Discover today’s Romeo

Ballet NEWS  max Westwell

Max Westwell Photography throughout : zxDaveM

Picture the scene.  There you are, in a costume fitting, just one of many and nothing out of the ordinary; part of ballet company life as a First Artist.  And then, Wham !  The costume you are being fitted for quite clearly belongs with the Principal role.  What a way to find out your casting ! Fast forward to Max Westwell, preparing for his debut in the Principal role of Romeo in Rudolf Nureyev’s production of Romeo & Juliet. He is engaging, has the right balance of taking his work seriously but not himself, and vocally – if I close my eyes – he has the same inflections as Michael Ball.  But Ball doesn’t do ballet, which makes our man more talented and arguably, more watchable.

Westwell initially spent five years in the corps de ballet at English National Ballet.  During that time he suffered three injuries, keeping him off-stage for a very testing nine months. He had a recurring tumour in his shin and “a bit of bone broke off my knee so they went through the tendons and got that out”, all requiring absolute rest. What does he think caused the injuries?  “Well I think it was from not really pacing myself, and trying to do everything 100% all the time. They say it’s one in a million & it’s got nothing to do with anything.  But I’m not quite so sure.”

Coming back after such a long time away from the stage was even harder, not least because the company had a new Artistic Director in Wayne Eagling.  “Things improved, it took time to get fit and re-establish myself because I had a place in the company, and you get back and suddenly you’re the one that can’t do anything and you have to build from the bottom again.  Slowly but surely we got there.”  His hard work and patience paid off, Eagling noticed & rewarded his hard work and talent with a promotion that came after he was asked to dance Lescaut from Manon; “I did two shows and they went really well and they were impressed so that was a great experience, because I’ve always wanted to do that role.”

Under Eagling, English National Ballet has a policy of giving opportunities to dancers throughout the ranks.  This is enriching the company knowledge bank;  a fact reinforced by Westwell during my interview, as we talked about partnering a Principal, in this case, Sarah Mcllroy, for Romeo & Juliet, “everyone’s passing knowledge all the time and that’s great – that some of the other Principal guys have been helping me, giving me advice : ‘you should do this this way, and if you hold her like this’, different grips, to help things happen. You’re just taking in as much knowledge from everywhere and then using what you want, to make it yours.”

Ballet News, Max Westwell

Max Westwell

Dancing Romeo isn’t Westwell’s first opportunity to dance with a Leading Lady though – that came with Senior Principal Fernanda Oliveira in the Bluebird pas de deux, from Sleeping Beauty. “That was actually very daunting.  Originally I was terrified of her. Because she’s so experienced, we walked on stage and she just changed, and became the Principal.”  The pair are good friends now ! 


Westwell started ballet when he was three years old, and in due course trained vocationally at the Arts Educational School, Tring, before joining English National Ballet as an extra in Swan Lake.  He was offered a full-time contract, went back to school for the last three weeks and a week later he was dancing in the company.  Most graduates will tell you that they face a sharp learning curve when they begin working in a company, which Westwell remembers too, “you learn all your stagecraft and you learn how the company works and how to be on the stage; how to preserve energy by watching the Principals, how the whole system works really; how the theatre works, how to pace yourself.”


Thomas Edur, a former Principal who has now taken up a post as Artistic Director at Estonian Ballet, was an inspiration for Westwell and instrumental in his choice of company.  “I used to absolutely love Thomas Edur.  He was actually one of the reasons why I chose ENB because he was the guy I looked up to, and Carlos Acosta, obviously. He’s the one you watched at school.  I spent hours watching videos and learning tricks off Carlos.”  Who inspires him now ?  “I like to take a little bit of everyone around me.”


Some of the company dancers, including Westwell, were recently scheduled to travel to Shanghai for a performance.  The fateful costume fitting fell just prior to the trip. “I really didn’t want to go to Shanghai after that.”  To cap it all, “it was a great experience to go to Shanghai but it was quite stressful. We got there and we weren’t allowed to use the music that we wanted to use.  So every day for about three days we did a new piece to a new bit of music and then pieced it all together at the end and did one long piece.  I actually injured my back on the run of the piece about two days before and couldn’t do the show, so I went all the way over there, wanting to be back here doing Romeo and Juliet, and missed the show.”  In all he missed two weeks of learning the choreography, but in true company spirit, Senior Principal Dancer Daria Klimentová (one of the group in Shanghai) helped him to rehearse.  His Juliet, Principal Sarah Mcllroy, remained in London where her rehearsals were aided by some of the company men, in Westwell’s absence.

