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    Ricardo Cervera 2019

    Ricardo Cervera

    Ballet Master, The Royal Ballet

    Interviewed by David Bain
    Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church, May 24 2019

    The evening started with a contribution from an audience member, saying she remembered Ricardo as a young boy with ‘lovely blond hair.’ He danced in the same competition as her niece. He was 11 years old, and her niece was a couple of years older, and she and her friends mothered him. ‘You were an adorable little boy.’ There was a photo in Dancing Times of him, with her niece just above.

    For the last few years, Ricardo has been a ballet master with The Royal Ballet. It came about at the suggestion of Liam Scarlett. The Company was about to dance Viscera, and Liam wanted Ricardo to assist him. Ricardo worked with Liam as a dancer, but not in an assisting capacity before. Liam first asked Kevin O’Hare if this was ok. Ricardo also helped with Hansel and Gretel in the Linbury. Kevin appointed Ricardo as an Assistant Ballet Master after a couple of years. Ricardo was still dancing at first.

    Viscera was ‘much easier’ to work on in many ways, as it was already created. It’s a very powerful, physical piece, and full of counts. Ricardo felt it was ‘a very good way for me to start that journey’ in a style he was confident with, personally and professionally. Hansel and Gretel was very different, as it was a creative process from the birth to the stage. It was also a narrative piece. It can be difficult as an assistant to take a step back sometimes, and not be biased. You get and understand some of the nuances and other things at the time, but it’s only when you look back at a later date that you can see it in a more ‘removed’ way. It’s more difficult to help at the time as you’re so involved. Liam discussed nothing in advance. It’s the choreographer’s vision/work/dream that is being seen. They can be difficult, and it’s a way of protecting themselves. Liam just gets on with it. They use you as a helping tool, but not as someone to discuss it with. You’re there to facilitate with day to day things such as are the people at the back paying attention and picking it all up. You can help in that sense. Ideally, Liam likes to have all the casts in the studio with him, but this isn’t always possible.

    Ricardo found he was dancing more, and assisting less at first. The balance started tipping after a while. He would do his shows. He would often be sitting at the front of the studio assisting, helping and rehearsing for six hours, then have to get up on stage that evening, and dance say, Mercutio. Ricardo started to help with the Ashton repertory, such as Monotones with Lynn Wallis, and Symphonic Variations with Wendy Ellis. He also helped with roles that he danced himself, such as Colas, Lescaut and Mercutio. Ricardo trained as a repetiteur with the Frederick Ashton Foundation Mentoring Scheme. This mainly involved shadowing others, gaining from their knowledge and experience. He worked with Lynn Wallis, who ‘is very, very precise, focussed on geometrical shapes and patterns, and the height of the arms and everything. She is very clear and calm.’ People in the studio were very inclusive of him in the process. Ricardo never felt he was an observer. They seemed very appreciative of any suggestions he had. It was a very positive experience, and he learnt a lot. Over time, Ricardo became more vocal and confident about leading the rehearsals.

    The decision to stop dancing comes when you get told ‘there isn’t going to be much for you next season. It’s hard to let go.’ You feel you’ve gained a repertoire, and feel you want to keep hold of those roles. There are those roles you have as an artist, even if there are others who are younger than you. It’s best to stop when you think you’re not ready, as you should still be giving your best. The transition was made easier for Ricardo, as it was officially announced that he would be staying on as a Ballet Master. He wasn’t cutting the chord completely. He’s still in the same environment with the same people. He could still take class if he wanted to. ‘I’m just not performing.’ Ricardo misses being on stage, and being part of something special, but it also gives him some special satisfaction ‘watching others flourish.’ He has no regrets, feeling he had a long dancing career, and felt fulfilled.

    Being a Ballet Master felt odd to start with. ‘You’re rehearsing your colleagues.’ He had to rehearse Laura Morera in Viscera. She told him ‘God, you’re tough!’ Ricardo let no detail go. One minute you were an equal, now you have to take a step back, and view them from and audience point of view. With a partnership, it’s about your chemistry. As a Ballet Master, you have to say ‘what transcends?’ When you are a dancer, you’re focussed, and it’s about you, and what your body needs. When you’re a Ballet Master, it’s about several other people’s needs. You learn on the job as a Ballet Master, and there’s no course. If you make a mistake, everyone knows, and it’s very exposed. Ricardo has to be able to give all the dancers what they need, such as ‘where’s the head? Where’s the arm?’ What count?’ Dancers expect a lot, which Ricardo understands, as he did himself. ‘Perhaps I need a degree in Psychology?’

