It was a dramatic end. John Cranko, the choreographer who transformed Stuttgart Ballet into an ensemble of international standing, asphyxiated on vomit caused by a mild sleeping drug whilst flying back to Germany with his company following a tour of the United States in 1973. He was just 45 years old, and the dance world was left in shock.

‘It was so sudden, you felt you had lost everything,’ remembers Reid Anderson, former Stuttgart Ballet principal and later its director. ‘We didn’t realise what we had until we didn’t have him. It was like a major disaster.’

Five decades on, Cranko is now recalled with reverence and affection. As Mary Clarke wrote in her Dancing Times obituary, he ‘will be remembered as a choreographer with a superb sense of theatre and a gift for creating comedy character dancing unrivalled by any of his contemporaries… Relaxed and cheerful, he was always with his dancers – in the studio, the canteen, the bar, the cafe. It was this easy camaraderie that made the Stuttgart Ballet such a happy company and will give it, now, the will to endure.’

Born in South Africa in 1927, Cranko grew up with a love of puppets, the theatre and dance. Encouraged by his parents, who told him stories about the performances they saw by Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, Cranko took up ballet lessons with the ultimate ambition of becoming a choreographer. He trained with Dulcie Howes at the University of Cape Town Ballet School, where he created his first choreographic works, including an ambitious version of Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale

Realising that to advance his career he would need to leave the country, he travelled to London to study at the Sadler’s Wells Ballet School. Cranko was not a remarkable dancer, but he entered Sadler’s Wells (later Royal) Ballet in 1947, where director Ninette de Valois quickly spotted his talent for choreography.

Cranko rehearsing Antoinette Sibley in Harlequin in April in 1959. Photo: GBL Wilson (RAD/ArenaPAL)

‘Cranko combined the precious gifts of the choreographic artist with a human warmth and concern for his dancers’

Malve Gradinger

That year, Cranko created Morceaux Enfantins for the RAD Production Club, which proved so successful it was taken into the repertoire of the Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet as Children’s Corner. Thereafter, and with growing confidence and facility, Cranko continued to make successful ballets, most notably Pineapple Poll and The Lady and the Fool. He had a flair for comedy and, although he revered the choreography of George Balanchine, Cranko was most interested in creating dance works primarily about people. He collaborated with artists such as John Piper and Osbert Lancaster, worked closely with composer Benjamin Britten on The Prince of the Pagodas, and was seen as a natural successor to choreographer Frederick Ashton at the Royal Ballet.

Cranko also worked in the theatre, most famously on the revue Cranks, but after he was prosecuted for homosexual activity in 1959 (still a criminal offence then), job offers in Britain seemed to dry up, which was why he ultimately took up the position of ballet director in Stuttgart. There, according to Malve Gradinger, Cranko ‘developed into a director of genius… In later years it became more and more apparent that Cranko combined the precious gifts of the choreographic artist with a human warmth and concern for his dancers.’

He expanded Stuttgart’s repertoire with stagings of Romeo and Juliet, Onegin and The Taming of the Shrew, as well as many interesting one-act works, discovered a ballerina in Marcia Haydée, championed dancers such as Ray Barra, Richard Cragun, Susanne Hanke, Birgit Keil, Heinz Klaus and Egon Madsen, and encouraged choreography from Jirí Kylián, John Neumeier and Peter Wright. This all culminated in the company’s triumphant seasons at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York, where it was acclaimed as the ‘Stuttgart miracle’.

Why was Cranko such an exceptional man? Ninette de Valois, founder of the Royal Ballet, believed, ‘The mind of Cranko was always alert, individual and independent; yet he was genuinely receptive.’ Cranko’s friend, art critic and librettist Myfanwy Piper, said he ‘never stopped looking, listening and absorbing…’ and those who met him ‘were exhilarated by his ardour, his generosity and his receptiveness… He knew how to extract ideas and information from people without making them feel sucked of vitality – because he never failed to give as much as he took.’

Razor-sharp… Lynn Seymour, Christopher Gable and Annette Page in Card Game (1966). Photo: GBL Wilson (RAD/ArenaPAL)

Cranko encouraged the people with whom he worked. In Barbara Newman’s Antoinette Sibley: Reflections of a Ballerina, the former Royal Academy of Dance president said it was Cranko who ‘gave me the chance to prove myself. Well, how grateful can one be to that first person who has chosen you so other people can see what you can make out of a role? …he gave me such courage.’ In her autobiography, Lynn Seymour vividly described a man who ‘had a remarkable gift of language. He articulated what he wanted from his dancers with a vibrant Oscar Wildean wit. Words flowed easily, his thoughts were communicated briskly, precisely, with a razor-sharp clarity. No mutters, stutters, murmurs or mumbles.’

The choreographer had the knack of bringing out the best in a dancer. Brenda Last, a former Royal Ballet principal, recalls, ‘I think I was the last person John rehearsed in Pineapple Poll, as it was just before he went to America on that last trip… John watched me dance the whole thing, and then at the end he got up, put his arm around my shoulders and said, “I really enjoyed that!” I thought that was just so extraordinary. He was very sweet.’

A loner… Cranko. Photo: Denis de Marney

‘He loved people who were creative.
There were no rules’

Reid Anderson
Cranko with Dorothea Zippel, Lynn Seymour, Christopher Gable and Annette Page. Photo: GBL Wilson (RAD/ArenaPAL)
Peter Wright with Cranko in Stuttgart, 1963. Photo: GBL Wilson (RAD/ArenaPAL)

Reid Anderson recounts how, after anxiously listing his insecurities to Cranko in the canteen one day, Cranko replied, ‘”That’s exactly what I like about you!” It was a turning point for me – I realised all of that didn’t matter to him at all. What mattered was who you became on stage. He loved people who were creative. He was looking for faces, for people who had ‘it’. You either had “it” or you didn’t. There were no rules. He knew Marcia [Haydée] would be his ballerina – she had “it” and she was absolutely fearless.’

‘I think he needed to see a thirst for advancement but real humility [in a dancer],’ says Ashley Killar, former Stuttgart dancer and Cranko’s biographer. ‘John wanted to work with people who wanted to work with him,’ adds RAD vice-president, Monica Mason, who performed in Cranko’s ballets when she was a member of the Royal Ballet. ‘Stuttgart Ballet were his “followers” – he invested so much emotion into people in the same kind of way Kenneth MacMillan did. Ashton was different – he was inclined to be lyrical and romantic – but John and Kenneth were much more realistic in outlook. They lived in the real world, but they also minded about technique.’

To this day, dancers enjoy appearing in Cranko’s creations. ‘I loved performing them, especially Pineapple Poll, as they were a real company effort and had lots of characterisation,’ enthuses Iain Mackay, former principal with Birmingham Royal Ballet. ‘There were always lots of good roles, and they were great fun, but they were bloody hard to perform! With Captain Belaye in Poll, his solo is fiendish – it requires such precision. And in Shrew, those pas de deux for Kate and Petruchio are so tricky – they were always a real challenge.’

Despite his achievements, Cranko never settled down in a happy, long-term relationship. Openly gay, I wondered if Cranko was lonely? ‘Desperately so,’ confirms Killar. ‘He was lonely, but he was also a loner,’ reveals Anderson. ‘He spent all day with the ballet company. In a way, I don’t think he was a person you could have had a relationship with – I don’t think his mind ever left his calling.’

Cranko today… Miriam Kacerova and David Moore in Romeo and Juliet. Photo: © Stuttgart Ballet

Did the way Cranko worked as a director influence his dancers when they themselves became directors of dance companies? ‘Oh, God! Yes!’ exclaims Anderson. ‘Absolutely!’ replies Killar, ‘but an understanding with one’s administrator is vital. Cranko was inordinately fortunate in being employed by former playwright Erich Walter Schäfer, the Intendant at Stuttgart. Cranko’s habit of asking his dancers to explore a world outside themselves pays amazing dividends.’

As the anniversary of Cranko’s death approaches, Stuttgart Ballet will be presenting a gala tribute to him in June 2023, and is also involved in the making of a feature film on Cranko’s life, and that of his dancers. ‘John made us all feel like human beings – it was all about you and how you could “be” on stage,’ Reid Anderson concludes. ‘You were part of the family.’

Ashley Killar’s Cranko, The Man and His Choreography is published by Matador.


Scenes from Cranko’s Romeo and Juliet and Pineapple Poll

Jonathan Gray was editor of Dancing Times from 2008 until 2022. He has also contributed to the Financial Times and Guardian, and is now a freelance dance writer.


TikTok: good for dance?

