The women who inspire us — international women's day 2023

The women who inspire us — International Women’s Day 2023

At the School, we’re lucky to be surrounded by inspirational women every day: mind-blowing athletes and artists, dedicated teachers, women in healthcare, women in executive leadership roles, young women working to reach their potential, and all of the women working around the School striving for excellence every day.   

This International Women’s Day, we asked our staff and students to talk about their ballet and non-ballet inspirations.

The Royal Ballet was Dame Ninette de Valois’s company, The Royal Ballet School was her school (from all of us at the School)

Upon Dame Ninette de Valois’s sad passing in 2001, Mary Clarke wrote for The Guardian, ‘Dame Ninette made British ballet. She had lieutenants, of course, but the generalship was hers, and she alone, in the formative years, was irreplaceable.’

Dame Ninette de Valois OM CH DBE is the person in our School’s foundation and history.  She created the Vic-Wells Ballet, which became the Sadler’s Wells Ballet, which in 1956 became The Royal Ballet. And of course, she also established the School and the touring company which became Birmingham Royal Ballet. She discovered Margot Fonteyn, Rudolf Nureyev, Robert Helpmann, and Frederick Ashton. She was tenacious, a visionary, and the patron of British classical ballet.

Cassa Pancho MBE works towards the day her company is redundant (from Content Exec, Amy)

Cassa Pancho was only 21 when she founded Ballet Black, a ballet company celebrating Black and Asian dancers. When she started, no women of colour were performing in any of the UK’s biggest ballet companies.

Ballet Black’s ultimate goal is to ‘see a fundamental change in the number of Black and culturally diverse dancers in mainstream ballet companies, making our initial vision wonderfully unnecessary.’

 ‘When I started, I thought it would take about 20 years to get there,’ Cassa said, ‘but now I think it may take another 20.’

She has an amazing reputation for being a warm and approachable director, but also fiercely committed and super smart.

Another remarkable woman, Dame Monica Mason, told Dancing Times’s Jonathan Gray, ‘She has worked so hard, so devotedly, and with such dignity… It seems to me that everything about Ballet Black is positive.”

Pina Bausch was not interested in how people move, but what moves them (From Comms Exec, Lucy)

I love world-renowned choreographer Pina Bausch’s bravery (1940 – 2009). Her pieces were always characterised by honesty and she loved working freely. ‘In Fritz, my first piece, I was still following a plan. Then I gave up planning.’

When she took over directorship of Wuppertal in Germany, she wasn’t well received, ‘My predecessor in Wuppertal had done classical ballet and was very much loved by the public. A certain type of aesthetic was expected; there was no disputing that there were other forms of beauty apart from this. The first years were very difficult. Again and again, spectators would leave the auditorium slamming doors, while others whistled or booed. Sometimes we had telephone calls in the rehearsal room with bad wishes.’

But she didn’t let that stop her.

She didn’t give up or run away. She had something to say and a new way of working. She was interested in her dancers’ lives and points of view, she wanted to make work that showed what drove and moved people. Despite the criticism at the start, she succeeded in establishing dance theatre as a new genre, influencing the development of dance internationally. She was awarded the greatest prizes and honours worldwide.

Carla Fracci possessed a magnetizing gift (From student, Giulia)

Carla Fracci, born in Milan in 1936, is considered one of the greatest dancers of the twentieth century (in 1981 the New York Times defined her as a ‘prima ballerina absolute’) and one of the most brilliant étoiles on the world scene. At 22, she was prima ballerina at La Scala. Four years later, she moved to London, to the London Festival Ballet, where in 1959 she made her debut with Giselle. She was a regular guest with the most prestigious companies in the world: Royal Ballet, Stuttgart Ballet, Royal Swedish Ballet. American Ballet Theatre. Carla Fracci possessed the magnetizing gift of making her art known everywhere. She danced on the biggest stages in the world, from the Metropolitan to the Royal Opera House, from the Bolshoi to Gran Teatro de La Habana.

But following the inspiration and direction of her husband Menegatti, she also danced in shows performed with small companies with very young students in small and very small towns. She said she liked to dance even in small towns, in marquees, churches, squares because she wanted her art not to be elite or only in large theatres but known by all.