Ballet News, Max Westwell, Sarah Mcllroy

Max Westwell (Romeo) and Sarah Mcllroy (Juliet)

Reunited with Mcllroy and fully recovered from his back injury, Westwell says that she makes his life much easier, “because she’s very experienced and very strong and she knows where to help me. With Sarah, you have a rapport and you help each other and you build it and you fine tune things so that side of working is quite new for me.  And also being English, we’ve got a good rapport and that’s really helped.” 

Ballet NEWS

Max & Sarah

Nureyev’s masculine Romeo & Juliet

What does he make of Nureyev’s production, created for the London Festival Ballet (now English National Ballet) in 1977 ?  By all accounts, Nureyev read & re-read Shakespeare’s play many times, to stay true to the original story. Nureyev first danced Kenneth MacMillan’s production in 1966 with Margot Fonteyn.  Patricia Ruanne, Nureyev’s original Juliet, and Frédéric Jahn, the original Tybalt, have been working with the company during rehearsals.   “I love this production, this is my favourite because it’s very masculine.  It’s boys and girls and the fights are very real.   The way he portrays the story, is, I think, very emotional and he’s not afraid to make it tragic.  He doesn’t try to dull anything down.  It is what it is in the time that it was in.  He’s got a tendency to do a lot of steps.  He likes to keep adding pas de bourreés and little things, but actually I think that’s his style and it’s quite obvious that he’s choreographed it so that’s nice as well.  There’s absolutely no stone left unturned, even with Tybalt; he’s the bad guy but actually he’s got a sensitive side as well.  Every character is completely rounded and it’s shown visually all the time.  He’s really thought through all the characters and why they’re motivated so you’re never really lost within the choreography.  ”

Ballet NEWS

Max & Sarah

When I catch up with their rehearsals, they are fine-tuning, overlaying the steps with the emotion and making a great connection.  As Westwell has said, Nureyev’s production tells the story very visually, making it easier for the audience to understand even if they’ve never read Shakespeare’s play.  But this requires every subtle nuance to be shown, on top of the many & difficult steps which reflect Nureyev’s virtuosity.  Westwell says, “as soon as you lose it (the nuance), it’s massively obvious. I’m just basically living, eating and breathing Romeo and Juliet at the moment. To make it happen. He (Romeo) just doesn’t leave the stage, it’s like he (Nureyev) was trying to prove a point.  If I can handle this, I can handle anything.”

Corps de ballet

On top of his debut as Romeo, he is cast in (and rehearsing) five other roles including Paris and Benvolio, so I’m curious to know how he manages to keep on top of it all. “That’s actually a skill you learn in the corps, hopping about from one thing to another and doing different spots.  If someone gets injured you might have to reverse a dance on the other side or get thrown on at the half hour call, and that’s a skill that I’ve learned from doing corps de ballet work and being able to multi task and keep flicking between things. You do have to concentrate. When they’re teaching it to you, if you let up and drift off then you’re in trouble.” 

Westwell finds it easier once he’s on the stage, “generally I just let go and go for it and that’s where I get the enjoyment.  I think I’ll find it easier on stage, just because you’re 100% and there’s nothing else.”

What happens when he goes back to the corps de ballet after any of these moments under the spotlight ? “It’s always a little bit like that here, because we do so many shows.  I’ve got used to it over the years and you have to just take it in the chin and not let the ego get too big.”

Ballet NEWS

Max & Sarah coached by Stephen Beagley and Maina Gielgud

At the moment Westwell is enjoying the full schedule too much to consider choreographing a ballet himself, but “I think the more productions that you do and the more you learn, the older you get and the more you take in, it’s definitely something that starts to appear in your mind. As you do more and more big roles and you get more options about how you want to do something, I think it’s something that becomes more apparent.”

He is very loyal to ENB, “I love the company.  It’s my home. I’ve only ever been here,” and says that, for now, he doesn’t have itchy feet, “not really, as long as I’m working and I’m doing roles, I don’t know why I would go somewhere else.  We do so many shows and you get so many more opportunities than other companies and the standard is so high.  Even if you’re not on; you’re just sitting & watching, you can still learn, just by the people around you.”