Nicolas-Tyrell Scott

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One evening, when I was about seven or eight years old, my parents allowed me to stay up late to watch television. It was a special occasion, as ballet was rarely shown on TV then, and that night, performing in a gala on the BBC with Natalia Makarova in extracts from Don Quixote and Giselle, was a sensational new dancer. That man was Mikhail Baryshnikov, who had recently been making headlines because of his dramatic defection from the Soviet Union whilst on tour in Canada. He was a new star in the ballet firmament, and nearly 50 years later his name still causes a flurry of excitement whenever it is mentioned.

What was it that made Baryshnikov so special? Small, with blond hair and blue eyes, he was ‘a miracle of weightlessness who does the impossible with the nonchalance of a Fred Astaire,’ said Margot Fonteyn in The Magic of Dance. ‘He goes from extraordinary classical virtuosity to modern ballet as easily as a chameleon changes colour, and he expresses the sheer joy of dancing.’ In 1975, a year after Baryshnikov had defected, Mary Clarke, editor of Dancing Times, wrote of him in the Royal Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet, ‘What an artist! If I could use just one adjective to describe his dancing, I would choose “beautiful.”’

Baryshnikov and Patricia McBride rehearsing Other Dances in 1979 (New York City Ballet). Photo: GBL Wilson (RAD/ArenaPAL)

‘If I had just one adjective to describe his dancing, I would choose: beautiful’

Mary Clarke

Baryshnikov left Russia because he wanted to experience a more varied repertoire than was available with the Kirov Ballet in Leningrad, which he joined in 1967 and where he was continually typecast in such roles as Basilio in Don Quixote. Born in Riga in 1948 to a family with no connection to ballet, he became interested in dancing by chance after his mother took him to audition at the Riga Dance School. He was accepted at the school and took to dance immediately, but such was his facility for ballet that in 1964 Baryshnikov went to Leningrad to study at the Vaganova Academy. There, he joined the class of the famous teacher Alexander Pushkin, who had earlier nurtured Rudolf Nureyev and Yuri Soloviev.

Watching Baryshnikov in Pushkin’s class in 1965, friend and biographer Gennady Smakov recalled, ‘I immediately noticed a frail-looking, fair boy with distant, luminous eyes and sharp features. Not only the rare coordination of his pirouettes and jumps singled him out, but something special in the way he shaped every step – he was both impishly radiant and absolutely serious.’

Baryshnikov working with White Oak Dance Project in 1993. Photo: Ferdinando Scianna/Magnum
Box-office magic: Baryshnikov with Natalia Makarova in Jerome Robbins’ Other Dances. Photo: Everett Collection/Alamy

‘Pushkin’s method also allowed the dancer’s individuality to take shape,’ Smakov continued. ‘A dancer fostered by Pushkin would suffuse movement with his own emotions… Misha’s jump was already strong, but Pushkin stimulated his natural coordination and so increased the jump’s amplitude and height.’ Indeed, watching Baryshnikov on film, when he dances he somehow seems to miraculously hover in the air at the very height of a jump.

‘It was, in fact, the perfection of his technique which constituted Baryshnikov’s individuality at the outset of his career,’ Smakov added. ‘His training had endowed him with absolute precision in… the Russian school… Despite Baryshnikov’s already extraordinary technique, few challenging roles were available to the young graduate at the beginning of his career. The Sleeping Beauty, Giselle and Swan Lake were still considered out of the question. Misha was given roles which often fell short of fully exploiting his gifts.’

In 1969, Baryshnikov won the Moscow International Ballet Competition, and in 1970 made his first appearance in the west. In a review in the Sunday Times, Richard Buckle noted, ‘London has taken Mikhail Baryshnikov to its heart, but on Friday, when he danced the Don Quixote pas de deux with [Gabriela] Komleva, there was a particular feeling of coronation in the air, as if he were being formally acclaimed as the great dancer of our day, which indeed he is… Here is the ultimate glory of the classical Leningrad school.’

‘The important thing is to be a dancer’: Baryshnikov in Florida, 1993. Photo: Ferdinando Scianna/Magnum

‘It is necessary to try everything in dance. I should be able to dance anything’

Mikhail Baryshnikov

Following his defection, Baryshnikov was in huge demand. Making New York his home, he appeared regularly with American Ballet Theatre (ABT), and danced the great classics as well as a huge variety of roles by many different choreographers, including Frederick Ashton, George Balanchine, Mikhail Fokine, Kenneth MacMillan, John Neumeier, Roland Petit, Jerome Robbins, Glen Tetley and Antony Tudor.

One of his greatest triumphs at ABT was in Twyla Tharp’s Push Comes to Shove in 1976. At the time, Tharp, pre-eminent in the contemporary dance world, was a daring choice of choreographer for a ballet company, but in Push, according to Mary Clarke in Dancing Times, she created ‘a company work that mixed up classical, pop, every kind of dancing, and taught Baryshnikov to dance entirely in the Tharp manner.’

Baryshnikov told Walter Terry in Great Male Dancers of the Ballet, ‘I never did modern or jazz [dance] before now. It is fascinating and exciting! I had only had classical, so it required a different physical and mental preparation. It is important for me now to work in all styles possible. I could not be better than anyone else in Martha Graham’s style – I could not be a top dancer there, not the same as in classical dance where I have all the training. But the important thing is to be a dancer. And to be a better classical dancer, it is necessary to try everything in dance because you’ll come back to it better and stronger than before. I should be able to dance anything assigned to me, anything I want to do. That’s why I need this experience.’

‘The important thing is to be a dancer’: Baryshnikov in the studio, 1993. Photo: Ferdinando Scianna/Magnum

For Mary Clarke, another hit was Baryshnikov’s appearance as Colas in Ashton’s La Fille mal gardée with the Royal Ballet in 1977, in which he danced ‘the choreography as it is set, paying the greatest attention to Ashton’s subtleties of footwork. And how delicately, artistically, he completes a show of virtuosity. His very last grand pirouette was breathtaking in its speed and control but he ended quietly, with a perfect finish. Although Fille is the happiest of ballets… I found myself more than once weeping with pleasure in the beauty of Baryshnikov’s dancing. To have seen that performance, and to have seen him dance Spectre de la Rose with ABT in New York, is all I ask of male dancing.’ Clement Crisp added in the Financial Times, ‘Up in the air Baryshnikov enters an element in which, like a swimmer, he can disport himself. Dancing seems for him, as for how few others, the most completely natural method of expression.’ Later, in 1980, Ashton created Rhapsody on Baryshnikov, in which Julie Kavanagh, in her biography of the choreographer, described the dancer as a ‘shining golden bullet of energy.’

By the close of the 1970s, Baryshnikov had starred in the Hollywood ballet movie The Turning Point, appeared in a television spectacular alongside Liza Minnelli, created productions of The Nutcracker and Don Quixote for ABT and become a celebrity. An apparently unhappy season at New York City Ballet in 1978-79 followed (‘However disappointing the interlude may have been for Baryshnikov,’ Lynn Garafola noted wryly in her history of the company, ‘for NYCB it was box-office magic; for the first and only time in its history, sold-out houses became a common occurrence’), and he suffered his first knee injury that would eventually bring his classical dancing career to a close. Baryshnikov was appointed director of ABT in 1980, a position he held until 1989.

‘The ideal of movement is always realised in his art’

Clement Crisp


Thereafter, leaving ballet behind, Baryshnikov turned his attention towards contemporary dance. As Crisp noted when reviewing a 1993 performance in the Financial Times, ‘A distinguishing quality of Baryshnikov’s dancing has ever been its clarity. The classicist’s ideal of movement pure, sharply-drawn and impeccably shaped, is always realised in his art. This was what Leningrad training brought to a God-given physical instrument… We see dance as an essence, unalloyed and potent, set in long lines of beautiful and subtly-conceived activity. Baryshnikov now is, miraculously, Baryshnikov then.’


Baryshnikov dances Balanchine’s Apollo and Who Cares.

Jonathan Gray was editor of Dancing Times from 2008 until 2022. He has also contributed to the Financial Times and Guardian, and is now a freelance dance writer.


‘He is very open. He likes things. He is an appreciator and an encourager and that is wonderful.’ That’s how the choreographer Mark Morris describes Mikhail Baryshnikov. The two have been friends for more than 40 years, ever since Morris went to meet ‘Misha’ in his box at the Metropolitan Opera House just after Baryshnikov had taken over the artistic directorship of American Ballet Theatre (ABT). On the spot, he asked Morris to choreograph a piece.

‘His period running that company was extraordinary and unusual and incredibly productive,’ says Morris. ‘It changed a lot of things. He was smart enough to look around for people who could actually choreograph, and he did great stuff.’

That first work became Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes, still in ABT’s repertory, but their greatest and happiest collaboration was from 1990–2002 when Baryshnikov came up with the idea of the White Oak Dance Project, a group of older dancers dedicated to performing first the work of Morris and later as a repertory company. ‘It was incredibly fruitful and fun,’ says Morris.

