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
Ollivier in the Northern Ballet Theatre's Wuthering Heights
Artist with the Leeds-based Northern Ballet Theatre (NBT), Jonathan
is at the height of his career.
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.
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.
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
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."
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.
think a lot of guys' stories are like Billy Elliot's and that's
why the film did so well" he says.
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.
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
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
Ollivier as Death in NBT's Requiem
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
I think it's what normally happens in life in general. There's always
a hierarchy in any workplace."
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"
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.
Ollivier in Requiem
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.
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.
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."
get to do a lot of dramatic ballets which are really rewarding"
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.
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.
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."
NBT's A Midsummer Night's Dream
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.
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
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!
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'.
all eat whatever we want really, McDonald's, doughnuts, it doesn't
matter because we get to work it off every day!
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.
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.
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.
it out first and if you enjoy it, and enjoy being physical, then
stick to it" he says.
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.
have to face it and if it's something that you love doing, stick
to it because the rewards are sweet."
our review of A Midsummer Night's Dream >>