Modern ballet ‘more accessible to men’

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When I was a little girl, I, like many others, dreamt of becoming a ballerina. This was largely inspired by the sight of the ever-so-feminine classic version of Swan Lake, complete with its fluffy tutus and silk shoes.

Unfortunately for me, my ballet classes resulted in me resembling an awkward duck rather than a swan but, for one of my fellow schoolmates, Jonathan Ollivier, the dream of becoming a professional dancer came true.

The 37-year-old former Thomas Becket School pupil is currently performing one of the most coveted roles in ballet, that of The Swan in Swan Lake; a show which is running at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday.

But the classic ‘pretty’ version of this ballet is far from the version in which Jonathan is appearing. He can be seen in Matthew Bourne’s modern version, which premiered at Sadler’s Wells in 1995 and has taken the ballet world by storm with its completely male ensemble.

Jonathan explained: “The story is the same, the main difference is all the swans are danced by men. It isn’t making fun, it is a serious piece and it works really well with all men on stage. You have covered heads and you can see the human body move more.

The classic version is pretty, with ladies on pointe. There is a massive change and the main difference is with The Prince, who tries to commit suicide and The Swan comes in and saves him.

“It is demanding. I’m dancing with The Prince most of the time, which I wouldn’t in the classical version. The ballet has been around for 18 years now and when it first came out, Matthew Bourne was telling me, there were people walking out of the theatre.

“Now people come to watch it and they love it. It always gets fantastic receptions.”

Looking back on his career, which has seen him perform roles with companies including Northern Ballet Theatre, Jonathan believes it is much more ‘acceptable’ to aspire to be a male ballet dancer than in previous decades.

He said: “It is easier now. Years ago, if you asked people to name a famous male dancer, they would have said Rudolf Nureyev, who was quite camp and flamboyant. That made it hard for young men getting into dance. It was all about ‘you will be wearing a tutu’ etc.

“Now you have street dancers who want to get into performing and have to get training in classical or contemporary dance, it has become more important, so the cool kids are doing this now.”