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    What dreams are made of!
    Jonathan Ollivier
    Jonathan Byrne Ollivier

    Jonathan Olliver is a real life Billy Elliot, but as he told Katy Lewis ahead of the Northern Ballet Theatre's arrival in Milton Keynes, most male dancers are. You've just got to stick to your dreams.


    Theatre Page

    Read our review of A Midsummer Night's Dream

    BBC Norfolk: Northern Ballet Theatre: Interview with Jonathan Ollivier

    BBC Norfolk: Requiem review


    Northern Ballet Theatre

    Milton Keynes Theatre

    The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites.


    28 April - 1 May 2004
    Wed-Sat 7.30pm
    Thur & Sat Mats: 2.30pm

    Tickets: £10.00-£25.50

    Box Office : 01908 606090

    get in contact

    It's not easy being a young male teenager at the best of times, but when you want to be a dancer, life can be particularly difficult. Although by and large, he was encouraged to follow his dreams, Jonathan Ollivier also suffered at the hands of his peers, but he's having the last laugh now!

    Wuthering Heights
    Jonathan Ollivier in the Northern Ballet Theatre's Wuthering Heights

    A Principal Artist with the Leeds-based Northern Ballet Theatre (NBT), Jonathan is at the height of his career.

    Nominated for Best Male Dancer in this year's National Dance Critics' Circle Awards, he can currently be seen dancing the latest role that he created - Lysander in the company's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream - which arrives at the Milton Keynes Theatre in April.

    Brought up in Northampton, he completed his dance training with the Rambert Dance Company in 1996 and arrived at the NBT in 1999 via the Cape Town City Ballet. With the Northern Ballet Theatre, he has created many roles including the Prince in Beauty and the Beast, 'Death' in Birgit Scherzer's Requiem!! and Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights.

    But in true movie style, he stumbled upon dance courtesy of three older sisters. He loved it from his first class and has never looked back.

    "I've got three sisters that used to go dancing, and one day one of the teachers asked my mum if she wanted to leave me to do a class so that she could go off and do some shopping" explains Jonathan.

    "She did. I ended up staying and that was it really" he continues. "It wasn't anything that I'd seen on TV and thought that's what I want to do, it was actually doing a class that got me hooked. I loved it from the first one I did. I just knew that that's what I wanted to do."

    It certainly sounds like something straight out of the hit film Billy Elliot, where an 11-year-old coal miner's son stumbles upon a ballet class during his weekly boxing lessons. Jonathan agrees but reveals that it is the same for many male dancers.

    "I think a lot of guys' stories are like Billy Elliot's and that's why the film did so well" he says.

    "Most of us come from places where people wouldn't normally go off and do dance. We come from council estates and wanted to do ballet.

    "There's nothing wrong with that but you still have to deal with the consequences of the fact that that's not normal for a lot of people" he adds.

    Jonathan was supported by his family and most people that he knew but he says that some youngsters of a certain age can be particularly cruel to anybody that they think is a bit different or breaking the mould.

    Jonathan Ollivier
    Jonathan Ollivier as Death in NBT's Requiem

    "I was encouraged by the majority of people but I did get hassles along the way" he says. "I think it's only natural because when kids get to a certain age, I would say between 11 and 14, they can be quite narrow-minded.

    "They're all trying to be cool and don't really care about who they hurt around them. It's only when they get past that, they start trying to act grown up and start accepting things.

    "But there's a certain age group that do take it out on anyone who's doing something different. It's not just dancing, but it's a sad thing to have to go through" he adds.

    Nevertheless, the positive outcome of all this was that Jonathan says the experience made him a stronger person and even more determined to follow his dreams.

    "It made me want it more, it gave me a bigger and better drive and it built a lot of character in me as well. It also made me defend myself a lot!"

    And after all, it's him that's having the last laugh now. He's made it to the top of his chosen career and he loves it!

    "I'm doing a job that I enjoy doing" he says. "I dance in front of 1500 to 2000 people a night who clap for me and I get paid for it. It's great. It's a dream come true. It's what I wanted and I'm very happy with it."

    What he's enjoying at the moment is playing Lysander in the NBT's acclaimed production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. But this isn't your average depiction of Shakespeare's classic play, for not only is it a danced version, the setting is very unusual as well.

    Jonathan Ollivier
    Jonathan Ollivier as Lysander in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Photo Brian Slater
    Read our review of A Midsummer Night's Dream >>

    The action that revolves around quarrelling lovers is transported into a real ballet world where the romantic entanglements of a 1940s touring ballet company are played out. And instead of the magical nocturnal events taking place in a forest, it all happens on a sleeper train from London to Edinburgh!

