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

Interview: Bryn Watkins – 'training has shaped me into a better person than I could have been without it'

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.

Interview: Bryn Watkins – 'training has shaped me into a better person than I could have been without it'

image: Giselle, Royal Ballet New Zealand / credit: Maarten Holl
You’ve been dancing with the Royal New Zealand ballet for two years, how have you found the experience?
I’ve loved every minute! New Zealand is the most casually beautiful nation in the world and part of the enjoyment I’ve found in living here has been in getting in touch with my earthy side, as I’ve been able to explore the beautiful country. In addition I’ve made some life-long friends and shared some pretty tremendous on-stage experiences that I know I never could have found elsewhere. In all it’s been more than a treat.

How aware of your Scottish heritage were you growing up in California?
I come from a family that really prides itself on its heritage, so even for an American girl from southern California my Scottish ancestry inevitably came out from time to time at family reunions or community functions. I’ve always felt quite proud of the stories I heard growing up about my predecessors and have often thought of them in times of trial or difficulty.

What was your reaction when you found out you were a descendant of King James V of Scotland?
What an honour! I’m not sure much of his royalty has extended all the way to his descendants here in 2015 – at least not this one – but knowing that I come from greatness is such a motivator as I try to become greater myself.

You’ll soon be performing on Scottish soil for the first time. How do you prepare for a performance and do you have any pre-show rituals?
Before every show I spend a good amount of time listening to music and feeling my nerves bounce around under my skin. After doing my make-up I’ll do a light warm-up and drink lots of water before heading out on stage. Once you’re out there, all the pre-show worries fade into the background.

Royal New Zealand Ballet will be performing Giselle in Edinburgh, why should people come to see it?
Well, I may be biased, but I love this ballet so much. I don’t want to ruffle the feathers of any other productions of Giselle flying around out there, but this production, choreographed by Ethan Steifel and Johan Kobborg, is my favourite of all the ones I’ve seen.

The story ties a beautiful line between the past and future Albrecht, and the respective carelessness and remorse he feels as the tragedy unfolds. Furthermore, the people I work with are such devoted artists in the way they tackle their roles. So between the efforts of the choreographers and the efforts of the dancers, this ballet promises an experience for the audience that shouldn’t be missed.

Royal New Zealand Ballet perform Giselle at Edinburgh Festival Theatre from Tue 27 Oct to Fri 31 Oct, and touring there on.

Royal New Zealand Ballet – Giselle

Royal New Zealand Ballet present this classic narrative ballet, telling the tragic tale of lovers Giselle and Albrecht.


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