James Barton – Birmingham Royal Ballet Soloist
I started dancing at the age of three at a small local school in Grantham, Lincolnshire. If someone had told me back then I would end up dancing professionally and as a member of one of the top ballet companies in the world, I would have laughed! Growing up I wanted to be an actor. I always loved showing off (still do!), always impersonating people, either members of my family and friends or people off the telly. It wasn’t until Michael Flatley broke on to the scene with ‘Riverdance’ that I started to take dancing seriously. I loved the speed with which Flatley moved and how energetic he is. I also loved all the old movie musicals with Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. My teachers always stressed that the basis for all styles of dance was classical ballet and so I knuckled down and started to focus more on this discipline.
As I got older I knew that I wanted to be a performer but wasn’t quite sure which aspect of the performing arts I wanted to venture in to. I left home at the age of eleven to go and train at a full time performing arts school in Surrey, where I was trained in all aspects of dance as well as drama and singing. At the age of sixteen, having kept all my options open I got a call from Birmingham Royal Ballet asking if I would come and work with the company on a new production of ‘Beauty and the Beast’, which was being premiered at the Hippodrome Theatre. As soon as I arrived here, in Birmingham, something clicked and I knew this was the place where I wanted to dance.
Birmingham Royal Ballet has sixty dancers in the company who come from all over the world. Each of these ridiculously talented individuals brings something different and unique to each production. It is one large family of funny, witty, slightly bonkers (and sometimes infuriating) people, who I feel privileged to work with everyday. We spend a lot of time touring around the UK and abroad which is a great opportunity to see and experience lots of different places and cultures, but there is nothing better than performing for our home crowd here in Birmingham. The company is celebrating 25 years in the city, this year and we are incredibly proud to contribute to a dance scene that continues to grow and thrive within the Midlands.
It is always a real treat for us to tour abroad and represent our home city and I have been lucky enough to dance with the company in Japan, China, Hong Kong, Spain, Germany and the USA. However one of the highlights for the company has definitely been‘International Dance Festival Birmingham’ (IDFB) which takes place bi-annually right here in the city. Smaller dance companies from the Midlands, larger International dance companies and dance superstars such as Sylvie Guillem all flock to Birmingham to take part and perform new works incorporating many different dance styles. It is inspiring to have so much diverse talent and creativity on home soil.
We are fortunate to be based at the Hippodrome which has such fantastic facilities. The BRB building has recently been refurbished so our rehearsal space is now a top rate dance space that we are incredibly proud of. The Hippodrome theatre itself is a great stage to dance on and presents audiences with not just ballet, but Opera, Plays and the big blockbuster musicals.
When I’m not performing I often go to watch other performances happening around the city. My favourite place to watch theatre is atThe Rep which houses some brilliant plays that are always written and performed to an amazingly high standard. I also love theSymphony Hall which hosts such a versatile array of concerts with our very own CBSO being some of my favourite concerts to attend.
Both of these are next door to the cities new Library of Birmingham in which I can quite happily spend many hours. I was unsure as to its modern exterior at first, but after repeated visits I think it is a wonderful building, especially when it is lit up at night.
Myself, along with many of my colleagues are partial to the odd glass of wine on our nights off and although clubbing is not really my scene I enjoy a lot of the bars, pubs and great restaurants the city has to offer. My favourites places to eat and drink include the ‘Canal Side Cafe’ (for a quiet drink), ‘Sushi Passion’ in the Great Western Arcade, ‘Le Monde’ in Brindley Place and ‘The Jekyll and Hyde’ pub, just off Colmore Row.
Having always lived in the City Centre I am excited about how much change and development there is happening in Birmingham. With the addition of the new library, the redevelopment of New Street Station, the opening of Grand Central and the transformation of Paradise Circus, ‘Brum’ is an exciting place to be and all of us at Birmingham Royal Ballet look forward to our future in this great city.
Birmingham Royal Ballet returns to the Birmingham Hippodrome this June with a double bill of Carmina Burana and The King Dances plus the time-travelling full length comedy, Sylvia. www.birminghamhippodrome.com