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Founded by Janet Lewis in 1998, English Youth Ballet offers young people who are interested in dance the opportunity to perform classical ballet alongside professional dancers and tutors. Ahead of the company’s performances of The Sleeping Beauty at Stoke’s Regent Theatre next month, What’s On spoke to Lindsey Fraser, who will be taking to the stage in the title role...

Many a young person would love to be a ballet dancer, performing centre stage in extravagant costumes. For such children, the opportunities presented by English Youth Ballet are surely a dream come true.
EYB has recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. The organisation provides young dancers with the chance to perform classical ballet on stage at major regional theatres in the UK, and to be taught and mentored by professional dancers.

Lindsey Fraser, who performs as a principal dancer with the company, began her journey as a child with a passion for dance.

“I first started going to ballet when I was two-and-a-half years old,” she recalls. “My mum started taking me to baby ballet, because I had too much energy at home - I was zooming around a lot! I’ve been in ballet ever since. I started doing professional training when I was 11 years old, at Tring Park School of Performing Arts. It was quite full-on but very good. We would start at half eight and finish at half six.”

Lindsey will be appearing on stage in the lead role of Aurora - the Sleeping Beauty - at the Regent Theatre in Stoke-on-Trent next month.

“It’s based on the fairytale, and the production that we do is very classical. All the children have their own parts. Aurora is a great role - it’s quite challenging!

“The production sticks to the original tale pretty much. Aurora pricks her finger on the spindle and goes to sleep for 100 years; the prince comes along and wakes her up... It’s a great one for the families to come and see.”

Lindsey started dancing professionally when she was 19. Ballet has always been a big part of her life, and the art of dance has always fascinated and inspired her.

“I was two, so I don’t really remember, but my mum says that Cats, the musical, was on TV. I pointed at it and said: ‘I’d like to do that.’ As I was growing up, I was inspired by one of the dancers at the Royal Ballet in London: Marianela Núñez. She’s my biggest inspiration.”

Although she’s been a dancer for as long as she can remember, Lindsey has been able to pursue other interests - one of which provides quite a contrast to her day job.

"Alongside ballet, I’ve also done a Maths & Physics Bachelors degree with the Open University. I’ve loved maths since school, so eventually, when I hang up my pointe shoes, I’m looking to have a career in accountancy. We’ll see what the future brings. It will be difficult to think of a career that doesn’t involve ballet, but that’s definitely another interest of mine.”

After performing The Sleeping Beauty in Stoke, the company moves to Nottingham, where it will present a production of Giselle with a different group of young dancers.

“It’s the first time I’m going to be performing Giselle with English Youth Ballet, so that’s exciting. We also have Swan Lake - I think I’ll probably be Black Swan again, which is quite challenging but a fabulous role. Each role is demanding in its own way. It’s really great to have that variety; it keeps things exciting.”

Anyone from age eight to 18 can apply to join the EYB company, as long as they have a little bit of ballet experience - applicants who have at least Grade 1 are encouraged. There’s an audition day, which is an experience in itself, with auditions split into Juniors (ages eight to 11) and Seniors (ages 12 to 18).

According to Lindsey, Janet Lewis - the company’s founder & director - maintains that the overall experience of performing is the most important thing.

“She is really strong on performance - that’s the aim of the production. We do look at technique and offer help with that, but the main part of it is the performance. She wants children to enjoy it!”

Not only will the young dancers become part of a high-quality production, they will also be given the space to make friends and enhance their love of the art form.

“We adapt the choreography to them and their standard. We want them to learn something from the experience as well, but they’re on stage doing the choreography, so we want them to look great.”

Rehearsals take place during the month before each performance and are scheduled so that they don’t interfere with school hours.

“We rehearse with the children for around 10 days, at weekends - unless it’s during the summer holidays, when we might spend five days with them.”

Each production’s final performance takes place in a regional theatre which is large enough to accommodate the number of people on stage and the scale of the show. The chosen dancers will come from an 80 to 100-mile radius around the theatre.

“We have a lot of rehearsals and then one weekend of shows in each place. The principal dancers rehearse during the week, and then, at the weekend, we travel to wherever we’re performing, to rehearse and teach the children. We get to know them and see how they improve and grow. In the end, we’re on the stage dancing with them, which is really lovely - it all comes together.”

Auditions for the performances in Stoke-on-Trent took place in January, but there are plenty more opportunities for young dancers to audition this year. Children based in the Midlands can apply to perform in Giselle at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre, with auditions taking place on Monday 17 June.

In the meantime, why not get along to EYB’s performances of The Sleeping Beauty at the Regent Theatre next month... It’s the perfect opportunity to see what’s in store for any aspiring ballet dancers - and to enjoy the company’s performance of a classic tale.

The Sleeping Beauty shows at the Regent Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent, on Friday 12 & Saturday 13 April. Giselle shows at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre, on Friday 6 & Saturday 7 September.

For more information about performances and auditions, visit englishyouthballet.co.uk

By Jessica Clixby