Cupcakes & Conversation with James Barton, First Artist, Birmingham Royal Ballet

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Cupcakes & Conversation with James Barton, First Artist, Birmingham Royal Ballet

What motivates you at 8am on a Monday morning?
Class isn’t ‘til midday on a Monday so there is absolutely no way I would be awake at 8am …. However when my alarm does eventually go off, my motivation is usually to start the week as I mean to go on by dragging myself to the barre and breaking a sweat.
Why Ballet?

I never wanted to do anything else….. and I was terrible at maths!

Who would you most like to dance with and what would you dance?

Night Fever with John Travolta and the cast of Saturday Night Fever!

If you could dance anywhere in the world (not only in a theatre), where would you dance?

I have done two American tours with the company, but as of yet still haven’t danced in New York. I would have to say the Big Apple.

What is your daily routine at the moment?

The company has just started back after our summer holidays and is straight into a heavy rehearsal period for our upcoming season. I do class every morning, then rehearse ‘til six thirty. I have also been teaching at the Elmhurst School for Dance Summer School which has been great fun.

How do you prepare in the hours before a show?

I always do class in the morning and then I do my best to get out of the theatre and do ‘normal’ things (i.e. shopping, having a coffee with friends, going home and doing some hoovering!) before heading in to the theatre. If I have a big show coming up I am usually pretty calm until about five o’clock when I start to get nervous. I do my make up and get ready really early becauseIi hate feeling rushed. I have some great dressing room buddies who usually either calm me down or hype me up depending on what mood I’m in!

What are you looking forward to dancing in 2011/2012?

I am really looking forward to dancing Puck in The Dream again next summer. I did it on the company’s recent tour of Japan and loved it.

You can ask six famous people to dinner – who do you invite? 

Nigella Lawson (she’s doing the cooking!), Glenn Close (I think she is amazing and am a massive fan of her drama series Damages), Bob Fosse (I think he’s genius), Michael McIntyre (for the laughs) and William and Kate (ever since their wedding they have been doing nonstop public appearances and tours. They need a night off with a bottle of wine, or two!)

What would surprise people about you?

I can be serious…. sometimes!

Who inspired you to dance?

I remember when Riverdance first came out and Irish dancing was all the rage! My parents bought me the video and I used to watch Michael Flatley strut his stuff 24/7, attempting to copy him in my living room.

ballet dancer

Enigma Variations James Barton as Hew David Steuart Powell Photograph : Bill Cooper

How would someone else describe you?

I have been told I have ‘naturally funny bones’, which I hope implies that I make people laugh rather than have a strange skeletal system! My mates tell me I’m very motivated (which, let’s face it, you have to be if you are going to have a career in ballet) and I like to think they see me as a loyal person too. My friends are extremely important to me.

What is your best piece of advice?

Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.

Which role has tested you the most and how?
I danced the first movement couple in Macmillan’s Concerto last season. It was the first time I had done a purely classical role that didn’t require any characterisation – there is just you, the steps and an orange cat suit! I not only found it technically challenging but also extremely exposing and remember not really knowing what to do with my face or where to look!
What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you?
One of my many downfalls is laughing on stage. It doesn’t take much to start me off and unfortunately the more I try to contain it, the worse it gets! I couldn’t pin point one particular moment. One of the things I love most about working at BRB is the laughter. You can guarantee that there will always be some kind of silliness happening, both on and off stage! 

If you designed your own stage costume, what would you create?

It would be all black (it’s slimming!) and light weight. Every dancer’s nightmare is getting on stage and trying to heave a really heavy costume around.

A phrase I use far too often is….

‘Babes’… ‘Just bash it out’…. ‘I don’t get out of bed for less than….’ ….. ‘Pass the cupcake’

Who would play you in the film of your life?

No amount of RADA training could prepare an actor for such a complex role….. 

ballet dancer

Arancha Baselga and James Barton in Concerto Photograph : Roy Smiljanic

What is your favourite quote?

“I’m selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can’t take me at my worst, you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.” Marilyn Monroe

What’s on your iPod?

A bit of everything pretty much – except for any heavy metal!

Who would you most like to dance for and why?

I know this sounds clichéd and perhaps a little cheesy, but the people I enjoy dancing for most are my parents. I love it when they get to see me dance a big role because it makes it feel like all the time, energy, patience and money they put in to supporting me has paid off. My Grandma was also a massive source of encouragement whilst I was growing up. She loved the ballet but sadly passed away before I joined the company. I wish she could have gotten to see me dance professionally.

What makes you a good dance partner?

As the shortest boy in the company I don’t ever really get to do very much partnering and it is not something that comes very naturally to me. At the moment I am dancing with Ambra Vallo in Pineapple Poll. She is tiny and very experienced, which helps! I would like to think I am pretty conscientious and work hard to get it right.

Do you have a secret skill that no one knows about?

Unfortunately not. The limited skills I have everybody knows about!

Describe yourself in just three words.

Dramatic. Cheeky. Stagey!

In terms of your ballet career, where would you like to be this time next year?

I used to set myself a timeline and say ‘by the time I am this age I want to be here or I want to be doing this.’ I soon realised that is completely unrealistic because not everything turns out the way you want it to, especially in this business we call show! I will carry on doing this as long as I am still enjoying it and until I feel the need to try something else – whatever or whenever that may be, who knows?

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2 Responses to Cupcakes & Conversation with James Barton, First Artist, Birmingham Royal Ballet

  1. Jennifer Rowe October 9, 2011 at 7:22 pm #

    I am privileged enough to have seen James dance regularly and he is absolutely fantastic! He has a wonderfully elegant and precise style and is a joy to watch. And having seen him dance Pineapple Poll with Ambra last night (both were legendary) you would never have known that partnering isn’t something that comes naturally to him.
    I am also lucky enough to have met James and he is a truely lovely person, very open, honest and genuine and rarely seen without a smile on his face. James has said that “one of the things he loves most about the BRB is the laughter” and for me James epitomises this aspect of the company. He’s fun and light but a fantastic dancer as well.

  2. May October 10, 2011 at 1:00 pm #

    He is indeed witty – look forward to watching him dance this season.