Black history month written with two dancers between the letters

Celebrating Black History Month

Throughout October, the School has been celebrating Black History Month. We’ve been highlighting the work of prominent Black dancers, choreographers and companies in the ballet industry around the world. Everyone featured on our social channels during the month gave their consent to be featured. Here is a roundup of everyone we showcased.

Alumni

Brandon Lawrence

Brandon lawrence posing in front of mirror

Brandon attended the School from 2006 – 2011. In 2008 he received the Royal Academy of Dance Phyllis Bedells Award. After he left the School, Brandon joined Birmingham Royal Ballet and was promoted to Principal in 2019.

Brandon has danced many of the classics including Swan Lake (Prince Seigfreid), The Nutcracker (Prince), Sleeping Beauty (Prince Florimund), Giselle (Count Albrecht), Romeo and Juliet (Romeo), La Fille Mal Garde (Colas) and Beauty and the Beast (Beast). He has also danced many notable roles including: Southern Cape Zebra from David Bintley’s Still Life at the Penguin Cafe, Friday Night and Bethena Waltz in Macmillan’s Elite Syncopations, Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room, Lucentio in Cranko’s Taming of the Shrew, Othello in Limón’s The Moors Pavane and the 3rd Seminarian in David Bintley’s Carmina Burana.

While dancing the varied and diverse repertoire at Birmingham Royal Ballet, Brandon has created roles in David Bintley’s King Dances, Alexander Whitley’s Kin, George Williamson’s Embrace, Juanjo Arques’s Ignite, and most recently Didy Veldman’s Sense of Time. Brandon has been nominated for two National Dance Awards in the Best Classical Male Performance Category for Ruth Brill’s Arcadia and Jessica Lang’s Wink.

Brandon is Patron of New English Ballet Theatre and BBO Dance, a registered dance teacher and fitness instructor.

Kele Roberson

Kele roberson dancing in hay

Kele joined the School in 2017 from Austin’s Dance Institute Performance Academy, having been offered both a place at The Royal Ballet School and Julliard. At the School he was awarded 1st place in the 2017 Lynn Seymour Award for Expressive Dance. Kele’s self-choreographed solo piece Start Again, created for an audition, was chosen to be performed on the Royal Opera House’s Main Stage during our 2019 Summer Performance. Start Again received rave reviews from critics: ‘Roberson’s hypnotic control, dragging his shadow across the stage, was mesmerising’ (Ballet News), ‘Kele Roberson proved himself a choreographer in the making’ (The Dancing Times) and ‘jaw-dropping solo’ (British Theatre Guide).

With this piece, Kele was invited to join Nederlands Dans Theater (NDT) 2 and he has been with them ever since. In the company he has performed the work of Jiri Kylian, Crystal Pite, Ohad Naharin, Paul Lightfoot & Sol Leon, Hans van Manen, Sharon Eyal, Marco Geocke, Johan Inger, Alexander Ekman, Dimo Milev and Tom Weinberger. This season, Kele will be dancing in Sudden and Suspended, The Play Between and Switch ’22.

Nikisha Fogo

Nikisha fogo posing in front of a cream background

Nikisha began her ballet training at the Royal Swedish Ballet School and was invited to join the second year of Upper School in 2011 after being noticed at the Prix de Lausanne by our then Artistic Director Gailene Stock.

After leaving the School, she danced with Vienna State Ballet, becoming a First Soloist, the highest rank in the company. Whilst at the company, she performed roles in Coppélia and Raymonda. In 2021 Nikisha made her San Francisco Ballet debut as Principal. Nikisha is currently rehearsing Don Quixote for San Francisco Ballet.

Jerome Anthony Barnes

Jerome anthony barnes dancing in the nutcracker

Before joining the School as a full-time student, Jerome took ballet classes as part of our Junior Associate Programme. He graduated from the School in 2017 and joined Scottish Ballet, where he was promoted to Soloist in 2020.

For Scottish Ballet, he has performed in the recent stage productions of The Crucible, The Snow Queen and Starstruck. He has starred in films including Tremble and Frontiers for the company’s Digital Season in 2019 and played The Nutcracker Prince in Scottish Ballet’s first feature film The Secret Theatre in 2020, which went onto win Best Dance Film at the National Dance Awards. This year, Jerome is nominated for a One Dance UK award in the category Rising Star.

Davi Ramos

Davi ramos dancing a pas de deux

Davi joined the School from Brazil and graduated in 2019. Whilst at the School, he was a recipient of a Ballet Association Award and performed roles in Swan Lake, Paquita and Ashley Page’s Untied, Undone.