Rob Besserer and Baryshnikov in Wonderland by Mark Morris. Photo: Klaus Lefèbvre

‘He always recognised that the classical ballet industry isn’t the end of the world’

Mark Morris

The endeavour, at the end of Baryshnikov’s career as a classical dancer, opened up new worlds of possibility both for the dancers and for audiences. Baryshnikov credits White Oak and Morris with extending his performing career. ‘Which is kind and also true,’ writes Morris in his autobiography Out Loud. ‘And then, after I extended it, he kept going some more!’

He certainly did. Baryshnikov is still performing today, and Morris was still making dances for him in 2013, when he appeared in Old Man in A Wooden Tree, set to Ivor Cutler’s songs. The importance of their long collaboration is the way in which it reveals Baryshnikov’s artistic courage, his desire to walk new paths and see where they take him. 

He danced Twyla Tharp’s Push Comes to Shove with ABT in 1976, 18 months after his arrival in the west, setting his classical technique at the service of her very different and challenging style. She said, ‘I had to be able to evolve for him a vocabulary that enfolded some of this… for lack of a better word, let’s call it slouch. It’s a totally different placement from the classical ballet. He was all in to try to do that.’

That attitude has persisted throughout his career. As he has aged, his range hasn’t narrowed but got wider. He once said to me that people under 30 wouldn’t remember him as a dancer, but as Sarah Jessica Parker’s Russian lover Aleksandr Petrovsky in Sex in the City. That’s unlikely but they might note that he is an actor who was nominated for an Academy Award for The Turning Point (1977), and who has performed on and off Broadway and earned a Tony Award nod for Steven Berkoff’s version of Metamorphosis (1989).

Robert Wilson directs Baryshnikov and Willem Dafoe in The Old Woman. Photo: Lucie Jansch

‘He approaches things very gracefully. Like water. It is really moving’

Jessica Hecht

The breadth of his interest prompts him to seek out interesting collaborators, developing his own skills in different fields and exploring new horizons. ‘Misha has always been a good listener, and I think he always recognised that the classical ballet industry isn’t the end of the world,’ says Morris. ‘He’s always been a reader, interested in theatre, and pretty intellectually active. For Misha, it was like: this is dancing also.’

Certainly, he brings to all his work the precision and care that he applied to his dance. As Morris notes: ‘He is so meticulously prepared and then repeats it. He is close to obsessed about the details and getting things right, timing and positioning. He is very, very accurate. That’s a wonderful trait that a lot of people don’t have.’

This was a quality that the actress Jessica Hecht noticed when she worked with Baryshnikov on an adventurous live and online version of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard directed by the Ukrainian-born Igor Golyak last year. Baryshnikov played both Firs, the family servant and Anton Chekhov, while she took the roles of Ranevskaya, owner of the orchard, and Olga Knipper, actress and Chekhov’s wife.

‘Grace is the word to use for his methodology. It is filled with a kind of meticulous kindness and precision,’ Hecht says. ‘Unlike most actors, he will work quietly on the side, and just repeat everything over and over again to himself, to figure out his physical path through a role and maybe his psychological path too. 

‘He has everything on these little note cards and if you ever interrupt what he is doing for a second, his immediate gesture is to put his hand up and lower his head as if to say, oh I am sorry. He immediately thinks he was in your space.’ 

She laughs as she continues: ‘This gesture of raising his hand and lowering his head is kind of the way he marches through his work, I think. There is a desire to be as seamless as he was on stage as a dancer, so he approaches things very gracefully. Like water. It is really moving. He can walk through this portal and manifest some total physical understanding which is emotionally rich as well.’

Baryshnikov has collaborated three times with Robert Wilson, the legendary experimental theatre director, forging a close relationship. ‘I saw Misha dance at Lincoln Center and immediately was drawn to him,’ Wilson says. ‘As a dancer, he never pushed too hard, it seemed so natural for him to be on stage to jump! He had a beautiful balance between an interior sense and an exterior one.’

Robert Wilson’s A Letter to a Man. Photo: Lucie Jansch
Baryshnikov with Jessica Hecht and Jeffrey Hayenga in The Orchard. Photo: Pavel Antonov

They first worked together on Wilson’s Video Portrait of San Sebastian in 2004. ‘He had a special gift because he understood the movement in stillness,’ says Wilson. ‘Very few dancers do. Working with Misha was a real give and take, one could have a dialogue, I could suggest a direction and he would immediately make it his own.’

Two further collaborations followed. In Letter to a Man (2015), based on the diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky, Baryshnikov brought his own knowledge of the dancer and his descent into madness to the piece. ‘It gave a depth and personal understanding to the piece that went far beyond my superficial direction. For me what makes Misha so special is that he has a secret. I do not know what it is, and this draws me to him. It is not something we have to discuss, and this is what makes him great.’

In The Old Woman (2013), based on the writings of the absurdist Russian author Daniil Kharms, Wilson directed Baryshnikov alongside the actor Willem Dafoe with whom he formed a remarkable vaudevillian double act. ‘I loved working with him,’ says Dafoe. ‘He’s a warrior and has a very practical approach to things. He has a deep love for what he does, and a work ethic built on practice, passion, curiosity and a slightly dark sense of humour.

‘He is an inspiration because he is an artist who continually challenges himself’

Willem Dafoe

‘The moment before the curtain went up, he would always tell me jokingly what percentage of energy we should use in the performance. Sometimes 75 percent or 90, to remind me to relax and enjoy. Actually, he always gave 100 percent.’

Dafoe says he is full of admiration for Baryshnikov. ‘His career is an inspiration because he is an artist who continually challenges himself.’ Like everyone I have spoken to, he is also full of affection. ‘He gave me friendship and camaraderie on the road,’ he says. ‘He was a great partner.’ Morris says simply: ‘I have known him through all kinds of weather, and he is friendly and funny and we have wonderful spontaneity.’

Hecht thinks that this gift for friendship is part and parcel of Baryshnikov’s quiet altruism. ‘I think integrity, both artistic and emotional, is first and foremost of the qualities in the work he chooses to do,’ she says. She tells the story of sharing a cab with a woman who was working as a caretaker, and had been saved from homelessness by the fact that Baryshnikov (who she never met) had bought a building, turned it into social housing, then saw her application and gave her a tenancy. 

‘She said that every time he was performing, she came to watch. “Sometimes I don’t understand the play, but I always understand him.” I thought that was a great thing she said. He does some stuff that is out there artistically, but she always understood what he was trying to do. He was like her guardian angel, and that said so much about him as an artist and as a person.’

New horizons: Baryshnikov in The Orchard in 2022. Photo: Pavel Antonov
‘Misha has a secret’: A Letter to a Man. Photo: Lucie Jansch

‘He is one of the greatest artists of the 20th and 21st centuries, and one of the most humble and deeply engaged human beings I have ever met’

Jessica Hecht


Working with Baryshnikov, Hecht says, ‘was a tremendous lesson in the art of true modesty. That we are never above the need to study and listen and respect everyone in the room. It blows my mind. He is one of the greatest dancers of the 20th century, and one of the greatest artists of the 20th and 21st centuries, and he is one of the most humble and deeply engaged human beings I have ever met.’

This engagement and curiosity powers Baryshnikov’s support for other artists, both personally and through the Baryshnikov Arts Center in Manhattan, founded in 2005. ‘BAC feels like he is there even when he is not,’ says Hecht. ‘The space is built with a kind of light. Everyone can come in here, you can create and build whatever you want to do. It feels totally inspired.’

This inspiration and support, the use of his celebrity to be a force for good, is one of Baryshnikov’s greatest gifts to the cultural world. As Wilson says: ‘He is extraordinary in so many ways, but maybe the most interesting is how he encourages and supports young artists, not to imitate what he did, but to give them a chance for them to have their own voice.’


Baryshnikov describes working with Robert Wilson and Willem Dafoe on The Old Woman

Aleks meets Carrie: Baryshnikov in Sex and the City

Sarah Crompton is a writer and broadcaster, and dance critic for the Observer.


Sign of a star

Vitória Bueno, an RAD-trained ballerina from Brazil, won hearts and minds on NBC’s new show America’s Got Talent: All-Stars.

Now 18, the Brazilian ballerina performed for audiences and a panel of judges. After watching her dance, the often fearsome Simon Cowell said, ‘I believe the sign of a star is someone who perseveres and then lights up the stage – you have both of those things. You have this glow about you – we were mesmerised.’

Bueno was born with phocomelia, a rare genetic condition that can cause babies to be born without limbs, and her passion for ballet blossomed after her physiotherapist advised her to try it at the age of five. She studied at the Academia Ândrea Falsarella in her hometown of Santa Rita Do Sapucai in the state of Minas Gerais – Falsarella and her colleagues are RAD teachers.

