It has been more than 18 months since Birmingham Royal Ballet staged a full-length production for a live audience in Plymouth – but this month the company returns to the Theatre Royal with Cinderella.
Created in 2010 by the then Birmingham Royal Ballet director David Bintley, the fairy tale ballet was an instant success and has become a much-loved piece of the company repertoire.
Dancing lead roles of Cinderella and the Prince for the first time are soloists Karla Doorbar and Lachlan Monaghan – both of whom cannot wait to be back performing before a live audience.
“I’m really excited, it’s going to be really nice to be back on stage again,” says Karla, who takes the part of Cinderella alongside Lachlan’s Prince. “Everyone is so eager to be back.
“Lockdown and this past year have been really hard for mental health for everybody and I hope the audience enjoy Cinderella. The show is a kind of escape – you get to forget about the real world for a while and come and join us at the ball.”
Both Karla and Lachlan have taken lead roles in condensed versions of the ballet in the past.
“Last time the company did Cinderella, Lachlan and I were both doing the First Steps shows for children, a shortened version with somebody telling the story which is more interactive. And we also danced Cinderella Dreams which was also with children.”
Staged at the Theatre Royal between July 8-10, the production has undergone some adaptations to fit the theatre space and to ensure Covid safety for the dancers.
“There are a few cuts but when we did the rehearsal, it felt like pretty much everything is still in there,” says Karla. “It’s minor changes such as less dancers in the corps de ballet and scenery changes but the role of Cinderella is pretty much what it was.”
And Karla is keen for her Cinderella to be a fully rounded character.
“There’s a lot of story-telling going on”
“In the studio I’m working on trying to get across that she’s in the kitchen being bullied by her sisters and then dreaming of going to the ball and, when she gets there, the wonder and amazement of being at the ball – and there’s also the Prince. There’s a lot of story-telling going on, she’s not just a girl who needs to be saved.”
For 29-year-old Karla, who joined the Company in 2011 straight out of the Royal Ballet School and became a soloist in 2018, creating characters within stories is her passion.
“The pieces that I really love to dance are the ones that tell a story, where I have a character I can really perform as. So I loved Vera in A Month In the Country or Lise in La Fille mal gardée, Clara in The Nutcracker, Belle in Beauty and the Beast and now Cinderella.
“In Cinderella I’m also dancing one of the sisters, and that’s so much fun. It’s completely different from the kind of characters I’ve danced before and I love it.”
Before Cinderella, Karla was last on stage at Christmas playing the part of Clara in The Nutcracker – but the performance was during lockdown so was filmed and streamed online.
“It was a very different experience dancing without an audience and just having the camera in front of you. When there’s an audience there’s a different energy and you get feedback from what you are doing.
“And in Cinderella there are a lot of funny moments with the sisters and the choreography. It’s intended to be laughed at and enjoyed and when you have a live audience giving you that feedback it’s encouraging for what you are doing. We are all looking forward to being back in front of a live audience.”
The dancers have been rehearsing in bubbles as part of the company’s Covid-safety measures.
“It’s quite strange because we are back in the studio but still not a complete company,” Karla says. “We have two studios with separate start times, the bubbles are doing the same piece but separately, and the ballet masters are having to teach everything all over again. Because of this, we’ve had a lot longer to rehearse than usual. It’s great because you get to perfect things but there’s an eagerness to get going.”
For dancers who are used to constantly performing, the past year has been a strange time. In the first lockdown, the company members were at home, joining classes online and doing their best to maintain their fitness and technique. But it was not easy.
Living room studio
“My boyfriend Haoliang Feng is also with the Company so it was both of us trying to train at home,” Karla recalls. “We transformed our living room into some kind of studio. The company gave us a strip of special dance flooring known as Harlequin so we could move and practise.
“With that and Zoom classes every day we were doing what we could but there’s only so much you can do in your living room – it’s not like you can jump at home.”
After the first lockdown the company resumed classes but, without the intense touring schedule the dancers usually face, the past few months have been anything but back to normal.
