1 Beep Me 911
by Missy Elliott ft. 702 & Magoo

Anything by Missy and Timbaland is a definite for me. I think it’s the high-hat rhythm, but it’s infectious and makes me feel so good! I start moving in mysterious ways and instantly imagine myself being this badass street/hip-hop dancer. Living my dreams with this one.

2 Jamming
by Bob Marley

A completely different groove, but this song makes me feel so rooted and spacious in my body and soul. I love love love letting go and vibing to this one.

3 Rise Up Riddim 
by Ayanna Witter-Johnson

This tune was born out of a song of mine called Rise Up. It’s an instrumental vibe that takes the heart of Rise Up, a dancehall rhythm and just focus in on the groove. It really lights me up and totally connects me to my body.

4 Tous les mêmes
by Stromae

I absolutely adore the French language and I love Stromae. This song is my favourite of his and totally makes me dance like no-one is watching. There are so many genres all rolled into one. I hear the Caribbean, pop, dance and French chanson all at once – glorious! 

5 U Don’t Know Me
(Like U Used To)
by Brandy

Brandy was one of my RnB sheroes growing up and she’s still a queen! I used to love dancing to this song, and still do today when I want to move and feel good in myself. The beat and syncopation are so strong, it’s hard not to move to it. I would love to hear this performed live with a drum ensemble – incredible! 

Ayanna Witter-Johnson composed the score for
The Global Playground, a production for children and families
by Theatre-Rites at MIF21 from 2–18 July. mif.co.uk

Big Picture

Tamara Karsavina

Dance Gazette

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The best advice I ever received There is something different to learn from every single part of the journey as a dancer, but two things really stick in my mind. Once, when I commented on how something went wrong in my performance, Steven McRae (Royal Ballet) said, ‘Always remember that no performance will ever be perfect. The sooner you accept that, the happier a dancer you will be.’ It can seem quite blunt, but it is very true – we should constantly aim for perfection but simultaneously accept that things will go wrong and we need to enjoy the journey regardless of these mistakes. A performance isn’t about one step, it is about the show as a whole. Secondly, my dear friend, James Barton at Scottish Ballet, told me to ‘always be brave.’

The advice I would pass on Focus on technique, but never forget about artistry. Remember that at the end of the day, we are attempting to make the audience feel something. The truest, most vulnerable performances you can give will be your most powerful as nobody else will ever be able do it the way you do. Be brave and be you!

WATCH Lachlan rehearsing The Nutcracker with BRB



Ayanna Witter-Johnson

Dance Gazette

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Did this survey of contemporary ballet leave you optimistic about the health of the artform?

The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Ballet was born out of a modest publication called Network of Pointes. Dr Jill Nunes Jensen and I were passionate about bringing together ballet scholars, critics, dancers, and choreographers (who all too often were separated in discussions). At the heart of Network of Pointes were reflections by Meredith Webster (Alonzo King LINES Ballet) and a conversation with Eric Underwood (former Royal Ballet dancer). A bigger affair was the 2016 conference that Jill and I curated in New York City; the collection of voices grew bigger and bigger. This Handbook proves that ballet is, in the majority of cultural contexts, thriving and very much a point of engagement within the last two decades and in recent times. 

Do you have your own particular favourite of the ballets discussed? 

What a tough question! I’m obviously biased towards the extensive repertoire that I’ve watched in London, Paris, and New York over the last 21 years. I do have my ‘special ones’. Karole Armitage’s Drastic Classicism comes to mind; I watched a restaging at the Royal Festival Hall in 2009 and just wanted to be on stage dancing to the rock music. William Forsythe’s Enemy in the Figure is one of the many Forsythe ballets discussed in the Handbook, which also includes insightful moments in the creative processes of some very recent ballets: Cathy Marston’s Snowblind, David Dawson’s Anima Animus and Justin Peck’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming for San Francisco Ballet’s Unbound Season (2018), are pretty high on my favourites list.

How did dance first enter your life?

I’d call myself the ‘typical’ middle class girl (dancing around her home aged three) whose mother sent her to an RAD ballet school in Malta. Led by Daphne Lungaro-Mifsud, Licentiate (LRAD) graduates taught at the school in the late 1980s and early 1990s. And through reading Dance Gazette, I became fascinated with what was then the BA(Hons) Art and Teaching of Ballet. That was over 20 years ago!

How have you found teaching at the RAD Faculty during the pandemic?

Life changed in March 2020. I returned from Malta, fresh from my book launch (Princess Poutiatine and the Art of Ballet in Malta) in a wonderful 17th-century theatre in Valletta, and found myself in quarantine and then lockdown at my home in Surrey. Reconceptualising the physicality of our classes and administrative meetings was a challenge. Dancers know how to improvise, and anyone working in dance education has risen to this challenge with grace and fortitude. There are silver linings: academic collegiality and the wonderful team that I work with, as well as our students’ resilience through all the shifts and changes.

You are also responsible for Academic Integrity at the RAD – what is the challenge of that role?

The highlight of Academic Integrity is the pursuit of honesty, fairness and other values connected with respecting and recognising the work of others. All too often it is perceived as a ‘policing’ role, but I hope that our communities of students, who come to the RAD to study dance pedagogy (and so much more!), will see that Academic Integrity is in line with any code of professional conduct.

Advice Bureau

Lachlan Monaghan

Dance Gazette

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David McAllister had no idea what awaited him when he arrived at a special event held in Sydney in April. To his surprise, he was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Award, the RAD’s highest honour. 

