This afternoon I’m off to see Irish National Youth Ballet’s The Snow Queen. Thus far, my only other brush with a youth company was London Childrens’ Ballet’s charming Rumplestiltskin earlier this year. Having not been fostered by such an organisation myself, I do find myself pondering the role of such companies in both the training of dancers and as part of the fabric of the general dance scene.
What struck me most about watching London Childrens’ Ballet was the gusto with which they performed: without even a whisper of self-consciousness, and as if it was an act of grave importance. I’m not saying that they all had the makings of the next Beryl Grey, ready to hop into a tutu and dance Odette/Odile at 14, but having experienced the performance, I understood the effect that taking part in this type of work has: with so few distractions, and an unashamed sense of duty, these children have an unblinkered opportunity to get develop performance skills and understand how to be on stage, which isn’t as easily learned as it might seem.
The difficult transition from student dancer to professional dancer is all in the performance. Those students that come from a background of festivals, youth companies and dance competitions aren’t necessarily better dancers, but they can have an edge over those with fewer performances under their belts, already being au fait with the practices of the theatre.
These organisations are run like part-time companies, though they do emphasise training as most of the children will still be wading through the vagaries of classical ballet. They offer students an insight into the workings of a dance company, giving them an appreciation of the work it takes to get a ballet on stage; for most it will be their only such experience given the fall off in interest as academic studies take precedence over hobbies for those without professional aspirations. For those who do, this is a perfect chance to work on stagecraft before embarking on vocational training.
In Ireland, there are as many youth dance companies as there are professional companies; in ballet particularly, there are more. This highlights one of the biggest problems in the Irish dance community, the fact that dance is still not seen as a credible career path, just an engaging pastime. Maybe if there is someday a fully-operational national ballet company, employing dancers year-round, credibility may be attained.
The youth company has an important role in the dance community, in the moulding of future professionals and in giving all dancers an insight into the creation of a performance. Here’s hoping Irish National Youth Ballet can convince me even further!