Monday, 27 February 2012

Dance with a Stranger: how do you nurture talent?

Earlier this year a young dancer from the Ukraine resigned abruptly from the Royal Ballet. He was scheduled to dance a number of leading roles, and had recently been described as “better than Baryshnikov”. “Now I know how it felt when The Beatles split” tweeted one of his fans.
“Where were you when you heard the news?” asked a journalist. Like many people, I read the news on Twitter when I was settling in for a performance of new works by some of his (now former) colleagues. Monica Mason, Director of the Royal Ballet, looked grim in the bar afterwards. It was reported that the now ex-Royal Ballet soloist had gone up to Dame Monica at the end of a rehearsal and told her he “didn’t want to dance anymore”. In a press release Dame Monica said, “This has obviously come as a huge shock”.

A Star Turns
I was shocked, too. Not want to dance anymore, he who could land on a sixpence and give meaning and purpose to every gesture? I, who know nothing about ballet except that I find it rather a challenge to maintain the ‘Dancer’s Position’ in my yoga class, had identified the Ukrainian as one of the most exciting dancers in the company. Other dancers might get name checked more often by the critics, and on Twitter, but I was always rooting for the Ukrainian. Like a fond parent, I glowed when he was given new roles. I basked in his reflected glory. When he became a world star, I, for one, would not be surprised. 

Stage Twitterers
What happened after his departure was interesting. Regular Twitterers from the Royal Ballet said almost nothing. One well-known dancer tweeted that the Ukrainian needed a spanking. A number of journalists and bloggers speculated why he had resigned? Was he rebelling against years of discipline at the Royal Ballet? What was known about his family, education, health and hobbies was sifted for clues about his emotional and mental state. Some of his tweets were discovered to be alarming. Were his tattoos really misspelt? Had the golden boy become the Amy Winehouse of ballet?

‘I think I jumped a little bit higher than Ivan!
So far, so painful. What to make of the whole affair? Should one feel sad that someone with so much potential left the company that nurtured him so abruptly? Or should one be grateful for the joy that his dancing has given already, and be glad for him that he jumped? What is the real story? How do people at the Royal Ballet feel about his resignation? What was done to help him? What is going on in his head? We know from his Twitter account that he still takes pride in jumping higher than Ivan.

“4 controversial years left!!!!”
I work in learning and development as a facilitator and as a coach. One of my main pleasures is to watch people grow in confidence, and to see them become the person that they want to be. I want the people I work with to be happy and successful. I think this is what troubles me about the Ukrainian: that he may not know who he wants to be, that he may not reach his full potential and that he may not be happy.
What is the best way to support people with exceptional gifts, and how do you nurture talent in a hothouse environment like the Royal Ballet? I don’t have any answers. Maybe my reaction to the Ukrainian’s departure is selfish. If he wants to be a tattooist, then let it him. But please let him learn to spell.

“I was impressed to watch your stage in Tokyo”
The good news is that the tattooed one has danced recently in London and Tokyo. He is scheduled to dance in London again, though not with the Royal Ballet. I will go to see him for as long as he wants to dance.