'Play to your strengths' Ballet Boyz Bradley and Harry share their dance journey so far
Harry Price and Bradley Waller are dancers working for the brilliant UK dance company Ballet Boyz, which was set up in 2000 by ex-Royal Ballet dancers Michael Nunn, OBE, and William Trevitt, OBE. Here the duo talk to Mandy News about their dancing journey to date, what it takes to make it as a professional dancer and more.
Guys, tell us how you got involved in the industry as a whole?
Bradley: OK. I'm Bradley and I'm 26 years old. I was never really interested in dance from an early age. It was never something that had even crossed my mind. I went through the whole of high school not dancing and wasn't interested in it but I never really found anything that I was really passionate about.
It was my sister, actually, who encouraged me to go and join her at this local hip-hop dance class at the local community hall and, for ages, I was reluctant to go, adamant that I wouldn't do it! But eventually I gave in, mainly to shut her up and then, once I got there, I just loved it. I don't know what it was, I don't know if it was the freedom or...
I was always creative. I liked drawing and things like that. Anything to do with creativity I enjoyed, even physical things like PE. Once I started dancing, I just loved it from the off and I kept on going back every weekend.
Eventually, I took up ballet and my mum said if you want to be a professional dancer you have to do ballet. It just kind of went on from there and grew and grew and grew and then, eventually, I came to London and trained for three years at Rambert.
Straight out of Rambert I joined Ballet Boyz and the rest is history. I've been here ever since! For me it was the first thing I ever found that I was really passionate about.
Harry: I'm quite different to Brad because I can't really remember a time when I wasn't dancing! When I was younger, I was a very hyper-active child so I was dancing off the walls, making up routines and doing shows for my parents.
When I was about seven, my mum took me to an after school dance class, just once a week. I loved it and, from there, I started going more and more and, when I was about 11, I went to full-time dance school in London and trained at a musical theatre school until I was 14 when I realised that I was rather s*** at singing and acting.
So I decided to put all my focus into dancing because that was what I was most into and at 14 I went to a ballet school in Birmingham and trained there for two years.
At 16, I went to the English National Ballet school in London. Even though I went into ballet training, I never really wanted to be a ballet dancer. I just knew that it would be a good foundation for me and so, after my third year, I auditioned for contemporary companies and got a job in Poland to start with.
I worked in Poland for a year and then joined The New Adventures Company, Matthew Bourne's company, for a little bit and, after that, got the job here at Ballet Boyz and I've been here pretty much three years. So dance has pretty much been a part of my whole life!
Before you joined Ballet Boyz you were part of the National Ballet?
Harry: Yes, I trained at the English National Ballet.
How did you get involved in that and what did you do while you were there?
Harry: I had auditioned for the school and I got in. For me it snowballed, the whole ballet thing. I loved my time there but still, I was never really the typical ballet student so it was a good thing for me when I got to third year and left the ballet world, so to speak, and went to contemporary.
Brad, you were invited to Ballet Boyz as an apprentice - how did you get spotted for that? How did your transition, from becoming an apprentice to a full member, work?
Brad: That was kind of a crazy time because I'd just finished my second year at Rambert and a friend of mine messaged me that there were auditions for the Ballet Boyz which was a company that I'd always been interested in. I'd seen documentaries that they'd done on Channel 4 and things like that.
So I quickly sent my CV and they invited me to an audition. The audition was on a Wednesday, I remember, and there were 28 dancers in the audition with me. They started the class and, as the day went on, they slowly cut it down to smaller numbers until, at the end, there was only three of us there.
There was me, a good friend of mine from Rambert and another guy. We had a little chat with Michael at the end of the day and they invited us back the following day. The company were touring, doing a regional tour and they were in Aylesbury. They invited us to take a class on stage, so we turned up the next day and just expected to take a class.
One of the dancers at the time had had a back injury and he didn't turn up that day because his back was so bad and suddenly Michael came down and he gave us, me and two of the other guys, the laptop and said "whoever can learn this piece the best by the end of the day will be on stage tonight!"
Brad: This was the day after the audition and we'd turned up literally just thinking we were going to take a class. We spent all day, me and the other two, just around this laptop trying to learn this piece called "Fallen" by Russell Maliphant. It was about an hour before the curtain came up that Michael came to me with a costume, handed it to me and said "try this on for size." Tried it on and it was fine and he said "OK, you're going on tonight."
That was my baptism of fire. It was really surreal. Then, from there, me and Lenny stayed with them for the rest of the tour as apprentices while I was still studying at Rambert and doing my dissertation. As soon as I graduated from Rambert, I became a full-time company member.
And you became one of the directors of one of the dance classes, as well, Brad?
Brad: Yes. There's a course that we run within the Ballet Boyz called the Ballet Boyz Dancers Course which is a yearly course that takes place each weekend and me and two of the other dancers are the directors of the course. Initially, it was Mike and Billy but I think they became interested in seeing what we had to offer as dancers.