Vitória Bueno dancing on America’s Got Talent. Photo: Trae Patton/NBC

The RAD examiner Pamela Richardson described visiting Brazil to assess Bueno and her fellow candidates. ‘I had no idea what an amazing heart-warming experience I was about to have,’ she wrote in 2018. ‘I was immediately struck by Vitória’s smile, beaming eyes, beautiful physique and obvious happiness. She showed from the beginning perfect posture, weight placement and control, and I must add very correct timing and musicality.’ Even the port de bras ‘was shown with such good use of head and eye-line that I could “see” her “invisible arms”.’ Richardson added that Bueno displayed ‘an inner light that shone through the whole exam showing her love of dance. When the girls left the studio, I must admit that my tears just streamed down my face! I felt privileged to have had this experience, humble at the pure joy she expressed in her dancing, and full of admiration not only for her, but for her colleagues who behaved so kindly and naturally with her, her teachers who had taught her so much with care and attention and her parents and family who obviously supported her dreams.’

In 2021, Bueno won second place on Das Supertalent (Germany’s Got Talent), and came third in her semi-final on the recent American show. She often shares dance on her Instagram account, which has grown to over 450,000 followers. ‘For me, arms, they’re just a detail,’ Bueno has said. ‘I follow with my eyes, as if they were there.’ And she believes that ‘we are more than our disabilities, so we have to chase our dreams.’

Vitória Bueno on America’s Got Talent. Photo: NBC


Vitória Bueno on America’s Got Talent


Silver lining

Lyn Fitzsimons was the first RAD teacher to become a Silver Swans Licensee in Australia. She shares the impact of her work with this landmark programme teaching ballet to older adults.

I recently returned to Scotland due to the pandemic and have happily re-settled with my family in Edinburgh. But before that I was honoured to teach many Silver Swans classes in my eight years in Australia and to be the first in Australia to qualify for the license, travelling to Nevada, USA to attain the accreditation. 

It was incredibly humbling to be in many regional editorial publications regarding my classes in the state of Queensland, including interviews for Sydney Radio to promote and encourage the Silver Swans, which I found extremely rewarding. I was also very humbled to be asked by Queensland Ballet to be part of a two-year research campaign on the health and physical benefits of ballet for older adults.

One lady, called Lorna, was 78 years old when this photo was taken. For four years she attended two of my Silver Swans classes each week, and her elegance and grace were breathtaking. Before Silver Swans, she had never danced in her life – and she said, it changed her life and that she felt indebted to the RAD. She described the Silver Swans as the silver lining to her life.

It is my pleasure to continue to be a proud ambassador of the Silver Swans and the RAD. I wear it like a badge of honour across my chest.

Lyn Fitzsimons and Lorna the Silver Swan. Photo: courtesy Lyn Fitzsimons


Lyn and her class on Queensland’s Channel 7 news


A good eye

The British dancer Jimmy Parratt explains how the skills from his RAD training helped him pivot from performance to photography.

I started dancing at around three years old. My mum was an RAD ballet teacher (she has recently retired), so I went along with her to work in Lewisham, London, and ended up just joining in. One thing led to another! I progressed through all of my RAD examinations and ended up going to Central School of Ballet at 16. 

I did the Genée [the RAD’s Genée International Ballet Competition] in Antwerp and got to the final – it was a lovely experience, a really friendly environment. Everyone, competitor or staff, is engaged with you personally. 

It was very much by luck that I stumbled across photography. In 2019, I was dancing with the National Ballet of Ireland in Dublin and assisting with their social media whilst on tour. So in rehearsals or in the middle of a show I would grab my phone at the side of stage and take a couple of photos. People said I had a good eye for it, so I promised myself that if I got another job soon after this one, I’d buy myself a camera and lens. I ended up performing with Alina Cojocaru at Sadler’s Wells, and then through covid I ended up training myself – I’m completely self-taught. 

There are definitely transferable skills from dance. My speciality is dance photography, so if I’m photographing some repertoire, I probably already know the moments I want to photograph. If I’m watching a rehearsal for a piece that I don’t know, I’ll learn the choreography in my head and end up knowing what moments to prioritise or where to angle myself. For instance, a low angle will always make the leg line longer. As a dancer with short legs, I would have loved a photographer to make my legs look longer!

At the moment, I say I’m semi-retired as a dancer. Photography is slowly taking over. It was definitely sped up by covid – I did have contracts lined up with a few companies, but it was one cancellation after the other. As a freelancer that was very detrimental. 

Jimmy Parratt. Photo: Jimmy Parratt

The end to a dancing career is always going to come, so finding those transferable skills is extremely important, whether in the arts or the more mainstream ‘muggle’ world. We are extremely good at taking direction but also extremely good at being able to direct ourselves. These are business skills that are key to the workplace. We’ve been working from day one, as kids, motivating and disciplining ourselves to push for as close to perfection as we can get. 

I’ve always loved line and artistry and – with huge amounts of luck – it’s all fallen into place. The RAD training gave me my cleanliness and tidiness as a dancer. It gave me an extremely strong base to pursue a professional career as a dancer and continuing as a photographer. I definitely have to thank the RAD for that. 

Will power

In Athens, RAD teacher Effie Sotira celebrates an adult student’s remarkable achievement.

I am a registered RAD teacher based in Athens, Greece. I am proud to announce that my dear student Phoebe Legakis, aged 50, has passed the Intermediate exam with Merit!

Phoebe started ballet training for the first time in her life six years ago and I have been tutoring her since 2018. She is a strongly motivated person with incredible will power. In class she works really hard to improve despite her physical boundaries and she is excellent in picking up the corrections that I give her.

From the moment that we set the goal of passing the exam, we designed a programme of training together. It consisted of gym exercises and stretching in order to strengthen specific muscle groups, devoting endless care and concern to prevent the body from any injury and added stress.

We are very proud of one another – and especially for Phoebe’s achievement – and we are ready to move on to the next level. As the saying goes, ‘where there’s a will there’s a way!’ – and the way must be a carefully planned management of the body and the mind that in Phoebe’s case allowed her to push her limits gently, to remain focused and to emerge from the process as a nurtured, happy person. Congratulations to Phoebe!

RAD Members’ Day

On 23 April, we are bringing together the RAD global community for a Members’ Day with a chance to attend in-person or online. You can expect a vibrant day of opportunities to network, participate in practical sessions and be part of inspirational conversations. Further information including a full schedule will be released shortly.


Tim Arthur, Chief Executive of the RAD said: ‘It is with deep sadness that we acknowledge the death of our Patron, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Together, we have celebrated so many milestones for the Royal Academy of Dance and for dance in this country. We have been privileged to have had Her Majesty as our Patron for 69 years and our staff, members, and students – along with the whole nation – feel the loss of a remarkable monarch who lived her life in service to us all.’

The Queen opening the RAD’s headquarters in Battersea Square in 1974. Photo: Donald Southern

Queen Elizabeth II became Patron of the RAD in 1953, succeeding her grandmother, Queen Mary. To mark the coronation, our then president, Dame Adeline Genée, instituted the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Award, to be presented annually in recognition of outstanding services to the art of ballet. This is still our most prestigious honour, and has been awarded in Her Majesty’s name to some of the most famous names in ballet, including Sir Frederick Ashton, Dame Marie Rambert, Dame Ninette de Valois, Dame Gillian Lynne, Rudolf Nureyev, Sir Matthew Bourne and Carlos Acosta.

Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh square dancing at a cowboy dress party during the royal tour of Canada in 1951. Photo: Trinity Mirror/Alamy

The RAD welcomed Queen Elizabeth to open its new headquarters in Battersea 1974, and the Fonteyn Centre Studios in 1990. We were honoured to be involved in her 90th birthday celebrations: Dame Darcey Bussell performed at this special event alongside RAD teachers and students.

The Queen’s patronage has been hugely important in supporting the RAD in its mission to advocate for benefits of dance and the arts in communities all around the world.

The Queen presents Sir Peter Wright with the QEII Award in 1990. Photo: Chris Davis
The Queen at RAD in 1990. Photo: Chris Davis


Last month, I was working at an exploitative summer job, earning less than minimum wage, and doing over 70 hours a week. My team had just gone on strike when I was invited by Dance Gazette to write an article about what makes a happy organisation. It was a euphoric moment for me. I couldn’t believe someone cared about my opinions on happiness at work when my own job was making me so miserable.

As adults, most of us spend a vast chunk of our waking hours working, commuting, or getting ready for work. A recent poll commissioned by the Association of Accounting Technicians  estimates that the average worker in the UK will spend 84,171 hours working over the course of their career. So, when we ask what makes a happy organisation, really, we are asking what makes a happy life.

‘How do we make sure that somebody working in a country a long way away still feels connected to the RAD?’

