Interview

Dancer profile - Jamie Bond

Principal Jamie Bond on learning to dance, leaving The Royal Ballet for Birmingham and bringing characters to life on stage

'I was born and raised in Southend, Essex, where my dad, Michael, is a carpenter and my mum, Joanne, teaches ballet. When I was a little boy I would often spend tie at mum’s dance school and began going to her classes when I was three.

'The lessons spanned ballet, jazz, tap, drama and even singing, which at one point made me want to become a performer in the West End! I now know that such an early introduction to the arts had quite an effect on my life.

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'I really enjoyed dancing, but I was also a good swimmer. I had a lot of potential and was approached by the England squad when I was nine.

'Having two hobbies I seemed to excel at eventually caused a lot of conflict of interests; both needed intense training and demanded a considerable amount of time. Inevitably, I had to abandon one for the other, and, with my parent’s support, I chose ballet.

'It was around this time that the opportunity arose to go to the Royal Ballet Summer School. The experience was so enjoyable and confirmed in my mind I had made the right decision. During the Summer School we were taken to see Birmingham Royal Ballet perform Romeo and Juliet at the Royal Opera House. I can still remember it vividly - how ironic that it happened to be the company that was to become my home and Romeo, one of my all-time favourite roles.

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'When I was at the Summer School, one of the teachers asked me if I’d be interested in coming to White Lodge full time. At that point, dancing was something that really enjoyed but it hadn’t occurred to me that it could be anything more than a hobby. So, in 1994, I auditioned for The Royal Ballet School and out of the 600 auditionees, I was offered one of only 11 boy’s places.

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'At my audition for the Upper School things suddenly clicked into place. I realised that ballet was absolutely what I wanted to do. It was no longer simply something I could do well and enjoyed. My drive to improve was kicked into consciousness when an American boy standing in front of me at the barre extended his leg up to his ear; a move I certainly couldn’t perform. As well as motivating me, the audition gave me a confidence boost; I became aware that I had a strong jump and started to realise my own potential.

'The Royal Ballet Company was still based at Talgarth Road during my first few months of Upper School. It was an invaluable experience being able to watch them rehearse and take class in between my own lessons.

'I noticed that Carlos Acosta always stood at a certain place on the barre in class. Watching him was so inspiring that I decided I would stand in the same place as him during my classes, in the hope of one day being as good as him.

'In my second year of Upper School I was offered my first contract by David Bintley but chose not to accept it. Instead, I stayed on at school for a third year of training. At this point, I had my heart set on joining The Royal Ballet and when the former director, Ross Stretton, offered me a contract, I jumped at the opportunity.

'Working with The Royal Ballet was a good experience but after 18 months of doing mostly walk-on roles, I was becoming frustrated and craved a real challenge. During that time, David came to the company to create Les Saisons and cast me in it. Creating a new work with a world-renowned choreographer was an exciting process and gave me the buzz I had previously been missing.

'I later approached David about joining his company and, thankfully, he offered me a contract. It was a difficult decision to leave, as London was home, and The Royal Ballet had been all I had known up until that point, but I wanted to make my career happen. It was the best decision I ever made!

'I have a particular love for dramatic roles that offer a more artistic challenge.'

'A few weeks after joining Birmingham Royal Ballet I was called into David’s office. I wondered what I could have possibly done wrong to be asked to see the director after spending so little time in the company. Amazingly, I was being given that opportunity that I’d been looking for; someone was injured and I was asked to learn the role and go on instead!

'I had 10 days to learn the role of Duamutef in The Sons of Horus. That was quite a challenge- I had very limited rehearsal time for a difficult role, in one of the director’s ballets, in my first season with the Company. Although very daunting, it gave me an amazing adrenaline rush. David was pleased which meant that from then on, I got interesting and challenging roles on a regular basis.

<p><em>Swan Lake:</em> Natasha Oughtred as Odette and Jamie Bond as Prince Siegfried with Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet</p>. Credit: Bill Cooper.

