Search our website

    This section doesn’t currently include any content. Add content to this section using the sidebar.

    This section doesn’t currently include any content. Add content to this section using the sidebar.

    This section doesn’t currently include any content. Add content to this section using the sidebar.

    This section doesn’t currently include any content. Add content to this section using the sidebar.

    This section doesn’t currently include any content. Add content to this section using the sidebar.

    View bestsellers 

    Pre-order our new design

    Bespoke timepieces

    This section doesn’t currently include any content. Add content to this section using the sidebar.

    Sae Maeda & Harris Bell 2024

    Sae Maeda & Harris Bell

    Soloist & First Artist, The Royal Ballet

    Interviewed by David Bain
    American International Church, Mon 04th March, 2024


    After David’s welcome, our guests began by talking about their current production, Swan Lake. Sae said they had a stage call every day, pre-general today and general tomorrow with the opening on Wednesday. Swan Lake is especially challenging for the girls who almost all must do four Acts. She is doing both solos in the Act I pas de trois. There’s a jumping and a turning solo but for Sae the jumping is the hardest she’s ever done. It’s challenging but she loves a challenge and it’s exciting to perform. She’s also dancing a cygnet and a Princess as well as other roles which means she’s in every show but she’s excited about it.

    Harris said the boys have it much easier than the girls so he’s doing corporals in Act I and covering one of the soloist boys. Act III is when the boys have a bit more to do so he has the Spanish dance and mazurka with the Spanish dance being the most fun with great costumes. It’s a short but puffy effort so they don’t complain in front of the girls! For rehearsals Sae said Laura Morera was coaching the pas de trois and it’s always lovely getting her corrections especially on the artistic side. In the corps you only get corrections for steps or directions, but Laura always speaks about artistry so they’re very lucky to have her to guide them. Harris said she’d also been demonstrating and to have someone who’s very recently moved on from the rep is great and she’s so focussed and able to show them with her body what she wants. She was also very close friends with Liam Scarlett during their whole careers, so she wants to stay as true as possible to his movement style, his slinkiness, and if they miss the mark and it becomes too much about the steps she puts them right. They’ve also had Gregory Mislin who’s setting a lot of the character dancers and Sam Raine for swans which is all about lines and musicality, so it’s nice to have Laura from a dancer’s perspective. As she’s looking after the MacMillan rep she was there for the whole run of Manon when she was brilliant. It was her first time coaching the whole company so it’s very interesting getting her feedback now she’s more mature in coaching and within Swan Lake it’s been exciting.

    In Manon, Harris is on every night, but Sae has the soloist’s luxury of a few shows off. So far, they’ve had about 12 shows but it feels like 20! They’ve two more this week with the big one on Friday. It’s been great to have it back. It feels as if it’s in the company’s blood, so they don’t have to do too much thinking in comparison with other works and as soon as the music starts everything clicks into place and they know the characters and steps to a certain extent. For Sae, Manon is very special as it was the first ballet she saw as a student, so she still remembers Marianela Nunez dancing the role and she’s always interested to see how the principals perform. David mentioned that when Mariko Sasaki came to talk to us, she said it was the first ballet she was in and her first role was a prostitute which was quite a shock. Sae said the acting is challenging for the younger people and she also did it in her first season. Harris said it’s also a challenge for the men who find it tricky with women who are new to that role and must play and act accordingly on stage. The character development is tricky but the atmosphere on stage with everyone knowing how to look after the young ones and showing how it’s done, he hopes eases the way for them.

    Acting is one of Harris’ real passions as well as the steps and artistic side of ballet. At school they had a stagecraft class which is the bread and butter of how to stand on stage and not look like a lemon and find a way to pick up a character and carry it through. It’s only basic because as soon as you’re in the company you realise you need a lot more than that to build and show a character. He’s been taking acting coaching with an ex-dancer, Sarah Walton, for a few years to develop that side of performance. For something like Manon Act II, Harris said help with acting comes mainly from the other dancers who’ve done it before, so you feed off their experience and find comfort in acting that way. Sae agreed it was the same for the girls.