– Tim Arthur

These thoughts are especially relevant to the RAD because Tim Arthur, the new chief executive, sent out two surveys – one each to RAD teachers and members – to get a ‘temperature check,’ as he puts it, for how people feel about the RAD. ‘I wanted it to be warts and all,’ he explains. ‘I really wanted to hear where are the frustrations, what are the bits that we’re not doing that we could do better – or that people would like us to change.’ For the past couple of years, Arthur has been training to become a psychotherapist, and going to therapy himself as part of the course. It has influenced his approach to life – ‘I’m much more chilled out,’ he beams, recalling how he used to work ‘huge hours, and not necessarily productively.’ He is mindful of the ‘trauma of the last couple of years’ for RAD members, bearing in mind the toll covid-19 has taken on people’s mental health, and is keen to do what he can to support them through the global cost of living crisis.

But the RAD can’t solve the world’s problems and Arthur is all too aware of the challenges of running a global organisation; ‘how do you make sure that somebody who is a sole operator in a country somewhere quite a long way away still feels connected?’ he asks. It is a concern for him, and much thought went into what he calls the ‘health and happiness’ surveys. The team are still working through the responses, and Arthur estimates it will be about 18 months before members begin to feel any meaningful change. But he wants to learn from these surveys and make them an annual occurrence.

Tim Arthur at the RAD. Photo: Spiros Politis for Dance Gazette

To gain an understanding of what a happy company looks like, I spoke to Magnus Falk, Chief Information Officer of Zoom, a virtual meeting software with which many of us have become familiar since the start of the pandemic. For the past three years, Zoom has topped rankings of companies with the happiest employees, so I asked Falk what makes their workers so happy. ‘You need a very clear purpose of your role within the organisation,’ he tells me.

‘There’s that great story of the janitor who worked at NASA, and when asked what his role was, he said, “I’m helping put someone on the moon.”’ It’s a sweet joke, but he means it. ‘I think people are only happy if someone in the organisation cares what they’re doing,’ he muses. ‘If no one cares about you, you can really get unhappy very quickly.’

‘People are only happy if someone in the organisation cares what they’re doing’

– Magnus Falk

According to Falk, happiness is the core principle upon which Zoom was established. The founder, Eric Yuan, left a six-figure salary tech job because he was unhappy, and felt that his customers were not happy either. He set up Zoom to make people happy. According to Falk, Yuan is a ‘servant leader’: his meetings are based on listening and asking colleagues for their input, and he cares about their feedback. 

It seems then, that Arthur is doing the right thing with the RAD – he calls this his ‘listening phase.’ But he feels the weight of responsibility. ‘If people don’t see change happen, then that’s almost worse,’ he worries. 

To try to understand what positive change looks like in the workplace, I spoke to an expert. Laura Giurge is Assistant Professor in Behavioural Science at the London School of Economics.

Her research focuses on the culture of work in a holistic way and asks what we can do to improve our lives both at work and outside of it.

Interestingly, in contrast to Falk, Giurge doesn’t think a sense of purpose is necessarily a priority. ‘I don’t think that any one element is the most important,’ she reflects, ‘priorities can depend on the person. Where they are in their career, what type of organisation they’re working for, there’s all these contextual factors.’ Perhaps there is no clear-cut answer, but all three of my interviewees agree that happiness at work is linked to people – Giurge cites the saying, ‘people don’t leave organisations, they leave their boss’ and that this is backed by the research: ‘the people we work with, in particular our direct managers, have a really big influence on how happy we are at work.’

Magnus Falk

Falk and Giurge also have different views on flexible working. ‘Flexibility is a kind of modern construct,’ Falk considers. ‘Post pandemic, you have all the flexibility of where, when and how you work, which is really good.’ Giurge’s research, however, shows that although it is convenient to have a job which works around your life, flexibility isn’t always a good thing. ‘There’s a lot of over-positive buzz around flexibility,’ she laments. ‘There’s so much diversity of preferences and work types nowadays, and there’s less structure.’ 

According to Giurge, it is important that we impose structure and boundaries in our work and communicate those with our colleagues. She stresses that small changes can make a big difference – for example,  if we send non-urgent emails outside of work hours, we should make it clear to the recipient that we do not expect them to answer right away. ‘I can say that I tend to respond fast, or that I’m not available between x and y. Trying to enforce those norms can go a long way.’

Laura Giurge

For many in the creative industries, work does not mean a simple 9-5 job, and since the start of the pandemic, dance has taken a hit. But interestingly, Giurge points out that for dancers and dance teachers, ‘it’s beneficial that you can only do your work in certain locations – a studio imposes a certain structure.

Once you leave that physical location, you could disconnect from work and really engage in life outside.’ Whilst this may be true, the work of a dance practitioner is much more than just what we do in the studio – there might be admin, planning, marketing or a whole host of other things that demand our attention outside the studio. 

‘The people we work with have a really big influence on how happy we are at work’

– Laura Giurge
A happy workplace? Clive Wilkinson Architects in Los Angeles. Photo: Iwan Baan from The Office of Good Intentions (Taschen)
Happy pups? Clive Wilkinson Architects in Los Angeles. Photo: Iwan Baan from The Office of Good Intentions (Taschen)

But it’s not only the culture of workplaces that is important to our happiness. Arthur tells me that dancing can put us in what psychotherapists call a ‘flow state.’ He defines this as ‘a state that people get in when they’re transported by an activity. So, if you are playing piano, or you’re knitting, or you’re dancing, your brain goes into a certain state, where you almost become unaware of time and space, and you’re just in the moment – very present.’ From a mental health perspective, he says, flow states have been shown to be hugely beneficial and have a long-term impact. To my surprise, he tells me that doctors now prescribe activities like dance classes or gardening to help with mental health issues like depression and anxiety. They call it ‘social prescribing – a method of helping people with their physical and mental health outside of medical interventions.’

Many different things contribute to creating happy organisations – people need to feel listened to and cared for, as well as being able to separate work from life. But, crucially for RAD members, it seems that one of the most important things is to do something that puts you in the moment, that makes you feel present and that brings you joy. And if doctors are prescribing dance, it suggests what RAD members have always known –that it must be one of the greatest sources of happiness.

Health & happiness survey

Members are at the heart of the Royal Academy of Dance. So the health of the RAD as an organisation rests on our members’ happiness – on how satisfied and supported they feel. We also know that in an ever-changing world we cannot take our members’ loyalty for granted. Just over 10% of the global membership responded, 13.7% of teachers worldwide, and we are thankful for their openness and honesty and for their ideas. With a new CEO at the helm, we have been listening intently and what we have heard from the respondents is this that we must:

1. improve our responsiveness, listen more and act on feedback

2. provide more choice, whether choosing exam sessions, CPD and more

3. offer a wider range of financial support options for teachers and their students

4. create new dance syllabi – with contemporary, musical theatre, modern and tap coming out on top

5. create relevant products to attract more students from diverse backgrounds

6. offer support, guidance and resources on mental health and wellbeing both for teachers’ own self-care and to better support their students

7. create themed and branded lesson plans and widen our offering

8. improve our digital offer: from music downloads to an RAD app and a more compact and intuitive website

An action plan will be shared with the October edition of the member’s via e-news.


Eric Yuan, the founder of Zoom, on what makes a happy customer experience

Ella Satin is a freelance performing arts critic. Their specialism is theatre, but she also writes about dance, comedy, film and music.

Ana Latese is an editorial and narrative illustrator based in North Carolina.


When Lindsay Ellman-Brown moved from Harare in Zimbabwe to begin a new life teaching ballet in Sydney, Australia there were certain things she’d say that would cause her students great confusion: ‘When I was choreographing with little ones I’d tell them to stop as if they were at the red robot,’ was one. Vikki Allport’s new teaching career in Acapulco, Mexico followed an upbringing in northern England that meant becoming accustomed to the stifling 36-degree heat in her Mexican ballet studio and regular bouts of ‘Montezuma’s revenge’ from the spicy food. When Shae Mowen first came to Sydney from her home in Papua New Guinea she needed to acquaint herself with buses for the first time. And after growing up in a little fishing village in Iceland, Bryndís Einarsdóttir was delighted to discover the reverence Americans in her new hometown of Los Angeles held for classical ballet, a style of dance that didn’t even exist in her Icelandic village.

Moving to a new home can be exciting, a time of fresh beginnings and new surrounds. But it can also be daunting, and when the move involves migrating to a country and a job teaching in a culture and language that is completely foreign, it adds an extra layer of complexity. (‘Robot’, for the uninitiated, is a common South African name for traffic lights).

When Shae Mowen’s parents moved from Australia to the small New Guinean town of Madang for work the infrastructure was basic. ‘They lived on a little island and went by canoe with kerosene lamps. I spoke pidgin English because that’s what the local people spoke,’ recalls Mowen, who was born there. When she was five a local policeman moved to the area with his wife, a dancer, so Mowen and her younger sister began to learn ballet. After moving to Port Moresby she learnt from an Australian RAD-trained teacher. ‘We were dancing in the high school hall which had no walls, completely open air, how fabulous is that!’ As a teen Mowen was flown to Sydney for ballet exams. It was an eye-opener. ‘It was somewhat daunting having grown up in Port Moresby,’ she says, ‘I’d never even caught a bus.’ Nevertheless, she would go on to become an RAD teacher herself, resulting in a milestone 65 year-affiliation with the organisation.

