Q&A: Brandon Lawrence on the Birmingham Royal Ballet

As the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s tour heads to the Grand Opera House, Yorkshire-born Brandon Lawrence speaks to about life in the company

Image: ©BC20140219

Image: ©BC20140219

Tell us a bit about what it is that you do at the Birmingham Royal Ballet.

I’m a first artist here so I dance in all of the productions, pretty much, here in Birmingham and on tour, national and international tours. And we rehearse pretty much every day, six days a week with our notators, ballet masters, ballet mistresses or the choreographer themselves. So that’s what I do.


How did you come to join the Birmingham Royal Ballet?

Well, throughout my time at the Royal Ballet School, I did two years at White Lodge and three years at the other school, which is Covent Garden, next to the Royal Opera House where the Royal Ballet is based. So throughout my time there, being in London, you get to see quite a lot of visiting companies and things and I always kind of knew about them in the Royal Ballet, and as you get older and things get more serious, you start looking into it more and they visited London so I got to see them dance and it just looked like a company where I really wanted to go. It was a little bit smaller than some other companies you get. Also, with David Bintley being a choreographer of the time as well as the director, I thought it was quite appropriate for me to maybe start and come here; as well as the company doing a lot of heritage works, you know, the great full lengths, it kind of had a good variety of what I wanted to do so I wasn’t just pushed into one kind of category to start with. So while I was there, during different performances at school and competitions, David Bintley had seen me. It was in my third year, he came down and watched a class and things like that and I just remembered that my director at the time, Gailene Stock, asked me into the office and he was there and he offered me a contract to start the following August once I graduated. So it was a bit of a dream come true to get to go to a company that I wanted to go to.


Birmingham Royal Ballet, unlike a lot of other ballet companies, tours a lot. What is it like being in a touring company?

Oh it’s pretty fantastic. It’s very draining sometimes, but it’s great because you get to travel around. We do the mid-scale touring, which is coming up soon where York is involved and Nottingham and Shrewsbury and Durham and then there’s the South ones which the other part of the company is doing. But then we do the full-scale ones where we go to London twice a year, we go to the Lowry in Salford, Plymouth, Sunderland, we went to Edinburgh earlier in the year, which was fantastic, the theatre is lovely there and Cardiff. And not just that but since I’ve been in the company, we’ve toured to America, Munich, Grenada, where we danced in the Alhambra palace gardens which was really incredible and also on Sunday, we’d just come back from three weeks in Japan – what an experience, it was fantastic. We danced in Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka, doing two different full lengths. Not just touring around and seeing different places, but because you do so many shows that way, there’s more room for opportunity so you get to dance on lots of different stages, sometimes at the last minute with a change of partner and the different opportunities which make it really fun.

Image: Bill Cooper

Image: Bill Cooper

What are you most looking forward to in the BRB’s upcoming triple bill – Les Rendezvous, Kin and Elite Syncopations?

They’re all very different ballets; they all bring different things to the table. But overall, I think possibly Elite Syncopations. It’s a really fun ballet and it’s very relaxed as well on stage. Obviously you’ve got the dancing and it is hard work, but out of all three it’s quite relaxed and you’ve got the band on stage with you as well, it’s quite lightly lit, the costumes are really outrageous and a bit comical and the music’s rag-timed music so that’s probably what I’m most looking forward to doing again. But Kin is fantastic. We’ve got Alex Whitley – I’ve just been working with him in the studio – and that was choreographed last year for the International Dance Festival of Birmingham so that’s pretty much a brand new piece. It’s done in four movements with only a few dancers so that’s quite a nice change. It’s quite dark, but it’s got a definite pushing vibe towards the end, which the adrenaline just really gets you going. And Les Rendezvous, well that’s got heritage written all over it. It’s a very charming piece by Sir Frederick Ashton where I actually do the sixth guy in that as well as the lead couple and both are very hard work, lots of stamina, very light-hearted. It’s one of those where it’s very hard work, but it doesn’t seem it from the front. But it’s very nice to do and it’s one of those where, because it’s heritage, so many dancers before you have danced it so knowing that you’ve done the same as what them famous dancers that you once looked at doing, it makes it worth it.


The triple bill is not the full-length narrative ballets that you’d usually expect. How are they different as a dancer performing them?

Well, for me, I actually prefer triple bills I think, to a full-length. I can’t speak for everyone, I know a lot of people who just love a long Swan Lake or Sleeping Beauty or something like that, but for me, a triple bill, three short ballets, normally all very different to each other, normally choreographers and different composers, so you see such a good variety as a mish-mash. Also it gives, again, a room for opportunity for other dancers and also if there is a narrative, you can get on with the story, you don’t have to save it, it’s moving all very quickly. So for me, I prefer a triple bill to a full-length.


You do so many shows on tour, so there’s more opportunity to dance on lots of different stages, sometimes at the last minute with a change of partner. It’s the different opportunities which make it really fun.


Do they pose different challenges then?

Oh definitely. Like, for instance, the triple bill we did in August time were three quite heavy ballets, one was a heritage piece again, La Fin du jour, one was one of David’s piece called Flowers of the Forest and Miracle in the Gorbals which was reworked by Dame Gillian Lynne, so all were very big casts as well as heavy material in them. It almost feels like, if you were in every one of the ballets in the triple bill, you’ll finish the first one, and then, it’s a completely different mindset: you have to change costume, but also change mindset for the second ballet and the when that’s done, you’re doing the whole thing again for the third ballet, so you’re not staying in one mindset, you’re constantly changing. Which, you know, it keeps the brain going, but it can be tough in an artistic way.


Why should people come and watch the upcoming triple bill?

What’s great about a triple bill, generally, like I’ve said before, is that you get a good variety. And especially this one, you get a good variety, so a lot of the time the public doesn’t know what to expect, but sometimes, that’s a good thing because it’s not predictable then. You might like only one of the three, you might like all three, it can go either way, but generally there’s always something there. Come and watch it because you’re seeing brand new works such as Kin, which is by Alex Whitley, a choreographer of the time, as well as heritage works which the company stands out in.

For more information and tickets to the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s performance, visit the Grand Opera House’s ticket site.

Image: Roy Smiljanic

Image: Bill Cooper

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Image: Tim Cross

Image: Bill Cooper

Image: Roy Smiljanic

Image: Bill Cooper

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