    Asked how much rehearsal they’ve had for the MacMillan programme, Sae said they’ve only had three rehearsals for each ballet and there’s a stage call next week so everyone’s a bit stressed about it. She’ll be performing the pas de trois in Danses Concertantes which has very difficult counts so it’s hard to learn. Laura is teaching them, but they’ve been so busy with Swan Lake that they’ve not had much rehearsal time for this. There are only a couple of people who’ve done the ballet before – Lauren Cuthbertson is one so it’s very exciting for her to do the pas de deux again. Harris isn’t in the ballet but he’s heard semi-stressful remarks from others who find the counts so difficult. He is in Different Drummer and Requiem which everyone is really excited about. Different Drummer is a laugh in the studio and they’ve having such fun learning it with Gary Harris who is hilarious so it’s an enjoyable process. They’ve had a lot more time on it than the Danses Concertantes team so they’re about ready.  None of them has seen Different Drummer on stage before. Gary didn’t give much information about the symbolism and just threw them in and started teaching. Harris feels once they’re in costume with sets and lighting it’ll make more sense.  Requiem is coming on well. Sae hasn’t seen it except on film, but everyone says it’s such a beautiful ballet so she’s excited to be part of it. Nearly the whole company are involved. Harris had recently heard that the ballet was made by MacMillan in memory of John Cranko. It would be good for the whole company to know the heavy history of the work, made by one master for his friend. That comes out in the way the coaches are approaching it, as they realise the weight of responsibility on the whole company - at one point there are 40 or 50 dancers on stage which creates a very powerful image. Chris Saunders is coaching the corps and Darcey Bussell is working with the principals and soloists.

    In answer to how they got into ballet, Sae started when she was seven after watching her sister, who finally stopped dancing when she was 15, and fell in love with it as it was so magical with costumes, sets and music. She went to a small private school only five minutes’ walk from home. Aged nine she started competitions, entering up to ten every year, so that was where her training was focussed and it helped her to become mentally, physically, and technically stronger. In competition she did classical ballet solos and some pas de deux – it was an amazing opportunity to be on stage, learning to deal with pressure. She used to watch DVDs of the Royal Ballet in Nutcrackerand Swan Lakeand when the Royal Ballet visited Japan she saw Marianela dance Swan Lake.When she was 14, she had a life-changing moment when the Royal Ballet School (RBS) came to Japan for a three day workshop. Gailene Stock and Jay Jolley were there, and she learned about the Royal Ballet style. They invited her for summer school which was like a dream. When she was 15, she did Prix de Lausanne performing a solo from La Bayadere and a contemporary solo. It was another dream to be there, and she won second prize, gaining a scholarship for her choice of school. David said it had just been announced that Miyako Yoshida was bringing the National Ballet of Japan to London in 2025 to perform Giselle. When Stuart Cassidy was our guest recently he talked about the difficult experience of girls in Japan before Teddy Kumakawa set up K Ballet and how, when he was doing a gala, he discovered that his female partner had paid his salary. Sae said there weren’t big companies in Japan and not much pay which was why a lot of Japanese dancers left the country to find work abroad.