Ballet NEWS

Max & Sarah

Westwell has come full circle with the company now – he started as a servant in Romeo & Juliet. He is multi-talented and studied Jazz, Tap and contemporary dance as well as Grade 8 singing at school. “Repertory wise it would be nice to try some modern stuff. A lot of my friends are all in musicals and so to just be doing all the classical stuff all the time does get difficult. But this (Romeo) was the first thing that I did.  So this is quite special to me.”

Despite this, he still has ambitions in the classical rep, “to do maybe a Nutcracker Prince, but Romeo was always the highlight and my dream really.”

And as he says, “this will be a Pinnacle Moment.”

Be there.

Click here for the show story.  

Ballet NEWS

Sarah Mcllroy & Max Westwell

Please note that English National Ballet reserves the right to make changes to the performance schedule, repertoires, casting, prices and discounts as necessary. 

14 – 17 October
Tickets £11 – £36 

Manchester Palace Theatre
Oxford Street
M1 6FT 

0844 847 1735, Book now

Casting is in the order Romeo, Juliet, Mercutio, Benvolio, Tybalt, Paris, Lady Capulet
* denotes debut in role

I have highlighted for ease of reference Westwell and Mcllroy’s performances, but of course the other casts offer you a wealth of choices.

Thursday 14 October at 2pm
Esteban Berlanga*, Erina Takahashi, Juan Rodríquez, Laurent Liotardo*, James Streeter*, Zhanat Atymtayev*, Laura Bruña* 

Thursday 14 October at 7.30pm
Vadim Muntagirov*, Daria Klimentová, Yat-Sen Chang, Max Westwell*, Fabian Reimair, Daniel Kraus*, Jane Haworth  

Friday 15 October at 7.30pm
Arionel Vargas, Elena Glurdjidze*, Juan Rodríquez, Fabian Reimair*, Daniel Jones, Zhanat Atymtayev, Sarah McIlroy* 

Saturday 16 October at 2.30pm
Vadim Muntagirov, Daria Klimentová, Yat-Sen Chang, Max Westwell, Fabian Reimair, Daniel Kraus, Jane Haworth 

Saturday 16 October at 7.30pm
Esteban Berlanga, Erina Takahashi, Juan Rodríquez, Laurent Liotardo, James Streeter, Zhanat Atymtayev, Laura Bruña 

Sunday 17 October at 2.30pm
Dmitri Gruzdyev, Adela Ramirez*, Anton Lukovkin*, Laurent Liotardo, Daniel Kraus*, Fabian Reimair, Stina Quagebeur* 

20 – 23 October 

Ballet NEWS

Sarah Mcllroy & Max Westwell, coached by Stephen Beagley

Tickets £10 – £42.50 

Southampton Mayflower
SO15 1GE 

02380 711 811, Book now

Wednesday 20 October at 7.30pm
Vadim Muntagirov, Daria Klimentová, Yat-Sen Chang, Max Westwell, Fabian Reimair, Daniel Kraus, Jane Haworth

Thursday 21 October at 2pm
Arionel Vargas, Begoña Cao*, Nathan Young, Fabian Reimair, James Streeter, Zhanat Atymtayev, Tamarin Stott*

Thursday 21 October at 7:30pm
Esteban Berlanga, Erina Takahashi, Juan Rodríquez, Laurent Liotardo, James Streeter, Zhanat Atymtayev, Laura Bruña 

Friday 22 October at 7.30pm
Dmitri Gruzdyev, Adela Ramirez, Anton Lukovin, Laurent Liotardo, Daniel Kraus, Fabian Reimair, Stina Quagebeur 

Ballet NEWS Sarah Mcllroy & Max Westwell

Sarah Mcllroy & Max Westwell

Saturday 23 October at 2.30pm
Max Westwell, Sarah McIlroy, Yat-Sen Chang, Fabian Reimair, Daniel Jones, Zhanat Atymtayev, Jane Haworth

Saturday 23 October at 7:30pm
Esteban Berlanga, Erina Takahashi, Juan Rodr
íquez, Laurent Liotardo, James Streeter, Zhanat Atymtayev, Laura Bruña

