Swan Lake has returned to Birmingham, and you won’t want to miss it!

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Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake has taken centre stage at Birmingham Hippodrome, so we spoke to James Lovell, who plays the lead role of The Prince on how he managed to land his dream role at the age of just 19. 

Forget what you thought you knew about ballet, as Matthew Bourne’s production of Swan Lake completely defies expectations by breaking classical dance norms and making its mark with a combination of breathtaking choreography mixed with themes of jealousy, sexuality and romance. Known for his revolutionary and award-winning work (with seven Olivier awards under his belt), it’s no surprise that this re-imagined production by Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures company is selling out across the globe, with plans to tour to Tokyo and beyond.

We caught up with James Lovell, who was spotted by Matthew Bourne whilst still studying at the highly-prestigious Birmingham dance school Elmhurst, and has since left the school early to pursue his dreams in the company. Having been dancing since the age of three at a local dance school in his hometown of Swanage in Dorset, he admits he still can’t believe how far he’s come in the last sixteen years:

“It was always more of an after school hobby, I always wanted to do it but I never knew how to get into the industry. My parents were supportive, but they both come from very different working backgrounds. The first thing I’d do when the radio came on was dance, so my mum sent me to dance classes and told my dad the discipline would do me good. At first, he wasn’t too keen, but now he takes every opportunity to come and watch me – he absolutely loves it.”

James went on to train in the Royal Ballet Junior and Senior Associate Programmes, where he first came across Matthew Bourne’s work when watching his production of Sleeping Beauty:

“It was then that I realised it was what I wanted to do. I’d never seen anything like it. I’d never done a contemporary class before I went to Elmhurst, and those two first years of contemporary dance made me change my mind and realise that it was the route for me. Having come from such a normal background, I had no clue what ballet was about, but this made complete sense to me. I’d never say never to classical ballet but my heart is in this. I’ve fallen in love with the company over and over again every night.”

So how did he manage to land his dream role in Swan Lake at the age of just 19? Whilst taking part in the National Youth Ballet Summer School at the end of his first year at Elmhurst, James performed a Swan Lake solo as Matthew Bourne spectated from the audience. Following this, he was invited to two private workshops and, to his surprise, was asked to audition where he was successful in landing a role. 

“I found out when I received an email whilst I was teaching a choreography lesson and my heart stopped. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse. I was risking it all by leaving Elmhurst, but it was my dream company. Initially, I was emailed and asked to cover for The Prince, but then due to last minute casting changes, they asked me to be the role, which was a huge compliment and privilege.”

James Lovell by Kevin S. Persaud

“I get lost in dance completely, I forget who I am as a person and completely embody the character. My dancing may not be the most technical in the company and I certainly don’t have the best legs and feet; there are some amazing technical dancers in the company. But I love being challenged and becoming a different person to manipulate the audience as a different character.”

Having studied in Birmingham for two years, James explains how he’s excited but nervous to be back, as his classmates are still studying whilst he feels completely detached from school life. 

“It was hard enough leaving them, and they’re still training so I think it will be quite hard to come back, but it will be such an amazing feeling when they come and watch. I can’t wait to show them what I get to do every day. They only have a little bit of understanding of what i do from pictures, videos and phone calls. They’ve asked me to go back to Elmhurst and speak about my experiences but it’s such an unlikely situation.”

And he’s no stranger to the Birmingham Hippodrome stage, having performed in The Nutcracker with Birmingham Royal Ballet a couple of years ago, as he recalls the “huge auditorium” that would “take your breath away”.

When looking towards the future, James hopes to remain within the company for the majority of his career, telling me that he has his sights set on playing The Lilac Fairy in Sleeping Beauty and Angelo in The Car Man, but for now he’s living his childhood dream and thoroughly enjoying it.

This isn’t anything like the Swan Lake you’ve witnessed before, with revolutionary male casting and a convention-breaking plot as just a few elements that make it so different, but this is a show for anyone and everyone, and you’ll have to see it to believe it.  

Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake runs from Tuesday 5 Februar – Saturday 16 February, click here to book tickets.

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