Q & A with Claire Calvert and Tierney Heap of The Royal Ballet
Published on 05/07/2017
Can you tell us about your path to becoming a First Soloist (Claire) & Soloist (Tierney) with The Royal Ballet?
C: I joined the Company in 2007 after graduating from The Royal Ballet School where I trained for 8 years. I got my first break getting to dance the Lilac Fairy in The Sleeping Beauty and was promoted to First Artist after that. With the promotion came opportunities to dance more soloist roles and I was promoted to Soloist in 2012. At the end of my first Season as a Soloist I suffered a serious knee injury that put me out for almost a year but I worked extremely hard and made it back to full fitness and was promoted to First Soloist in 2016.
T: I started dancing age 2-3 and entered many local festivals performing all kinds of dance. I joined The Royal Ballet School Junior Associates aged 8 after realising ballet was for me. When I was 11 I joined Elmhurst School for Dance for three years. I then moved back home to Manchester and maintained dance lessons alongside study a few times a week for two years at Centre Pointe, a local dance school. In pursuit of a ballet career I was accepted into The Royal Ballet Upper School aged 16 and trained there for three years. After auditioning for many companies in England and other countries I was offered a contract with The Royal Ballet (which was my first choice). I have enjoyed many great Seasons with opportunities to dance amazing roles including the Queen of the Wilis in Giselle, Christopher Wheeldon’s DGV Danse à Grande Vitesse, Principal Woman in Rubies from Jewels, The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude by William Forsythe, the Lilac Fairy in The Sleeping Beauty, and the lead role in Carlos Acosta’s Carmen (to name a few of my favourites). I was promoted to First Artist in 2016 during mid-Season, a surprise for me as this hadn't been done before under Kevin O’Hare's Directorship, and then I was promoted to Soloist at the end of that Season in 2016.
What or who inspired you to dance?
C: I always enjoyed dancing but it wasn’t until I joined The Royal Ballet School that I knew that I wanted to become a member of The Royal Ballet. Seeing people from year groups above me join The Royal Ballet inspired me to do the same.
T: I started at a very young age attending with my sister and loved it instantly. Just being on stage was an inspiration at that age and having an audience to perform for. As I grew up and became to really love ballet, Darcey Bussell was – and is still – a huge inspiration.
If you weren’t a dancer, what would you be?
C: I find it hard to answer this question as from the age of 11 I have only worked towards and wanted to become a ballet dancer! That said, I enjoyed athletics before I went to The Royal Ballet School and the discipline required with regards to training would be similar so maybe I could have been a runner!
T: If I hadn’t become a dancer, I would have loved to be a vet. I always had it in the back of my mind since around age 15 in case my ballet career didn't go as planned.
What has been your favourite role to date?
C: Lilac Fairy in The Sleeping Beauty and Lescaut’s Mistress in Manon are very special roles to me as they were two of my first featured roles that I performed with The Royal Ballet. Since then I have loved performing Hermione in Christopher Wheeldon’s The Winter’s Tale and having the opportunity to perform my first Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker recently was very special to me.
T: It's hard to choose a specific favourite role as they're all so different but Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis, was a huge highlight for me.
What is your dance bag essential?
C: What don’t I need in my ballet bag?! I always have to have a Stanley knife, a pair of scissors and glue to cut and stick down my pointe shoes – that is an essential for preparing my shoes.
T: Pointe shoes are the obvious one but I would also say sis gels/electrolytes are a dance essential when doing so much work in order to rehydrate.
What pointe shoe do you wear?
C: Custom Bloch.
T: I wear Bloch Heritage shoes.
What features do you look for in a pointe shoe?
C: I need something that is strong but also not too hard so I can use my feet well. Finding the right pair of pointe shoes takes time and it probably took me a few years into my professional career to find the best ones for me.
T: For me, I love a big platform and a very flat sole
Who inspires you to push past your limits?
C: I think I am quite a self-driven person and I push myself to be better but watching my colleagues in The Royal Ballet and other dancers all over the world also inspires me. Working with different teachers, coaches and choreographers has also pushed me to become better.
T: I get inspired watching amazing dancers, particularly Zenaida Yanowsky and Marianela Nuñez – seeing how they work, how much they give to every performance, is something to aspire towards. It pushes you beyond what you think you can do, to become something amazing and make people feel something from your dancing.
What is your first memory of dance?
C: Every summer my sister, my cousin and I would put on dance shows for the rest of the family. The three of us would recreate scenes from famous musicals and occasionally I would do a ballet solo!
T: My first memory of dance is when I was three years old and I performed my first ever dance on stage. It was a song and dance and even though I forgot some words and steps, I still made it to the end without running off stage!
What would surprise people about you?
C: When I order a double espresso it often surprises people.
T: Well there are quite a few things but I'll give you a couple: I'm quite a genius at 1,000 piece jigsaws and I used to have pet tarantulas and rats.
What is your favourite quote?
C: Everything happens for a reason.
T: ‘You can't change the direction of the wind, but you can adjust your sails to always reach your destination’. I feel like this has been my journey since I was young, having to adjust my course for many unforeseen reasons and find a new way to reach my goals.
What advice do you have for aspiring dancers?
C: Work hard and always do your best but don’t be afraid to ask for help, You can’t do everything on your own.
T: Be yourself. Don't let anyone take your personality away or dampen it down because I believe it brings something different and personal to your dancing; it's more real I believe.
What does the future hold for you, Claire & Tierney?
C: Hopefully many more years of dancing!
T: Where I long to be hopefully - as a Principal dancer with The Royal Ballet, inspiring other dancers and making audiences feel something special, just as other dancers made me feel.
Header Image: Giselle. Tierney Heap as Queen of the Wilis. ©ROH, Tristram Kenton 2016
Image one: The Winter's Tale. Claire Calvert as Hermione. ©ROH 2016. Ph. Bill Cooper
Image Two: Dancers of The Royal Ballet in Act II of The Winter’s Tale © ROH/Johan Persson, 2014
Image Three: The Winter's Tale. Claire Calvert as Hermione. ©ROH 2016. Ph. Bill Cooper