Interview with English National Ballet dancer Alison McWhinney in Romeo and Juliet at the Bristol Hippodrome 21st to 25th NovemberPosted on: 14 Nov 2017
We spoke to First Soloist Alison McWhinney of the English National Ballet. She dances the role of Juliet in the up and coming Rudolf Nureyev production of Romeo and Juliet, which is on at the Bristol Hippodrome from the 21- 25 November.
Alison shares some of her expert advice with us, tells what it means to play such an important role, and gives insight on the day to day life of a professional ballerina.
Hi Alison, have you always wanted to be a ballet dancer?
Yes. Ever since I can remember I have dreamt of being a ballerina and longed to be on stage. When I was young I also had a passion for swimming and there came a time when I had to choose between dance and swimming. Obviously dance won!
What does it mean to you to play your favourite role as Juliet?
It means so much, before I first did it I couldn't believe how lucky I was and wanted it so badly that I was terrified I would get injured at the last minute and not be able to do my show! Now it means more to me than ever as I have already done a few shows and feel like I can now bring something new to the role. I feel like I discover something else about Juliet every time I dance it.
Take us through a ‘normal’ day in the studio.
I arrive at the studios just before 9am. I warm up doing my Pilates routine till class begins at 10.15. Class goes for an hour and a half during which time we warm the body up by starting at the barre then moving into the centre to do pointe work with turns and ending with big jumps. My first rehearsal will usually start at 12, and typically I will have a lunch break at 2.30 for one hour then continue rehearsing till 6.30. Not everyday is the same though and sometimes I will not be rehearsing during that whole time and will have time for physio, massage, Pilates and strengthening. At the end of the day I like to take time to cool down by stretching and 6 minutes in the ice bath to help my body recover faster.
Do you get nervous performing in front of so many people?
It's not so much the amount of people watching that makes me nervous, it's more a particular role that I will find challenging may make me more nervous than others. But nerves are good, you just have to use them in the right way to make the most of them.
Do you find that your dancing style has to adapt to the kinds of characters that you play?
Yes absolutely and in any one character she may have many moods and emotions and that style may have to change very quickly.
Aside from the technical aspects, what has been the hardest challenge to overcome so far in your dancing career?
Mentally it can be challenging as it can be hard to meet the physical demands required of the body and also the exhaustion you can feel. Also to not constantly criticise myself is a challenge. I have to remember to believe in myself and trust that I can do what I do well.
What advice would you give to young dancers wanting a professional career?
Be ready to work really hard, you have to really love it or you won't want to totally commit yourself. Also watch other dancers, you can learn so much from the dancers around you, I have learnt so much just from watching my colleagues in the studio daily.
Who did/do you idolise most within the professional dancing world?
When I was young I loved to watch Justine Summers from the Australian ballet, she was the first to really inspire me. Another big influence would be Alina Cojocaru, onstage she glows and you can't take your eyes off her. As I said before my colleagues really inspire me a lot, everyone has different qualities and have something different to offer and I think that is beautiful to watch.
What do you do to mentally prepare before a big performance?
Mentally preparing for a performance starts weeks before, I have to believe I can do it and not be discouraged by small mistakes or things that don't work in the studio. As the show gets closer I try not to overthink it as it can become too consuming.
How long do you rehearse before you take the stage?
It depends on our schedule and how many different ballets we have to prepare at once, but usually at least a month in advance. If it's a ballet that we have done recently it may not be as long.
Have you been to Bristol before? If so, do you have any favourite spots to eat/drink?
Yes I have, I love Playground for really good coffee. I love the Bristol Hippodrome, it's my favourite English touring venue.
What do you get up to in your downtime from rehearsing?
I like to relax and watch Netflix, take a nice long bath or get a massage. I don't like making too many plans if I don't have to!
The English National Ballet's production of Romeo and Juliet is at Bristol Hippodrome from Tuesday 21st to Saturday 25th November. To buy tickets, click here
The Hippodrome is located at St Augustine's Parade, Bristol BS1 4UZ
Hannah recently graduated with a degree in English with Writing. She is an avid writer, freelancer and creative. She is currently writing her first full-length novel and a collection of poetry. Always out and about in Bristol's music scene, she attends music events on a weekly basis.