As part of English National Ballet’s 70th anniversary season the company is bringing to Manchester’s Palace Theatre the proscenium arch version of Christopher Wheeldon’s inventive restaging of Cinderella. Quays Life meets People’s Choice Emerging dancer, Rhys Antoni Yeomans, from Chadderton on his return to his home city with the ballet.
How and why did you first start to dance? At what point did you realise that you wanted to be a professional dancer?
Rhys: “From an early age I was always interested in movement and music, but it was really when I went to see the show ‘Billy Elliot the Musical’ at the age of 10 in the West End that I fell in love with dance. From watching the show I was completely mesmerised how a young boy from up North (similar age to me at the time) was so determined to follow his dream of becoming a ballet dancer even though he had adverse comments and it not being the “normal” thing to do as a young lad.
“The show inspired me so much that I immediately asked my mum if I could audition for the part. I did and was offered a place in the training school of Billy Elliott which was very intense hard work – seven days a week – learning tap, ballet, singing and gymnastics, but I stuck with it and eventually became Billy Elliot for two years in the West End”.
Where did you train in Manchester? What were your other hobbies/interests growing up there?
Rhys: “I trained in a dance school called Centre Pointe in Denton for six years, before I moved to London to start at the English National Ballet School”.
Tell me a bit more about how you got the role of Billy Elliot in the West End.
Rhys: “There was an open audition in Leeds and I thought I would just go for it as I’ve always wanted to sing, dance and act even though I had no proper training before the audition. I was incredibly lucky and they must of saw something in me because I was offered the role”.
Is there any dancer in particular who inspires you, or who you especially admire?
Rhys: “I feel so lucky that I’m in such an incredible company with lots of inspiring and talented artists, so I really do look up to my fellow colleagues at English National Ballet, especially Joe Caley, Jeffrey Cirio, Aitor Arrieta and Barry Drummond”.
What drives your passion to dance?
Rhys: “It was during my Billy Elliot days that I truly developed a passion for dance. Dance became everything to me; when I performed something inside ignited and made me feel so alive. Over the years as I’ve matured as a dancer and become a professional, this feeling has grown stronger”.
Have you had to sacrifice anything to pursue your dream of becoming a professional dancer?
Rhys: “Like many dancers, I have had to sacrifice so much time in order to pursue this career choice. Many little things like missing birthday parties as a kid and other family events I’ve missed because of this career. You make sacrifices to your personal life in being a ballet dancer, because of the time-consuming nature of it. It can be upsetting but at the end of the day it’s what I love to do so it’s worth it”.
What are some of your favourite places to visit in Manchester when you are home
Rhys: “Obviously, my home! Spending time with my family is honestly my favourite thing in the world. I also like to go back to my dance school (Centre Pointe) to see my old teachers and friends”.
What have been the highlights of your career at English National Ballet so far?
Rhys: “Last year I had the opportunity of working with my favourite choreographer, the legendary William Forsythe. Being a part of his new work Playlist (Track 1, 2) was a truly special moment to start off my professional career and I will cherish the entire experience for the rest of my life. Playlist was recently nominated for an Olivier Award for ‘Best New Dance Production’ and won a South Bank Sky Arts Award which has made me even more proud to have been a part of it. Last season I was lucky enough to dance the ‘Neapolitan Dance’ in Derek Deane’s Swan Lake, a role that I’ve always wanted to do growing up and to do it at such a young age was so rewarding. I was also voted the ‘People’s Choice’ winner at ENB’s Emerging Dancer competition earlier this year – which definitely has to be a highlight of my career so far”.
How did it feel to be named the People’s Choice winner at this year’s Emerging Dancer competition?
Rhys: “It was so unexpected and a lovely cherry on top of the cake to finish my second season with the company. It meant so much that people saw me onstage and enjoyed it so much that they voted for me to be their People’s Choice winner. Audiences across the UK and world can vote for the winner of that award throughout the season, so it’s a very special accolade to win”.
What are you most looking forward to, coming back to Manchester to perform Cinderella?
Rhys: “I’m very excited to be performing a soloist role for the first time in my hometown. I’m so grateful that all my friends and family can see me on stage doing what I love”.
Do you feel like you’re representing Manchester when you perform across the UK and internationally?
Rhys: “I do, as I’m the only one from English National Ballet that is from Manchester and I feel that it is important for local dancers in Manchester to see someone who’s out there doing it and achieving what they want to”.
What do you miss most about Manchester?
Rhys: “Sausage rolls and ‘all right, love’ greetings”.
Cinderella is at the Palace Theatre, Manchester from 17-19 October 2019.
Alongside performances, English National Ballet will host a range of workshops and events throughout the tour, aimed to provide a gateway into the world of ballet and the productions the Company is touring this season. Activities include dance workshops for all ages, live drawing and behind-the-scenes talks. Visit their website for more details.