In 2019, Davi was awarded a contract with the Dutch National Ballet Junior Company and has since been promoted to the Corps de Ballet. In his first year with the Junior Company, Davi performed the lead role in No Time Before Time by Ernst Meisner. During his time in the Corps de Ballet, he has performed a beautiful pas de deux in Ted Brandsen’s Replay and has danced lead roles in Valse Fantasie by George Balanchine and the new version of Prometheus created by Wubkje Kuindersma, Ernst Meisner and Remi Wörtmeyer. Last season he performed a principal role in Live by Hans van Manen.

Marianna Tsembenhoi

Marianna tsembenhoi jumping in the royal ballet school studios

Born in Kiev, Marianna began her training at the age of three. She won silver and gold medals at the Youth American Grand Prix 2016 and won a scholarship to our Upper School in 2017. At the School Marianna performed in Andrew McNicol’s Sea Interludes and Ashley Page’s Larina Waltz.

In 2020, Marianna joined The Royal Ballet’s Aud Jebsen Young Dancers Programme and has continued with the Company in their 2021/2022 season. Whilst at the Royal Opera House, Marianna has performed in Lynne Page’s Lyssa which featured an all-female cast and recently performed in Romeo and Juliet.

Rishan Benjamin

Rishan benjamin rehearsing with the scottish ballet

Before joining the School as a Junior Associate, Rishan danced in the Chance to Dance programme run by the Royal Opera House. She trained at the Central School of Ballet where she graduated in 2018, joining Scottish Ballet in the same year.

For Scottish Ballet, she has performed in the recent stage productions of The Crucible, The Snow Queen and Starstruck. She has starred in films including Tremble and Frontiers for the company’s Digital Season in 2019, and in the film premiere of Oxymore by Sophie Laplane, as the Edinburgh International Festival programme in 2020. Recently, she has been working with the Engagement Team on the innovative project Safe to Be Me, that uses dance to explore identity in young people.

Shevelle Dynott

Shevelle dynott dancing infront of white background

Shevelle Dynott started dancing at the age of five and joined the Royal Ballet’s Chance to Dance programme two years later, before becoming a Royal Ballet School Junior Associate. In 1997 Shevelle joined the The Royal Ballet School on the Music and Dance Scheme. Whilst at the School, he performed at the Royal Opera House in Sleeping Beauty, La Valse, Prologue de fugue and Les Patieneurs.

After graduating in 2005, Shevelle was asked to join English National Ballet as an Artist and spent 15 years with the company. During his time in the company, he performed roles in Akram Khan’s Giselle, Rudolf Nureyev’s Romeo and Juliet and Kenneth Macmillan’s Sleeping Beauty.

Shevelle currently attends the Identity School of Acting and is working as a freelance actor and dancer.

Eric Pinto-Cata

Eric pinto-cata in an audition photoshoot

Eric joined White Lodge in Year 7 and graduated from our Upper School in 2021. Whilst at the School, Eric was placed 2nd in the 2019 Lynn Seymour Award for Expressive Dance and he won both The Valerie Adams Award for Exceptional Musicality (2018) and The Gailene Stock Award (2020). He also performed leading roles in Ashely Page’s Mephisto Waltz and Kenneth MacMillan’s Elite Syncopations at our 2021 Summer Performances.

Eric is now an Artist with Birmingham Royal Ballet.

Tyrone Singleton

Influenced by seeing videos of Rudolph Nureyev and Chorus Line as a child, Tyrone started ballet at the age of 4. Tyrone was a Junior Associate before attending White Lodge and then going on to train at Tring Park School.

At the age of 17, Tyrone was invited to join Birmingham Royal Ballet and in 2013 he was promoted to Principal. At the company, he has performed roles in Romeo and Juliet, Beauty and the Beast and Elite Syncopations.

Alix Van Tiggelen

Alix van tiggelen dancing for an audition photograph

Alix joined the School in 2017 after training at the Royal Ballet School of Antwerp and at École du ballet de Paris. During her time at our Upper School, she won a Ballet Association Award in 2019 and performed in Paquita.

In 2021, Alix graduated from the School and joined the The Royal Ballet’s Aud Jebsen Young Dancers Programme.

Staff and former staff

Kenneth Tharp

Black and white photograph of kenneth tharp dancing

Kenneth is a key figure in the UK arts and culture scene with almost 40 years professional experience in the sector.
He began his dance journey at the age of five, studying classical ballet in Glasgow. As one of the leading dance artists of his generation, Kenneth performed for 13 years with the internationally-acclaimed London Contemporary Dance Theatre, and then with other leading companies during a 25-year career as a performer, choreographer, teacher and director.

From 2005-2007 Kenneth worked at the School as Lead Artist & Artistic Advisor for our Partnership and Access Programme (now Training and Access). He also taught for 12 years at our White Lodge Summer Intensive.

