Tag Archive: Elisha Willis

Seven Cinderellas

This year Birmingham Royal Ballet will perform Cinderella 23 times at Birmingham Hippodrome. A total of seven dancers are currently preparing to dance the lead role, to spread the demanding workload evenly throughout the Company.

Here’s an introduction to our seven Cinderellas, along with notes on where you may have seen them before…

Elisha Willis

Elisha originally worked with David Bintley to create the role of Cinderella back in 2010, and was featured in the BBC broadcast of the ballet. She has danced the lead female role in a number of David’s pieces, including Edward II, The Orpheus Suite, Cyrano and Hobson’s Choice. David describes Elisha as having ‘a fearless technique’. Here you can see a video diary recorded by the Director during the creation of Cinderella, including footage of Elisha in the title role at approximately the 1 minute mark.

Nao Sakuma

Another Principal dancer with Birmingham Royal Ballet, Japan-born Nao is a virtuoso calssical performer. She has danced every major ballet in the Company’s repertory, and appeared as Cinderella during the production’s first season. She is a regular performer at the annual ArtsFest in Birmingham’s Centenary Square, and well as Gala events world-wide. Here you can see her in studio rehearsals for Le Corsaire, with Chi Cao:

Natasha Oughtred

A wonderful classical dancer, Natasha has worked with David in both narrative ballets (Far From the Madding Crowd, Sylvia) and abstract work (The Dance House, Galanteries). She returns to the role of Cinderella, which she danced throughout the premiere season, including Birmingham Royal Ballet’s last performance of the show in April 2011 in London. David has praised Natasha’s affinity for the ‘English’ school of ballet, as well as her versatility as a dancer.

Jenna Roberts

This marks Jenna’s first year as Principal, having been promoted at the end of last season. She may well be recognisable even to non-theatre going audiences, having appeared in the Channel 4 documentary Ballet Hoo! In the programme, she was one of only a handful of professional dancers who joined a group of young people to perform Kenneth MacMillan’s production of Romeo and Juliet. Jenna’s sister, Callie, is also a dancer with the Company, and will coincidentally be taking on the role of one of Cinderella’s cruel siblings for some performances!

Momoko Hirata

For the 2010 premiere, Momoko created the role of Spring, one of four nymph-like characters conjured up by Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother. Having left the Company to dance in Europe in early 2011, we’re delighted that she has rejoined us in time for Cinderella’s return. While she will be reprising the role of Spring, in other performances she will be dancing the role of Cinderella. Having just made an acclaimed debut as Odette/Odile in this autumn’s performance of Swan Lake, Momoko has proven herself a strong leading actress. In the clip below you can see her dancing the role of the Princess in David Bintley’s Aladdin, which received its UK premiere in 2013.

Maureya Lebowitz

Maureya only joined Birmingham Royal Ballet in 2011, but has already appeared in a number of high-profile roles, including the doomed Fanny in David Bintley’s Far From the Madding Crowd. During this year’s International Dance Festival Birmingham, she was part of a group of dancers who worked with US-based Choreographer Jessica Lang on a new ballet, Lyric Pieces. The Company subsequently toured the piece to London, where Maureya was praised by the national press. This video, shot during the first week of Cinderella rehearsals, shows Maureya and fellow lead Delia Mathews (see below) sharing a studio to run through a solo from Act I of the production. In the scene, Cinderella dances barefoot in the kitchen she calls home.

Delia Mathews

Another of the original cast for Cinderella, Delia worked with David Bintley to create the Character of Winter, summoned by the Fairy Godmother to usher the heroine to the ball. While Delia will be returning to the role, she will also be dancing the role of Cinderella. As if that were not enough, some audiences will also see her playing a guest at the Prince’s Ball, a waltzing Star AND the Fairy Godmother. Having also just made her debut as Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, we’re not envying Delia her rehearsal schedule at the moment! Here you can see Delia in studio rehearsals for last summer’s performances of Elite Syncopations.

Cinderella returns to Birmingham Hippodrome, 21 November-9 December 2012. Click here to book your seats now.

In mid-2009, David Bintley discussed his dual responsibilities as both a Choreographer and Director of Birmingham Royal Ballet. ‘I use my pieces to bring people along’, he said, ‘to support the dancers’ development.’

With Cinderella going on tour this month to Salford and Plymouth, we asked how he hopes his latest work has stimulated the Company.

‘It’s a ballet with a lot of roles for women, rather than the men,’ David says, ‘Cinderella herself is a nice role for the girls because it’s quite varied – not only technically, because they’re working barefoot and en pointe, and with big set pieces in the second act – but also because of the long passages where they’re just alone by themselves. They have to create and maintain a character that really endears itself to the audience, who have got to empathise with Cinderella, otherwise the show doesn’t work. It’s really carried on her shoulders.