    The first ballet Ricardo was given a couple to work with as a Ballet Master was La Fille mal Gardee. He worked with Francesca Hayward and Marcelino Sambé. He had to teach them the ballet from scratch. He had to teach Marcelino everything for the role. The best way to learn on the job is to be given that responsibility. Ricardo was also in charge of scheduling the rehearsals, going to Philip Mosley, and saying he needed this amount of time, or that number of rehearsals. You have to be really good at time management. It can be daunting at first, figuring out how much time you might need, but you get better at judging this with time. Some people work more quickly, others more slowly. Ricardo’s favourite time is the coaching in the studio. When working on a full length ballet, you might be given certain sections or diverts to work on. There might be lots of rehearsals for the same ballet going on in several studios at the same time. Christopher Carr will come in and do the whole ballet when he’s there. When working with a couple, it’s not just about teaching them the steps. You have to tell them about their characters, the intentions, and the partnering among other things. A new couple are more open to suggestion. That trust develops, and you are on that journey together. It’s been ‘so great’ watching Lesley Collier work, with her knowledge and experience. It feels like he is getting it from the source. The Company comes together for the full call, and then you move on to the stage calls. The hardest thing for Ricardo has been taking on that responsibility and accountability. You’ve worked with these dancers, and set the choreography. Ricardo will have the choreologist in the studio with him. They’re so ‘crucial,’ to ensure you’re setting the right/correct/latest version. With a recording, it’s live performance, and things go wrong and everything. With La Fille Mal Gardee, Alexander Grant thought Alain was the main character! Grant Coyle helped Ricardo learn Colas, although Alexander Grant liked to try and pop in with the occasional suggestion!

    Ricardo is in his third season as a Ballet Master now. For The Nutcracker, for instance, Ricardo has worked with a couple of Hans-Peter/The Nephew casts, and on the Waltz on the Flowers. He also worked on the new Swan Lake. It can be interesting to work on a set piece, then on a newly created piece, where there is more give and take, and you see that process and journey. Ricardo often takes the younger dancers, and takes them through the process. As a Ballet Master, you have more autonomy that when you are an assistant. He gives them the information and the tools they need, such as the story, when to push, and when to hold back. The majority will listen. Some of them will remember him dancing on stage, which Ricardo feels can help with that respect for what you’re doing. You need to be respected when you are at the front of the studio in order to gain that trust and confidence. It can be scarier to rehearse the principals, such as Vadim, as he wasn’t a principal himself, and didn’t necessarily dance some of those roles. Ricardo feels they are all gracious and respectful, and have ‘listened and applied.’ Even if Ricardo hasn’t danced a particular role, he’s seen them ‘over and over again.’ He has a good, developed memory, and it’s easier if it’s been handed down to him. It’s ‘a different way of thinking about it.’ He would have to do research on a role, and try to think ‘how would I have done it?’

    Kevin congratulated Ricardo at the dinner this year for his help with staging Frankenstein. Ricardo had two weeks to put it together, and teach the majority of the Company the ballet. It was a really intense period. There were several new and younger dancers there, and the Company hadn’t performed it for three years. There was no time to waste. The dancers were extremely focussed and ‘so diligent.’ It was a tough ask, and Ricardo was still teaching some sections at the first stage call. It’s why Kevin congratulated him at the dinner. Any personal feelings or opinions had to be put to one side. Ricardo had to ensure he was positive and enthusiastic. If Frankenstein had looked messy or under rehearsed, it would have been on his shoulders. There’s nothing he can do about the steps and narrative, but he can ensure it’s looking as good as possible. Ricardo was very happy with the outcome.

    The future change in role wasn’t something Ricardo intended. He got asked if he would like to join the School after doing the summer school. Jay Jolley spoke to Ricardo about his phasing out, then leaving the Royal Ballet School at the end of this year. Ricardo has been teaching in one capacity of another for over 10 years now on his summer breaks for instance. The students were learning the Bratfisch solos from Mayerling in their repertory classes, so Ricardo went to set that. Kevin had offered, saying ‘if you need someone to come in and help for the interim period.’ It would have been for a couple of mornings a week, and would be a good experience. Ricardo had another informal chat with Jay Jolley, who went to speak to Christopher Powney. Ricardo was then asked ‘have you thought about doing it full time?’ Ricardo was asked to teach a couple of classes ‘to see how it feels.’ Ricardo thought ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained,’ so went for it. Christopher Powney watched one of the classes, after which they had a chat. Ricardo then went to speak to Kevin, to let him know he’d been approached. Kevin responded with ‘Oh God! I put you forward!’ Ricardo was thinking about it, as it would give him a more structured way of working. In a Company, the schedule changes ‘weekly, daily, hourly.’ Teaching is a passion of Ricardo’s. It fell into his lap slightly, but he also had to go for and apply for it and prove he wanted to do it. Ricardo had a formal interview with the Head of HR for the position. Ricardo is completing the teaching course which takes place every Friday. You have the theory, practise, and there will be a variety of modules. It’s the equivalent of a degree course, and he would have to answer various questions, such as ‘How would you approach a group of 15-year olds who aren’t going to be professionals?’ As part of the course, Ricardo set a class, and did it his own way. You’re expected to do things in a certain way. There is a curriculum and syllabus to follow. Ricardo will work with the third year, graduate class, which is more relaxed. It’s more like a Company. You’re getting them ready for that life, as well as finessing them.