McAllister, who stepped down as Artistic Director of the Australian Ballet at the end of 2020 and is also a Vice-President of the RAD, receives the award in recognition of his contribution to the Australian Ballet as a dancer and director, as well as being a vital supporter and advocate for dance. 

David McAllister is surprised by Darcey Bussell’s filmed announcement. Photo: Chris Pavlich

‘It is the highest achievement in ballet,’ he said, ‘and without the Royal Academy of Dance I would not be here today. This award has been given to such extraordinary people and to join them is mind-blowing. You don’t expect to receive such an award or recognition when you are lucky enough to do a job you love, with such incredibly talented people. I am incredibly touched and moved.’

First presented (to Dame Ninette de Valois) in 1954, the QEII Coronation Award has been given to some of the greatest names in dance, including Marie Rambert, Frederick Ashton, Rudolf Nureyev, Carlos Acosta and most recently Karen Kain. This year’s award was presented at a special lunch gala organised by the Friends of the Australian Ballet, arranged to mark the end of McAllister’s incredible four decades with the company, and provided a perfect opportunity to surprise him with this coveted honour. 

David McAllister. Photo: Chris Pavlich

David McAllister danced with the Australian Ballet for 20 years and then became its Artistic Director for a further 20 years, growing its international reputation immeasurably. Dame Darcey Bussell, who guested with the company and is the RAD’s President, joined the event virtually to announce the news (Audrey Nicholls presented the medal in person). ‘David, you are so deserving of this award,’ she said, adding that he achieved everything ‘with complete humility and integrity.’

The event was compered by McAllister’s close friend and former dance partner Liz Toohey, who told the Sydney Morning Herald that ‘the legacy and the mark he has made on Australian ballet can never be underestimated.’


Why Dance Matters

Xander Parish

Dance Gazette

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How did ballet first get its hooks into you?

That would be my sister’s fault! I was into everything sporty. But one day – I was eight years old, I think – I saw my sister Demelza dancing and turned to my mum and said, why is Melzie on stage and I’m sat watching her? It looks fun. Little did I know! Literally the next Monday I went to ballet classes with my sister. On that very day there was an audition – Hull New Theatre was doing The Pickwick Papers with Sir Harry Secombe, and they were looking for kids to be extras. I was cast as a street urchin. I was actually a shy kid. I had a stutter, I couldn’t get the words out, it was awful. I was terrified of performing. But there was a freedom about performing, not with words but with physicality.

When did you first experience the RAD syllabus?

The RAD holds a special place in my heart – it’s a wonderful thing. White Lodge [home of the Royal Ballet School] was very intense, but on Saturday afternoons we had Frank Freeman for RAD classes. He was a marvellous teacher. It was very different to what we were used to. He was much more relaxed with us, and gave us great freedom to express ourselves within the combinations. I wasn’t one of the strongest dancers in my year by a long shot, but Frank always encouraged me – he let me dance and be free.

Xander Parish at the Mariinsky Theatre. Photo: Darian Volkova

Things weren’t working out at the Royal Ballet – how did you end up in St Petersburg?

I was frustrated beyond belief with the walk-on roles I was doing. It was really draining. I put in a lot of extra hours trying to improve and get noticed, but nothing was happening. Then a young Russian ballet master turned up – he was inspirational, gave a really energetic and exciting class. On his last day, I thanked him, and said, before you go, can I show you a few more jumps? I had a half an hour masterclass with this guy, it was really inspiring. Six months later that same man, Yuri Fateyev, became director of the Mariinsky Ballet, and gave a friend of mine a message: tell Xander to come to Russia and dance here.

What did he see in you?

I’ll tell you – because I asked him! I was like, why me? He said, I didn’t offer you the job because you were the best dancer around – but because you wanted it. I could see you were hungry to learn. He liked my attitude, as simple as that.

What would you say to a young dancer in the same situation you were in, feeling they have more to give?

Never give up. Dance for yourself, enjoy what you do. If you have a hunger to learn and grow and conquer your art, you will. Just don’t give up. Sometimes the chances will find you. If you’re working hard and doing your best, believe that it will work out for your good.

Artwork: Bex Glendining

And why does dance matter to you?

Dance matters to me because it’s an expression of the heart. Dance can’t be separated from the person doing it. Sometimes you’ll come across teachers or choreographers who think ballet is just a physical thing, to be beaten into a student to do exactly as they say. But I disagree. Ballet is an expression of the person doing it, and has to be interpreted through the filter of the person who’s feeling and performing it. I dance, not just to execute the steps as they were created 100 years ago – I respect that, but every dancer is a different living, breathing organism of individuality. It’s an expression of who I am.

Why Dance Matters

Why Dance Matters is a new podcast from the RAD – a series of conversations with extraordinary people from the world of dance and beyond. We hope these insightful personal conversations – hosted by David Jays, editor of Dance Gazette – will delight and inspire you.

Other guests in this first season include the film director Gurinder Chadha, choreographer Cathy Marston, ballerina Céline Gittens, doctor Guddi Singh, activist Phil Chan, RAD teacher Victoria Trevino and Luke Rittner, the RAD’s Chief Executive. Please listen and subscribe to Why Dance Matters.

LISTEN The full interview with Xander Parish on Why Dance Matters


Kathrina Farrugia-Kriel

Dance Gazette

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