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Ramping up the ballet with Rambert's lead dancer Stephen Wright
Stephen Wright tells Katherine MacAlister about their bold new rock & roll show
It’s been 14 years since Rambert visited Oxford with their world famous choreography, and with them comes lead dancer Stephen Wright, ready to blow you away.
Complete with rock ‘n’ roll, music by the Rolling Stones and three new distinctive works, this bold, contemporary dance company has lost none of its hunger and Stephen is relishing every dance on this historic tour.
“It’s a feast in terms of theatre, music and dance and such a fun evening. I hope everyone enjoys it as much as we do. So while it’s physically and mentally tiring, Rambert is certainly where I found my voice,” he tells me.
Born in Essex, Stephen first started dancing when he was two years old and was the only boy in his class until he went to the Royal Ballet School at the age of 11. So was he teased? “Not much, mainly because I played football for my local school and was half decent. I also swam competitively. So the fact I did dancing had nothing to do with it. I had proved my worth to my classmates because I could run faster and swim faster so there was no room for bullying.”
Always focused, always determined, Stephen soon realised that even if he made it to the top of the classical ballet tree, it wasn’t necessarily what he wanted to do. “I started training in classical. I spent three years from 11-14 at White Lodge Royal Ballet School and for those three years thought that was what I’d be doing. But after leaving at 14 I didn’t want to do classical dancing but didn’t know too much about contemporary dance either. I started working on that at my next school, which was down on the south coast and from there I went to the Rambert School.”
A long journey then to get to the top? So what’s the attraction of contemporary dance? “I think with ballet there are a lot more rules, but I wanted to feel as if I was really expressing myself. In contemporary dance you can be a lot more free, whereas in classical every step has a name, if you can name every step in the choreography is it really original?”
Stephen will be performing in all the dances, bar one, when Rambert hits the New Theatre on March 19 and 20, so is fighting fit. “In Oxford we get to perform three or four pieces. That throws up challenges, because pieces like Rooster have a lot of lines, Castaways is a physical theatre piece, with some people delivering text, What Wild Ecstasy is movement based and Faun is very stylised, so every piece has its own challenges, which are in a way difficult but that’s why I joined Rambert,” he shrugs, smiling.
So how does Stephen look after himself? “We work pretty hard in terms of fitness because it’s part and parcel of job. I need to make sure I take care of my body, if I don’t then I can’t dance. So I make sure I eat well and get a good night’s sleep. We put a lot of pressure on our bodies and if we don’t treat them well then it shortens our careers.”
As it is, at the age of 26, Stephen is already weighing up his options, a dancer’s shelf life being notoriously short. So what does he think the future holds? “I do consider myself very lucky. I was in the right place at the right time when Rambert needed cover so I came in on a short term basis and then stayed as an apprentice for two years before I became a full-time dancer and here I am now. But having a career that only lasts until your early 30s means I need to decide what I want to do next. At the moment I’m open to suggestions.”
In the meantime, you can watch Stephen and his contemporaries perform in all their splendour. “New work needs to be exciting and original. That’s very hard but the challenge is to instil your own voice within the piece. I enjoy working myself hard and pushing my body to limits, sometimes a little too far - I had to have an operation at 25 after hurting my knee - but I think everyone’s expectations are based on their own judgement.”
Rambert brings rock ‘n’ roll to Oxford on March 19 and 20, featuring the music of the Rolling Stones in Rooster, Barak Marshall’s The Castaways, Rambert’s version of Nijinsky’s L’Après midi d’un faune and What Wild Ecstasy. Call 0844 871 3020 or see atgtickets.com/oxford
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