    Theseus is now the company's Artistic Director and Hippolyta the principal ballerina whom Theseus wants to retire. The lovers Hermia, Helena, Demetrius and Lysander are the young and up and coming dancers who are rehearsing Romeo and Juliet but they have the same relationships to each other as in the original play.

    It's easy to imagine how the story fits well into the setting of an artistic company where there must be a certain hierarchy and many battles of ego, but Jonathan explains that while this is true, these kinds of scenario are recognisable in any walk of life and that's why people can relate to it.

    "I can see the similarities, but it's not as pretentious as we portray in the ballet, but yes I can definitely relate to it" he laughs.

    "But I think it's what normally happens in life in general. There's always a hierarchy in any workplace."

    "In a ballet company there's a hierarchy with different levels of dancers, so it's quite truthful in the way that there is ranking, but I think it's something that everyone can relate to in everyday life" he adds.

    One of the challenges that Jonathan faces in this production is playing a character that has not only been portrayed many times on both stage and screen, but that was originally given such rich verbal language by the Bard.

    Jonathan Ollivier in Requiem

    Dancers can only use body language to convey these layers of meaning, but one of the strengths of the Northern Ballet Theatre is their ability to blend classical dance and theatre, where dancers play real characters. It seems to be a growing trend in dance at the moment and one that Jonathan finds particularly rewarding.

    "The way that we've worked Lysander out to be is a lovable guy that is just really trying to get Hermia to love him back. He's quite playful and that's what we try and show in his dancing" he explains.

    "The company love doing classical ballet because that's what we're trained in, but the nice thing about the Northern Ballet Theatre is that we do new and dramatic stories, so you feel like you're getting something out of it emotionally as well."

    "We get to do a lot of dramatic ballets which are really rewarding" he adds.

    He explains that a lot of the roles that you play in the classic ballets are two-dimensional fairy tale characters, but in the new ballets that the NBT do, you can add in a lot of yourself. He cites the part of Dracula, a role that he created in their production of the same name.

    "I could be quite nasty and evil but sexy at the same time" he says. "You can really add in your own character and that's very enjoyable and rewarding at the end of the evening.

    "To be able to give part of yourself emotionally on stage is a lovely feeling and we get to do that a lot in this company."

    A Midsummer Night's Dream
    The NBT's A Midsummer Night's Dream

    He also feels that it gives the audience more to think about as well because instead of watching a ballet and thinking about how well something is being done technically, or how pretty something looks, they can really become part of it.

    "They want to feel it, they want to feel the emotion, so that's what we try and do" says Jonathan. "They can actually get more escapism from real life that way, and that's nice, especially in today's times."

    The Northern Ballet Theatre tour for around 30 weeks a year and do more shows than any other company in the country. It's a gruelling and physically demanding lifestyle but, as Jonathan explains, it has its advantages, especially as he is particularly looking forward to all the restaurants, bars and coffee shops of Milton Keynes!

    "Everyone thinks that dancers are fit, which they are" he says. "But it's not all 'you must eat this' or 'you mustn't eat that'.

    "We all eat whatever we want really, McDonald's, doughnuts, it doesn't matter because we get to work it off every day!

    "When we're rehearsing we start work at 9.45am and finish at 6.30pm everyday except Sunday. On tour, when we have a matinee we start at 11.15am and won't finish until 10.15pm. We're constantly being physical, so we can eat what we like.

    Jonathan Ollivier
    Jonathan Ollivier

    "We're just the same as everyone else, going out for a drink and having a nice time" he adds. "But you do have to be a bit conscious because it's a physical thing that we do. You do have to look after your body so we don't go over the top.

    "We also do a lot of touring which is not the ideal situation for some people but it's good fun" he continues. "You get to see different cities and different countries."

    Jonathan seems very content with his rewarding lifestyle and feels that it's been worth all the hassles that his teenage years brought. He's certainly very encouraging of anybody who wants to follow in his footsteps and is full of helpful and inspiring advice.

    "Try it out first and if you enjoy it, and enjoy being physical, then stick to it" he says.

    "People might give you a hard time but they could do that in anything that you do. You can't always run away from hard times.

    "You have to face it and if it's something that you love doing, stick to it because the rewards are sweet."

    Read our review of A Midsummer Night's Dream >>

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