    Ricardo has done a lot of work for Laura Morera and Justin Meissner both in Spain and Japan. Justin started his own company, offering master classes, workshops and summer schools. Justin asked Ricardo to come and teach. Ricardo didn’t accept payment to start with. He was ‘petrified,’ and wanted to see how he got on first. He felt he found his voice as the week went on, after being told he was too quiet to begin with. Ricardo found he actually enjoyed it. He was in his late twenties/early thirties at this point. You have to have a good eye, and find what works for each person. Ricardo really wanted to do it, and make a difference. You’re the one in control – you’re not slotting into someone else’s dynamic. Working with Marcelino on both La Fille Mal Gardee and Rubies allowed them to build up that relationship in the studio. You can build up that relationship, then not work with them again for several months. Now, Ricardo will be with the same group for a year.

    Ricardo went on to stage Viscera with Royal Danish Ballet in Copenhagen. Liam came in at the last minute to finesse it. Ricardo initially thought he had 10 days to prepare it, thinking that would be fine, but found that he had a couple of hours here, a few hours there, then a day off, so actually had to work quite fast. The dancers seemed quite shocked at how fast he worked. You have to be a psychologist sometimes in order to get the best out of people. The dancers were very appreciative. Ricardo was grateful to have this opportunity, as it was good for him to know he could do it on his own, without that cushion.

    Ricardo trained in Spain for 10 years, then at the Royal Ballet Upper School for two years. He is half British, and his training has always been fairly British orientated. His first memories during this period involved learning pas de deux from Don Quixote, and Romeo and Juliet. Once he got into the Company, Ricardo found he was ‘shoved into character shoes for two years,’ which can be frustrating to start with. He felt his first big break really came when Tetsuya Kumakawa and the others left. He did Mercutio, having been with the Company about 3 or 4 years. He felt he wouldn’t have been ready for it aged 18. Ricardo thought he’d have to do Benvolio first though. He felt there can be a tendency to copy what others have done at first. He got a lot of those Ashton ‘bouncy’ roles at first, such as Tirrenio in Ondine. When Ricardo first worked on Lescaut, he did a lot of work on walking, and how you would stand after a solo. Ricardo feels he was a late bloomer. He also feels the company was a lot more hierarchical when he first joined. No matter how talented you were, you had to wait your turn. In Romeo and Juliet for instance, Ricardo went on as a Capulet man, and in the Mandolin dance. It gives you a greater understanding of the piece, and you know exactly who is where on stage. You’re part of the whole thing.

    With Manon, he performed with Leanne Benjamin. ‘She takes no prisoners.’ For instance, when he as Lescaut was giving her the cards, Leanne would ask ‘why are you giving me the cards? What are you doing? Why? What are we doing here together?’ Ricardo felt ‘it was a really good learning curve. Everything has an intention’ He was really fortunate to have those opportunities with those people, and realise the value of everything.

    A real highlight for Ricardo was performing La Fille Mal Gardee with Laura Morera. This was his first full length lead. He also performed Coppelia with Roberta Marquez in Mexico. Ricardo had generally been performing the secondary roles up to then, where you can steal the show, but not ruin it. He was initially ‘terrified’ before the performance of La Fille, but he and Laura did their thing, but they were just at the front this time. He also got to perform La Fille in Japan with Laura. Japan is one of Ricardo’s favourite countries. Monica Mason told Ricardo he would be doing the performance, but it was announced publicly at the last minute, once it had been officially cleared.

    Ricardo loves being in the studio, but can be terrified on stage. When you do roles for a long time, the fear can be greater, as the expectation is higher. He would be really disappointed afterwards on occasion, and it would upset him.

    What about partnering? When you first learn, it’s about classical poetry, more poise, and about being picture perfect. It’s more convoluted than that though. You have to learn about your partner’s centre of weight. You’re there to help, and save it. Some dancers are really natural at it. Each person is different. Ricardo has discussed it with Laura Morera. You have to break it down, and how you do it if someone is less experienced. It helps when you get on well together. Ricardo and Laura get on really well together, and have that mutual respect. You also have to compromise. You have two people working to get a good outcome.

    In thanking Ricardo for the talk, David said he has given enormous pleasure on stage. We look forward to seeing him in his new role at the Royal Ballet School during one of our visits. Ricardo feels its ‘wonderful for me to start at such a high level.’

    Report written by Rachel Holland, edited by Ricardo Cervera and David Bain.

    © The Ballet Association 2019