Vikki Allport’s move from northern England to Mexico was similarly revelatory. ‘Think Billy Elliot and coal miners – then I suddenly found myself in the land of jetsetters and Hollywood, working as an extra in movies, choreographing for Mexican popstars and appearing in pop videos,’ she says. ‘I also met Nureyev in Acapulco – I offered my studios for his rehearsals and got to chat to him backstage on his final tour.’

‘I met Rudolf Nureyev in Acapulco – I offered my studios for his rehearsals’

– ViKKi Allport
Vikki Allport dancing at the Philharmonic
Vikki Allport with Nureyev in Acapulco

Allport had been dancing in Spain and accompanied her dance captain to Mexico where she planned to go for three months. She ended up staying 25 years, marrying a local, starting a family and opening a youth ballet school after completing her RAD teaching diploma via distance education. While aspects of her teaching life were comfortingly familiar, others took some getting used to. ‘Teaching was much the same as in the UK except I had to learn all the words for parts of the body in Spanish,’ she says [today she tutors for the RAD in Spanish]. ‘The studios had no aircon, just big ceiling fans and it was so hot, usually between 33 and 36 degrees centigrade. By the time the students had warmed up their leotards were soaking in sweat. On Saturdays we’d all end up in the swimming pool after class.’

No matter which direction you move – small town to international city or vice versa – there will always be adjustments to make in a new home. For Lindsay Ellman-Brown, much of her new life in Australia was a relief after the political and social upheaval in Zimbabwe. ‘I loved Sydney. It was very different. Zimbabwe was struggling politically and economically and in Australia it was safe, you could turn on the tap and get clean drinking water and you could get everything you needed,’ she says. But she was homesick, and the move to Australia to be closer to her mother meant leaving friends, family and a familiar lifestyle. ‘It wasn’t easy. Although we all speak English the culture was very different and I knew nothing about the political history. In Harare you knew somebody everywhere you went. Suddenly you lose all those relationships and networking, even down to needing a new doctor or dentist. All of that is tricky.’

Ellman-Brown took comfort in her young students, who were outgoing, enthusiastic and not afraid to ask questions. But even teaching felt foreign at times. ‘The parents were different, much more engaged with their students’ learning and would question things that in Zimbabwe parents would just accept,’ she says. ‘We didn’t have full-time programmes in Zimbabwe so that in itself was a different experience. Even the sense of humour is different so I had to be careful not to say something that might be offensive here.’

Despite the culture shock, language difficulties and teaching discrepancies, all those teachers I spoke with agreed on one thing that ultimately helped them settle in: the RAD family, which knows no cultural or geographic boundaries.

‘I have been really lucky, moving from Iceland to Los Angeles, then the UK, Iceland and now the UK again,’ says Einarsdóttir, who performed with the Isadora Duncan Dance Group before turning to teaching. ‘It’s truly amazing you can move from country to country and yet keep teaching the RAD syllabus.’

Mowen had migrated to Australia in 1974 after Papua New Guinea’s independence resulted in political uncertainty, ultimately settling in Sydney in 1980. She established her own RAD-affiliated dance school but admits to feeling apprehensive.

‘I felt like a very small fish in a very big sea, it was quite different and I was nervous about meeting a worldwide organisation. But when I did the registration and seminars, the RAD teachers I associated with were extremely helpful and I realised RAD in Port Moresby wasn’t that different from RAD in Sydney. I think that’s amazing, that you can move from one country to another and you’re still learning the same work and the same values.’

A poster for Vikki Allport’s Acapulco dance studio

‘You can move from one country to another and you’re still learning the same work and the same values’

– Shae Mowen
A report on Shae Mowen’s early success in RAD exams
Shae Mowen

Allport created her own little RAD family in Acapulco, initially shipping out RAD uniforms until a talented parent learnt how to make them. ‘What I loved is that my students were learning the same RAD work as others around the world. We’d all go on courses together, parents too, we were a very big dance family and I brought students over to the UK for RAD summer schools.’ After 25 years it’s little wonder it took three attempts for Allport to move back to the UK with her children. ‘Mexico definitely became home,’ she says. ‘It took several years for me to stop comparing certain things with the UK but with my family – and the family that were my students and their parents – supporting me I was well and truly accepted,’ she says, noting she received a government award for ‘immigrants providing a rich cultural contribution to Mexico.’

Vikki Allport and her students in 1995

Ellman-Brown is forever thankful for the friendly teachers who took her under their wing and helped her navigate her new life and career. ‘Zimbabwe will always feel like home, it’s where my roots are but I’m very settled in Australia,’ she says. ‘I’ll be honest, it hasn’t been easy, but I have some amazing Australian colleagues who I’ll always be very grateful to for their help and kindness.’

There are a number of support services the RAD offers its members when moving countries, such as access to the international staff based in the RAD’s 36 member countries, advertising job openings and providing resources and information to members through events and connecting them with other members worldwide, from Aruba to the Maldives.

What advice would our teachers give others looking to move internationally? ‘Be aware that things will be different and find a mentor who can guide you through those cultural differences, within a teaching context, and help navigate the teaching fraternity,’ says Ellman-Brown.

‘Never give up, follow your heart and your dream. Make it happen’

– Bryndís Einarsdóttir

Allport’s advice is both practical and life-affirming. ‘It can be daunting but life is about experiences and moving forward,’ she says. ‘If you don’t like it you can always move back, but some amazing opportunities happen by moving out of our comfort zone. Take the chance but make sure you have a good contract with a return ticket at the end.’

For Einarsdóttir, home is the family you create when setting up a dance school and welcoming students within it. ‘It always feels like home when you’ve had students for a term or two,’ says Einarsdóttir. ‘My advice to fellow dance teachers is never give up, follow your heart and your dream. Make it happen and enjoy to the fullest being in a new place with new students and people around you. Life is to be lived and teaching others about the love of dance is being home!’

Jane Albert, an author and journalist specialising in the arts, writes for the Weekend Australian, Australian Financial Review and others.

Mandy Mackenzie Ng is a visual designer based in London.


Register of Teachers
It is now easier to find out if a teacher is RAD qualified, wherever they are in the world. The RAD wants to make sure that whenever anyone joins a dance class, they learn with the best qualified teacher possible. (A recent survey conducted by YouGov revealed that 89% of UK adults were not aware that there are no current legal requirements for teachers to have a dance teaching qualification to lead a class or a school.) The RAD recently launched a new global Register of Teachers where employers, students, and parents and guardians can find qualified teachers with confidence. Only teachers who hold ‘RAD Registered Teacher’ status are included in the register, which highlights their expert credentials as having undergone stringent dance education training. The register is updated twice a day, and there is also a handy checklist to help parents and guardians make an informed decision when choosing a qualified dance teacher.

Visit register of teachers >


‘It’s hard to believe. You think maybe it’s fireworks or something. But I could see the fire from my window, and deep inside I realised that something impossible had happened.’ 

On her usual morning routine involving a 5am breakfast and fretting over choreography for rehearsals at the National Opera of Ukraine, Zhenya Novikova experienced the unimaginable. ‘I was running over the house thinking maybe I need to go to the basement or maybe I need to pack my stuff,’ she says. ‘I called everyone I knew, my family, friends, to see if they were okay.’ 

In the blink of an eye, Novikova’s world changed drastically: from first soloist at the National Opera to a refugee fleeing Kyiv to find safety. ‘We didn’t know what to do because Russian forces started coming,’ she says, recounting the anxiety she experienced with her husband in their apartment. ‘You don’t know which highway to choose. Is it safe or not? Maybe it’s safer to stay? Maybe it’s safer to go.’

Zhenya Novikova

‘I wanted a place to dance and get back in shape. I felt new again’

– Zhenya Novikova

Across our news channels, reports were flying in of thousands of civilians who chose to stay put because they were too scared to leave. Too scared of the unknown awaiting them outside the homes and cities they knew. For Novikova, 38, the choice was made for her and her husband. ‘We heard another explosion very close to our house,’ she says. ‘It was a military plane which fell down. That’s when we decided to go.’ 

About 300 miles south-west of Kiev, Vladyslava Ihnatenko, 19, was working at the Odessa National Academic Theater of Opera and Ballet when the war began; dampening her excitement to perform in the corps de ballet at the opera’s new season. ‘I was staying in Odessa with the family of a friend,’ she says. ‘It was quieter there, so I almost didn’t hear anything when the war started. I didn’t see my parents because all my family were in Kharkiv. I was there alone, and I was very nervous.’

