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    Calvin Richardson 2021

    Calvin Richardson

    First Soloist, The Royal Ballet

    Interviewed by David Bain
    Zoom video conference, Wed 01st September, 2021 


    Calvin grew up in a small town two hours east of Melbourne. He started dancing when he was five years old, and it was one of those classic Billy Elliot stories. He would go with his mother to collect his sisters from their dance class, and Calvin would ask ‘oh, can I join in?’ His teacher was called Miss Vicky Flowers, and she ‘was just passionate for teaching.’ They learnt in what was effectively a shed for a room. From the ages of 5 – 15, Calvin just learnt in his local area, going to regional, country town festivals, for instance. Calvin was most interested in Musical Theatre, Tap and Jazz. His grandmother thought he would be an architect. Calvin didn’t initially have any formal ballet training. He fell into that much later. There were different sections of his training, such as modern, tap, jazz, contemporary, and classical styles. It took a lot for his mother to get all three children to all their events.

    Calvin started to focus on ballet more, when his mother got a pamphlet for one of her colleagues about a College in Melbourne. Calvin was about to quit, as he was struggling in high school. The College offered the chance to complete a Certificate in Education as well as training in dance. He was reluctant to audition, but got into the College on a scholarship. It was more ballet based, but also did a mix of styles, such as gymnastics. They did half a day’s dancing, and half a day’s academic work. Calvin fell into ballet, and enjoyed the discipline of it, and it was fresh. He thought he’d get his certificate, and then go to the Australian Ballet School. The others there had done a bit less ballet than Calvin. It wasn’t like at Australian Ballet School. People had different body types, and aspects to their dance/artistry and whole person. Maggie Storey/Lorrayne had coached a couple of girls earlier for the Prix de Lausanne. He watched footage of the Prix de Lausanne on YouTube, and got accepted onto the competition in 2012.

    It was ‘an enormous jump’ to go from Australia to the Prix de Lausanne. He sent an audition video. It consisted of a medley of barre and centre exercises. Once he got past that round, he got sent the material needed for the next stage, such as the classical variations, and the contemporary work. He learnt the material from the DVD, and one to one coaching from Maggie. Calvin also did gyrotonics and swimming. Calvin was the only one of the five that had auditioned from his year that got accepted for Lausanne. Others have auditioned since then. Calvin was ‘super lucky to have his family with him when he travelled to Switzerland. He took part in one week’s worth of classes. The judges and coaches were all previous winners of the competition when he took part. You found out if you had got through to the final by looking at a screen, ‘which was amazing.’ Calvin performed a variation from Swan Lake, and a contemporary variation by Didy Veldman. Calvin had no idea what to expect, and was ‘just soaking up the whole experience.’ He didn’t win a prize, but the experience was still amazing and rewarding. Gary Norman and Gailene Stock walked past him when he was sitting on the sofas. There was a networking forum at the Prix de Lausanne, which Calvin forgot about. He was given a list of schools and who he might want to talk to. The person who wins 1st prize get ‘first dibs’ on where they want to go. For Calvin, it came down to Hamburg Ballet School, or the Royal Ballet School. Hamburg offered Calvin a full scholarship. With the Royal Ballet School, Calvin’s family had to think about whether they could afford for him to go. Calvin’s father was an electrical engineer, and started to get more contracts, plus Calvin was able to come to the Royal Ballet School on a tuition scholarship. The whole process was ‘a whirlwind.’ The Prix de Lausanne was in the February, and Calvin came to London just before the Easter holidays in the 1st year of the Upper School.

    When Calvin first arrived at the Royal Ballet School, it was ‘scary.’ They had travelled over, to say ‘hi,’ and show themselves. Meelis Pakri ‘saw I was sh**ting myself.’ Calvin had a hard time leaving everything behind. He’d never lived away from home before, and hand now ‘moved across the ocean.’ It was ‘a huge adjustment.’ Calvin was very grateful to Meelis Pakri, as he was very sensitive to Calvin coming into an established group. It helped him more for the second year, and establish himself more. The Royal Ballet School went through a huge adjustment in Calvin’s graduate year, with Gailene Stock passing away. There was a transitional period, and it brought them all closer to her husband Gary Norman in a different way. Gary Norman taught them in Calvin’s graduate year. Jay Jolley was the acting principal. It was ‘all a crazy time.’

