Alumna Isabelle Brouwers has been a dancer with English National Ballet for six years. In that time she has performed in a variety of productions including Pina Bausch’s Rite of Spring, Jiri Kylian’s Petit Mort, and as Myrtha in Akram Khan’s Giselle. We asked her to reflect on her time at the school, what she’s been up to since graduating, and what advice she would give to our current students.
What was your time at English National Ballet School like?
I always reminisce over my time at English National Ballet School (ENBS) very fondl. I spent a truly unforgettable three years at the school, forming friendships that have transcended the test of time and learning skills that I never would’ve imagined acquiring. Alongside excellent and varied training in ballet, contemporary and pas de deux work, we had the chance to explore character dancing, learned how to notate dance with Benesh, gained insight into Pilates, sorts psychology, anatomy, dance history and nutrition, as well as building life skills in independence and time management. We also had opportunities to perform both locally and abroad, and, in our final year at school, experience working professionally with the English National Ballet alongside other illustrious UK based companies.
What is your favourite memory of being at English National Ballet School?
I have so many fond memories of my time at ENBS! My highlights must include travelling to Glasgow for the 2013 Genee International Ballet Competition, representing the school alongside my wonderful classmate and friend John Rhys Halliwell, where I was honoured to win the silver medal. As well as travelling to participate in the Prix de Lausanne, representing the school at the Young British Dancer of the Year, where I was awarded 2nd place in 2013. And performing in our annual winter and summer showcases in London. My most memorable moment, however, has to be receiving my contract to join the English National Ballet after my final winter showcase at the Hortensia Road school headquarters.
Tell us a bit about your career to date. Where do you currently dance? What has been your career high?
I was extremely fortunate to graduate straight into the English National Ballet company and delve directly into professional touring life, with a tour to Spain only 2 weeks after I joined the company! It has been an extremely exciting 6 years, filled with truly unforgettable experiences, and it would be so difficult to pick out a definitive highlight! I was extremely honoured to participate in the Emerging Dancer competition in 2015, 16 and 17, each event holding an extremely special place in my heart, allowing me to explore my artistry in so many different ways, opening the doors to working with exceptional choreographers Charlotte Edmonds, Kenneth Tindall and most notably and unforgettably Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and his amazing assistant Jason Kittelberger! Working directly with Akram Khan in the creation of his ground-breaking Giselle, and most recently Creature, has also been an absolutely life changing process in my life as an artist. It was actually watching the premiere of his piece Dust when I was still in school that made me so passionate and adamant that I would one day join the company. Performing Dust a few years later when I had joined the company was an absolutely surreal experience. Performing Pina Bausch’s Rite of Spring has also been truly revolutionary for me as an artist. Throughout my time in the company we have embarked on the most astoundingly diverse tours around the world, from New Zealand to Oman, and in the world’s most prestigious theatres, including the Paris Opera and the Bolshoi Theatre, where I had the unbelievable honour of performing the role of Myrtha in Akram Khan’s Giselle.
What is your favourite ballet to either watch or perform?
I believe every ballet that I’ve watched and performed thus far has nurtured me in some unique way as an artist and it would be extremely difficult for me to pinpoint a specific favourite! Revisiting Akram Khan’s Giselle, in both the roles of Myrtha and Bathilde, has given me the opportunity to delve more deeply into the soul of these characters with every performance, and it has been a truly transcendental experience for me as an artist. Performing Pina Bausch’s Rite of Spring, so raw and undeniably human, dancing in the soil with the energy of Stravinsky’s score played live by our exceptional orchestra, was a spiritually transformative experience. I’ve loved the feat of exploring the highly technical and stamina-building role of Myrtha in Mary Skeaping’s Giselle as well. Although this may seem cliched, both watching and performing in Swan Lake has also been truly gratifying for me as a ballet dancer, and performing alongside and watching Alina Cojocaru in Manon was an utterly mesmerising memory. Jiri Kylian’s Petit Mort also remains an absolute favourite piece of mine to watch, I believe it is the literal embodiment of Mozart’s score into movement, and I hope to be able to perform it again one day!
What advice would you give for our current students?
You will learn a lot throughout your journey at the English National Ballet School, and this learning process will not be limited to what you are taught in school. Be brave, set yourself high goals and remember your dreams. Indulge in exploring the myriad of diverse art forms that this wonderful city has to offer, for they will enrich you as a dancer and artist! I’ve also always been a big advocate for mental health and motivation; a positive mindset will help you overcome the many difficulties that will inevitably arise on your journey into such a demanding but ultimately indescribably fulfilling career path! Hold your ‘why’ very close to your heart, keep the passion burning bright, and you will be able to overcome all the potential obstacles the journey may present, and emerge as a stronger, more fulfilled and more intelligent artist. Lastly, I would advise you all to love and care for your tool; work with tireless dedication and motivation but work intelligently, listening to your body’s queues and understand when it may be time to allow yourself time to rest!
Photo credit: Alexander Yip
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