Following the indefinite suspension of performances, many artists and technical workers of the Odessa Opera joined the ranks of fighters to protect the city. With her family miles away and the threat of conflict approaching, Ihnatenko felt isolated and anxious about her future. ‘I saw that there was no job opportunity, and I cannot go back to Kharkiv,’ she says. ‘To stay there alone was hard so that’s why I decided to leave the country.’

She travelled 450 miles all alone to Lviv, which is by the Poland-Ukraine border. The knowledge that a friend was waiting for her in Poland kept her going. For Novikova, the Hungary-Ukraine border felt the better choice, driving for two days without much food or sleep.

Vladyslava Ihnatenko

In this state, worries about work, family safety, where to sleep next, and settling in a new country are often all refugees think about. Yet in their tired and fragile condition Ihnatenko and Novikova turned to helping others around them. ‘I was trying to help because not all the people there knew English to speak to volunteers,’ Ihnatenko says. In Novikova’s case, it was important for her to feel ‘useful for my country in some tiny way.’ She lived out of her car at the Hungary-Ukraine border for four months, ‘helping people find shelter in different countries and theatres’. 

It’s not so farfetched to see how their profession could be the source of their empathy, giving them something to draw from in crisis. Dance has a beautiful way of bringing people together. ‘I tried to get back to the profession,’ Novikova says, as a way to find herself useful again through the art she loves. Getting people to theatres open to receiving refugees was her way of tying together the power dance gave her with her newfound role at the border. 

Kira with her mother Iryna at Joanne Ward’s school. Photo: Ali Wright for Dance Gazette
Vladyslava Ihnatenko

Turning to dance has definitely made coping with displacement easier for seven-year-old Kira. Through the UK’s resettlement scheme ‘Homes for Ukraine’, Kira was able to find a sense of calm with her mum Iryna in the rural village of Hersham in Surrey. ‘I think she’s happy when she dances,’ Iryna says. ‘In Ukraine, she didn’t study ballet but Latin dances, and she enjoyed it. When she listens to some music she wants to dance all the time. It’s like her nature.’

And it was quite clear. Kira was playful and full of energy after her class at the Joanne Ward Dance Academy. Thanks to their sponsor family, Marie and Steve Williamson, posting on the ‘Walton & Hersham mums’ Facebook group for support, Kira found her way back to dance in RAD teacher Joanne Ward’s ballet class. ‘I told Marie and Iryna to just bring her along whenever, to any of my classes, any time,’ Ward says. ‘I’m just happy to provide a place where Kira can express herself, be free and be able to dance. She really enjoys it.’ 


Kira enjoying dancing with Joanne Ward (and Betty the puppy) in Hersham. Photos: Ali Wright for Dance Gazette

‘I’m just happy to provide a place where Kira can express herself, be free and dance’

– Joanne Ward

Creating this environment of safety, consistency, and fun is an ethos that runs through RAD and its teachers. In her work supporting refugee and asylum-seeking children through ballet in Wales, Shelley Isaac-Clarke realised that ‘in dancing together they not only found ways to have lots of fun, but also to become more self-aware and gain confidence in self-communication.’ 

‘Dance can be a wonderful way of bringing people together,’ she adds. ‘If we can in any way use the medium of dance to support displaced people, to break down barriers, bring local communities together, be more inclusive, at a time when the world continues to feel so uncertain, we will all reap the benefits of the shared experience.’

Yet it must be so hard to focus on dance, to get lost in the emotion and joy of it after the pain of displacement and war. ‘Of course, it was hard to focus on dancing,’ Ihnatenko says. ‘I guess the main thing is just to be safe from the bad things. But you can just take all of your power, even anger and just put it in dance. It makes it easier.’

Alexei Ratmansky (centre, in blue) rehearsing Giselle. Photo: Johan Molenaar

With the support of friends touring to Norway, Novikova made her way across Europe to find a ‘place to dance and get back in shape. It gave me a healing feeling because I felt new again.’ From there, news spread of the United Ukrainian Ballet at the Hague in the Netherlands. 

The company was founded to train and employ Ukrainian dancers, creatives, and technicians who fled their country. ‘There were a lot of Ukrainians going so I wanted to join my people,’ Novikova says. ‘I heard that Alexei Ratmansky was going to make work and he’s a legend. So, I applied to be a member of this company and I was accepted.’

Ihnatenko also found her way to the company, reuniting with friends she had lost when she fled. ‘I’m good here because it’s like a community,’ she says. ‘We’re trying to support each other, as we understand each other the most in this case. I was afraid of not being able to dance again but it’s easier now. Having people around you [to focus on dancing again] is helping.’

United Ukrainian Ballet. Photo: Harrison May

‘It was hard to focus on dancing. But you can take all of your power, even anger and put it in dance’

–  Vladyslava Ihnatenko
Backstage at United Ukrainian Ballet’s Giselle. Photo: Harrison May
United Ukrainian Ballet in Giselle. Photo: Altin Kaftira

With a tour of Ratmansky’s production of Giselle – the renowned choreographer spent his childhood in Kyiv and has been outspoken about the Russian invasion – in the Netherlands and London, Novikova and Ihnatenko have finally been on stage again. Kira will also take to the stage at a local Hersham theatre. But despite the new lives being built, there’s still much anxiety about what their future holds. 

‘I guess I’m moving in the right direction,’ Ihnatenko says. For Novikova, it’s one step at a time. ‘I felt unsafe for months after I left the Ukraine,’ she says. ‘I was jumping when a door shut or loud sounds, but here my nervous system is getting stabilised. It’s easier because of dance.’ 

Kira’s mother Iryna is determined to return to the Ukraine despite her anxiety. But Kira’s voice belting ‘I love dancing!’ melts this tension away. For now, this innocent joy of dance is all that matters.


Alexei Ratmansky and the United Ukrainian Ballet introduce Giselle (video by Dance Europe)
United Ukrainian Ballet prepare to perform Giselle

Isaac Ouro-Gnao is a Togolese-British multidisciplinary artist and freelance journalist.


Home and away

Jane Albert

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Ksenia Anisimova and her family are making a special stop during their trip to Seoul, the megacity capital of South Korea. The mother of two from New York City, along with her mother and children, visits a dance studio located in a basement of the hip, youthful neighbourhood of Hapjeong-dong. Inside the bright-lit room with its mirrored walls, the family stare back at reflections that reveal a mix of excitement and awkwardness. The seven-year-old son even blushes as he tries to shake off his embarrassment. 

The dance instructor blasts on BTS’ Permission to Dance. One step at a time, the family learns routines made famous by the boy band who usually show off their famed ‘knife-like precision dance moves’ in packed stadiums. The unique attraction of this class is that Jeong Soo-min, leading the 90-minute tutorial, has danced beside BTS and other K-pop giants like Blackpink and GOT7 many times before. She’s also a dance trainer at a major entertainment label. 

At the American Music Awards in 2021, BTS became the first Asian act to be named artist of the year: a sign that K-pop (Korean popular music) has conquered the world. BTS is also the most streamed group on Spotify and the most followed on Instagram; in 2021 entertainment businesses listed in Seoul earned a record $3.8bn. Popular at home since the 1990s, social media has helped K-pop spread internationally. The music journalist Maria Sherman describes it as ‘a maximalist dreamland full of colour, high concept-performances and videos, a plethora of performers and unrivalled choreography.’

As the name implies, visitors to Real K-pop Dance get to feel like a star. They learn from backing dancers who usually perform alongside favourite groups. In the break, the family chats in Russian. But during the class, language doesn’t pose a problem. Jeong teaches each move with a simple ‘1,2,3,4’ while the students attempt to mirror her. 

Students at LD Dance Academy in Gangnam, Seoul. Photo: Jun Michael Park for Dance Gazette

‘I saw some videos of K-pop groups on YouTube, and I thought it was the most fascinating thing,’ says Anisimova. ‘I had to check it out more.’ She was especially intrigued by the incorporation of sign language in the video for Permission to Dance; back home, she works with students who are deaf or have learning disabilities. 

‘When our teacher first showed us what we needed to learn today, we thought we couldn’t possibly do it,’ she says. ‘But we’re able to do most of the general moves now. I would say this is one of the best stops on our tour.’

It’s exactly this tourist appeal that gave Kim Min-sung the idea for his business in 2015, after a career as a backing dancer for K-pop legends like first generation boy band H.O.T. ‘When I was a student majoring in tourism, I remember a news article that highlighted how Chinese tourists were coming to South Korea,’ he recalls. ‘When I looked up their typical itinerary, there wasn’t anything new or exciting.’

He set up shop in Hongdae, a magnet for foreign travellers, lined with glitzy restaurants, bars and shops. ‘Most of our clients are young women in their teens or twenties, but we also have men and even parents coming with their children. A lot come from surrounding regions like China, Japan and southeast Asian countries while many still come from the Americas.’ 

