Interview

Céline Gittens' first year with the Company

In 2008, during her very first season with Birmingham Royal Ballet, Céline Gittens was interviewed by Deborah Weiss for Dance Europe Magazine. We are delighted to be able to re-print this interview, thanks to the kind permission of all involved.

Raymonda Act III: Céline Gittens. Credit: photo: Bill Cooper.

I can't help thinking that the girl sitting opposite me has eyes so large and beautiful that Bambi's seem pitifully ordinary by comparison. Nineteen year old Céline Gittens is in her first year with the Birmingham Royal Ballet, enjoying every minute of their Sadler's Wells season. She was born and brought up in Trinidad where, she claims, she had some pretty awful experiences with 'huge spiders, which don't just turn up in your sink, you find them in your slippers too'. At the age of nine she left her eight-legged house guests behind and moved with her family, for the next nine years, to Vancouver in Canada.

Céline was taught by her mother, an ex-professional dancer turned RAD teacher. So I wondered if she came from an entire family of dancers? 'Oh no, my Dad's an accountant, but he loves classical music and supports me fully. My brother's never danced. He's a videographer. He did my audition videos.

Studying at the Goh Ballet Academy and then performing with the Goh Ballet Company, Céline insists that, in spite of opportunities to dance challenging roles and as well as having some internationally renowned ballet companies on her doorstep, the UK's ballet scene offered the most appealing prospects. 'My dream was to dance in the UK. I think everyone has a certain place in mind, a place where they would prefer to dance and this was mine. It was pretty much everything about the Company; the style, I'd heard so many good things about them; and also they're a touring company so you get lots of chances. It has a diverse rep and it's a young company as well.'

Having your family living thousands of miles away is never easy but Céline says she survives by speaking to them every day 'and besides - you have to make a lot of sacrifices to get where you want to go. It's hard, but hopefully it will pay off. I've made lots of friends here anyway and they've become my "English family".'

She wastes no time in saying that she has aspirations to dance all of the classical lead roles. 'Out of them all, I think I would probably like to dance Swan Lake and Romeo and Juliet the most. Swan Lake because Odette/Odile is such a diverse character and the changes really show the artistry of the person. And Romeo..., because of all the acting and the music. I'm sure every dancer wants to do them.'

Céline has just completed a film project for Black History Month, directed and choreographed by Rodriguez King Dorset, about the abolition of the slave trade in the UK. Partnered by fellow BRB dancer Tyrone Singleton, the film, entitled Black Slave Girl: dance as resistance, will be used in education and schools as well as being shown at the British Museum. She saw this as an opportunity 'to learn more about that part of history'.

In contrast, she has been concurrently dancing one of the Nine Sinatra Songs pas de deux, 'Somethin' Stupid', in which her role is decidedly comic. 'I think it's a good way to show your acting ability, which is really important for dance, as well as technique and all the rest that comes behind it. Comedy is great - comedy really feels good for an audience'.

What she really loves about Birmingham Royal Ballet though is the touring. 'That's what the Company is known for. It's a good way to see the UK and you get so used to dancing on different stages, you feel the atmosphere better.' Her most outstanding memory is of her first performance with the company 'just hearing the orchestra; the orchestra is amazing, the feeling that I was in the company, with different expectations'.

Céline describes David Bintley as inspirational in the way that 'he is so kind and gentle with the dancers, he knows exactly what he wants to say and gets it across really well - I guess it's his communication with the dancers that makes it work so well'. But she cites her mum as being her greatest support. 'She's been there for me forever; always been behind me with her encouragement, especially when I've been doing competitions - the times when I've really needed it'. Which roles Céline may be cast in later in the year remains a mystery for the time being.

However, she intends to stay 'focused on what I'm here for, keep on working hard, keep my standards up and enjoy myself because that's what dance is really all about - you have to enjoy it'.