    Harris comes from near Stirling in the middle of nowhere, so no ballet schools nearer than Glasgow. He started dancing at the age of seven when he was swimming with friends and a ballet teacher friend of his mother saw him in trunks and thought he had the makings of a dancer so suggested he join her class to see how he fitted. This he did for three years before auditioning for the RBS, Elmhurst, Dance School of Scotland (DSS) and Tring Park. He was accepted by Elmhurst and DSS but as he hadn’t got an Elmhurst scholarship, he went to DSS. After about six weeks when talking to a friend he realised that if he was going to be serious about ballet he would need to go to England and Elmhurst where there would be more focus on ballet training. He called to see if it was possible, which it was, he auditioned, and Desmond Kelly said he should start as soon as he could. He had a great three years there until he was 14.  Desmond was brilliant and really took Harris on board and developed him from the ground up. He’d not done a lot of proper training until then, but they had great teachers including Michael Raynaud and Lee Robinson who were of paramount importance for where he is now. He had great guidance and training in a lot of styles, and it was a springboard to White Lodge and from there to Upper School and then into company. One of the main differences in his training was at Elmhurst he joined a class of six boys and at White Lodge they were 15 or 16. Elmhurst felt more like coaching rather than teaching classes as the teaching was less widely spread. He did tap, jazz and an array of things whereas at White Lodge the focus was more on ballet, with contemporary and character. Having the more intimate relationship between coach and student at Elmhurst suited him at the time. Although RBS wasn’t on his radar a few friends were auditioning there so he decided to give it a go. They weren’t very happy when he said he was going to the Royal and, although they understood his aims, they tried to persuade him by offering great opportunities if he stayed. Robert Parker had just replaced Desmond and was very supportive and understanding as he was a former White Lodger.

    For Sae leaving home to come to RBS was the hardest thing to do, she didn’t understand or speak English, and you had to do everything for yourself. She was very home sick during the first term but kept herself busy and tried to focus on ballet which she really wanted to do. The training was amazing including character and contemporary dance, as in Japan she just did classical solos and pas de deux so she spent a long time making sure everything was as it should be. Anita Young was her teacher in first year, Daria Klimentova in the second and Nicky Tranah in third year. With Miss Young it was back to basics and a bit challenging but now she realises it was so important. In her first year they did La Bayadere for the school performance and it was amazing to be in the beautiful Opera House. Although she was sharing with a British girl when she had to speak English, she would hang out with another Japanese girl in her year but there were classes for international students to learn the language.

    Speaking about the transition from White Lodge to Upper School, Harris said they had yearly appraisals but there was extra pressure in the last year which was like an audition. They were called into the office individually by Chris Powney to be told if they were going into the Upper School and luckily, he got in. There were solo evenings which was great especially for British dancers who’d not done competitions or had experience on stage, and it gave dancers the chance to show what they’re made of rather than just executing a class. Harris really went to town on his solo and it worked! There was an unprecedented number of students in his class but of the 30 originals only three or four are still dancing. For some reason people lost interest and dropped out though the year above them had been good so following the ‘golden year’ was tough. From his year only six boys graduated to the Upper School. His teacher was Paul Lewis who was in the same vein as Anita Young in taking students back to the bread and butter of basics. It was really good, and he was used to that style, coming from White Lodge, though it was a new experience for the international students who had to work harder. In the second year they had Rodolfo Castellanos, a guest teacher who was only there for three years. He was great – a real macho man from Cuba who taught them male virtuoso steps and smooth flowing movements and from there in year three they had Jay Jolley who was there to develop the men to a professional standard. It was a great, enjoyable year. Rodolfo’s son, Ricardo, was in Sae’s year and is now a principal in Oslo.

    Asked how much opportunity they had in the school to dance with the companies, Sae said she did snowflakes in the third year, her first experience in the corps de ballet and it was challenging with the port de bras and keeping in line, but she was helped. In his second year Harris was one of the trees in Alice, not much dancing but a lot of spacing needed, and it was his first time on the Opera House stage which was an overwhelming experience. His parents wanted to come even though he was just a tree! He was also in Sylvia as one of the bugle boys in the opening of Act II.

    School performances. They both did Concerto. Harris was due to go on in the second year in the second movement which was a bucket lister for him. He did it at a gala evening on the Paris Opera stage so he and his partner were really ready for it but there was a guy from the year above who’d left Dutch National and rejoined for the school performance, so Harris lost his place! Sae did the first movement with Harrison Lee from Harris’ year. It was a challenge with quick footwork, and she got cramp every time. She remembered slipping on a piece of paper and fell on stage on her last day of school. Harris did a couple of amazing pas de deux, one by Didi Veldman which involved wrapping Katharina Nikelski, who joined the company with him, in his amazingly elastic T shirt. It was beautiful and still one of his favourite moments on stage. Also, a pas de deux by Robert Binet who’s just been in the Linbury with Dark with Excessive Bright.