    Highlights of Calvin’s time at the Royal Ballet School include performing the Colas solo from La Fille Mal Gardée for Solos Evening. ‘That was quite fun.’ It was a new process for Calvin to learn solos from the repertory. Calvin was used to learning a wider array of styles, and now there was more focus and concentration on ballet. It was a really interesting experience, and was different to what he had experienced in Australia. Calvin also took part in the Ursula Moreton choreographic competition. He created a piece on his friends Mica and Harry. The piece was about his great aunt, and her death. He looks back on the process fondly. Calvin also performed in Raymonda for the Queen’s jubilee in Richmond Park, which was ‘cool.’

    Calvin also choreographed his version of The Dying Dwan at the Royal Ballet School. He had studied some choreography, as it was part of his dance diploma. He’d choreographed some small pieces at that time. He did some choreography at the Royal Ballet School, but it was with the Ursula Moreton performance that it really started. ‘I’ve always been a little bit more on the creative side.’ Calvin’s first burst of creativity came when he was a kid. He would do a version of the splits, wearing his sister’s pyjamas, moving to Aqua and The Spice Girls. Calvin also had a great aunt who was a bit of a hoarder, and gave him some of his favourite gum. She informed his creative vision, his relationship to possessions, and the world around him.

    During Calvin’s third year, Jay Jolley and Mark Annear found footage of a performer who had done a version The Dying Swanwith YoYo Ma on the cello. They asked Calvin if he wanted to do something with it. It’s on YouTube, and Anya Sainsbury was involved. It all ‘snowballed’ from there. In Calvin’s graduate year, he performed the piece in the Linbury, and the main stage shows. He also performed the piece when he came back from his ankle injury. ‘That was pretty amazing.’ Calvin and Matthew Ball also both performed The Dying Swan as part of the Deliotte Ignite programme. ‘I’m like Anna Pavlova,’ laughed Calvin.

    Calvin knew he would be joining the Royal Ballet in the January of his third year. During the summer break after his second year, he had auditioned, and received an offer from the Australian Ballet. This helped put him in a stronger position for the Royal Ballet. When he joined the Royal Ballet, it was the first year of the apprentice scheme, but Calvin won a full contract.

    The first couple of years with the Company were ‘really hard.’ He was coming back from an injury, and it went bad. He was on and off. He was just getting to know everyone. People can identify you with that injury, and it can be a bit isolating. Calvin’s second surgery was more of a clean-up job. A massive bone had been removed from his ankle.

    The healthcare suite at the Royal Opera House is ‘amazing.’ Calvin feels he is lucky to have his job, and dance. He has been through so much, and they really supported him with the transitioning, getting him back to the stage and everything. It’s really informed him with how he approaches things. You have to rebuild yourself from the bottom, and how you identify yourself. Calvin went on in Untouchable, and performed his Dying Swan on tour, He was ‘so lucky’ to get on stage as a corps de ballet member, and recognises that he didn’t have that typical background on the side. His versatility had helped him get through the door. Calvin had three or four years in the corps de ballet, but had two seasons when he was injured. He had one season as a First Artist, two seasons as a Soloist, and is now a First Soloist.

    Working with Hofesh Shechter was ‘amazing. Calvin wasn’t expecting to do the wide array of repertory that he has done. ‘I don’t have these ties’ to, or focus on the main choreographers. He was ‘pleasantly surprised’ to do Untouchable, as well as Obsidian Tear by Wayne McGregor. Hofesh got comments for not tailoring his style to the ballet dancers, but Clavin was happy to do Hofesh’s style. Calvin is learning the history and heritage of the Company, as well as the newer stuff. It’s taken him longer to get his toe in, and has had to wait for those opportunities in the classical repertory. He’s started to get those opportunities more, since he’s been a First Soloist.

    He feels he’s become a First Soloist without having to ‘tick those boxes’ first. Calvin’s first experience with Wayne McGregor was with Wolf Works. He was 2nd cast for parts 1 and 2. He didn’t get on initially for Mrs Dalloway, but he got on for the Orlando part. Calvin worked with Wayne on Obsidian Tear, which proved to be ‘the kick-starter.’ ‘It’s stress. It’s hyper-intensity’ working with Wayne, and Calvin has ‘huge respect’ for him. Wayne brings all the elements together. You need to be able to work ‘super-fast’ with him. Classical ballet isn’t Calvin’s first language, and Wayne really opened his eyes as to how you can challenge yourself. It was ‘a massive learning experience for me.’ How is Wayne getting this material, and chopping it up and everything? It’s an interesting exercise, letting go of those personal attachments to movement. You must act instinctively, rather than thinking your way through. Calvin is very grateful to Wayne.