‘Then there are a lot of subsidiary characters like the sisters, which are comedy roles, and there aren’t a lot of those for women in ballet. I feel that these characters work: there’s a freedom in them that allows the dancers to add their own personality, but there’s a good solid framework and the audience gets the jokes.

‘Then there are the Seasons, which are challenging solos full of difficult steps. They’re deliberately difficult, I didn’t want to make them easy. And I’ve tried to get a number of the girls into those roles from Principals to Artists. We’ve already had Nao [Sakuma] as Autumn, and Natasha [Oughtred] as Spring, and Elisha [Willis] as Winter. All three of these are also dancing Cinderella in other shows. But I’ve also cast Artists like Yvette [Knight] and Kristen [McGarrity] and Delia [Mathews], all of whom I wanted to challenge. And they’ve responded brilliantly.’

Elisha Willis

Elisha Willis has spoken to us about working on Cinderella, and what she thinks of the lead role. ‘I really like the character as David has envisaged her’, she says. ‘It could have been easy to just present her as a vulnerable victim, as people have done so many times before. But in David’s mind she’s a much stronger character, because she’s endured so much hardship and survived. And I love that angle, I find it really interesting.’

‘I find it easy working with David. When he suggests something I feel that I understand what he’s looking for, and occasionally we even have exactly the same idea at the same time. And I love working with Iain. Everything’s just so easy for him physically, I feel as light as a feather when working with him, he’s amazing.’

The process steps up a gear this week, with the Company beginning stage rehearsals on Thursday. ‘It’s a really exciting time’, Elisha says. ‘Last week we began running all the acts in their entirety, and that’s always interesting – finding out if you’re physically capable of getting through the whole piece in one go! Thankfully it’s all good so far. And I’m looking forward to getting on stage later in the week and finally getting to see the sets and costumes and everything together.’

Having started work on the Principal solos and pas de deux as far back as January, this has been a lengthy process. ‘We did start it all a long time ago,’ nods Elisha. ‘I’m thankful that we recorded videos of everything, because I do suspect we could have forgotten quite a lot of it by now!’

How the year began…

In a video diary recorded during the summer break, David explains the choreographic progress that was made at the start of 2010, before the Company embarked on a lengthy spring of touring activity.

The role of the Prince in Cinderella is being created by Iain Mackay.

Born in Glasgow, Iain Mackay trained as a Junior Associate of Scottish Ballet, before joining the Dance School of Scotland. He spent two years at the Royal Ballet Upper School, and joined Birmingham Royal Ballet in 1999. He was promoted to Soloist in 2001 and Principal in 2003. Introducing Iain in the dancer’s official company biography, Director David Bintley praises Iain’s ability to ‘take on everything from classical princes to intense dramatic roles’, and that ‘he has become one of Birmingham Royal Ballet’s most valued and versatile artists.’

Iain has extensive experience in leading narrative roles, with his repertory including Prince Florimund (The Sleeping Beauty), The Prince (The Nutcracker), Romeo (Romeo and Juliet), Siegfried (Swan Lake) and the Beast (Beauty and the Beast). He has worked with David Bintley before, having created the role of Christian, the love rival to Cyrano.

Speaking more recently, David explained his choice of Iain as his leading man:

‘I chose Iain mainly because he’s just great to work with – on duets, especially. He’s a very good partner, and I know he works with Elisha very well. It’s no accident that I made Cyrano on them, and at that time the pair of them worked very effectively together and the duets came very easily.

‘Iain’s very open to new ideas; he doesn’t always fall into the same sort of patterns of movement. The Prince is not the most complicated character, psychologically, but I’m going to try to make it a little more interesting for him.’

You can see a video clip of Iain and Elisha rehearsing the roles that they created in Cyrano here:

Elisha Willis has been confirmed as creating the title role in David Bintley’s forthcoming new production of Cinderella.

Born in Australia, Elisha Willis trained at the Australian Ballet School, joining Australian Ballet in 1999 where she was promoted to Soloist in 2001. She joined Birmingham Royal Ballet in 2003 and following a succession of accomplished debuts in many leading roles was promoted to Principal in 2004.

Introducing Elisha in her official Company biography, David Bintley noted: ‘One of the youngest of our Principal dancers, Elisha is blessed with a fearless technique and has already created a number of important roles in the recent repertory, most notably Roxane in Cyrano and Eurydice in The Orpheus Suite.’

Speaking more recently of his decision, David said:

‘I always like working with Elisha. As a choreographer, I find her very good to work with. She’s very responsive and she understands what I want very quickly so when I’ve made a new piece of material I can see if it’s right immediately.

For the role of Cinderella I wanted somebody that wasn’t obviously vulnerable – too obviously delicate and weak – but somebody that would be real and able to withstand the kind of punishment that the character has had to endure. And Elisha’s quite tough, which is exactly what I wanted. Plus she has a very good technique, she can do anything and do it quickly.

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