    Sae said in the second year they did Les Patineurswhen she danced the Blue Girl which was her first Ashton experience. His ballets are always challenging as it’s very much about the upper body, bending and changing and she always remembers Miss Young screaming ‘bend’! It was so different from what she’d learnt previously at school, but she loves dancing the Ashton ballets. Anthony Dowell redid Sleeping Beauty for a small cast for mostly third years and Harris was due to perform but the White Lodgers were down to do a piece by Didi Veldman where the kids are directed by a man with a foghorn shouting orders at them and they follow suit. One of the year 11 guys dropped out sick so Harris jumped into that role and screamed at the White Lodgers through a microphone instead of doing Sleeping Beauty.

    Harris had a year in the Aud Jebsen programme before joining the company as an artist and they did Manon while he was a student which was Sae’s first year in the company. Harris recalled Mayerling, another tough one to be thrown into, when he was one of the gents in the brothel scene. Having to act those raunchy scenes at the back as a green first year can be really intimidating when you’re among senior company members who know what they’re doing but you’ve never had a conversation with them. It was a baptism of fire. They were also in Bayadere when Harris was a spear holder, and Nutcracker and Manon. Sae has done all sorts of roles in Nutcrackerincluding in first- and second-year snowflakes and mirlatons. She was down to do Clara in her first year, but the show was cancelled because of Covid, though finally her dream came true after having watched DVDs of the Royal Ballet’s Nutcrackerwith Alina Cojacaru. She’s done many shows of Clara but still gets that magical feeling on stage with the transformation scene, and every time it feels different and exciting to revisit again and again. This year she danced Rose Fairy for the first time, but it was a challenge as she only had three rehearsals with no stage call though luckily she didn’t get nervous and enjoyed it. For Harris Nutcracker was a few years of cavaliers opening Act II and developing to escorts, a great testing ground for the boys. There’s not as much dancing as for the girls but it’s a good challenge for the classical technique and after a few years he feels comfortable with it. This year was a real bucket lister doing the Arabian dance for the first time. He’d seen it at school when it involved three men and knew he wanted to be up there with the big guys. Now it’s a pas de deux made by Gary Avis a couple of years ago. He had a lot of fun, dancing with Mica Bradbury and Charlotte Tonkinson who was also debuting, so they helped each other through it which was really special.

    When the first lock-down happened, they’d done Swan Lake, but the next day were told everything was cancelled and they could go home so Sae flew to Japan and spent time with her family while Harris went to his parents’ home in Scotland, an old water mill in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by forest, with no neighbours for miles. They had a great programme from the Opera House with Zoom classes and access to all of their coaches and specialists, getting anything they needed including lino floors and barres. It was a great way to keep them in the best shape possible without studio space. It was tough but they got through it and it took a while to get back fully in shape. Sae had the chance to get together with friends which she’d not been able to do since moving to the UK. She also visited her old ballet school. It was the hardest time especially not seeing Harris and company friends. After the first lock-down she was OK but next time she was quarantined in a hotel for five days and then ten days at home, but she had the gala to prepare for so was doing ballet class in the hotel and at home and three days later she was on stage performing classical ballet, so it was a tough time.

