From Student to Star is a Ballet News exclusive interview series featuring graduates from vocational ballet schools as they begin their professional careers. The questions have been updated to reflect reader feedback; I hope you find the answers insightful.
From Student To Star | Liam Boswell, The Royal Ballet
You’ve been studying at The Royal Ballet School. When did you join and why did you train there ?
I have always admired the Royal Ballet School due to the astounding reputation it has gained from consistently producing exceptional dancers for so many years. I visited the school and auditioned over the course of a week. Needless to say, I was thrilled to be offered a place in the Upper School starting in the Fall of 2016.
Prior to joining RBS, where did you train, and how early did you start ballet?
My first dance experience came at age 12, when a friend and I decided to give ‘hip hop’ a go at our local dance studio in Louisville, Kentucky. From there, the instructor encouraged me to start ballet lessons as I had “a natural coordination” for dance. My initial response was a hard NO. However, striking the deal of no tights required and complete confidentiality from my peers, I began training. I started with three hours of ballet weekly and I quickly realised I needed to invest much more time and effort if I wanted to be successful in the field of dance. After an enlightening summer course at Next Generation Ballet in Tampa, Florida, I fully embraced my passion for ballet. My remarkable mentor Peter Stark, the Artistic Director of NGB, invited me to begin full time training at his school. I continued to study under Peter for the next three years both in Tampa, Florida, and at Boston Ballet School in Massachusetts.
What do you think are the important things to focus on during vocational training to achieve a career as a ballet dancer ?
I believe the most important attributes to focus on and develop as a vocational student are tenacity, a level head, and a true passion for dance. Ballet by nature is both physically and mentally challenging, demanding your absolute maximum effort in every class, rehearsal and performance. At times, this art form and career path can leave you feeling drained of energy and confidence. Therefore, is it essential to put things into perspective and redirect your focus towards your passion for dance and your aspirations.
Have you entered any competitions during your training and if so, which ones, and what would you say about your experiences ?
During my time as a student I entered one competition, the Youth America Grand Prix. I was 14 years old at the time and progressed to the final round in New York City where I was incredibly humbled to receive the gold medal in both the classical and contemporary divisions. My experience competing in YAGP was eye opening. I was amazed to see so many young, incredibly talented dancers from around the world. The process of working one on one with professionals preparing for the competition allowed me to develop my own sense of artistry and presentation, something I believe is always a work in progress.
At RBS, how does your training develop the skills you need as a male ballet dancer, for example with partnering ? Any challenges ?
At The Royal Ballet School we are separated by gender for our ballet classes, coaching sessions, solos, and character lessons. Our combined classes with the women included Pas de Deux, repertoire, and contemporary. The male only classes gave us the opportunity to work on the essential virtuosic steps that all men are required to know and develop. Fortunately for us, our male teachers were outstanding. Our Pas de Deux lessons were taught by both a male and female instructor, allowing for instruction from both perspectives of the partnership. Our partnering classes were always a wonderful time, especially when dancing with your favourite partners! Throughout the three years of our training, our instructors increased the difficulty and complexity, bring us closer and closer to a professional standard.
What would you like to say about your graduate year & auditioning for companies & do you have any advice for students ?
My graduate year was one of the quickest years to go by! I didn’t have much time to stop and think about what was coming next. I had many thrilling opportunities and moments during my last year at the school for which I am eternally grateful. Regarding auditions, embarking into the professional world can be very intimidating. My advice to students would be to never lose hope for joining a company, as rejection tends to make this goal seem unachievable at times. There are so many great companies out there, don’t leave any stone unturned and don’t ever count yourself out.
You’ve accepted a contract with The Royal Ballet. Congratulations ! What was the process for securing the contract ?
The Royal Ballet School has a close relationship with The Royal Ballet Company, including the director Kevin O’Hare. Throughout my three years at the school I have had many opportunities to showcase my abilities. During our school assessments and performances, Mr. O’Hare and other artistic staff members from the company observed the students. In our third year, Mr. O’Hare coached us individually on our assessment solos, allowing him to get know us even more as dancers and individuals.
