excitement to every piece. It’s a joy to see them on stage at the Royal Opera House and Holland Park.

It’s a special time for all, providing a rare occasion for the entire school to come together. It’s particularly special for our younger White Lodge students, who have the privilege of seeing our Pre-Professional Year students take on Principal roles. That can inspire their journeys ahead. 

Each student at the School brings individual qualities – and that’s what makes our eight-show performance season so captivating. Everyone has the opportunity to showcase their talents, and I am excited to see them shine.”

What do you most hope that the students take away from the experience as a whole? 

“Above all, I hope students feel proud of their hard work and achievements. Navigating the demands of full-time ballet training, alongside their academic education, is no small feat. After a year filled with learning, training, performances and assessments, I hope they pause and celebrate their personal growth and the successful completion of another magnificent year.”

For more information on The Royal Ballet School’s Summer Performances 2024, visit www.royalballetschool.org.uk/summer-performances.

By Kathryn Boland of Dance Informa.

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