    Sae did Cinderella last year, the spring fairy with lots of jumps. She also enjoyed Cupid in Don Q this year. They’ve done Wayne MacGregor’s work in the past few years. It’s challenging in different ways, but Sae feels he opened her eyes to challenging herself. Harris had a big boost from Wayne’s work with a great opportunity in Orlando in Woolf Works last season which sent him on an unexpected contemporary route. A dancer he was covering went off injured and initially he wasn’t going on but kept pushing and insisting he could do the role, which had been created on Eric Underwood, so he was given the chance to show his paces in the studio and it worked. It was one of the toughest things he’s ever done and apparently it was the meatiest role in the ballet, but he really enjoyed it, a great challenge with a lot of partnering and test of stamina. This led to Wayne’s creating on him in Untitled in which he danced with Melissa Hamilton last season. To have a role created on him was a good chance. Sae only had a small part in Untitled but loves working with Wayne and said it’s always good when someone creates a ballet on you. They also had the Festival of New Choreography when she had an amazing time creating a piece. How does Wayne create?  Harris said the first day of creating with him in the studio was the toughest day of his whole career. He met his mum for lunch the next day but couldn’t walk then or for the rest of the week and had to go into the studio again and develop it further while experiencing the most extreme, intense pain his body has ever felt. Wayne is very much hands off in that he lets the dancers have a take on what fits on their body and what they feel like doing at any point, but he’s very much at the helm of how it should look. It is challenging as you have to work with your mind as well as body, and you’re given tasks to create with him. It’s interesting. In contrast, when Chris Wheeldon came in to make Like Water for Chocolate, he knew the steps he wanted to see and they had to replicate and develop as best they could, rather than creating from the ground up on their own bodies. Wayne would set them tasks of drawing shapes, then watch everyone do what they’d created, pick out his favourite bits, tweak them and say reverse it or do it on your head! A bit of an exaggeration but he’ll say do the whole step but instead of the accent in your left arm, do it with your right hip. Then you’ll have a whole new phrase based on the same structure. It’s very interesting and exciting. David asked Harris to compare this with the most recent creation he’s worked on, Twinkle, which Jessica Lang made for the Festival of New Choreography. It was bright and beautiful and pleasant and that was exactly how it felt in the studio too. Jessica, who doesn’t work in the same way as Wayne, and Kanji Segawa were gems, so lovely to work with and the whole team said it was one of their most enjoyable creative processes. She very much knew what she wanted to see but was flexible in how it happened so the route getting there was ambiguous, and they figured it out together. For the soloists Sae said during the day they had rehearsals and she thought Jessica did her homework every evening watching the video and creating something else to teach them the next day. They had a workshop with her in September and she came in the beginning of January for only a few weeks, but it felt longer as they had several hours in the studio, an efficient and streamlined process as Jessica and Kanji would come every day fully prepared so there was no stress for the dancers.

    Favourite roles so far. For Sae it was Clara and Bluebird in Sleeping Beauty, for Harris it was Woolf Works when he got his first featured role and felt he was being seen, and also the Arabian dance which he had so much fun learning.

    Favourite dancers – Sae Maeda, said Harris! The first ballet he grew up watching on YouTube was Don Q with Daniil Simkin and last weekend Sae was invited to dance La Corsairewith him in a gala in Italy. Of course, Carlos Acosta, and James Hay is one of his favourite all round dancers. For Sae, it’s Alina Cojacaru as she watched her on DVD in Sleeping Beauty so many times. She had a special moment this winter when she was practising Nutcracker in the studio and Alina walked in. So many years ago, she was dreaming of where she is now so she got a little emotional.

    Dancing together as a partnership. They’ve had a lot of fun though it’s a question of height which doesn’t match up but they’re doing a gala together this summer which is very exciting and it’ll be the first in a long time. They’ll be dancing White Swan pas de deux and Sleeping Beauty Act III in Gran Canaria on 13 July. They’d love to dance Romeo and Juliet together as well as Manon and Harris would love to do Mayerling as Rudolf is very high up on his to do list. Although not the most romantic role it would be a big challenge and to partner someone as easy as Sae would be a dream.

    How do you get on the gala circuit? The one in Italy came from someone who knows lots of people who organise galas and he asked Sae to do it but normally in Japan people would see her on Instagram and then invite her. The bigger your profile on the world scene probably means you are more likely to be invited so a large following on Instagram can help if people can see you’re capable of something which will also draw an audience. A lot of principals who have amazing followings and support are offered more opportunities.

    David thanked our guests Harris, and particularly Sae, who was not feeling well, for coming tonight and it was great to finally have them both with us.

    Report written by Liz Bouttell and edited by Sae Maeda, Harris Bell and David Bain.

    © The Ballet Association 2024