A collective of dancers weaving in and out of each other reaching up and down, dressed in green trousers and black tops.

Celebrating Black excellence – Autumn Draft Works 2023

We’re immensely proud that Pre-professional student Rebecca Stewart’s choreography featured in a special edition of Autumn Draft Works, as part of a new festival introduced for Black History Month, Rhythm in Resilience. We spoke to Rebecca ahead of the performance.


Rhythm in Resilience is a new collection of events curated by The Royal Ballet’s Emerging Choreographer Joseph Toonga, aiming to highlight Black talent in The Royal Ballet. Rebecca told us how she feels about taking part:  

This Autumn Draft Works is a celebration of Black artists, and I feel really happy to be a part of it. This festival is about showcasing our excellence and our contributions to dance. The evening features different choreographies, works, and ideas in a positive, open space. There are dancers from The Royal Ballet who are involved as well as different choreographers, such as Winnie Dias and Miguel Altunaga. So many talented people are performing and showcasing their work, and I’m very excited to see all of it! 

How It Ends was originally choreographed by Rebecca as part of our Ursula Moreton Emerging Choreographer programme and was also performed at Opera Holland Park for our 2023 Summer Performances. Rebecca was surprised when Joseph Toonga selected her creation for Autumn Draft Works: 

When I first heard the news, I was just stunned honestly. I never would have guessed my piece would be selected. I was just happy to create it, and I felt like I had achieved success when it was originally performed last May at the Ursula Moreton showcase. I then saw it on stage under the lights and in front of a large audience at Opera Holland Park during the Summer Performances, and it was an unforgettable experience.

Joseph Toonga is an amazing choreographer so being chosen for Draft Works has felt incredible! I feel really honoured to be selected among so many talented artists. How It Ends is such a personal representation of my thought process, and I’m excited and humbled to see it presented at the Royal Opera House. 

Rebecca spoke to us about the meaning behind her work and how it has progressed over time:  

When I first created the piece in 2nd Year, it was a period of transition for my whole year group. At that time, I was fearful of unpleasant changes and endings, so I wanted How It Ends to reflect those emotions. I also wanted to create something that represented the inevitability of change, something we all share as a common experience. As we move through our Pre-professional Year, it’s truly an ending because it’s our last year at the School. At this point, the choreography represents our journey together as a year group.

The piece has grown so much over the past 12 months, and I have seen myself and my dancers grow. Its significance has also evolved from the initial performance last year to Summer Performances earlier this year, to finally Draft Works. We have now arrived at yet another period of change that’s not easy, but it will be positive. We’re all going somewhere new and exciting, and that’s something worth celebrating.  

Celebrating black excellence – autumn draft works 2023

 Rebecca told us about her choreographic aspirations for the future: 

I would love to continue choreographing in the future. I grew a lot during the whole process of the Ursula Moreton Emerging Choreographer programme. I wanted to choreograph a big piece, and I finally had that opportunity, although it definitely came with its own challenges. I’m interested in choreographing with a slightly smaller cast at some point and also experimenting with other dance styles. My background includes many different genres, so I’d like to try incorporating them into my choreography as well. How It Ends was created from my natural movement and now feels quite comfortable. In the future, I’m excited to push myself into areas outside of artistic elements that are typically familiar to me. 

Who inspired Rebecca growing up? 

Among the many teachers I had when I was younger, several were Black and had amazing careers in ballet and dance in general. They were my inspirations because they pushed me so much, and they saw something in me that I didn’t necessarily recognise yet. Their encouragement and support have helped to mould me into the dancer that I am today. I’m also really inspired by Precious Adams and Francesca Hayward, two dancers that I truly admire. There are exceptional athletes in sports who also inspire and motivate me because of the mental and physical dedication they possess to be the best in their craft.

And then there’s my mum. She’s one of the strongest people I know, and she’s taught me so much. She is determined and kind and she has been a great example for me and my siblings. My inspirations are all so varied, but they have shaped me as a dancer and overall, as a person.  

As well as performing in Autumn Draft Works, Rebecca will participate in Insights: Ballet and the Black Experience alongside Joseph Toonga and Kenneth Tharp at the Royal Opera House: 

I will be performing my solo from the Lynn Seymour (Award for Expressive Dance) performance as well as sitting on a panel to discuss what it means to be a Black dancer. I’m very excited about this opportunity because not only am I able to perform, but I’m also able to share my thoughts and learn from the other panellists as well.

This is a special occasion for me because I can recall sitting on my bed during COVID lockdowns in 2020 and watching a similar Insights, which was moderated by Kenneth Tharp as well. It’s surreal to now be involved, and again, I’m so humbled and honoured to be selected by Mr. Toonga to participate. I’m particularly excited to be amongst some of the role models that I’ve looked up to for years, such as Joseph Sissens. 

Rebecca considered the significance of Black History Month and why it’s important in the dance world: 

Black History Month for me, is about acknowledging our history, recognising the challenges we have faced and also overcome. This month is important in the dance world because there are so many Black dancers who have contributed significantly to this art form and Black History Month is an occasion to highlight and celebrate these individuals. It’s important to preserve the history of these artists who have paved the way for dancers like me. It’s a very special month and ultimately one of empowerment.  

We also asked Rebecca what progression she would like to see more of in ballet:  

I think some things have definitely started to change. We’ve seen an evolution in terms of the skin-tone ballet tights that can be worn and the availability of skin-tone pointe shoes. These developments are important to Black dancers, and I hope more brands will follow this example.

I would like to see an increased awareness of the number of successful Black dancers of all ages in the ballet community. There are so many Black artists in the ballet world, and I think it’s important to increase the visibility of this wider community so younger, aspiring Black dancers can readily see these individuals and know that ballet is also a possibility for them. While ballet is a well-known and familiar art form to many, there are still some communities where it is not so accessible. I would like this to change so that it can be embraced by larger and more diverse audiences. Ballet is for people of all colours, ethnicities, and backgrounds so it can be something that we all support and love.  

Congratulations Rebecca, for being a trailblazer and such a credit to the School. 

Thank you! I am very grateful to The Royal Ballet School for the past two years of my training. I’ve had opportunities unlike anything I’ve had in the past, and I’m so appreciative. Participating in Draft Works and Insights is like a dream come true and I am particularly thankful to Mr. Toonga for inviting me to be a part of the Rhythm in Resilience festival. I know this will stay with me always, and I really look forward to this special month ahead.