Jodie Comer inspires a student to work hard (From one of our students)

Jodie Comer was born in Liverpool on 11 March 1993. Jodie’s career started in an episode of The Royal Today in 2008. She has then made various appearances in different series from then, like My Mad Fat Diary, Doctor Foster, Thirteen, The White Princess, and has recently made her debut in Suzie Miller’s Broadway Play Prima Facie. Her most well-known part is her leading role in The BBC series, Killing Eve. She plays the main part of Oksana/Villanelle. She is an amazing actor, and inspires me to work hard as she has grown from being a girl in Liverpool, to becoming a lead actor in a big BBC series.

Fumi Kaneko has mastered the craft of effortless technique (From student, Sophia)

My inspiration is Fumi Kaneko. She is at the top of her career and has achieved what every aspiring ballerina dreams of – the position of a Principal at The Royal Ballet! But this is not why Fumi Kaneko is my inspiration. She inspires me because, through hard work and dedication, she has mastered the craft of effortless technique. She oozes the sort of confidence that makes me believe she can never make a mistake and I just lose myself in the story. She inspires me because she makes every role her own and is equally convincing and mesmerizing no matter what character she portrays. But she mostly inspires me because, despite her fame, she has remained kind, humble and modest. I happened to see her in Covent Garden on my way to a Nutcracker performance and asked her for a photo. She appeared to be in a hurry but still smiled, and was happy to speak to me. The world needs strong women, who don’t compromise what they believe in.  

Malala Yousafzai inspires people around the world (From student, Molly)

Malala is an education rights activist that lived in Pakistan until the Taliban took over and shot her in the left side of her head on the way back from school. As she was a young woman, she wasn’t allowed to have an education at school like the many other boys in her area, these rules were enforced by the Taliban. She was rushed to England as quickly as possible to proceed with surgery. She recovered well and went into rehabilitation for months after to gain back her strength. She now is fighting for women’s rights around the world, and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 for her incredible impact. She still inspires many around the world today and is always striving to make a difference.

Ada Lovelace is a symbol in the STEM fields (From one of our students)

My inspirational woman is Ada Lovelace, who was the first woman to make a computer programme. She changed society at the time and is still famous to this day. Not everyone will know who she is but she’s an amazing example in showing women’s rights and how she worked for herself. She is a symbol in the STEM fields which represents science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

This woman was a hard-working hero. She deserves the recognition she has had, and she plays a powerful part in the history of women’s empowerment.

Especially for her time in 1840s, she showed women and girls what could be achieved and was an inspiring expert. I think she is an outstanding programmer and a great role model for anyone. She inspires me because she reaches for what she loves to do most.

Dame Vivienne Westwood was a fashion icon breaking barriers (From Commercial Director, Carol)

The woman I want to celebrate is fashion Icon Dame Vivienne Westwood (8 April 1941 – 29 December 2022) who broke through barriers from primary school teacher to fashion designer and businesswoman, bringing punk and new wave fashions to mainstream audiences.

She used her platforms as an active campaigner for nuclear disarmament, climate change and civil rights.

We all need to be a ‘bit more Vivienne!’

Crystal Pite courageously addresses challenging and complex themes

As one of a few women choreographers at her level of acclaim, Crystal Pite uses her voice to address challenging and complex themes. She created her recent piece, Light of Passage — performed at the Royal Opera House — as a way of coping with the various interconnected humanitarian crises in the world; her way of speaking clearly and truthfully about something she cares about. I really respect that she makes such honest and vulnerable work.

Read about Light of Passage, which included some of our Junior Associates in the cast.

Cellist, Jacqueline du Pré gave people who she was (From student, Ruben)

Arguably one of if not the most special musicians known to Britain, Jacqueline du Pré was, to put it lightly, a sensational woman.

It was her sheer artistic power and transformative musical passion that transcended any questions or doubts about her abilities. What allowed her this liberation was her independent personality, of which this following quote sums up to perfection.

“She didn’t give people what they wanted, but she gave people who she was.”

Her legacy has not only inspired a generation of musicians and myself but has in fact rightfully bestowed itself within our world of dance. The Cellist, choreographed by Cathy Marston, tells the story of her life and was premiered on the 17 February 2022 on the Royal Opera House Stage.

She will be celebrated and undoubtedly inspire women and all artists alike for generations to come.