You’re joining the Company with five other graduates, under the Aud Jebsen Young Dancers Programme. All of last year’s Aud Jebsen graduates have joined the Company as Artists. What are the day-to-day differences for you in joining the Company for a year through this Programme as opposed to joining as a Corps de ballet dancer?
I believe the day to day routine is essentially the same as a company artist from the experiences shared by previous Aud Jebsen Young Dancers. As an Aud Jebsen Young Dancer, I will be at a lower rank than the rest of the company dancers so my work load may be a bit lighter as we are not typically cast in demanding roles yet.
When do you start work?
The company starts working towards the end of this August. I am extremely excited to begin!
What do you know about the Company & how much have you worked with them as a student ?
I had the opportunity to cover (when you understudy certain roles in order to step in if needed) and perform in some of the Royal Ballet’s productions in my third year. Watching numerous rehearsals and being involved in some of the Royal Ballet Company performances along with taking company class intermittently has allowed me to get a sense of the atmosphere of the company.
What are you looking forward to about company life and how will it differ from your student days?
I’m really looking forward to the responsibilities and independence that comes alongside a professional dance career. School was regimented and especially during your graduate year, we were constantly training in all aspects of dance and performance. As a new company member, I am likely to be involved in less rehearsals. I plan on utilizing my free time productively but also understand that sometimes it’s ok to rest. From my perspective, the Royal Ballet Company truly behaves as a family would. I am thrilled to be joining such a welcoming, hardworking environment of extremely gifted dancers.
How are you preparing yourself for your first professional contract?
As of now, I am doing my best to stay active during the summer holidays while also ensuring that my body is getting the proper rest that it needs. That being said, I cannot wait for the real work to begin!
What are you your best achievements as a student?
One of my greatest achievements as a student was being involved in Liam Scarlett’s world premiere of The Cunning Little Vixen. Along with other students from the school, I had the incredible opportunity to work alongside Liam, experiencing every part of the creative process. Choreography, costumes (including custom wigs), orchestra rehearsals, and rehearsals on the Royal Opera House stage were all an incredible introduction into what the company life entails. Having the role of ‘Goldspur’ created on me pushed me to higher levels of both my dance and partnering abilities. I also grew immensely as an artist. It was truly an experience that I will cherish forever. Another great achievement I was honoured with was the ‘Ballet Circle Dame Ninette Award for the Most Outstanding Male Graduate’ at the end of my graduate year. Lastly, joining the Royal Ballet this season will be my greatest achievement to date. I am so incredibly humbled and ecstatic to begin my life as a professional dancer at the Royal Ballet.
Growing up I played nearly every sport imaginable, including competitive gymnastics for a few years. Although I enjoyed all sports and gymnastics, nothing moved me the way ballet did. There is something so internally satisfying about dancing, especially when combined with engaging choreography, phenomenal dancers, a beautiful venue, captivating music and an appreciative audience. Striving for perfection is constant in ballet as it is rare that every step is technically perfect. There is always something in ballet you can improve!
Do you have a dream role and/or dance partner and if so what/who are they?
As far as dream roles go, I don’t think I can narrow it down to one! For the classical works it would be a dream to dance the roles of Romeo from Romeo and Juliet, the Nutcracker Prince from The Nutcracker, and Colas from La Fille mal gardée, just to name a few. For the contemporary roles, I have always admired the works of Wayne McGregor, Crystal Pite, Hofesh Shechter, Ohad Naharin, and many more. One of my fondest memories was watching the general rehearsal of Carbon Life by The Royal Ballet when I was a first year student at the school. I remember being completely in awe by the versatility the dancers from the company possess. Of course, partnered with the choreography of Wayne McGregor and music by Mark Ronson, this ballet is one I would love to dance if it ever returns to the stage. For the question regarding dream partners, there are so many incredible ballerinas in the Royal Ballet to choose from. For now, I can only hope to dance with a few of them!
Where would you like to be this time next year and how will you measure your progress over the year?
This time next year I hope to be joining the Royal Ballet as an Artist of the company. I plan on measuring my progress this coming year by setting attainable goals for myself. I hope to develop my skills as a dancer and artist along the way, especially with so many spectacular examples in the company!