It's quite interesting when you're able to curate what goes on each weekend. It's not always just them working with us. We can invite guest practitioners, guest teachers, guest choreographers from all different corners of the industry so it's really exciting. It's very fresh. We're obviously quite new to it. There are a lot of courses out there that have been around for a long time but I think there's something quite special about the course that we run and our naive approach makes it very fresh.
We're not afraid to make mistakes so we really go as far as we can with it. It's interesting.
It sounds really cool! And Harry, you mentioned before that you did some work with Matthew Bourne's productions. Tell us a bit about how you got involved with Matthew Bourne and how that all came about?
Harry: Well, I was working in Poland, that was my first professional gig, and was touring in Istanbul with them and flew back to London to do an audition and ended up getting on the international tour for that which was insane. I did all of Asia, Tokyo, Shanghai, Singapore, went to Australia for a month and then back to the UK. It was a super fun.
After I finished that, Ballet Boyz was the company that I'd had my eye on for a few years, even while I was training at ENB. So pretty much as soon as I got back from that, another audition came up. Similar to Brad, there were 30 of us on the day, they cut it down and were looking for one guy. I pretty much joined a month after I'd come off the world tour - a pretty lucky situation to be in.
Before I'd even danced professionally, I'd never left Europe and I've been professional now for five years. I've seen a lot of the world which has been amazing.
How much do you get to see? Do you get a bit more time when you're doing longer stints in places?
Harry: It actually really depends, especially with us guys here. It's in and out over one night but we're actually quite fortunate, we do get some time.
Brad: It varies depending on where we are. We've just come back from Florida. We were there for two weeks and, for the first week it was kind of non-stop. It was literally, get in, do the show, go on a coach journey to the next place, go to sleep, go straight to the theatre. It was like that for about four or five days! But then, towards the end of the tour, we found that we had a little bit more time so we were able to explore Key West and Miami so sometimes it was in our favour.
Harry: We were quite pro-active, even if we had a short amount of time. We'd take a couple of hours in the morning to look around. For example, last year on our American tour, we had quite a bit of time so we went to Joshua Tree National Park in California, to Banff National Park in Canada. The year before that we got to go to the Grand Canyon which was amazing. I think we spend our time wisely because we realise that we have good opportunities.
Brad: We make sure that we have something planned when we're not in the theatre.
How does the staying fresh and keeping training differ when you're on the road to when you're in London? How does that conditioning and training vary?
Brad: It's very different. You have to really adjust yourself, especially when you're on tour because, obviously here we have a very small gym but it's easier to keep on top of. At the end of each day, we work out what we need to do. Whereas, when you're on tour and you're travelling, the last thing you want to do when you get off a plane or a four-hour coach journey is start working out.
We kind of spur each other on, so even when we do get off the plane, sometimes, if there's a pool we'll go for a swim and keep it going but, especially on tour, it's hard. The main thing when we're on tour is eating. We just have to make sure we're always eating enough.
Harry: It's different when you're in the studio because it's a lot more about pushing yourself and trying to get better all the time and really grafting at our work. On tour, maybe with injuries and tiredness, there's a lot more body management, as opposed to pushing yourself to the extreme – because we know we've got a show that night. It'd be stupid to be busting your guts in class and then have no energy for the show.
You mentioned staying injury-free, what are the best ways to do this? What are the things that you do to try and stay injury-free?
Harry: I personally do a lot of Pilates. It's different because, when you're in training, you're so wrapped in cotton wool and protected so much. When you become a professional dancer, you're out there for yourself so it's definitely about being sensible with what you're doing, listening to your body working a lot more in an internal way, I guess.
I swim a lot as well. It's something I enjoy doing. A lot of the boys do yoga and general body conditioning just to support what we're doing in the studio because if you just come in and start throwing yourself around with no sort of other training, you're going to hurt yourself pretty quickly. And, of course, we're lifting each other around and we're all grown men, so lots of strength conditioning.
How about diet, are you guys quite strict with your diet?
Brad: I'm not religiously strict with my diet. I eat what I want, when I want. Some of the guys are vegetarian so, for them, it's a lot more difficult I would say. Especially, when we're on tour, finding a place to eat that caters for them. It's sometimes tricky but they manage it quite well to be honest.
Harry: I think there is a misconception that we only ever eat salads but it's not that way. We eat quite a lot!
And you guys were talking about working on the start of a new show today. At what sort of point do you guys get involved in a show, when do you first hear what's going on from the directors?
Harry: It's quite a different process from previous processes. They will reach out to choreographers that they like and they'll do their curation for the show and then maybe we'll get called in for R&D - research and development - just to see how the chemistry works with us and how the choreographer/dancer relationship works.
If it works quite well, then they'll commission them for a work and usually it's quite a collaborative process. We work quite closely with choreographers, which is nice. Saying that, we have had different creations in the past where choreographers come in and give you a few steps which is great as well. It's just a different way of working. Most of the time we work quite collaboratively.
So when you've decided on a project, how long is the pre-production normally, the rehearsal time before you take that show out on the road?
