ON Sunday, December 1, English Youth Ballet (EYB) will be at Darlington Hippodrome auditioning to find 100 young dancers aged eight to 18, to join the company for a new production of Cinderella in Hollywood.

The selected young dancers will perform alongside international principal dancers for three performances at the Darlington Hippodrome in April .

Janet Lewis, EYB director, spoke to What’sOn about EYB, the audition process and what the young dancers will experience if they take part in the production.

When did you found English Youth Ballet – and could you give us a brief history of the company’s journey so far?

The company was founded in 1998 as a pilot project in Yeovil, Somerset. It proved to be so popular with dancers, parents and the theatre management that we did another two projects the following year, then four in 2000. We now do up to nine performance projects each year.

What are the main aims of the company?

Very simply, we give performance opportunities to young, promising ballet dancers in classical ballet. There are so many opportunities for young dancers in London - so I purposefully take ballet to the regions of the UK. The young dancers wouldn’t otherwise get these opportunities without having to travel to London.

What made you start dancing and what are some your proudest achievements?

I started dancing many years ago. My mother took me to ballet because I was knock-kneed and also for social reasons. As I was an only-child she thought it would be a good opportunity for me to meet friends. My mother also loved ballet and didn’t have the chance to pursue it when she was young. My proudest achievements were dancing with the Royal Ballet Company and alongside Dame Margot Fonteyn with London Festival Ballet at the London Coliseum. I also met the Queen when I was awarded the MBE for services to ballet in 2009. I am so proud of seeing EYB’s full-length classical ballets on the stage - done to such a high standard and with the audiences cheering.

How is EYB’s Cinderella in Hollywood different to the traditional production?

First of all, the inspiration for the ballet is taken from the true story of Grace Kelly – the actress who met and fell in love with Prince Rainier in the 50s. The musical score is not the Prokofiev traditional ballet music. Our production uses Shostakovich’s Jazz and Ballet Suites. It has a much fresher and modern feel and suits the 50s period that the ballet is set in.

What will the EYB audition be like?

An EYB audition takes the form of a normal ballet class but on the stage. It starts with warm-up exercises line by line. This is followed by sequences of steps that are performed in small groups. The dancers don’t have to prepare anything for the audition. The audition is an hour and a half, and everybody takes part in the whole audition. We encourage parents and teachers to watch the audition and be an audience. Our motto is ‘performance experience’ - right from the audition stage.

How competitive will it be to be offered a place in the company?

We are looking for a large cast of varying standards and ages. There are many soloist and corps de ballet roles. There are some super roles for boys too. The productions are structured to the varying standards. Everyone from Grade 1 upwards is in with a chance of being selected if they show how much they love performing.

What lies ahead for the dancers who are selected to join EYB in Darlington?

The cast will take part in 11 rehearsal days at weekends or in school holidays and then three days at Darlington Hippodrome. The young dancers start each rehearsal day with a technique class led by one of the EYB teachers or principal dancers. We rehearse in three studios simultaneously throughout the day and then come together for the final rehearsal to share what has been learnt.

What skills will the young dancers develop and learn whilst with EYB?

Their general technique will improve from the classes. What stands out, is how their confidence improves from the whole EYB experience. They really start to believe in themselves when they are given a challenge and you see an enormous boost in their confidence and strength. The dancers learn to develop their self-discipline and professionalism. They also learn to work as team too and make lots of new friends.

What can the Darlington audiences expect from an EYB production?

Audiences can look forward to a completely professional production. Wardrobe and sets are all designed and made by West End designers and scene painters. They will be surprised by the standard attained by the young dancers. They will be treated to the exceptional dancing of the eight international principal dancers who dance the leading roles in the productions. They will love the enthusiasm and enjoyment that the young dancers give out to the audience. I think the young dancers have a profound effect on the audiences. I think that’s why the audience cheer. I am often amazed by the young dancers.

If you could give one piece of advice to any young dancer what would it be?

Through ballet, you have to express the music through movement and have the freedom to enjoy it. You must try not to be mechanical in your dancing. Every movement has to be ‘lived’ and it should flow through the whole body - right through to the end of the fingertips.

  • On Sunday, December 1 there will be two auditions for Cinderella in Hollywood at Darlington Hippodrome. For more information and to register for an audition visit www.englishyouthballet.co.uk, email info@englishyouthballet.co.uk or call 01689 856747.