⭐ From Student To Star | Bethany Bartlett

From Student to Star is an exclusive Ballet News interview series featuring graduates from vocational ballet schools – such as The Royal Ballet School – as they begin their professional careers. 

Bethany Bartlett has graduated from The Royal Ballet School and joins The Royal Ballet Company.

The Royal Ballet School
Photo by Laima Arlauskaitė

You’ve been studying at The Royal Ballet School (RBS). When did you join the School and what made you decide to train there ?

I joined the School in 2015 at the age of 11. I decided to audition because I was finishing the Royal Ballet School Junior Associate Programme as well as the Elmhurst Young Dancers Programme. Though I had no belief of getting accepted or training there, I decided it would be a missed opportunity if i didn’t see what it’s like and to just go for it.

Prior to joining RBS, where did you train, and how early did you start ballet ?

I started dancing when I was 7 at the Rosemary Woodwark School of Dance, where I did ballet, modern and tap dancing.

What do you think are the important things to focus on during training if you want to become a professional ballet dancer ?

I believe work ethic and self belief are two really important aspects to focus on during training. Even when you feel discouraged, it’s important to remember that your time will come and people flourish at different times. Keep believing in yourself and working hard, then you can’t ask more of yourself!

Talk us through going on pointe for the first time, and how has your technique strengthened since then ?

I began pointe at the age of 9. I was so excited to get my first pair of pointe shoes but at the same time, I was nervous to feel like a beginner at something again, after gaining some confidence with ballet. I started with Capezio Amelie pointe shoes which happened to be the first pair I tried on in the dance shop, and I remember always asking my mum or my teacher to tie my ribbons before pointe class, as I never quite got the hang of it.

The beginning of the process was slow, which was needed, but it was highlighted that I needed to do a lot ankle strengthening. With more experience and dedicated exercises throughout the years at school, I started to progress, however, even now, it is still one of my weaknesses and main priorities regarding Strength and Conditioning. 

You’ve accepted a contract with The Royal Ballet under the Aud Jebsen Young Dancers Programme. Congratulations ! Take us through the process of getting the contract and when do you start work?

Thank you! We had an audition for 4 companies, Zurich, ABT, BRB, and Royal Ballet. On the last day of school before Christmas, my classmates and I were warming up for ballet class. I was putting Christmas music on the studio computer to warm up to, when my teacher came in and told me to go to the director’s office at school. Director of the Royal Ballet, Kevin O’Hare, was in the office and offered me a contract for the Aud Jebsen Young Dancers Programme. I came out of the office and hugged my teacher and my friend George, and then ran to call my family. I remember the day so clearly, it was also a day after my birthday. 

I started work on August 14th, so I have been here just over a month. I am so grateful to be here. It is a dream come true.

What do you know about the Company & have you spent much time with them during school ?

In Year 7 to Year 9 at White Lodge, we got the opportunity to perform in The Nutcracker with the company which was an amazing experience. Throughout school, we also watched a lot of their pre-general and general performances for their productions. In January, I had the opportunity to perform in The Sleeping Beauty where I was a Court Lady and performed as a Nymph a few times, which gave me a taster of corps de ballet work. From these experiences at school, I knew of all the dancers in the Company and what the rehearsal process is like here, which has been really beneficial for my transition into the Company. 

What are you looking forward to about joining the Company ?

I am really looking forward to start performing with the Company, which is very soon. I am also excited to rehearse Swan Lake later on in the season, as it is one of my favourite productions. 

How do you think company life will differ from your student days & what do you hope to bring to the company ?

In my first month in the Company, I have noticed that the perspective of daily ballet class is different to what it is at school.

It is still important to strive to improve your technique in class; however, the classes are there to help you warm up for the schedule you have that day. For example: if my schedule isn’t heavy, I can really push myself in class. But if my day is filled with rehearsals, I know I can take it easy if I need to manage the workload on my body.

This perspective is beneficial, especially as I struggled with an injury in my graduate year at school. I still have to be diligent and almost methodical about it, because the goal is to have a healthy season with the Company. If that means that one day I don’t jump or don’t wear pointe shoes, then I can. This is of course allowed in the School, but I feel less self-inflicted pressure to do so due to the demands of company life. 

I hope to bring my most authentic self to the company.

Bethany Bartlett The Royal Ballet School
Photography by ASH

How are you preparing yourself for your first professional contract?

Before joining the company, I ensured that I got a lot of rest, mentally and physically, after completing my graduate year at school. Naturally, I worried that I wasn’t going to be in the best shape to start rehearsing with the Company, however, in the first week of the season, every teacher was great in easing us back into class slowly and gently which I am very grateful for.

What are you your best achievements as a student?

My best achievement at the School was performing Raymonda at Opera Holland Park for the summer shows. I was in second year at the time and it was my first experience of performing a big role. The character was really out of my comfort zone, however I loved the rehearsal process where I could delve into her character more. I was very nervous to perform it, but I am so appreciative and thankful that I was given the opportunity. It was amazing to perform with Martín Díaz (who played Jean de Brienne), it’s a memory that I will cherish forever.

Why ballet?

Ballet never actually appealed to me at first. After my first lesson I was unsure whether I wanted to go back. I was still very young to know what career path I wanted to pursue, but I felt that I didn’t have that one thing that I really enjoyed as a kid. I carried on with lessons and became very fond of it and discovered I had a talent for it. 

I am forever thankful that my mum introduced me to ballet as she used to dance when she was younger. I was a very shy individual, and always resisted putting my hand up in classes at school, so I loved that it was just me and the music. The music aspect also really shaped my love for dancing. I love all kinds of music, but the music used in ballet repertoire is especially beautiful.

How do you pick yourself up on the days when things aren’t going so well?

I always think about my younger self and how excited she would be to know how far I’ve come. I also think about my family and remind myself of the love and support they give me every day. But I also remind myself that it’s okay to go through difficult times. You can’t be at your best level every day. As long as I am trying my best, I can’t ask more of myself.

Do you have a dream role and/or dance partner and if so what/who are they?

My dream role to dance is Juliet because I love the choreography by Kenneth MacMillan. Also I would love to experience portraying the emotional journey that she goes through during the ballet. There are so many great partners in the ballet industry, especially in The Royal Ballet, so I would love to dance with anyone in the Company! 

What would you say to students entering their graduate year ?

I think it’s important to find a balance between working hard but also taking care of yourself when needed. The workload in graduate year can be really strenuous on the body, due to training in the school and performing with a company, so prioritising fuelling properly with rest and recovery time is essential. 

Where would you like to be this time next year and how will you measure your progress over the year?

This time next year I would love to still be dancing at The Royal Ballet and aiming to improve my artistic quality on stage. I think I will measure my progress by the confidence I develop on stage and becoming more relaxed and comfortable about performing. 

The Royal Ballet Season opens with Don Quixote on 30th September 2023 and at the time of writing, there are 15 tickets available.

You can watch a livestream of the Don Quixote rehearsal from the Royal Opera House tonight, 18th September at 7.30pm, and it will be available to watch later.

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