From 2007-2016, he headed The Place, the UK’s leading centre for contemporary dance development, as its Chief Executive, and from May 2018-Sept 2020, he was Director of The Africa Centre, in its new home in Southwark. He is currently working as a freelance Arts & Culture Consultant and as Interim CEO for Eclipse Theatre Company, a Black-led theatre and production company based in Leeds.

Carlos Acosta

Carlos acosta dancing in spartacus

Carlos is the Director of our parent company Birmingham Royal Ballet and a member of our board of governors.

Carlos was encouraged to dance by his father and attended the National Ballet School of Cuba. In 1990, won the gold medal at the Prix De Lausanne. He was then invited to dance with the English National Ballet, becoming their youngest ever principal dancer. Before joining The Royal Ballet in 1998 where he spent most of his dancing career until 2015, Carlos spent five years at Houston Ballet. He has danced with companies around the world including the Bolshoi Ballet and in 2014, he was awarded a CBE. In 2016 he ended his classical dance career with a sell-out show at the Royal Albert Hall, but Carlos continues to choreograph and occasionally takes to the stage. He has formed his own company and academy in Cuba: Acosta Danza.

Carlos has been awarded numerous awards including an Oliver Award for Outstanding Achievement in Dance and the De Valois Award for Lifetime Achievement at the National Dance Awards.

See Carlos and Birmingham Royal Ballet this November at Sadler’s Wells in Curated By Carlos: Triple Bill. Carlos is dancing a pas de deux with our alumna Alessandra Ferri.

Denzil Bailey

A headshot of denzil bailey

Denzil began dancing aged 17 in a weekly jazz class in a Cricklewood church hall. He was encouraged by a teacher to take ballet and received a grant from Brent Council to train at the London School of Classical Dance from 1982 to 1985. Whilst training he would often dance with London City Ballet in the corps de ballet. He was invited to join the English National Ballet and remained there for 10 years.

Since then, he assisted Cassa Pancho in the creation of Ballet Black as their founding Ballet Master. Denzil now teaches at several organisations and has taught at Danceworks, Central Ballet School, The Place, London Studio Centre, Rambert, The Royal Ballet, Neo Ballet and Ballet Black.

Denzil was appointed Resident Guest Teacher at The Royal Ballet School this term.

Dancers, Choreographers and Companies

Céline Gittens

Céline gittens in swan lake

Céline was born in Trinidad and began ballet training at three years old with her mother who is a ballet teacher. From the age of nine, Céline was raised in Vancouver, Canada and trained at the Goh Ballet Academy. In 2005 she won the Gold medal and Audience Choice Award at the Genée International Ballet Competition and one year later she was a finalist at the Prix de Lausanne. That same year, in 2006 she joined Birmingham Royal Ballet.

Céline made history as a Soloist of the company in 2012 when she became the first Black ballerina in a UK production of Swan Lake to perform the twin roles of Odette and Odile. Céline was made Principal in 2016. She has performed all Principal roles in classical ballets like Giselle, Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker, Coppélia and Romeo and Juliet.

In 2011 Céline was invited to Buckingham Palace to celebrate young performers in the Arts and had the honour of meeting her Majesty the Queen, and in 2016 Céline performed Swanhilda at Buckingham Palace in the presence of HRH Prince Charles. Céline also gained a Master of Philosophy in 2012 from the University of Birmingham.

Céline has been choreographing solos for herself since the age of 15 and choreographed a pas de deux for Dance Mash, a choreographic workshop based at Birmingham Royal Ballet. She hopes to choreograph more in the future.

Misty Copeland

Misty copeland dancing on stage

Raised in California, Misty Copeland began dancing at the age of thirteen. She studied at the San Francisco Ballet School and secured a scholarship to the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) Summer Intensive. Misty was named the ABT National Coca-Cola Scholar in 2000 and joined their Studio Company that year. The following year, she was promoted to the corps de ballet of the American Ballet Theatre. In 2008, Misty was awarded the Leonore Annenberg Fellowship in the Arts which is given to young artists with extraordinary talent.

With ABT, Misty has performed a variety of classical and contemporary roles including the title role in Firebird created on her by Alexei Ratmansky and the lead role Clara in The Nutcracker. In 2014, Misty became the first Black woman in an American production of Swan Lake to perform the twin roles of Odette and Odile. Misty made history again in 2015 when she was promoted to principal dancer; becoming the first African-American woman to reach the position in ABT.

Misty works with a variety of charitable organisations and gives her time to mentoring young people. She received an honorary doctorate from the University of Harford in 2014 for her contributions to classical ballet and helping to diversify the art form.

This year, Misty released the book Black Ballerinas: My Journey to Our Legacy.

