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The ballerina

Left: Claire Calvert as the Lilac Fairy in Sleeping Beauty. Photo: Johann Personn

Left: Claire Calvert as the Lilac Fairy in Sleeping Beauty. Photo: Johann Personn

Royal Ballet Soloist Claire Calvert will soon be heading to Malta to play the part of Princess Aurora in the 25th anniversary ballet of the Brigitte Gauci Borda School of Dance, The Sleeping Beauty. She tells Iggy Fenech how dance became her profession.

I still remember the day I fell in love with ballet.

It was December 13, 2010, and I went to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London to roam about its halls and corridors brimm-ing with artefacts. While there, a poster announced an exhibition, titled Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes, 1909-1929. I had never heard of either, but decided to visit it nonetheless.

In a nutshell, the Ballets Russes were a Russian dance company started by Serge Pavlovich Diaghilev (1872-1929). Amid the astonishing amount of objects on display at the exhibition, including backdrops painted by Picasso himself, hand-sewn costumes, jewellery, photos and Art Deco posters, I got an idea of how the Ballets Russeshad affected popular culture and the arts.

If you’ve never heard of them – like I hadn’t before that exhibition – it’s because the death of Diaghilev marked the end of the Ballet Russes. Yet, their influence can still be felt today and it has fuelled a love for ballet in Europe that has lasted over 100 years.

Today, various ballet companies have taken over their legacy: the Bolshoi Ballet in Russia, the Ballet de l’Opéra National de Paris in France and The Royal Ballet in England, to name a few.

The latter is where Claire Calvert, who will be performing the leading role of Princess Aurora in the Brigitte Gauci Borda School of Dance’s full-length ballet, The Sleeping Beauty, comes from. And as far as prestigious ballet companies go, The Royal Ballet is one of the most legendary.

“I started dancing when I was about two or three years old,” says Claire, who was promoted to Soloist of the Royal Ballet in 2012 – this means that she has to dance more roles on her own, instead of as part of the corps de ballet, which is the backbone of the company. Her next promotion will be to principal dancer, the highest rank in ballet.

“I then joined the Royal Ballet School Juniors Associates programme after an examiner told my teacher that it would be good for me,” she says. “Through that I joined the White Lodge in Richmond Park, which is where the younger dancers of the Royal Ballet School train. I was there for five years before I moved straight through to the Upper School for another three years. I was then offered a contract with The Royal Ballet, which I accepted.”

It’s a role that I have always wanted to dance and it’s amazing to have the opportunity to do so

As such an accomplished ballerina, I was unsure whether to ask her what the biggest highlight of her career was. I assumed she would find it difficult to pinpoint one, but I was surprised when The Sleeping Beauty was the first one she mentioned.

“I’ve been performing professionally for nearly nine years now and while, yes, it is hard to pinpoint the biggest highlight, I loved performing as the Lilac Fairy in The Sleeping Beauty.

Coincidentally, this was my big break. Among others, I also remember dancing the part of the Mistress in Manon and creating the part of Aeternum with Christopher Wheeldon, an international choreographer of contemporary ballet.”

It is rather poetic that Claire will be coming to Malta to dance a part in The Sleeping Beauty, even though this time she will be the leading lady in her role as Princess Aurora. “It’s a role that I have always wanted to dance and it’s amazing to have the opportunity to do so,” she says, excitedly.

The full-length ballet is to be staged at the Mediterranean Conference Centre in Valletta by the Brigitte Gauci Borda School of Dance to mark their 25th anniversary since the foundation of this dance institution.

It will be choreographed by a first artist of the Royal Ballet – and a peer of Claire’s – Erico Montes, who will also be playing the part of Prince Désiré. The choreography is being done to the music by legendary Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, a man whose 175th birthday is being celebrated and marked all throughout the world this year.

“This won’t be my first project with Erico, however, as we have worked on a few projects beforehand, which usually find me dancing for him,” she says. “He is always so great to work with because he has a clear vision of what he wants. Yet he is also happy to listen to what you have to say and find a way to get what he wants out of you without making it uncomfortable. And that’s a great talent in itself.”

Claire and Erico will also be joined on stage by a cast of 200 dancers from the Brigitte Gauci Borda School of Dance, all of whom have worked with Erico on their role.

As a fully-fledged, full-length ballet, The Sleeping Beauty promises to be one of this cultural calendar’s biggest attractions, bringing the wondrous world of ballet to life on stage.

“This will be my first time in Malta, but I couldn’t be more excited,” Claire says.

Following their performance in Malta, both Claire and Erico will join forces again for The Nutcracker, which will take place at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, London. Running between December 8 and January 14, the show is almost sold out – a testament to the celebrated reputation of The Royal Ballet and a guarantee of what’s to come at Brigitte Gauci Borda’s staging of The Sleeping Beauty.

The Sleeping Beauty takes place on Saturday at 7.30pm and next Sunday at 4pm at the Mediterranean Conference Centre, Valletta. Tickets are available from the booking office, by calling 2124 3840 or online.

www.mcc.com.mt

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