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Raising the barre: Principal ballerina Céline Gittens

ON POINTE: Celine Gittens in action

SHE BEGAN her dance training at the age of three and has gone on to grace countless stages – and rack up awards – thanks to her graceful and effortless performances.

Now, Céline Gittens is set to demonstrate her poise in a new, lavish ballet adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, which opens in Birmingham on October 1.

A member of the prestigious Birmingham Royal Ballet, Gittens was born in Trinidad and grew up in Canada. Under the guidance of her mother, who is a ballet dancer, Gittens began her training, before joining the Vancouver Goh Ballet Academy in 2001.

She went on to earn the RAD Solo Seal in 2004 and the gold Medal and Audience Award at the Adeline Genée Awards in 2005, before joining Birmingham Royal Ballet the following year and going on to become a principal ballerina for the company.

Here, Gittens talks to The Voice about memories of Trinidad and dispelling the myth that ballet isn’t for black people.

What inspired your love of ballet?
My mum is a ballet teacher and has definitely inspired my love of ballet. I grew up watching her teach her students in the ballet studio. I experienced a continuous presence of classical music, ballet, and art in my youth and was inspired by watching ballet videos.

Who are some of your dance inspirations?
I love to learn and widen my knowledge of dance by watching videos of ballet dancers and analysing their qualities. It is a good way to keep oneself inspired and challenged. I tend to find different inspirational figures for each role that I am performing. Also, my coaches at Birmingham Royal Ballet inspire me with their attention to detail. This helps me to grow, not only as a dancer but as an artist as well.

Do you have many memories of Trinidad?
I have many wonderful memories of my hometown, Point Fortin, in Trinidad. Beautiful beachside days, wonderful cuisine and music with an infectious rhythm.

As a black dancer, did you (or do you) ever feel that you experience greater challenges in obtaining success than your non-black counterparts?
All challenges and obstacles are viewed as opportunities to bring out the best in me and I do take full command over any challenge or obstacle.

To what extent do you think the successes of US talents like Ebony Williams and Misty Copeland have helped to dispel the myth that ballet isn’t for black people?
Focused attention and working with a determination to be the best usually results in success. I congratulate Misty Copeland and Ebony Williams on their successes and encourage black ballerinas to continue striving for success, despite what may be said.

How would you encourage audiences who had never been to the ballet to give it a try?
Ballet provides a dimension of escape from the everyday world. It soothes and relaxes while telling a story in a realistic manner. A live orchestra is present while the set design on stage and costumes take the mind to the time depicted. It leaves one with a sense of being revived and energised. It may be a good idea for schools to encourage students to attend ballet performances at a young age as part of student’s art education.

What are some of the highs and lows of being a ballet dance?
Performing on stage and hearing the live orchestra and applause are some of the highs for a performer. The lows are the unexpected injuries.

What is the proudest achievement to date?
My most profound achievement is something that is alive and continuous, and that is to have an audience that is satisfied with a performance that has touched the heart and mind of each person in attendance, in a special way.

Celine Gittens will perform in the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s The Tempest, which is at the Birmingham Hippodrome from October 1-8, and then tours London, Sunderland and Plymouth. For full tour details, visit www.brb.org.uk

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