Kyle Abraham

Kyle abraham with hands covering his face

Kyle began dancing at the age of 17 at the Civic Light Opera Academy and the Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts School before studying at SUNY Purchase and NYU Tisch School of the Arts. He has danced with David Dorfman Dance, The Kevin Wynn Collective Dance Alloy, among others.

In 2009, Kyle founded his own company A.I.M. by Kyle Abraham. His choreography fuses different styles of dance and is often set to a mash up of music genres. His inspirations have ranged from the effects of Alzhemier’s on a family (The Radio Show), the film Boyz n the Hood (Pavement) and New York City’s 1970 club Paradise Garage (A Ramp to Paradise).

Since founding A.I.M by Kyle Abraham, Kyle has been commissioned by a number of other companies. He created Another Night and Untitled America for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. His widely acclaimed 2018 piece, Runway, featuring costumes designed by British Designer Giles Deacon, made him the first Black choreographer to be commissioned by New York City Ballet in over a decade. The same year, he performed and choreographed the full-length solo INDY for New York’s Joyce Theater.

This year he collaborated with cinematographer Ryan Marie Helfant to make a short film for New City Ballet; When We Fell, influenced by his time in quarantine. His first piece for The Royal Ballet, premiered at the Royal Opera House in May, Optional Family: A Divertissement and his second commission is due to be performed in their 2022 Spring season. His latest choreography MotorRover, commissioned by Baryshnikov Art Center, premiered in September, and was made in response to Merce Cunningham’s Landrover (1972).

Kyle was won several awards including a Bessie Award for Outstanding Performance in Dance, the Princess Grace Award for Choreography (2010), the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award and USA Ford Fellow (2012), MacArthur Fellow (2013), Doris Duke Award (2016) and Princess Grace Statue Award (2018).

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Alvin ailey american dance theater performing revelations

Alvin Ailey began his dance training in Lester Horton’s classes after seeing performances by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and the Katherine Dunham Dance Company. Lester Horton was the founder of one of the first racially-integrated dance companies in the US and became a mentor to Alvin. Alvin eventually became the director of the Lester Horton Dance Theater.

In 1958, Alvin Ailey founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT) with the hope of ‘enriching the American modern dance heritage and preserving the uniqueness of the African-American cultural experience’. Much of his choreography is inspired by his childhood in Texas which is exemplified in the company’s most recognisable work, Revelations, created by Alvin in 1960. In 1969 he founded what is now the Ailey School, and Ailey II in 1974. Alvin was recognised for his work numerous times in his life but most notably, after his death; in 2014 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in recognition of his contributions and commitment to civil rights and dance in America.

Alvin Ailey created 79 works for the company and more than 90 choreographers including Wayne McGregor, Jiri Kylian, Kyle Abraham, Judith Jamison and Twyla Tharp have created pieces for AAADT. The company’s current Artistic Director is Robert Battle.

This December, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater returns to the stage at New York City Center with three programmes including two premieres; For Four by Robert Battle and Holding Space by resident choreographer, Jamar Roberts. Tickets are now on sale and for those not in New York, you can watch performances by the company via Ailey All Access.

Dance Theatre of Harlem

Three dancers leaping in the air on a red background

At the height of the civil rights movement in 1969, Arthur Mitchell and Karel Shook founded Dance Theatre of Harlem. During the 1930s, the decade Mitchell was born in, there was little opportunity for Black and brown dancers to train and perform classical ballet. Arthur Mitchell trained at the School of American Ballet. Whilst there, he met choreographer George Balanchine who became a mentor to Mitchell. Michell went on to become the first Black principal at New York City Ballet.

The company arose when Mitchell began teaching ballet classes out of a converted garage. His former ballet master Karel Shook came on board to help run the school which became Dance Theatre of Harlem. Ballerina Virginia Johnson was a founding member and became the company’s Artistic Director, she said “Arthur Mitchell created this space for a lot of people who had been told ‘You can’t do this,’ to give them a chance to do what they dreamed of doing.”

The company’s first performance was at the Guggenheim in 1971. Mitchell and Balanchine co-choreographed one of the company’s first pieces, Concerto for a Jazz Band and Orchestra and Balanchine gave the company the rights to several of his ballets. They brought new life to the classics and began touring worldwide; they were the first American ballet company to perform in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union.

In 1981, Dance Theatre of Harlem became the first Black dance company to perform at the Royal Opera House. They dedicated their performance to our founder Dame Ninette de Valois and during their visit to London, they presented her with the Dance Theatre of Harlem’s Emergence Award.

Dance Theatre of Harlem is now directed by Virginia Johnson and consists of the company, school and outreach programme. Next January the company tours the US and in April, they perform in New York’s City Center Dance Festival featuring Resident Choreographer Robert Garland’s Higher Ground and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Balamouk.

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