Cupcakes & Conversation with Robert Gravenor, First Artist, Birmingham Royal Ballet
What motivates you at 8am on a Monday morning?
Meditation. I use it as a practical tool to develop concentration, awareness, mindfulness of the body, determination, and positive states of mind.
Because it hurts.
Who would you most like to dance with & what would you dance?
I’d like to ballroom dance with Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and democratic leader of Burma, probably the most iconic woman of this century. I interviewed her in Burma shortly after her release from house arrest this year for my film project on meditation. She sat beautifully in her chair and as I introduced myself I said, “You look as elegant and graceful as a prima ballerina”.
If you could dance anywhere in the world (not only in a theatre), where would you dance?
I would dance in the Himalayas at the Mahabodhi International Meditation Centre for the Indo-Tibetan orphans that I volunteered for. The children know nothing about ballet and I’m sure they would love to see it. The biggest challenge would be dancing at an altitude of 13,000 feet. It’s on the roof of the world and the oxygen is very thin so simply walking across a stage would be exhausting.
What is your daily routine at the moment?
Coffee. Meditate. Breakfast. Pilates workout. Shower. Number 65 bus to work. Class and rehearsals depending on schedule. Lunch. More Pilates. Tea. Even more Pilates. Performance depending on schedule. Shower. Number 65 bus back home. Dinner. Read. Meditate. Collapse in a heap. Zzz
How do you prepare in the hours before a show?
It depends on what role I’m playing but I try to stick to my usual routine. The most important things to prepare which bring me the best performance results are to be warm and supple, with a clear and focused mind.
What are you looking forward to dancing in 2011/12?
Alain in La Fille mal gardée. I like playing the village idiot. I can show off my true personality and I love it when the audience laughs.
You can ask six famous people to dinner – who would you invite?
The Buddha. Aung San Suu Kyi. Albert Einstein. Christopher Hitchens. James Caroll Booker III. Natalie Portman.
What would surprise people about you?
If you haven’t guessed already, I’m a meditator. I also enjoy independent filmmaking and in my spare time I travel across the world to challenging places with a video camera strapped to my back.
Who inspired you to dance?
Mikhail Baryshnikov in the film White Nights and Michael Jackson’s early live performances of Billie Jean.
How would someone else describe you?
If that ‘someone’ is within arm’s reach they would say, ‘Robert is handsome, intelligent and charming’. Out of arms reach they would say, ‘He’s bald, crude and most definitely mad’.
What is your best piece of advice?
Meditate. Skillfully train the ‘monkey mind’ so it will become calm, focused and compassionate, and won’t be dependent on external things for happiness. It’s the best skill you could ever have.
Which role has tested you the most & how?
The Brazilian Woolley Monkey in David Bintley’s Penguin Cafe. Constantly jumping up and down wearing a horrible rubber mask was exhausting.
What is the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you?
Two things. Firstly, I was by myself hiking up to a temple on Mount Popa in Burma wearing a sarong and a monkey jumped off a tree and yanked my sarong down by my ankles because I wouldn’t feed it peanuts. I was left standing there half naked in my undies much to the amusement of all the local ethnic women and one cheeky little monkey.
Secondly, I recently came face to face with two burglars in my friend’s house. I was completely cornered so I had no option but to run at them. The look of shock on their faces as they watched me hurtling towards them shouting profanities in my pyjamas was priceless. Luckily I didn’t have to perform ballet-kung-fu and I had a good laugh with the local policemen afterwards.
If you designed your own stage costume, what would you create?
I’m a minimalist so I’ll leave it to your imagination!
A phrase I use far too often is …
“It’s the mutt’s nuts!”
Who would play you in the film of your life?
A critic said recently that I played a role like a cross between Harpo Marx and Frank Spencer, so either of those would do a fine job, although I’m not that silly in real life (I hope).
What is your favourite quote?
“If you’re in the sh*t, use it as fertiliser!” – Ajahn Brahm
What’s on your iPod?
Lots of great music from many genres. I’ve also got talks on Buddhist philosophy which inspire me throughout the day.
Who would you most like to dance for, and why?
Aung San Suu Kyi said she would love to see me dance. She hasn’t watched a ballet since she was studying in Oxford, a long time before she began her political career.
What makes you a good dance partner?
Partnering is not my forte but luckily I haven’t dropped anybody (yet).
Do you have a secret skill which no one knows about?
Yes, but it’s best kept a secret.
Describe yourself in just three words.
Without doubt indescribable.
In terms of your ballet career, where would you like to be this time next year?
I’d like to be in the ‘present moment’.