Fans of Company Soloist Angela Paul have her mother to thank for getting her into ballet. Not through a particular desire for her daughter to become a dancer, however, but simply for her to be active from a young age.
'Mum used to play Badminton', she explains, 'so my brother and I used to do other activities while she did that, to keep us out of the way!' Things did not begin with dance, however. 'I went trampolining at first', she remembers, 'and loved that, and could then do either gymnastics or ballet. My mum didn't want me to break my kneck, so I did ballet!'
Angela's mum was still cautious, however. 'She didn't buy me any of the stuff until she knew that I was going to stick with it. I really enjoyed it, so she said 'okay then' and got me the kit and it just carried on from there, really.
Angela went on to train at the Royal Ballet School, before joining Birmingham Royal Ballet in 2007 – this year marks her tenth season with the Company. Now a Soloist, she considers how she's changed over time.
'In terms of what my ambitions were when I first started just aren't what they are now. When I was ten, it was all about the classics, and yes, those are roles to strive for, but as you get older you are exposed to many different types of dance, and there are suddenly so many new things that you want to do. Coming from school, you're experiences are limited by the repertoire – you've only seen what they've given you to see. So coming into a company that has so much more in the repertory really widens your ambitions.'
Angela is never scared of lacking a challenge. 'Five years ago I didn't know Nine Sinatra Songs, six years ago I didn't know Upper Room, ten years ago I didn't know Maggie Hobson. There's so much around that I still don't know, and that hasn't even been created yet. Dance, especially at the moment, is still changing so dramatically, and I don't know what opportunities the future holds. I just want to find more and more that I've not seen yet.
She is quick to dispel any suggestion that she prefers new pieces, however. 'I think that it actually gets harder as you get older', she confesses. 'When you're younger you feel like every chance you get to dance a role your only chance, but it's after that that the pressure starts. As each piece comes round again, if you did it well last time there's a standard there to attain up to! It's a different type of pressure that makes it just as challenging.'
One of Angela's recent triumphs has been 'That's Life', the defiant highlight of Twyla Tharp's Nine Sinatra Songs, which Birmingham Royal Ballet perform on the current UK tour. As the title suggests, the piece is danced entirely to recordings by the late, great, Frank Sinatra. We ask if swing and jazz, with their strong percussion, are easier to dance to?
'It depends on the dancer', she replies simply. 'Dancing a pas de deux, a solo or whatever; for each dancer it's different. Even though the rhythm stays the same, some people hear it differently. That's what makes dancing with a partner difficult, because individually you hear music differently. One might work on the beat, and one on the off-beat, or just after it, and so you might clash. No matter how simple something might seem to be, the two sides of partnership have to be hearing it identically, in order to segue correctly.'
Having previously performed the segment with the recently-retired Robert Parker, she is now partnered by Chi Cao.
'Bob and I managed to dance the piece quite often over the past twelve months, maybe just once or twice each time, but collectively we probably did about ten shows over the year. To then change partners was difficult, but luckily Chi and I have already danced together a few times on the split tour earlier in the year.'
Since then, Angela feels that her and Chi are really dancing well together, describing this afternoon's rehearsals as 'probably the best that we've felt as a partnership of the whole year.' This is not simply the result of further practise, however. '. I'm very much a 'less-is-more' person', says Angela, 'not so much in that I don't like to rehearse - and I'm not saying that practise isn't good! - but once I've been through a piece a couple of times and feel that it works, I want to just get out there and start dancing it, rather than over-practise it. I don't know why, maybe because we've had two months break and come back to it fresh, but in this recent rehearsal we did the piece and I thought, “wow, this is really working!”.
The piece is one which demands a lot of trust between the two dancers, most notably when Angela takes a flying backward leap into her partners arms.
'Yeah, I get scared', she confesses, pointing firmly at the issue of her own confidence rather than a lack of belief in Chi. 'I trust him totally, and I know he's going to be there, but I just want to make sure in my own head! That way in the show you can let go, and give the performance 100% rather than worrying about that bit coming up. Although I've said I don't like to practise much, there are one or two exceptions!