“It’s been such a strange time having nothing to work towards,” Karla explains. “That’s the motivation, we need the assurance that we are working towards something, that we have a show to aim towards.”
Born in Stoke-on-Trent, Karla was offered a place at both Royal and Elmhurst Ballet Schools at the age of 11. After eight years at RBS, she joined Birmingham Royal Ballet.
“For me, it was all the repertoire that the Company does, it’s just amazing. I loved a lot of David Bintley’s ballets. Birmingham is close to home for me, so it was really lovely to come out of school and feel like this is what I want to do for ever.
“I’ve had so many amazing opportunities and the chance to dance amazing roles. I feel really lucky to have had the opportunities that I’ve had and to dance all the roles I have been offered – more than I ever dreamed of.”
Karla’s Prince Charming, 28-year-old Lachlan Monaghan, is also looking forward to being back on stage.
“It has been a very long time,” he says. “I absolutely can’t wait. That’s why we do what we do – to dance with a live audience. There’s no point us being in the studio rehearsing without being on stage with an audience and giving something back to people. We want to be entertaining and making people feel something. I’ve really missed that over the last year so I’m excited to be back before the audience, it will be so special.
“It’s fantastic to be able to perform at The Theatre Royal and we will feel that connection from an audience who are just buzzing to be back doing something normal again. I think we are all craving the normalities of things that we used to take for granted. How simple it used to be booking a ticket and seeing a show.”
Lachlan, who joined Birmingham Royal Ballet in 2012 from the Royal Ballet School and became a soloist in 2018, is also looking forward to taking on the part of the Prince.
“Coming into any new role is exciting, but a Prince role is something you aspire to. For any male dancer, one of the epitomes of the career is a prince.
“There are some challenges with the Prince in Cinderella. You need to look lovely and regal and like everything you do is as easy as pie. That’s the difficulty – making it look so charming and easy. The pas-de-deux when I dance with Karla are quite tricky, they are unique because they use really different lifts. You have to work a lot on them, that is why we rehearse so much, to find the way forward.
“But through those difficulties, it’s the story which takes me through. I just try and dive into the story and what the Prince would be feeling at those moments – that helps you take away from overly thinking the technique.”
Born and brought up in Sydney in Australia, Lachlan began dancing at the age of ten and at 17 moved to London to the Royal Ballet School. On finishing school, he was offered a place with Birmingham Royal Ballet.
“I wanted to stay in the UK and Birmingham Royal Ballet did some fantastic shows, David Bintley’s repertoire really suited me. I always wanted to tour and one of the things I’ve enjoyed is just how much stage experience I’ve gained. We just do so many shows. You do a tour of 45 Swan Lakes and it’s a lot of shows but that’s how you get the experience, being on stage in front of an audience.
“It has been the most fabulous start to a career. People come to the Company and they stay because it’s such a lovely atmosphere and we do such a lovely range of repertoire. In one year you can be doing Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and Nutcracker and then you’re also doing new works.”
Lachlan spent five months of the first lockdown with his family in Sydney – the first time he had been able to be with them for so long for more than ten years. And he also worked hard to ensure he stayed as fit as possible.
Feeling like a dancer again
“I was quite lucky because Australia recovered quite quickly and the gyms opened again after a couple of months. I was doing a bit of ballet at home but was mainly replacing it with gym workouts, swimming and running. I thought ‘If I can’t stay balletically fit then I will stay as fit as I can’. But even with that, it did take quite a while to feel like a dancer again.”
Lachlan has danced a range of roles with the Company including Prince Siegfried in Swan Lake, Will Mossop in Hobson’s Choice and Colas in La Fille mal Gardée.
“In Birmingham Royal Ballet sometimes you get put into a role which you didn’t consider or didn’t even know and then you love it and that’s one of the joys. You are always challenged to be something different, something else. No dancer wants to be put into a box. You want to get as many roles and gain as much experience as you can and I’ve been lucky with Birmingham Royal Ballet that I’ve been able to do that.”
By Diane Parkes
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