'Despite loving the technical challenges that the great classics like Swan Lake provide, I have a particular love for dramatic roles that offer a more ‘artistic’ challenge.

'Edward in Edward II is one of my favourite roles to date. This opportunity came in 2007, at a point in my career where I felt I had to prove myself to David; I saw it as a make or break role. I put everything I had into preparing for the shows: I spent hours working out at the gym, watched DVDs of earlier shows and Derek Jarman’s film, and read books in order to understand the complex character.

'Researching the character became addictive and the shows proved to be really rewarding. The hard work had paid off, and David praised my performances of what I now consider to be my ‘breakthrough’ role.

'I spent hours working out at the gym, watched DVDs of earlier shows, and read books in order to understand the complex character.'

'I was given the chance to perform another of my favourite roles when asked to participate in Ballet Hoo! I knew I was going to be playing Romeo about a year into the two-year project but wasn’t involved in the project until about two months before the show. I would have liked to have been involved earlier, but even over the course of those two months, the progress made by everyone involved was easy to see.

'Knowing that I would be dancing the role so far in advance, I had plenty of time to prepare, and so spent my summer holidays learning the ballet from DVD. On returning to work, Desmond Kelly and Marion Tait coached me and Jenna Roberts, who was dancing Juliet, giving valuable advice as well as helping with the technical challenges.

'The night itself was very emotional – everyone gave it their all. The energy was incredible, making the show a very intense and unforgettable experience. Not only had I been part of such an inspiring project, but I had made by debut in my dream role, and it had been filmed and broadcast on television!

'As well as the full-length ballets I've mentioned, there are a few shorter pieces which I have thoroughly enjoyed performing. One is Petrushka, a unique and prestigious role in which Nureyev and of course David Bintley have given outstanding performances. I particularly liked attempting something so different from classical technique. The idea of having no bones in your body is not easy to portray!

'Another enjoyable one-act ballet is Card Game. The joker is fairly self-explanatory, but it was one I found hard to relate to. After developing a real passion for serious, dramatic roles such as Edward and Romeo, I struggled in rehearsals for the Joker’s characterisation. I felt embarrassed and remember Desmond’s frustration in rehearsals. He would ask me, ‘What are you going to do there?’ or, ‘What facial expression will you use here?’ I finally decided that, if I didn’t give it my all, I really would end up looking like a fool, and when it came to performance time, it was a lot of fun.

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'I believe that with maturity and experience, characterisation comes more easily. It is difficult to empathise with certain characters when you are so young because you have limited life experience to draw upon. I’m 26 now, and find I’m able to draw more and more on my own experience to help me when I’m on stage.

'Most recently, I created my first principal role in a Bintley ballet. David cast me as the principal male in ‘Energy’, the first section in E=mc ². I was very excited about the chance to create a role with David and the rehearsal period didn’t disappoint. However, a couple of weeks before the show I injured my back during a run of the piece, and couldn’t go on to dance the role I’d created.

'Injury is unfortunately par for the course.'

'It was incredibly frustrating and, because of the amount of time I needed to make a full recovery, I haven’t been able to perform the ballet this time around. I was also cast to dance Cyrano this season and had begun to dance and rehearse the role but, unfortunately I missed out on that too. As is the case with any physically strenuous profession, injury is unfortunately par for the course.

'Hopefully I have a long career ahead of me but the reality is that a dancer’s career is comparatively short. I have started to think ahead and have recently begun a course with the Open University. The aim is to work towards a degree in Leadership and Management, but I’m keeping my options open.

'I have dreams of becoming the director of a ballet company, although I realise positions are scarce and hard to attain. I would like to be that person who makes the big decisions and have the opportunity to pass on my knowledge and nurture developing talent.

'I enjoy teaching and, when I have the chance, take classes at Elmhurst. However, sometimes I think it would be refreshing to do something outside the dance world as I have so far spent my whole life involved in dance, so who knows what lies ahead? Until that time comes, I will continue to enjoy the buzz of performing and make the most of the opportunities that come my way.'