    Calvin idolises and looks up to Crystal Pite. He was thrilled to work on Flight Pattern. It was ‘insane to me. A dream come true’ to work with her. Meeting her went ‘beyond my expectations,’ and was ‘a heart-warming experience.’ ‘It’s really been life changing’ to see how she passes it on to those around her. Working on The Statement was ‘another dream come true.’ Solo Echo was similar to Flight Pattern,and was a ‘huge honour to take that responsibility,’ of performing in the piece.

    Calvin was in the second cast for Chris Wheeldon’s Strapless. It eventually became a smaller role than initially planned. You can learn how each individual creates. It’s very fascinating.’ Calvin has also performed the Mad Hatter. His background in tap in Australia helped. There are so many interesting male roles. Calvin hasn’t worked with Chris Wheeldon as much though. Calvin enjoyed Within the Golden Hour, and would love to perform the White Rabbit and Leontes. Chris has a very different style and approach to Wayne McGregor. ‘I just want to see the shape of something.’ He is very detail orientated, and will want to get it right, before they move on. Chris has the basis of that classical style, but adds that different style as well. He sets it up differently. He brings in the designs very early on, and is informed by them. ‘This is what we’re going to create together.’ What else is going on besides the steps? It can be easy to forget sometimes that you are an artist, as well as an athlete. Wayne might hold more back. There is value in both approaches. Both choreographers are generous in a different way. ‘From a different lens.’

    Working with different choreographers has helped Calvin find his feet, and realise that there is ‘no one way to do this.’ If you’re creating for the Royal Opera House, it creates certain parameters. He finds what works for him. He feels a sense of ‘impostor syndrome’ sometimes, and it’s just him, and a variety of styles and influences. ‘What works for me?’ Calvin can come and look at things from a dancer’s perspective, as well as from the choreographer’s perspective. Calvin has worked on Draft Works, one gala, and a piece for Lauren Cuthbertson.

    Calvin created a piece for Benjamin Ella’s old school back in Australia. He’s also created a piece for the Linbury Theatre. Calvin loves working with all the different departments. It’s easy for people to label, and pigeonhole you. He tries to keep windows open, and talks to the different artists and departments. Calvin was due to create a piece, and be part of Munich’s creative season, but it got cancelled because of Covid. It was themed round consumerism, and the bush fires in Australia. He was going to use his great aunt’s recordings, and what she wrote on poetry. Are there other opportunities? ‘Watch this space.’ The stars are aligned for something slightly different on that front. Another piece Calvin was creating got cancelled, as the funding fell through. You can’t hold on to these things too tightly after the pandemic. Calvin has a friend who works with Punchdrunk in Shanghai. It’s all immersive, and maybe something will happen there. Calvin is taking time to understand what’s happened, and ‘what it means to me now.’ Coming back into the creative side of things has been slower. He’s got ideas for Draft Works, but he’s been very busy.

    With the classical repertory, Calvin has started as a cover, but when things come back, you get a turn. Things work out this way. It’s nice to learn the different roles, and he wanted to learn the repertory fully. A lot of the repertory isn’t as close to his history, so it‘s the right journey for him. He’s currently doing Benvolio, as well as learning Romeo. He’s joined a couple of Romeo and Juliet rehearsals with Cesar Corrales, William Bracewell and Ed Watson. Calvin’s shows of Romeo are in the later run. It’s nice to learn it, have a go, and make mistakes. He’s done a couple of bits of the solos and sword fighting. Bit he’s not ‘touched’ Mayara Magri yet. He’s concentrating on Benvolio, and The Dante Project now.

    With The Dante Project, the Company has already performed Inferno in Los Angeles. They’re creating new material with Wayne in one studio, and recapping Inferno and stuff already created and learnt in another studio. You don’t really know what you look like when you’re creating it. Dancers are very self-critical, so it’s nice to come back, and be kinder to yourself. This season, Calvin is establishing his First Soloist contract, thinking about Benvolio, Benno, and the Pas de Six in Giselle. Calvin’s not sure yet what will happen with Water for Chocolate. He covered A Month in the Countrylast time, so again, isn’t sure whether he will bet a chance this time.

    David thanked Calvin for giving members an interesting evening and knows members are looking forward to following his career and especially his Romeo in February.

    Report written by Rachel Holland and edited by Calvin Richardson and David Bain.

    © The Ballet Association 2021