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    Liam Boswell & Madison Bailey 2023

    Liam Boswell & Madison Bailey

    Artists, The Royal Ballet

    Interviewed by David Bain
    American International Church, Tue 16th May, 2023


    Our guests began by talking about this season which started with Mayerling. Maddie had danced the role of young Valerie, short and sweet but nice to have stage time. It’s a small role where you can portray your younger personality and Kevin O’Hare discussed with her how he saw her in that role. She also did maids. There’s not a lot in the ballet for the corps but it’s nice to watch wide-eyed from the wings so it was a good start to the season. Liam agreed that there’s not a lot for the corps to do but there is a lot of stage time to fill so you have to find ways to make it your own.  In the tavern scene, which is a lot of fun, they have a fairly free rein. This season he covered Bratfisch, so next time he hopes to have the chance to perform. Chris Saunders coached for the majority of the tavern scene and he always adds a bit of flare. You can really enjoy and immerse yourself in it amongst your friends, though it’s always a shock to the younger newcomers, and you can change it up every show and go as far as you can though, occasionally you’re told to rein it in. For Bratfisch Gary Avis was teaching the role but nearer performance time they could request different coaches so Chris came in and Brian Maloney also so it depends on who you connect with. Brian’s a great guy who you can ask for any help.  Everyone loves MacMillan ballets. There’s the benefit of doing a three-act large-scale work but also the characters are very human, real people and you can connect to a role that’s human.

    The previous season they did Manon which is one of Maddy’s favourites and she’d love to do the lead role sometime in the future. You can tap into your personal feelings and experiences and take the character along so many different avenues. They watch the principals who all do it differently. Asked how they prepare for MacMillan in the school, Maddie said it was really only once they joined the Company as, in school, they are very classical and straightforward. She still feels a young member of the Company because of delays with Covid. MacMillan’s ballets are very hard-hitting and intense and it’s not easy to bring that into the school as you need more maturity but it’s good to be thrown in at the deep end and get over it.

    Neither Liam nor Maddie was in the Company when Crystal Pite made her first piece, Flight Pattern.This time she created two new works to make it a full evening and they were both involved in Flight Pattern and the creation of the third piece. Working with Crystal was a highlight of the season for Maddie. It was such an amazing experience to be in the room with her. They loved the way she works and she’s such a unique individual who pours her heart out in the studio, sitting them down and explaining where she wants the process to go. She’s so particular about what she wants and how she wants them to feel and even though she has a particular style and quality of movement she develops the work on each of them so it’s a very special creative process. Although they loved being with everyone in the first piece, when you are just four people in the room and she is directing and creating her movement on you to fit your body, it’s a rare experience and they feel really lucky to have had that opportunity. Liam agrees that the collaborative process is special for them. Crystal asks what they think and it’s nice to be able to put a bit of themselves into the work. She’s a bit like the MacMillan of the contemporary world with the very human elements. She’s tackling a refugee crisis in her piece and as an example of how she is putting that over Liam said she has an overarching theme in her work which she calls ‘rescue’ and ‘conflict’. In the third movement it’s rescue as you’re relying on someone else physically and emotionally and her intentions are very clear. With conflict there’s a lot of tension and release in her work which relates back to the theme she’s tackling. In the first work, Flight Pattern, there’s a section she called ‘sweep camp’ and she brought them images of how she wanted to emulate a refugee camp on stage. There’s not a lot of dancing at that point but visually it’s very striking as they are sat down huddling together or there’s a moment when you offer someone a coat. Maddie has been twice in Solo Echo and each time it was a completely different experience. The first time was in lock-down when Crystal was in Canada so they were Skyping her rehearsals. Her amazing assistant, Eric, came to teach them and Maddie learnt a lot about herself and her style. She shocked herself at how much she enjoyed it as at the school she was classical rather than contemporary but as soon as they did it she was in awe and loved Crystal’s movement. They’d seen a video of NDT and that was how they learnt the piece but Crystal loves to see you doing steps in a completely different way, and she’d develop that around you, picking out elements she thought you could take somewhere else but not necessarily done by others. You could step away from it and return with even more clarity which made it special.

