William Bracewell on covering Principal roles

The sentence starts out well:

“William Bracewell is preparing for the role of Aladdin…”

After that it sounds a lot worse than it is:

“…in case of emergencies.”

He’s ‘cover’ for the role, which means he’s a sort of understudy to the other (six) men dancing the part, and despite weeks of preparation, in his own words “it’s very possible I won’t actually appear as Aladdin’.

‘It means that you learn the part to the best of your ability so that if anything did happen, they could ask you to go on’, William explains. ‘For example if any of the others pick up an injury or illness I may be considered. Although that’s not to say that if one of them goes off then I’ll automatically go on, because the casts could be shuffled around to compensate.’


Before we talk further about what this means for William himself, it should also be clarified that a dancer going off does not necessarily mean something dramatic has happened. Even a minor strain can be made much worse after just one performance, so often dancers are rested as a preventative measure. As a result, the only ‘break’ is an opportunity for another dancer.

‘That happened in my first year. One of the dancers went off from a one-act ballet that we were doing, as they were due to dance a larger role the following week.’

So this time around, William has been asked to prepare himself for the lead role in this new production, a situation which has also proven beneficial to another dancer.

‘I’m lucky enough to be rehearsing with Momoko, because César is dancing both with her and Nao for different shows, but obviously can’t rehearse with both at the moment. So Momoko and I now both have someone to practice with.’

‘If I want to have any chance at all of going on I’ve got to be up to scratch, if I’m not good enough then I won’t. There’s a high standard that you have to meet, I just hope I can reach that so if the time came and they did need me to go on then I could.’

But those keen to see William perform this season can be optimistic. Firstly, he’s more than proven his capacity to meet high standards, with high-profile roles last year, garnering the young dancer praise from the national press.

‘2012 was very exciting definitely’, he says. ‘It was only my second year with the Company, and you don’t expect things to take off as quickly as they do. But one of the reasons that I wanted to come to Birmingham Royal Ballet in the first place was that I knew that they have a tradition of pushing and nurturing young dancers.’

‘Oberon [In Ashton’s The Dream] was probably the biggest performance for me. And Benno [The Prince’s friend in Swan Lake] was really good fun. He’s a younger character, so I suppose I have more in common with him, although to be honest I think I preferred being Oberon as he was a much older and wiser character. It gave me the chance to be someone totally different and it felt like more to sink my teeth into.’

The other reason to be positive about William’s casting as the potentially unseen cover for Aladdin is that he’s also been cast in other roles. Roles in which he will definitely appear.

‘I’m playing Gold and Emeralds, who appear in the cave where Aladdin finds the lamp’, he explains. ‘They are diverts, but not like Bluebird in The Sleeping Beauty. They are still classical, but they’ve got David’s spin on them, so they’re not all ballet class steps.

‘They’re precious stones and metals, rather than people, but they still have different personalities. Gold is really majestic, and Emeralds is a bit more sensual and has a slightly darker feel to it. In my mind I think of Emeralds as being one of the more mysterious diamonds – I don’t know if that’s because you think of envy and desire or just because of the colour!

There are also Rubies, which is like a love pas de deux, but more passionate, energetic and almost acrobatic. Also appearing are Sapphires which are extremely delicate and soft with a flowing sense of beauty.’

‘Elsewhere I’m a Lampseller in Act I, which I haven’t rehearsed yet, and then I’m also in the Genie’s entourage, which is a big group number. There are 12 of us – six couples – and it’s really good fun. It’s high energy, with lots of jumps and flipping the girls over. It’s going to be really entertaining, I think, but it’ll be one of the harder roles, to be honest.

Technically the solos can be more challenging but there’s a difficulty in dancing in synchronisation, consistently and not make mistakes. If you’re dancing on your own and something doesn’t quite work, you could possibly cover it up, but if there’s a group of 12 people and someone’s got their arm in slightly the wrong place then everyone in the audience can see it!’