Interview: Bryn Watkins – 'training has shaped me into a better person than I could have been without it'
Royal New Zealand Ballet is touring Giselle, we chat with one of its dancers
Growing up in California, ballet dancer Bryn Watkins was well aware of her Scottish heritage. We find out how it feels to be the 14th great granddaughter of King James V of Scotland, what it’s like to dance with Royal New Zealand Ballet – and why seeing their production of Giselle is a must.
You started dancing aged five, at what point did you realise that ballet was something you wanted to do as a career?
I’m not sure there was a singular moment that made me decide, consciously, that I wanted to do ballet as a career. I loved performing, and I loved the hard, sweaty work, and I loved the opportunity to express what is fundamentally so human. I still do. Even the hard days when I find my muscles are spasming or my toes are bleeding, I know that there is so much that makes the sacrifice worth it.
The level of commitment necessary to have a dance career is high. What kept you motivated during your training?
Similar to what got me hooked on dancing in the first place, I’ve found that the exchange between the hard work and the payoff is such an advantageous trade. I found that my training in particular shaped me into a better person than I could have been without it, and as I’ve made that transition from student to professional I’ve tried to remain aloof of anything that proves detrimental to those values—I want to be wholly married to the work.
You danced with American Ballet Theatre for a while, what was that like?
American Ballet Theatre has to be the best possible introduction for a young dancer to professional life, so I consider myself the luckiest in having had that opportunity so early in my career. I had the benefit of traveling the world and performing on the biggest stages, while at the same time receiving a crash course in how best to take care of myself and my colleagues when we share the common goal of mounting new productions. When I left ABT I felt plump with all that I had learned from my experience there and I still don’t think I’ve fully processed everything it gave me.
New Zealand is a long way from home, what was it about the company that prompted your decision to move there?
The Royal New Zealand Ballet is a unique company for many reasons, and I know that given the internationality of my co-workers I am not alone in having noticed, even from across the Pacific. The company is small enough to foster a strong sense of family among the dancers but large enough to mount the classics; the repertoire is diverse and totally at the behest of the dancers and our leaders because we have the privilege of standing as the sole representatives of ballet in the whole nation. I felt attracted to the company because of the life that seemed to emanate from within, both socially and artistically, so much so that I could tell, even from across the world, that the RNZB was crackling with potential for the future.