2 – 6 November
Tickets £14 – £36 

Milton Keynes Theatre
Marlborough Gate
MK9 3NZ 

0844 847 7652, Book now online 

Tuesday 2 November at 7.30pm
Arionel Vargas, Elena Glurdjidze, Juan Rodríquez, Fabian Reimair, Daniel Jones, Zhanat Atymtayev, Sarah McIlroy

Wednesday 3 November at 7.30pm
Vadim Muntagirov, Anaïs Chalendard*, Yat-Sen Chang, Laurent Liotardo, Fabian Reimair, Arionel Vargas, Stina Quagebeur

Thursday 4 November at 2pm
Max Westwell, Sarah McIlroy, Yat-Sen Chang, Fabian Reimair, Daniel Jones, Zhanat Atymtayev, Jane Haworth

Thursday 4 November at 7:30pm
Dmitri Gruzdyev, Fernanda Oliveira, Anton Lukovkin, Junor de Souza*, Zhanat Atymtayev, Daniel Kraus, Jane Haworth

Friday 5 November at 7.30pm
Arionel Vargas, Begoña Cao, Nathan Young, Fabian Reimair, James Streeter, Zhanat Atymtayev, Tamarin Stott 

Saturday 6 November at 2.30pm
Vadim Muntagirov, Anaïs Chalendard, Yat-Sen Chang, Laurent Liotardo, Fabian Reimair, Arionel Vargas, Stina Quagebeur

Saturday 6 November at 7:30pm
Dmitri Gruzdyev, Fernanda Oliveira, Anton Lukovkin, Junor de Souza, Zhanat Atymtayev, Daniel Kraus, Jane Haworth

5 – 15 January
Tickets £10 – £65 

London Coliseum
St Martin’s Lane
London WC2N 4ES 

0871 911 0200, Book now online 

Wednesday 5 January at 7.30pm
Thursday 6 January at 7.30pm
Friday 7 January at 7.30pm
Saturday 8 January at 2.30pm and 7.30pm
Sunday 9 January at 2.30pm 

Tuesday 11 January at 2.30pm and 7.30pm
Wednesday 12 January at 7.30pm
Thursday 13 January at 2pm and 7.30pm
Friday 14 January at 7.30pm
Saturday 15 January at 2.30pm and 7.30pm 

All telephone and online bookings are subject to transaction/booking fees. To avoid these fees please purchase your tickets direct at the box office. 


, , , , , , ,

11 Responses to Discover today’s Romeo

  1. Couture Carrie October 8, 2010 at 10:23 pm #

    Gorgeous post!
    Love that jumping shot!


  2. Jude October 8, 2010 at 11:30 pm #

    I love these peeks into a dancer’s world, especially when they’ve gone through trying professional times like he has. Thanks for the great pix too, and another great interview! Have a wonderful, relaxing weekend!

  3. kristy October 9, 2010 at 12:42 pm #

    this is really engaging! if i lived in the UK i would totally go see this production. i actually love ballet but have only seen two my entire life. =( it’s a wrong i’ll definitely be correcting in the future as more opportunities come up. max westwell sounds like an amazing leading man and dancer. it would be so cool to see him in person.

    great post! also thanks for leaving a comment on my blog, it’s how i found you. =)

    Vogue Gone Rogue

  4. kristen October 10, 2010 at 4:26 am #

    gorgeous post and the pictures are beautiful

  5. Audrey Allure October 10, 2010 at 4:05 pm #

    Great photos!

  6. sandi October 10, 2010 at 4:29 pm #

    oh what a wonderful new look, fantastic article, wow, wow, wow. Hugs

  7. Josie October 11, 2010 at 5:10 am #

    Oh, what a stunning post. I’ve always wanted to be a ballerina; they’re so incredibly graceful — unlike me!
    Thank you so much for stopping by my blog and for your sweet comment! Yours is fab; I can’t wait for more!
    xo Josie

  8. Stéphanie October 11, 2010 at 8:56 am #

    Fabulous post!
    I adore your blog !

  9. Diana October 11, 2010 at 3:21 pm #

    What a way to find out your casting character!!

    Love these images, you can really see the joy in their eyes 🙂

  10. Thais October 14, 2010 at 10:01 am #

    Fantastic article, Thank You !!!! So many dancers and ballets to discover…I’ll definitely go to one of those !!!