Today, we’re speaking with Celine Gittens, dancer with the Birmingham Royal Ballet. Celine was born in Trinidad but grew up in Vancouver, Canada. She got into dance thanks to her mother, a RAD teacher, with whom she started training. She then joined the Goh Ballet Academy for a 4 year course before accepting a position at the Birmingham Royal Ballet in 2006. Her “great dramatic stage presence” (London Dance) and “exceptional poise” (The Telegraph) makes her stand out from the crowd. She’s one of the key dancers to watch out for in years to come and we’re sure we will see a lot more of her on stage.
Celine shares her story with us along with what we can expect from her and the Birmingham Royal Ballet for the beginning of the 2012/2013 season.
Celine Gittens. Photo taken on Twitter
So Celine, tell us, what is it that you love about Ballet?
CG: I love performing and the positive energy that is created onstage. Ballet is a unique way of communicating with an audience and I love giving the audience that moment of wonder and awe.
Parents can sometimes be a bit reticent when their children choose to become dancers but your mother seemed keen to put you in pointe shoes! You actually trained with her at the beginning, didn’t you? What was it like?
CG: Training with my mum was and still is great. She had no choice but to put me in ballet because at the age of two I would be dancing around in the studio, joining in the junior and senior classes. The studio was my playground! I always had an interest in music and dance and this was nurtured by my mum.
It must have been fantastic to have her support and be able to benefit from her experience as an ex- professional dancer. What is the best piece of advice she gave you?
CG: The best piece of advice my mum gave me was to 'trust your technique' and to 'enjoy every performance'.
You eventually joined the Goh Ballet Academy. Can you tell us about the training you received there?
CG: I joined the Goh Ballet Academy when I was fourteen. It was four years of intense professional training. We did many performances and I was coached by many guest teachers from the Balanchine trust to the Royal Danish Ballet.
It sounds like a great base for a professional career. You’re now dancing with the Birmingham Royal Ballet (since 2006). I suppose you’ve noticed some differences in the dance scene between the UK and Canada?
CG: There is a higher density of ballet companies in the United Kingdom and Europe than in Canada, which makes it easier to see a large variety of dance live.
Why did you decide to join BRB in particular?
CG: The repertoire of BRB is very varied and we have high numbers of performances per year. We also tour locally and internationally. It is always great to perform in different theatres and in front of so many audiences.
It might be a tough question but if you had to choose a few key highlights of your time with BRB, what would they be?
CG: There have been many highlights for me at BRB so far. It was a really great experience to perform the role of 'Fortuna' in David Bintley's 'Carmina Burana' last year. Also more recently being coached by Dame Beryl Grey for 'Black Queen' in 'Checkmate' and by Marion Tait for 'White Swan pas de deux' have been spectacular experiences. There have been countless roles since I joined BRB in 2006 that I enjoyed performing and were highlights of my career, and I am looking forward to many more exciting roles.
Celine Gittens and Tyrone Singleton in David Bintleys' 'Faster'. Photo: Bill Cooper
Speaking of exciting roles, you’ve got a very busy September coming up, first with “Swan Lake” and then with “Opposites Attract”. Does that mean your summer will be spent rehearsing?
CG: Most of the ballets in line for the Autumn 2012 season have been performed in our Summer season, so when we return from our summer holidays we will resume rehearsals for 'Swan Lake' and 'Grosse Fuge', which we haven't performed recently.
Sounds great! Let’s start with Swan Lake. You must be ecstatic to dance in such a beautiful and iconic ballet.
CG: Since I've been with BRB, the company has toured 'Swan Lake' three times. It is surely every young ballerina's dream to perform in 'Swan Lake' and I love when this ballet comes around. I especially love Sir Peter Wright's version. In previous performances I have danced 'Waltz', 'Big Swans', 'Mazurka' and 'Spanish'. In June 2012 I performed the 'White Swan pas de deux' for our Southwestern midscale tour.
I suppose you’ve been looking at previous interpretations of your characters. Did anyone in particular inspire you?
CG: Many dancers have inspired me. I always watch performances and try to learn and gain knowledge from different dancers. I must say, although I am inspired by other dancers, I always try to make the role my own with my interpretation.
Yes, it is essential to add your own touch to a role. How do you do that?
CG: Every dancer has different ways of looking at how a role should be danced, so I like to draw ideas from other dancers yet insert my interpretations to make it my own.
Can you tell us more about what goes on before the interpretation stage? How do you prepare for a role?
CG: Preparation for roles usually includes doing background research regarding the meaning of the character. This is done to thoroughly understand which emotions should be portrayed at each specific point in the ballet.
Celine Gittens with Robert Parker. Slaughter on 10th Avenue. Photo: Drew Tommons
We’d love to talk about “Opposites Attract” now. Can you tell us what it’s about?
CG: 'Opposites Attract' is the title of our Autumn 2012 triple bill that will be performed at the Birmingham Hippodrome and Sadler's Wells Theatre. 'Lyric Pieces' a newly commissioned work by Jessica Lang will be performed first, followed by David Bintley's 'Take Five', and Hans van Manen's 'Grosse Fuge'.
Could you give us more details about“Lyric Pieces”?
CG: Jessica Lang came to choreograph 'Lyric Pieces' in March 2012. The ballet is set to music by Edvard Grieg which cleverly incorporates expandable and collapsible set designs which the dancers move around the stage.
It sounds impressive. How was it to work with Jessica Lang?
CG: I was casted to learn the pas de deux section in 'Lyric Pieces' but since performances for this work were going North four our midscale tour and I was performing in the South, I haven't performed this yet. However, I did have a few opportunities to work with Jessica on the pas de deux in the studio and it was great. I loved how excited and enthusiastic she would become when an experiment with a movement worked. She was very encouraging and showed care and interest to each cast that she worked with.
It promises to be a beautiful collaboration. Can you tell our readers about what they can expect to see?
CG: You can expect to see a beautiful collaboration of music, set design, and dancers.
Who would you say this piece will appeal to?
CG: This piece will appeal to everyone. The triple bill is a perfect mix of classical, jazz, and contemporary dance so it should be a treat for all to watch.
You will most certainly see us during the tour then. We cannot wait to see the show; it sounds like a very unique production. One last question: what are your goals for the remainder of the year?
I am looking forward to the 2012 - 2013 season as we have some great ballets that are waiting to be danced. It is especially exciting when new ballets are to be choreographed, and I can't wait to do David Bintley's new 'Aladdin'!
Thank you Celine for your time!
Celine Gittens and Tom Rogers in The Manhattan Project. Photo: Bill Cooper
Goh Ballet Academy
Birmingham Royal Ballet
Celine's twitter handle