    Diamond Celebration. Maddie didn’t do a show, and hadn’t experienced Balanchine at White Lodge but once you get into the Diamonds choreography and understand you can be free and really dance it, she found it such an enjoyable piece. They’re taking it on tour to Japan so she hopes to get the chance to perform then. Liam said there’d only been one cast at the Opera House but for the tour there’ll be more. There are all those elements of ballet that they know and love but there’s more freedom in the movements. Liam did Balanchine at the School of American Ballet just before coming to London and coming from a strict Balanchine school to a classical ballet school was a bit of a shock. He was told to rein it in, not to do too much and be more precise so it was very different from his previous training. Now he can access both when he needs to, which is a bonus.

    Nutcracker. Maddie recalled at the last show of Crystal Pite there was an emergency call as Romany was off and Kevin said he enjoyed the youthfulness she portrayed on stage as Valerie and would like her to do Clara. It was a hard rehearsal period and she worked on it outside normal hours but it was fun and being thrown into it with little time to think was good. Liam said she was brilliant! He was covering the nephew and thought he had a whole year to watch and decide what he wanted to do with it and then through injury or illness someone dropped out and Kevin said can you do it so for him too it was very quick with no time to organise your thoughts and you just step up and do it. That’s the nature of the Company. You take the opportunity and run with it and they had a fun time.  Clara is on stage for nearly the whole ballet and Maddie hadn’t realised just how exhausting it would be. It is so special as you don’t switch off from the character. Normally you have three or more roles in a ballet so it’s quite different to be totally immersed in just one. After her debut she wondered how come she’d managed and enjoyed it. She wasn’t stressed or nervous, just very calm and ready for it. Her coaches were mainly Gary and Ed Watson so no females but the male repetiteurs have a lot of experience and are very good at getting you prepared for the situation. Unless you’re a principal you normally take that preparation on yourself. Her whole life Maddie wanted to be Clara. Every minute of her spare time she made sure she’d done the necessary work and was comfortable with it. It’s a good feeling when you are confident in yourself. Apart from stamina, there’s nothing particularly difficult in the role, though there’s so much to do, but curiously the hardest part is the party scene because your face hurts so much from smiling! Once you get into the character and storyline you’re so immersed that you don’t think about the steps and how hard they are. The choreography is embedded in them. Clara repeats a lot of what the corps dances so you already have an understanding of how it feels. Unfortunately, on her debut the tree failed to grow! She turned to walk to the back and at that moment it stopped which was gutting but Maddie said she was in her own little world and didn’t realise at first. Luckily Gary was her Drosselmeyer so before the curtain went up again he helped her get back into it. Liam had watched and wanted to do the nephew and it came sooner than expected and was a lot of fun. It’s nice to be able to immerse yourself in one role and focus on it though it’s a real challenge. He and Maddie had hoped to debut together but had different partners this time so maybe in the future they’ll dance it together.

    Then came Sleeping Beauty. Liam said it was good as switching between classical and contemporary ballet can be difficult on the body and the brain when you’re performing them at the same time. It was a long run of Beauty so lots of time to rehearse and they had done it before. Maddie rehearsed the white cat and red riding hood, but unfortunately sustained a shin fracture after Clara and although she got through most rehearsals and as far as the stage call she had to take time off and missed the performances. On this run, besides the Song Bird cavalier, Liam is doing a lot of corps work - garland waltz, rats and polonaise. You do several different roles so as soon as you’ve finished one, you rush back to the dressing room to put on a different wig or costume so there’s lots of running around but they get to watch the various principal couples which is a lot of fun.

    When they first joined the Company Pam Tanowitz, the US choreographer from New York City, came to create a work for the Royal, Everyone Keeps Me.This time she made Secret Things. It was a lot of fun in the studio, her technique is loosely based on Merce Cunningham, paying homage to him and then adding her own layer. It got great reviews and the public seemed to like it. Comparing her to Crystal, Liam said Pam is collaborative and likes you to give her ideas. She wants a stripped down version of the steps, more direct and linear and enjoys seeing shapes and patterns. Crystal is much more organic, so you do whatever feels right or good. Maddie rehearsed with Pam although she didn’t do the shows. Sometimes you’d be at the side of the studio stretching or doing a step and falling out of it in a certain way and she’d ask you to do it again or keep it in and use it later, when you’d no idea she was watching. Although he never saw him perform, Liam had done workshops and summer schools including Cunningham in the States. He is very difficult, specific and calculated and Liam found his movement a bit awkward to do, saying some people really enjoy it and others don’t.

