By Theo Bosanquet
AS he takes to our TV screens for another season of Strictly at the same time as he steps into Miranda Hart’s shoes taking over from her to play the evil Miss Hannigan in the West End musical Annie, Craig Revel Horwood is a busy man!
But he took time out to speak to Theo Bosanquet about his work on the new BalletBoyz production, which is currently touring the UK and appears at the Brighton Dome in November.
He says, “I had a fantastic experience with BalletBoyz a few years ago, creating a tango for two men as part of a gala show which re-opened the Royal Festival Hall at the Southbank Centre in London. So I was thrilled when they asked me to come back and create a new work. I really admire them as a company. They’ve really pushed the boundaries of ballet and made it sexy and cool.”
He explains the concept behind the dance in Fourteen Days. “I didn’t really know what I was going to do until I visited Australia as part of Who Do You Think You Are? and discovered that my great, great grandfather was a champion clog dancer. My family were goldminers, so I thought ‘wouldn’t it be interesting to get the miners clog dancing?’ Story-wise, I based it on my hometown of Ballarat where there was a revolt of miners in the mid-19th century, known as the Eureka Stockade. So the concept is a clog dance battle between the miners and the soldiers.
Was it challenging working with clogs? Craig says, “I was a novice myself – the first time I wore clogs was in Who Do You Think You Are? So it was a real challenge for me and the boys, who are trained in classic ballet. It’s almost the polar opposite to ballet as a discipline, because your feet are so heavy. But we started improvising and having some fun with it and it was extraordinary to see it evolve. They’ve done brilliantly well.”
It all had to be put it together in just 14 days. “Billy and Michael [co-founders of BalletBoyz] were a bit shocked when I took the concept to them. I think they were expecting something a little more conventional. They said, ‘Craig, is this going to be possible in two weeks?’ and I replied, ‘Of course – God made the world in seven days and I’ve got double that time!’”
He adds, “Each Ballet Boy is an individual, they all have characters. That makes it different, because you’re not getting a corps de ballet as such, you’re getting to know each individual dancer. But they’re very generous as a company, they very much work as a team. And of course they’re all boys, but that doesn’t restrict the opportunity to convey romance or sexiness.”
A busy man, Craig has several projects happening at one time. “At the moment, I’m directing a new musical, preparing to act in the West End and working on Strictly Come Dancing,” says Craig. “On top of that I’m doing a one man show on my days off. I’ve learnt to compartmentalise. I have to. But I just love everything that I do, so it doesn’t feel like work. I keep saying yes!
So how similar is your Strictly persona to how you are in the rehearsal room? “It’s a true representation of how I direct,” says Craig. “I’m hard on people because I want to push them. I tell my dancers what’s wrong so that we can make it right. After all, we want to make the piece as good as it can be. It’s sometimes misconstrued on Strictly that my criticism is not constructive, but that’s completely wrong. I want to help people to improve. But that said I do wear different hats, and when I’m at home I take them off and I’m myself. I’d probably go a bit made otherwise!
He explains how he got into dance in the first place. “I was always a bit of a show off, especially at Christmas when we had lots of cousins round. We’d always put on a show for the adults. I would put on feather bowers and wigs on and play all kinds of characters. A reason I got into dance specifically was because I was a fat kid and I was getting teased at school. A friend advised me join an exercise class, and it just happened to be jazz ballet. It turned out I could naturally do it, so the teacher advised me to get some formal training. He enrolled me into ballet school and that started me down the path.”
And what advice would he give to kids out there wanting to follow in your footsteps? “Do what your heart says. You’re always going to be better at something you’re passionate about, so you have to find what that is and do it. If you’d told me as a kid that I’d be directing and starring in productions in the West End I would have laughed you out of Ballarat. But it’s happened. So listen to your heart, and follow it.”
BalletBoyz with Fourteen Days are at the Brighton Dome, Church Street, Brighton, at 7.30pm on Tuesday and Wednesday November 28 and 29. Tickets £10-£20. Phone 01273 709709 or visit brightondome.org.
Above and below: BalletBoyz performing Fourteen Days
Main image, top: Craig Revel Horwood. Picture: Neil Genower