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Chorley dancer steps into ballet limelight
THE life of a ballet dancer is tough. Arduous daily classes and long rehearsals make up the working week, as well as spending almost half the year away from home on tour.
But it’s the lingering threat of injuries which causes the most anxiety.
And just 10 days before tonight’s premiere of Northern Ballet’s new work Ondine, an unlucky fall during a rehearsal left Chorley dancer Tobias Batley hoping for the best.
“I’ve torn the ligament in my foot, which I did when I was 14 — and apparently that’s a good thing, as it’s not so tightly attached anyway,” he said.
“But it’s not good news at all. Usually you’d be looking at about six weeks recovery and I’ve got about a week, so I’m icing it and resting as much as possible.
“Luckily we are quite on top of our work for the season and for Ondine as a new ballet especially, more so than usual.”
Although recovering well, he’s set to miss the opening night with hopes to be back on stage from Tuesday.
Tonight’s premiere marks the start of the autumn season, which will see the 40-strong Leeds-based company visit venues the length and breadth of the country performing Beauty And The Beast and Madame Butterfly, which comes to Manchester’s Palace Theatre from Tuesday, September 25.
The timing for Toby’s injury could hardly be worse, as he embarks on his first season as premier dancer with the company he joined in 2004 — having been promoted in July.
He will dance the lead role of Pinkerton in Madame Butterfly at Manchester, as well as Brand in the new Ondine — among other roles — through autumn before the company returns to Leeds with is Christmas classic The Nutcracker.
“I have been really lucky with injuries — that’s one of the reasons I’ve done well as being reliable is one of the most important things as a dancer,” the former Rivington Primary School pupil said.
“You get opportunities to step up when others are injured, so it’s kind of terrifying to be in that position now if someone else steps up.
“In the Northern Ballet company, promotion won’t make all that much difference.
“As a principal in other ballet companies, you wouldn’t have to do corps de ballet work and could just focus on the principal roles. Here, yes, the corps de ballet work will drop but there aren’t so many of us and you all mix it up.
“The pay does change, but the reality is that ballet dancers don’t earn loads; especially as it’s a job not anybody can walk into, it’s very skilled and a limited career.
“The good — and the bad — of it as a career is that you do ballet because you love it as it takes a lot of work, focus and dedication. And of course the pain, which I definitely have this week.”
At 28, Toby hopes that, while his dancing career does have a limit, he is still peaking — having achieved a balance between physical and mental maturity and development: “It’s really important to control the physical, to learn your limits and how to focus, which takes time.
“One guy in the company must be heading towards 40 and still gets principals — and out-dances the 19-year-olds.”
Although Toby started dancing at the relatively late age of 14, he has an artistic family, with dad Taff a TV production designer and sister Loui — who inspired him to start dancing — an actress, best known as Sarah Barnes in Hollyoaks, who can be seen in new Brit terror flick Tower Block, released later this month.
“Acting is pretty tough; it’s been hard for Loui to shed Hollyoaks and that soap opera stereotype. Hollyoaks was great at the time, but the acting is picking up again and she’s singing in a retro duo too,” said Toby.
“The funny thing is, she was the one our parents never worried about as a dancer as she was really good, yet I’m the one who’s followed it through.”
For the Northern Ballet’s return to Manchester, Toby will revive Pinkerton in Madame Butterfly, having first performed it in Leeds earlier this year.
“I didn’t do that many shows, so it will be good to get a run with it.
“It wasn’t a role I was desperate to do, but it’s been brilliant. The pas de deux is a famous challenge within the Northern Ballet so it’s up there with the prestige roles.
“I have done most of the principals here; Romeo was one I always wanted it’s a great dramatic love story and one of the ultimates in ballet.
“Creating and developing Mark Antony in Cleopatra last year with our artistic director David Nixon went really well. And The Nutcracker will be fun; it’s our money-maker and allows the company to do the other ballets. It’s great fun for us, although artistically it’s not as fulfilling perhaps.”
- Madame Butterfly, Palace Theatre, Manchester, Tuesday, September 25 to Saturday, September 29. Call 0844 8472277 to book.