    Woolf Works. Wayne MacGregor’s wonderful work based on Virginia Woolf’s novels. Liam was lucky to be involved in the second movement, Orlando. In it Virginia talked a lot about gender and defining it, and that was something Wayne was adamant about. Costumes and make-up with no eyebrows made them look like ethereal beings, the set was a black box making you feel you were in space or a different world. It was an amazing process and a lot of fun to dance. The third movement, Waves, begins with her suicide note, a powerful moment with the principal woman just standing on stage and at the back a slow-motion projection of waves. They come on one by one washing her and moving her about the space and it’s a really beautiful work. Liam’s first experience working with Wayne was Dante.Wayne has a very fast-moving mind and he needs that from the dancers as well so you have to go in with 100% brain capacity or you get lost. He is a visionary who creates these worlds and has the right contacts to make them all come to life.

    Going back to her start in ballet, Maddie said she was a late bloomer. Her mum had tried to get her to dance when she was two but she said no. When she was eight she was doing modern and tap dancing but friends were doing ballet so she thought she’d do it too. Within a year her teacher had said she should audition for Junior Associates (JA), and although she knew nothing about it or where it would lead, she was accepted, travelling to London from home in Kent every other weekend for three years. When they suggested she audition for White Lodge, Maddie had no idea what a big deal it was. She wasn’t very serious about ballet and wasn’t ready to leave home. They asked again in year 8 and still she said no but suddenly changed her mind and then had to go to Bristol to audition. She got in, joining White Lodge in year 8, missing a year, and was the only girl to join then so felt very alone. She was so home-sick but it was Nutcracker that drew her in and once they were taken to the Opera House and she got a glimpse of what it was all about she was hooked. In her first Nutcracker she was a party child and a rat and recalled being in awe of all the dancers and realised how big a deal it was. A highlight at White Lodge for Maddie was performing two of Liam Scarlett’s pieces which were choreographed on them which was a big thing and a first for them so very special. She loved his style so that’s always been a favourite memory. Then they worked together again in the Upper School with Cunning Little Vixen.Liam saw something in people and was so patient as they still had so much to learn. It was a great experience.  Out of her year, five girls and five boys got into the Upper School. She didn’t know if she’d be lucky although she’d passed her appraisals. It wasn’t till February in their last year that they knew they’d succeeded. The school performance was a good experience but it’s tough as you lose a lot of friends after growing up together. It’s such a unique experience and the bond is tight so it’s hard to be happy when others aren’t going forward. After GCSEs it was nice to be able to focus on the dancing.

    Liam comes from Kentucky in the USA. Growing up he played every sport possible and he didn’t dance but was a competitive gymnast when you take barre for foot and leg exercises. He didn’t love it but it intrigued him and he went into tap, jazz and hip hop. He had a natural coordination of movement but when he was 12 and his Mum asked if he wanted to do ballet it was an immediate ‘no’ at first. It was common for boys to start later and harder for them to get into dance so he was a bit behind. He was in a class with only girls years younger than he and had an agreement with his mum ‘no tights’ so he was the odd one with shorts and socks! He grew to love the challenge and went to class twice a week after school. He was always an artistic kid, painting, drawing and singing, and he combined the athletic with the artistic life.  His training took him to Florida, Boston, New York and finally the Upper School to get the ‘best training in the world’.  His first move came after auditions in Kentucky when he went along for the experience and was accepted. He got a scholarship for two week’s summer school in Tampa and afterwards they asked him to stay on and train which he wasn’t expecting but he really wanted to do it, and his parents were supportive as long as he put in 110%. He stayed there for two years with his mother and they’d agreed his father would remain in Kentucky with his sister. He did the Youth America Grand Prix competition in New York, with dancers from across the world performing a classical and contemporary solo. Liam expected little, but won. It was his first time in New York which was an amazing experience, a whirlwind but it was right time, right place and things worked out. That was where he met Christopher Powney who offered him to come for a week to take class and audition for the first year Upper School.

    Maddie said moving to the Upper School from the White Lodge bubble was terrifying. They’d all been English bar one, had done no competitions or learned solos whereas the other dancers had done competitions, learned solos and had stage time so it opened their eyes to what they hadn’t experienced. There were things they were better at but the teaching style brought them all to the same level and progressed upwards.  The international girls had a big shock, being brought down to basics to the very core of ballet and so much wisdom from its history. In the first year her teacher was Anita Young who was fun and whose style suited her.

