The Insider speaks to British ballet dancer Robin Kent, currently appearing as Casanova at Teatr Wielki…
Photograph by Kevin Demaria
How does a British ballet dancer end up in Poland?
The way the ballet industry works is that all companies hold their audition periods at the start of the year – I was working in Singapore at the time and missed this window, though found a couple of companies in Finland and Poland that let me audition in May. I already had a friend living in Poland, so when the company offered me a contract to start in 2012 I thought why not.
What’s the difference between ballet in Poland and the UK?
The training style in the UK is based around British technique which is all about quick footwork and clarity of body movement. In Poland I’d say there’s more of a Russian style, which means lots of big jumps and pirouetting. That said, while every ballet company is unique you’ll find a lot that share the same techniques. Here, I think we’re very international: our director is the resident choreographer of the Dutch Ballet, and we do a good mix of classical and more contemporary ballet.
Is there a difference between audiences here and in Britain?
I think audiences in Europe are much the same. Where I’ve really noticed a difference is the US. We toured New York once and the crowd was incredible – they get very involved with lots of cheering and whooping. Obviously, as a performer, it’s great to have your work appreciated in that way.
Do ballet dancers live in a gilded cage?
There’s a misconception that we’re very prim and proper. Workwise, of course, we’re very regimented; I mean from 11 years old you’re training every day, taking direction and doing what you’re told. There’s a lot of self-discipline involved. But once you leave the theatre you’re like everyone else. Working in ballet is very intense, and a very closed off environment, so mentally it’s important to have outside interests.
What’s the best thing about your job…
The adrenaline of being on stage. I love getting into a character. I think some performers get too caught up in technicalities. But when you’re performing in something like Romeo & Juliet it’s about the story – you have to concentrate as much on your character as on your technique. People don’t just want to see dancing, they want to see acting. That’s not something we’re taught at ballet school, so in itself that’s a great learning experience.
What’s the reaction when people hear you’re Casanova!
Though the feedback is always positive, I actually wait as long as possible to reveal what I do. That’s just a habit after years of hearing people go, ‘ooh, that’s really cool’, when they find out what I do for a living. I mean, to us it’s just a normal job.
What does ballet mean to you?
For me it’s all about performing, and ballet happens to be the medium I use. That’s why I do this job. I love to dance and ballet is pretty much the basis for all dance forms. As a child I’d always be dancing around whenever music came on. My family doesn’t have any history of ballet or anything like that, they just couldn’t stop me from moving so sent me to classes when I was six! It went from there.