Celebrating International Women's Day 2019

To celebrate International Women's Day we sat down with our Chief Executive Officer, Caroline Miller to talk about her inspirations and discover what it's like as a professional woman in the arts today.  

As a women at the top of her chosen profession, have you been inspired by any other women in the arts?

Lilian Baylis (1874-1937), Ninette de Valois (1898-2001) and Marie Rambert (1888-1982) were extraordinary women who built the industry we work in from nothing. They laid the bedrock for the creation of today’s Sadler’s Wells, Royal Opera House, Old Vic, Rambert, the Royal Ballet, and of course, Birmingham Royal Ballet. They must have had amazing vision, business acumen and persuasiveness.

Arlene Phillips inspires me. She’s a high-profile female artist who uses her fame to help the dance and arts community and to champion charities working in wider society. She inspires me because she’s choreographed so many hit shows and films that have entertained millions and created work for thousands of dancers, but she also engages with the wider world of politics and artistic development. Even with her extremely busy work schedules, she is always generous with her time. I loved how her choreography bringing Strictly dancers together with Candoco Dance Company caused such an impact when it was broadcast on the BBC recently. She really spans so many types of dance, theatre and television and that’s what inspires me.

Who have you always looked up to?

My mum, calm, kind and practical. Ethos – don’t make a fuss and “good, is good enough”. The best piece of advice she gave me was, “You can’t eat an elephant all at once, take one bite at a time”.

Miss Dorbon, my teacher at a small local dance school in Sidcup, Kent. She is the same age as the Queen and was formidable, but a very good teacher! My mum sent me when I was three, because I was shy and someone told her dancing might help. She had no idea I was going to love it so much and it became a hobby that dominated our family life. Miss Dorbon demonstrated the power of local dance teachers in young people's lives. I spent two or three nights a week with her until I went to university. She gave me my love of dance, taught me discipline, how to present in public and the importance of supporting and celebrating my classmates – all skills that have been vital to my career. 

That’s why I’m so excited about BRB’s Swan Lake Dreams project in 2020 that will give children who go to local dance schools the chance to dance a special Swan Lake on the main stage in Birmingham, Southampton and Plymouth alongside BRB’s dancers.

Do you feel ballerinas can be role models for younger girls?

Yes, but ballerinas and all dancers in general. For me all dancers, no matter what dance form they are working in are role models. Dancers have amazing discipline, single mindedness and physical and mental intelligence. They also have to work in an extremely small industry with few opportunities, so it’s tough to achieve their dreams and earn a living, I don’t know how they do it and keep going, especially in the independent sector. The most important thing though is that the dancers give so much joy to the people who watch them.

What is your favourite role for females in the world of ballet? 

Difficult question – but I love the final scene of Onegin where Tatiana, turns the tables on Eugene Onegin and rips up his letter where he finally says he loves her and she sends him away. It’s such an overwhelming and dramatic scene. She takes back the power in the relationship, but at great personal cost to her. My favourite performance I ever saw of this was by Alina Cojocaru (who performed with BRB in Japan last year) dancing with Johann Kobborg.