    Liam was the opposite. His training was for faster, higher and pushing to the extremes of your limit. His teacher would say don’t think, just do it and he instilled a fearlessness in them for which Liam is very thankful, trying things which he really shouldn’t have done at that age. At the Upper School he had to do it correctly so was reined in and helped to be more technically correct to do a more refined version than just running around the room! Paul Lewis was his teacher in years 1 and 2. In some ways it was good to continue the progress you’d made with one teacher and in other ways not so as it’s good to have a new voice to nurture and develop you.  Liam’s biggest first year challenge was to learn to rein it in – it was a bit of a shock to understand that less really is more, so he had to rewire his brain to work in a more classical way.

    Highlights of the next two years. Cunning Little Vixen. Maddie was covering but at the last minute she was put in for all the shows. They worked with each other closely and with Liam Scarlett and it was already a stepping stone into the Company. In the Upper School they didn’t normally have that experience, as there was just one girl and boy who did the principal role.  It was a big step up and she learnt a lot and really developed as a dancer. She was so shy, reserved and serious and it took her a long time to get out of that and learn to let go. Liam Scarlett definitely embedded that in her. He brought in people like Laura Morera and it was a very special experience to work with people like that even though at that point they didn’t know if they had got into the Company. For Liam it was an incredible experience to create that story with Maddie and live in their own little world and to dance a role like that on the Opera House stage was a gift and a challenge for them both. Liam won the BA award in his second year and in the third year the most outstanding graduate male award. Maddie won the third year most improved dancer. She wasn’t used to awards as the school try not to put labels on people so you learn and develop together but it was a nice recognition of achievement in her graduate year.

    When did they know they were getting into the Company? It was in the February during Cunning Little Vixen. Everyone knew it was coming. David Bintley was in the school that day and wandering around the building and Kevin was there. They were called out of class, knowing what was to happen so you have to compose yourself but it was a shock and great news at the same time. They hadn’t got round to auditioning though Maddie did have one fixed for Dutch National Ballet but by that time they knew they’d be taken in as Apprentices so they went to Amsterdam for the weekend just for fun. Liam explained that as apprentices you are expected to be there, be present and pay attention. It’s like a trial to see if you’re a good fit for the Company and how you integrate even socially and there’s help if you’re seen to be struggling. Liam was thrown on for so many different roles and places. You need to be switched on at all times as there’d be a five-minute call for a show and you’d not be in costume but someone would get injured and you’d have to go on. You’re down as general cover in your first season so you have to watch everyone and a lot of brain power is needed. For Liam it was a really exciting season as he danced a lot more than expected and sometimes you’d do a role and get a pat on the back from Kevin. His first real dancing role was one of six men in Onegin when someone was injured and he did all of the shows - lots of dancing and lots of fun. At the end of season meeting he was told they loved the way he was willing to step in, ask questions when needed, and have a good attitude.

    Maddie said as an apprentice you don’t walk into a rehearsal and get a specific person to watch so you have to have eyes on everyone. It may be the same choreography but you do something on a different leg or with different counts and sometimes the choreography is completely different so you have to be switched on all the time which can be stressful. When someone goes off you wonder if you should put your hand up but if you have the guts to do it you can prove yourself and it puts you in a good place for the future. In their first season they only had six months and just as they were going into Swan Lake there was lock-down which lasted such a long time so when it came to their third season it really felt like the first. Now it’s difficult to remember what was in each season as everything was very intense. Memories of Covid were dancing in the kitchen and living room, keeping pointe shoes on, just keeping going. It was difficult mentally but they had just received formal contracts when lock-down happened so didn’t have to worry that they wouldn’t have jobs and knew they’d come back to it eventually.

    They had only four shows of Swan Lakebut Maddie had been lucky enough to go on tour to Madrid in her second year at school so she knew it and did six different places in one week which was an eye-opener to what company life would be. She and Liam did the Neapolitan dance together when it came back and it’s a really fun role, coached by Laura Morera who helped build their confidence. It’s hard and fast with lots of jumping, throwing tambourines which you have had to play with the orchestra. In some shows there were tambourine dramas but they luckily had no problems!

    Asked if they were paid as apprentices they said yes though that’s not the case in some companies.

    David gave big thanks to our guests for a fascinating evening saying we look forward with interest to following their future careers in the Company.

    Written by Liz Bouttell, edited by Madison Bailey, Liam Boswell and David Bain

    ©The Ballet Association 2023