‘As the stars’ skills keep rising, every label has higher expectations of the students’

– Kim Ji-sun
Ksenia Anisimova and her family at Real K-pop Dance in Seoul. Photo: Jun Michael Park for Dance Gazette
Kim Min-sung, the proprietor of Real K-pop Dance. Photo: Jun Michael Park for Dance Gazette
MIK (Made in Korea) festival. Photo: MIK

On top of school work, students spend up to five hours in the studio on weekdays and even at weekends

Today, K-pop is a powerhouse genre with audiences in almost every corner of the world. But this was not the case when Lee made up routines in his room in the late 1990s, as first-generation groups like H.O.T. and S.E.S. introduced the evolving South Korean music scene to a wider public. ‘I was so addicted to H.O.T. that I would constantly watch clips of them at breakfast and as soon as I got home from school,’ Kim says. ‘But I never thought that our country’s music would become a global force in content and culture as it is now.’

The 16-year-old Kim was amazed at how each of H.O.T.’s albums would introduce a whole new visual concept and vibe. The group’s hairstyles featured mint colours, samurai styles, ponytails and dreadlocks. Their costumes were even more out-of-this-world: Edward Scissorhands looks would be followed a few months later by outfits resembling the Teletubbies – cute accessories and all. 

‘It’s star quality that separates K-pop from the rest of the field,’ Kim says. ‘Not only do they possess world class vocals and dancing abilities, their visuals are flawless and their styles are among the best in the world.’ On social media platforms like YouTube and TikTok, dance challenges uploaded by K-pop groups rack up millions of views. ‘The dancing style is mixed with hip-hop, popping, house and more,’ Kim says. ‘K-pop doesn’t cling to tradition. It is well-suited to changing styles and adapting to the latest trends in pop culture.’

Students hoping for glory at LD Dance Academy. Photo: Jun Michael Park for Dance Gazette
K-pop students push themselves at LD Dance Academy. Photo: Jun Michael Park for Dance Gazette

‘K-pop doesn’t cling to tradition. It is well-suited to changing styles and trends in pop culture’

– Kim Min-sung

The road to glory is only for the very few. Young people hoping to forge a career in K-pop face a difficult path. They typically enter an entertainment company in their teens, honing their skills in singing, rapping, dancing and foreign languages. If they have enough talent and luck, they may be selected to join a group.

One Thursday dinner time, students pack into LP Dance, a multi-story building in the bustling Gangnam district (yes, it’s what the song Gangnam Style was about). Most are girls in their mid teens with long black hair, in baggy sweatpants and sneakers. The chatter in the hallways doesn’t stop for an instant as classmates discuss how they’ve prepared for their monthly evaluation.

As soon as the doors open, about 20 girls flock into a wide, mirrored studio. The music kicks in and the atmosphere changes instantly: no more laughing or smiling. Girls who looked fragile make the floor rumble with fast, synchronised steps and precision routines. Tiny details like waving fingers before they turn or calculated gazes in the mirror give them the aura of a K-pop girl group. There’s an air of seriousness and competition as the academy’s director enters and surveys the dancers. 

Students learning choreography at LD Dance Academy. Photo: Jun Michael Park for Dance Gazette

In the audition class, where 150 students vie for a place with the entertainment labels that churn out superstars, students are graded on dance and overall appearance, including both facial expressions plus something less tangible. ‘There’s skill, but we also highly regard an entertainer’s star power,’ Kim Ji-sun, director of LP Dance, explains. ‘I look at it as likability, or the ability to make people come back for more. In addition to a great personality, they must be able to incorporate their strengths into their dance so they can make a significant imprint on the eye.’ 

Each month, top performers win the chance to be filmed for audition clips sent to the entertainment agencies. There are also anything between four to 10 open auditions at the academy where scouts from major labels will critique the dancers. ‘As the stars’ skills in dance, singing and other talents like acting keep rising,’ says Kim Ji-sun, ‘every label has higher expectations of students training at academies.’

Despite this external pressure, it’s the students themselves who push the boundaries of training. South Korea has one of the world’s best-educated labour forces and it’s customary for students to attend after-school crammers and study into the night. On top of rigorous school work, students at LP Dance spend up to five hours in the studio on weekdays and some even come in at weekends. The studios are open seven days a week to accommodate students who come as far from Daegu and Gangneung – each a six-hour round trip from Seoul. 

Open auditions offer students (like these at LD Dance Academy) a chance to get noticed. Photo: Jun Michael Park for Dance Gazette

For 16-year-old Lee Seul, the fear that she’s almost too old to become a trainee with an entertainment label drives her to practise even when  tired. Kim Suh-jung, also 16, always arrives two hours before class to do strength exercises. After class, he spends another two to three hours honing his dance routines and expressions. 

‘K-pop dance gives you euphoria when you hit every beat on cue,’ he says. ‘You can’t help but smile when you’re dancing to some of these songs. As I want to become someone who feels this happiness on stage, practice can’t be taken out of the equation for the sake of my future.’ 

Even younger students show similar determination. Rahel, 8, is the youngest of the audition group and has assured her mother and the academy that she wants to dance with the big girls instead of students her own age. ‘She found the academy online by herself, telling me that it had the longest tradition, going back 20 years, and was known to host a lot of open auditions,’ says her mother, Lee Seok-hee.

To build her confidence, Rahel takes every chance to dance, and her role model is Jang Won-young of the girl group IVE. ‘As today is the monthly evaluation, we looked at clips of Jang,’ says Lee. ‘Even as we left the house, Rahel kept practising facial expressions in front of the mirror.’ Rahel takes a deep breath, does a final stretch and enters the room to pursue her K-pop dreams.


David D Lee selects five groundbreaking K-pop dances

BTS practise the choreography for Permission to Dance
Gee by Girls’ Generation
Tell Me by Wonder Girls
Sherlock by SHINee
(Growl) by EXO

David D Lee is a freelance reporter based in Seoul, writing for South China Morning Post, Vice Asia and others.

Jun Michael Park is a documentary photographer and filmmaker from Seoul. He contributes to the New York Times and Monocle.


Safe spaces

Isaac Ouro-Gnao

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Battersea has been home to the RAD for 50 years, connecting it to the world – but how much do you know about this area of London? Veronica Horwell leads a unique audio tour through Battersea’s rich history – through trains and riverboats, parks and pubs and of course education and dance.


Writer and broadcaster Veronica Horwell takes us on a unique tour through Battersea – from the famous Dogs and Cats Home to its iconic power station, along the river and ending at the RAD’s new global headquarters. Prepare to meet asparagus growers, Sherlock Holmes and a surprising number of helicopters!

Produced by Sarah Myles


Follow the tour and explore the sights of Battersea

Battersea’s best bits

Veronica Horwell selects ten highlights of the RAD’s London neighbourhood.

Illustration: Mercedes Leon for Dance Gazette

1 — Battersea Dogs and
Cats Home
Rescuing animals since 1871, more than three million have passed through to a new home, including Larry the Cat, now of 10 Downing Street.

2 — Battersea Park Station
Several early Victorian railway companies crossed their tangled lines over previously market-gardened mudflats, to bring food into the capital and take people out.

3 — Power Station
Four chimneys for a twin complex built from six million bricks, far bigger than the largest cathedral. It steam-generated enough electricity from coal and Thames water for 20% of all London.

4 — Battersea Park
One of the world’s first free parks for ordinary people’s pleasure, railing-enclosed and planted out like a very rich family’s country estate. Home to the fun part of the 1951 Festival of Britain.

5 — The Bridges
Chelsea to bring poor pleasure seekers across the Thames to the Park, Albert to bring rich carriage folk to new mansion flats beside the Park, and Battersea to commute workers to riverside industries.

6 — The Old RAD HQ
Fifty glorious years here of training and examining dancers on the boards of old warehouses where wheat used to be kept cool and dry ready to grind to flour for London’s bakeries.

7 — Quecumbar
Began anciently as one of the High Street’s very rustic pubs, the Original Woodman, more recently London’s unexpected home for traditional Gypsy swing jazz.

8 — The Heliport
Since 1959, a landing pad on the river and a parking lot for the noisy little taxi-choppers.

9 — Candlemakers
This steampunk French chateau complex was formerly Price’s factory for patent candles, bright-burning and clean-smelling despite being made from lowly fats.

10 — The new RAD HQ
Seven studios, a proper theatre, a library of dance, the RAD archive, and spaces to share with local residents, all in the bottom storeys of the new Coda housing complex.

Veronica Horwell is a writer for the Guardian, among other publications.

Sarah Myles is an award winning podcast producer whose projects include Tan France’s Queer Icons, Are You Convinced from UK Youth and Why Dance Matters, the RAD podcast.