An Interview with Robert Parker,
Principal Dancer,
Birmingham Royal Ballet
March 11, 2000

By Kevin Ng



The Birmingham Royal Ballet fielded three casts for its five performances of David Bintley's Edward II in Hong Kong during the second week of March. There was a notable debut for the evening performance of Saturday 11 March when the title role was taken for the first time by Robert Parker, the talented 24-year-old principal who in January had created the role of Arthur in Bintley's new ballet, Arthur I, in Birmingham. (In fact Parker celebrated his 24th birthday here in Hong Kong just the day before, on 10 March.) I interviewed Parker at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre during lunch time on 11 March after the company's morning class, and before his impressive debut that very night.

Kevin Ng: Robert, how have you enjoyed your week in Hong Kong, and have you had time to do some sightseeing outside your busy performing schedule?
Robert Parker:
We had the first couple of days to look around. On the first day of our arrival, we took the underground to Hong Kong island to visit the shops. I found the whole place pretty overwhelming. We took a boat trip one evening round Victoria Harbour.

Do you feel very proud to have been selected by David Bintley to create the title role of Arthur at such a young age?
Yes, it was a great privilege to be chosen because it was probably one of his biggest ballets to date. I am very flattered that he thought of me as the right candidate for the role. This epic ballet involves so much actual story line and plot that there is no time to include all of it in one ballet, so this is why we have Part 1 and Part 2.

You will be in Part 2, I presume?
Maybe not as Arthur, because some time has gone on between Part 1 and Part 2. I think I am going to do the role of the evil son Mordred.

How did you start your dance career? Was it your decision or your parents'?
I was seven years old, so you don't really make that many serious decisions. I have two sisters who danced and they took me along to my first class. I slowly got a taste for it. I auditioned for the White Lodge of the Royal Ballet School, and I just went up through the years there. I finally got a job at the Birmingham Royal Ballet.

What do you consider as the most important stages of your career?
I think what first attracted David Bintley to me was probably when I was thrown on in Carmina Burana which was the first ballet that he actually choreographed in Birmingham. I did the role of the Second Seminarian. It was a role that I could really get my teeth into, I felt like I could give a lot of input both emotionally and physically to the role.

It is fairly abstract, though it has got kind of a narrative. But the role itself allows you to really express every emotion you have, and I enjoyed doing this popular piece.

Who are your favourite partners in BRB?
I particularly enjoy dancing with Ambra Vallo whom you'll see me doing Edward with tonight. She's a great artist. She can perform, and she gives every ounce of her heart and soul to the role that she is doing. I find that when we work together there is a real kind of connection.

Who are your favourite choreographers?
David Bintley of course, whom I enjoy working with. Every choreographer has his great ballets, and not so great ballets. I have never danced Jirí Kylián, but I have seen his works. I love dancing Hans Van Manen, e.g. his Five Tangos, Grosse Fugue. I really enjoy his style. We did Twyla Tharp which I like. Every choreographer has got something to offer, and you are going to be intrigued by at least one aspect of his choreography. I consider myself fairly versatile. I try to take every choreography, every role that I can do, and I do my very best.

Which male ballet stars do you particularly admire, e.g. Nureyev, Baryshnikov?
I admire different dancers for their different qualities. Baryshnikov obviously because he is an amazing technician.

Did you see his performances with the White Oak Project in London last summer?
I missed it, because we were working at the same time. I heard good reports about it. I really admire technical dancers, I think they are absolutely amazing in what they can do with their bodies - they can turn, they can jump. But personally I prefer to watch someone who is a great character whom you really believe in every emotion going on on stage. Particularly in this company I admire Wolfgang Stollwitzer who was the first cast Edward, I think that he is an amazing artist on stage. The ultimate impression overwhelms.

He has really helped me come along, he has been almost like a mentor to me. He gives me an absolutely honest opinion of what I did in a performance. He could take me afterwards to a studio and say, "This bit was great, and this bit was not so great, you were very weak at these moments, you let yourself down here, but this part was great." He has got very good opinions, and he really tells me what he thinks, and I really respect him.

Which ballerinas do you admire? I don't know if you have seen Fonteyn or Makarova, for example.
No, not in the flesh. Particularly ballerinas who really aren't afraid to let go and give their all in a performance, like Lynn Seymour whom I think was an amazing artist.

Do you have any ambitions to become an international star like Igor Zelensky for instance?
Well, I don't have any offers, to put it that way. So I couldn't answer this question until I have been approached.

Are you happy in the company at the moment?
Yes, I am very happy. Absolutely. I don't see myself becoming a big star like an icon figure. I don't think that I have got the right mentality for that anyway. I am a fairly down-to-earth kind of person, and I couldn't see myself selling myself so much. I just do what I do to the best of my ability, and I take what comes really.

What are your favourite roles, and are you more interested in pure dance or narrative roles?
Of course you need to be versatile, to be able to do everything. But given the choice, I much prefer to do a narrative ballet. I much more enjoy narrative roles like Edward II which I am doing tonight, along with Romeo. This is probably my favourite role of all time.

What about the princely danseur noble roles?
They are a challenge for me. I don't consider myself one of the strongest technical dancers. I feel more comfortable with these modern roles where you can really portray your emotions. I just feel more comfortable in expressive ballets where you are portraying a character, where you become a personality.

BRB is based in Birmingham. Do you regret that you are not based in London, where for instance you can see quite a lot of visiting dance companies at the new Sadler's Wells? I don't think Birmingham has that many visiting companies.
Yes, I do regret. But having said that, London is only an hour away. If you have got the free time, you can just jump into a car and go to London, so it's no problem. My family lives in London, and I am often down there. I lived there for three years when I was in the Royal Ballet School. But to be quite honest, the pace in London got a bit stressful for me. It was just too busy for me. I prefer somewhere a little bit more relaxed.

In the Royal Ballet, I think there are so many more principals, the work is more evenly shared, and you are lucky to be doing one or two performances a week. Whereas here you are on almost every other night, which I think is healthier. You are a dancer, you want to dance as much as possible. You don't want to sit around by being the fifth or sixth cast, and maybe have a performance once every month. That's not the life I choose!

Do you feel that you have sufficent guidance or coaching in the company?
Certainly. However sometimes we are so busy when we have to put on programmes back-to-back that there isn't actually sufficent time to rehearse. It's just that time is a factor which can make you panic and feel a bit unprepared. But during those rehearsals, there is sufficent coaching, and you do the best that you can.

What are your outside interests?
I am quite an active outdoors person. I have done a scuba-diving course. I occasionally go rock-climbing, swimming. I am very interested in flying, and I have taken a couple of introductory lessons. It's a hobby that I would like to get involved with more, it has always been a childhood ambition to be able to fly.

What type of music do you like?
Nothing in particular. I listen to anything that sounds interesting to me, I am really open to any kind of music.

Finally, how do you see yourself as a dancer? Do you see yourself as a danseur noble or a demi-caractere dancer? I haven't seen much of your dancing to know the full range of your style.
I think I have got a very broad range in style. I couldn't fit myself into any specific category. We do have guest choreographers coming in. I would just consider myself a pure dancer, and I just dance whatever ballets that are thrown at me.


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