Brad: It varies really. For most of the shows that we've done, about five to six weeks – but that's not always in one stint. It could be spread out over the course of a year, so we'd have them for a week here, be without them for a month or so and they'd come in for another week or two. I think it's also good for them sometimes – it gives them room to breathe and they can go away and think about their ideas.
One of the most recent projects we did, we gave each choreographer 14 days to see what they could come up with and by the end of that time, whatever they had is what we would take on stage. It the idea that it would be interesting to see what somebody can do under pressure and with time restrictions. If you give somebody too much time, they overthink things and the best things sometimes occur just naturally, in the moment.
How does working on the film side of things differ from all the dance work? You're working on a production in a film and you're digging trenches in France, how does that world of things collide?
Brad: It varies. Most of the films that they create are movement based and there's no dialogue so it's still expressing yourself through movement but it is very different. You become so accustomed to being on stage where you're trying to project out to the masses whereas, when there's a camera there, it's so subtle. You find that less is more, in a way. Even just thinking an emotion comes across on camera.
Since I've been here, Ballet Boyz have always been involved in filming short videos. They did a couple of Random Acts for Channel 4 and the biggest project they did was a feature length film based on a stage show, actually. Before it was a film, it was a piece choreographed by choreographer Ivan Perez called Young Men. We performed it at Sadler's Wells and later transferred it to film. A couple of things changed but, mainly, it stayed the same.
The approach is very different. It kind of felt like we were method acting in a way once we were there. The trenches dug out, it felt very real, you couldn't help but get into your character. It's something that I'd never done before but something that I'd do more of.
Harry: For me, it was such a different experience from on stage because what I love about the theatre is that everything comes together in that one moment: the music, the lighting, the dance and everything. It's all happening in that one moment. Whereas, when we were filming we were doing so many takes and it was so cut up and disjointed that it was really hard to get it into your head. I found it far more challenging. I personally enjoy that with theatre it's all happening in that one moment because it's much more exciting and you get that nervous energy.
But I really enjoyed the filming aspect and it was something totally new to me when I joined the company because I'd never been exposed to it before. So visionary with their ideas and they execute them really well.
Moving forwards, what's next for you guys individually and for Ballet Boyz?
Harry: We've been to Italy with Fourteen Days and then Sadler's in the UK starts on Thursday (April 26-28) and then we've actually got a really exciting tour to China coming up in August/September. Following that, more creation. The company is always creating new work and looking to the next thing. So, pretty much as we've premièred a new show, we're touring and, at the same time, it's on to the next creation.
It's really fulfilling to work with the company like that because we're always moving on to the next thing. When we come back in October I think we've got creation time and I believe we're premièring our new show in New York next year but don't hold me to that! It might not be true. Then more touring!
We're predominantly a national touring company so touring, touring, creating, creating - lots of that!
What advice would you have for anyone wanting to get into dance or people who are in dance who want to become part of a company like Ballet Boyz?
Brad: I always find this question quite tricky because I think it's very personal and everyone's frustration for wanting something is very different but, for me, it never felt like a chore. It was something that I always wanted and I knew it would be difficult. Anything that is worth fighting for is always going to be difficult but, I think, if you’re passionate about it, you should always follow that.
I'd much rather fail trying to do something that I absolutely love. I don't want to look back in 40 years from now and think "I could've done that". Always stay inspired. It's important to have other hobbies even if it's just watching movies or going to a gallery, art or reading. That is something that I would recommend and is very important.
Even speaking to people and meeting people, you can draw inspiration and motivation from every aspect of life.
Harry: I would say the biggest one for me is play to your strengths and be honest with yourself which areas you excel in. Try and focus your energy as much as you can towards whatever it is. I think it's amazing to be as diverse a person as possible. Be open to as many experiences as possible but, at the same time, be careful if you're trying to master too many different aspects of a career – I started in musical theatre and I just knew that it wasn't going to work for me so I focussed on dance completely!
Some people can get caught up so much with wanting to do so many things, which is amazing and it really works for some people. Some people are that way inclined and they can do anything, but I think really playing to your strengths and putting your focus into what you know, helps you achieve.
Once I started at ballet school, I never really fitted in with that world and as soon as I started to be honest with myself about what I could achieve and what I wanted and went into the contemporary world, things started moving a lot quicker for me. They never would have if I'd gone into something else.
But the biggest one for me is be a nice person. While the industry is so small, you meet people along the way that, nine times out of ten, you'll meet again one day. The person that you weren't very nice to could be in the position of offering you a job. It's good to be a nice person in life anyway but, especially in this world, people remember you if you're a good person and have a good attitude.
When you walk into a studio and you audition and you look like you'd rather be anywhere else, people are going to notice that and you get known for not being a favourable person very quickly. Just be a nice person!
Brad: I agree. Also, I heard this quote the other day, from this documentary called Iris (about fashion icon and business woman Iris Apfel) and, at the end of the documentary, she says "You can't expect to be interesting unless you're interested." I think that's so true. You should be interested in a lot of things, whether it's people or something else!