“Being bullied helped,” says professional ballet dancer Alexander Nuttall on the struggles of breaking into the industry.
He was just two when he told his mother he wanted to learn to pirouette after he went along to his older sister’s class.
“Of course I got teased,” said the 27-year-old. ”But these kind of things define a lot of the person who you become.
“Dance is an incredibly difficult career to pursue and you have to take a lot of rejection and become mentally strong. So in that sense I suppose it helped, in a strangely vindictive way.
Alexander had the last laugh as he now gets paid and applauded for dancing with the New English Ballet Theatre , which will perform five new works at Sadler’s Wells this month (November).
He opened up about his career at an open rehearsal aimed at showing children from Lanterns School of the Performing Arts on the Isle of Dogs what it is really like to be a professional ballet dancer.
The company often rehearses and performs at the school’s studio theatre as Lanterns founder Janet Viola is one of the patrons. She said with the English National Ballet set to move to Canning Town it was more important than ever to offer children in Tower Hamlets the help they needed to become the next generation of ballet dancers.
Alexander, who grew up in Edinburgh, gave up swimming, diving and gymnastics to make way for after-school dance classes that lasted until 9pm three times a week. He rarely had time to socialise with or do typical teenage things like go to McDonald’s.
He gave up ballet for nine months when he started university aged 17 but a drop-in class at Scottish Ballet changed his mind and he landed a place at Central School of Ballet despite being “late to the game” – most people start professional training at 16.
It came as a shock having to get up at 6.30am, travel to the school in the City and warm up for an hour before classes in contemporary, pas de deux, technique and options such as Spanish jazz and musical theatre dance.
“You then go home and ice something that’s stiff or take a shower and get to bed early because you’re knackered. Or do lots of washing because if you are dancing all day you go through so many clothes. It can be all-consuming,” said the Bayswater resident.
He was one of 14 dancers chosen for this season from 460 applicants by New English Ballet Theatre, whose dancers were part of the live performances in Canada Square this summer.
Artistic director and CEO Karen Pilkington-Miksa said: “You need to express something words cannot. It takes a physical strength and it helps to have high arches. But for us personality is more important than perfect technique. You have to see they love it.”
Alexander landed his contract in August and gets up at 7.30am to eat a breakfast of porridge or toast and coffee ahead of his 10am class and can spend up to seven hours on his feet, snacking on sandwiches, apples, nuts, water and Lucozade.
“I have an occasional square of chocolate as the work can be not just very physically demanding but emotionally as well. If you have to be happy but are feeling limp at the end of the day some sugar.”
He also has to be mentally alert at all times to remember the dozens of new dance steps.
“Choreographers often change their work so what you learnt yesterday might not be what they want today. And when it is a new work you have to pick it up very quickly.”
Injury is to be avoided at all costs and Alexander carries tennis balls in his bag to help massage his muscles and has to be aware of any imbalance in his body which may lead to a problem. His worst injury was a bone spur on his Achilles tendon in 2013 and he spent six months recovering from surgery. He has suffered back spasms and regularly gets blisters and cuts under his toes.
“I don’t think many dancers have lovely feet,” he laughed, “but the girls have it much worse than us and are normally the ones to lose the toe nails, so I don’t moan.”
New English Ballet Theatre will perform Quint-essential: Five New Ballets at The Peacock in Holborn on November 9-12.
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