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    Ricardo Cervera 2022

    Ricardo Cervera

    Teacher, The Royal Ballet School

    With the 2021 RBS Award Winners, Meg Newton and Francesco Venturi

    Interviewed by David Bain
    Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church, Tue 15th March, 2022

     

    At its mid-March meeting, the Ballet Association welcomed Ricardo Cervera, former First Soloist and Ballet Master with the Royal Ballet and teacher at the Royal Ballet Upper School, and two of the Association’s 2021 award winners, Meg Newton and Francesco Venturi. The third award winner, Frieda Kaden, was unable to come because she was in Birmingham dancing in BRB’s production of Don Quixote.

    David started by asking all three how each had got into ballet. Ricardo explained that he had grown up in Spain (of dual Spanish-English nationality), and it had been his older sister who asked if he would be interested in learning to dance, after their watching Margot Fonteyn and Rudolph Nureyev dance Romeo and Juliet on the television. He was six years old, had never seen any live ballet and lived in a village where there was no ballet school. His sister managed to find a school with two women teachers, both of whom were British. He attended this same ballet school for ten years. Meg started ballet earlier, at the age of three. She was living about four hours drive from Melbourne, Victoria in Australia. Meg described herself as being a quiet child, who danced around the house, and her mother arranged for her to go to ballet classes. Dance became a way of expressing herself. At the age of seven, she started at the Juliet School, a ninety-minute drive from home, meaning that she did not get back until about nine or ten o’clock at night. She was at this school until the age of thirteen when she stopped mainstream school. Francesco was exposed to ballet early in his life because his sister was dancing all her life, eventually joining the Paris Opera Ballet School, and he watched her shows. He was playing tennis, but then one summer aged ten, he did a Summer Intensive and has not looked back.

    David asked all three how their ballet careers developed from the early beginnings. Ricardo was in mainstream school and did ballet after school. He started going to England to take part in competitions and become known in the ballet world. He attended the English National Ballet School and Royal Ballet School and was offered a scholarship to do a fortnight’s Summer Intensive, in order to gain an insight into what it would be like to train as a dancer. After a Russian Summer School, he was offered a scholarship for character rather than ballet per se. He did not take this up and returned to Spain. The RBS rang to offer him a full scholarship – his ballet teachers had kept this back from him – and his mother answered the telephone, resulting in his taking up the place.

    At the age of thirteen, Meg started full-time ballet school and did distance learning for academic subjects (like many Australian children who live in isolated places) when she finished dance classes late afternoon. She auditioned at Stuttgart, did Intensives in Monaco and at White Lodge, competed in lots of competitions (Eisteddfods four or five times a year), and at New York learnt to put her hair up herself! Francesco spent a year and a half in Pisa before auditioning for La Scala. He performed solos from Sleeping Beauty and Don Quixote and got a scholarship to La Scala, where there was a mix of styles, rather different from the Royal Ballet School. There was ballet during the day and academic school from four in the afternoon. Francesco said that his father is a scientist, so academic grades were considered important in his family.

    Having spoken about their early exposure to ballet, the interview moved to later experience as students. When Ricardo was at the Royal Ballet School, there was a culture of not complaining about injury, in case there were accusations of laziness. This meant that in a two-year course, (with the same Russian teacher who came from the character route), Ricardo did not own to having an injury, resulting in his doing his first-year school performance injured. In fact, he had a spur, which was catching on his Achilles tendon, and needed to be removed: vindication, not laziness! After his injury at School he joined the Company early to go on their European tour to Istanbul and Italy, so missed his graduation performance, but then he was in Mayerling, and in the first week, second performance, missed his step!

    Meg joined the Royal Ballet Upper School in 2019 – her dream choice of school – and also suffered an injury in her first two years. Francesco was also offered his ‘dream’ of the Royal Ballet School after a Summer Intensive. The audition coincided with a performance and he had to pretend he was ill so that he could attend the audition in London. He described it as being a very windy day in London, so his letter blew away! There were fifty-three in the audition on the first day, whittled down to twenty by the second day. Suddenly, hours of training doubled from what he had been used to at La Scala. He is blessed with flexibility, but the Royal Ballet School concentrated on his need to work on placement of limbs rather than height.

    In his early ballet career, Ricardo said that it was usual to spend three to four years in the corps doing very little on stage, even though that is when dancers are likely to be at the peak of their technique. Monica Mason took a liking to him, so she asked him to dance Mercutio - and Ricardo ‘corrected’ her, saying that she must mean Benvolio! Her coaching helped him become a more nuanced dancer, for example, working on his walking to help him look older on stage. He mentioned a variety of roles, including contemporary, but overall, he said that he wished he had been more vocal and able to ask for help when he needed it.

    Meg spoke of preparing for the end of year show in her second year and suffering a dislocation while pirouetting. Fortunately, the in-house physios took charge and once she was on the mend, she started an individual rehabilitation programme, taking ten months to recover. During COVID, Francesco returned home to his family, and the school provided a programme for him to use there.

    Ricardo talked about the transition to becoming a ballet teacher. He comes from a family of teachers. He described how all his shortcomings as a dancer have paid off as a teacher. He was not naturally gifted, but knowing how to manage weaknesses and pass this on to students is a gift. He believes in an egalitarian structure, where weaker students receive the same support as the more naturally gifted ones.

    Meg explained that the pre-professional year at the Royal Ballet School is her favourite one, living out in Covent Garden and learning life skills as well as dance training. The degree that they study for covers a variety of topics, including, nutrition, strength and conditioning, psychology, classical and contemporary context, and involves writing a dissertation. Her research topic is on whether and why dancers suffer from low self-esteem. Francesco’s dissertation is more science-based and to please his father he took A-levels in Mathematics and Further Mathematics. He will be joining the junior company in Amsterdam, whereas Meg has to stay on at the Royal Ballet School for at least another term because she missed time owing to her injury.

    The evening ended with Ricardo talking about being a teacher who can help students make the move from White Lodge to the Upper School and then through the pre-performance year, help facilitate the process of educating confident young adults ready to move out into the world. Meg and Francesco acknowledged the value of having some experience with Birmingham Royal Ballet and exposure to working with known ‘stars’, being able to take that experience with them wherever they end up in their own careers.

    In thanking our guests, David was sure that members would follow Meg and Francesco’s careers with interest and thanked Ricardo for being a regular guest of the Association. We look forward to seeing them all on our Annual visit to the School in May.

     

    Report written by Anne Mackenna, edited by Ricardo Cervera, Meg Newton, Francesco Venturi and David Bain.

    © The Ballet Association 2022