5 Questions to Iain Mackay, Director of Yorkshire Ballet Seminars

Iain Mackay.<br />© Richard Battye. (Click image for larger version)
Iain Mackay.
© Richard Battye. (Click image for larger version)

This years Yorkshire Ballet Seminars take place from 13 July to 2 August 2019 – time for a word with Director Iain Mackay about what makes them so special and his plans…

The Yorkshire Ballet Seminars are legendary – what did they do for you back in 1991 when you attended?

They are indeed legendary; as are most of the teachers who have been involved over the years. I remember not having a clue what to expect when I turned up to my first Seminar in 1991. I had never been away from home before so that in itself had a massive impact on me. Other than my brother Rory, I had never seen more than one other boy who was mad about ballet, and at YBS, I was surrounded by them. Many were even more enthusiastic, and all of them were more knowledgeable than me. I was so ignorant; I didn’t know the names of any dancers – I didn’t know who Nureyev or Anthony Dowell were. The only dancer that I knew of was the incredible Vincent Hantam who I had seen at Scottish Ballet and who was my idol.

Iain Mackay with students.© Ty Singleton. (Click image for larger version)
Iain Mackay with students.
© Ty Singleton. (Click image for larger version)

I’ll never forget seeing the older boys from the Royal Ballet Upper School and Hamburg Ballet. I particularly remember Matthew Dibble (former Royal Ballet Soloist) who I guess must have been 16. Wow! It blew my mind. They were just the best dancers I had ever seen, and the coolest guys; I wanted to be them! I remember Frederick Franklin taking me aside and teaching me a brise, then a brise volley, then telling me to always work hard. I remember Patricia Ruanne and Violet Verdy. Coming from Glasgow, it was like they were from another planet to me, PLANET BALLET, but the way they taught, and the experience they had, although I didn’t know it then, I was in the presence of masters of the art form. It opened my eyes to a world that I wanted to be part of. I went for two weeks my first year, and I was never homesick. I met people from all over the world and made friends who are still friends to this day – Lorraine Carlyle, Robert Parker and Neil Westmoreland to name but a few.

This is your second year as YBS Director – what changes are you making… we hear it’s all getting bigger and more diverse?

I think the biggest change we have made is the introduction of our Pop Up courses and other new events for students that we are now delivering throughout the year and at various venues across the country. I really don’t want us to be just a Summer School. The Pop Up events are allowing us to support students throughout the year, creating exciting events with a wide range of experienced teachers and industry experts to inspire young dancers; to give them a confidence boost and have fun dancing.

Guest Teacher Steven McRae, Royal Ballet Principal Dancer, with students.© Ty Singleton. (Click image for larger version)
Guest Teacher Steven McRae, Royal Ballet Principal Dancer, with students.
© Ty Singleton. (Click image for larger version)

We are about to announce our first residential Easter course in 2020, which will be for a limited number of dancers with an exceptional faculty. It will be held at a wonderful venue in Yorkshire, and we are very excited about it. Obviously we don’t have premises, but I like that, it gives us the chance to move around and take what we have to offer as an organisation anywhere in the country, and beyond! I think that as the ballet world has evolved and is continuing to do so, we all have a responsibility to play our part in how we can help shape the future of dance. Yorkshire Ballet Seminars has always been about giving opportunities. When I took on the role of Director, David Gayle said to me, “Always help the underdog, Iain. Support those who may fall through the net.” We are proud to give a huge number of bursaries and scholarships to students. This year we have awarded over 80 weeks of free tuition – the highest ever – and I want to continue to increase this number as we move forward.

The seminars also used to throw fundraising galas in York and, latterly, London – any plans to resurrect the much-loved shows?

I’m currently looking into options for our next gala, especially as we are moving towards our 50th anniversary. As a charity, galas are important for raising much-needed funds. Also, right now we have some very supportive alumni, who since I have taken over have been incredibly generous in their offers of support and they also happen to be at the very top of their game – Matthew Ball, Brandon Lawrence, Lauretta Summerscales, Xander and Damelza Parish, Samara Downs, Elizabeth McRae, Reece Clarke. Now, none of them have said that they would be involved in a gala, and I haven’t even asked them (yet!), but what a line up it would be, right!?!  What they all have done, though, is spoken so warmly about their time at YBS, the support they received through scholarships and especially how the wonderful Marguerite Porter cared for them. I would love to create an evening to celebrate that alone. It’s something that really excites me right now – the opportunity to bring a programme of work together for the public to enjoy… I hope!

Is ballet still special or should we all just talk about dance these days?

It’s a good question. I don’t know. I believe that ballet is still very special and I believe that it is by far the hardest discipline to master. Out of all the dance forms, classical ballet in its purest form is the most exposing, the most challenging – both artistically and technically – to get right. You cannot fool anyone – an experienced ballet-goer or a first timer – they know when you are not having a good day, and there is nowhere to hide. The other side of it is that ballet companies the world over are creating some fantastic new works now, and they are pushing their dancers to the limit, asking them to move and think differently, and that’s exciting for both the dancers and the audience. The ballet world and its repertoire has to evolve. We have to make new versions of the classics that the next generation of audiences want to see and can relate to. If we don’t evolve we will kill the art form. I don’t mind whether it’s called ballet or dance, as long as it’s good!

Iain Mackay with students.© Ty Singleton. (Click image for larger version)
Iain Mackay with students.
© Ty Singleton. (Click image for larger version)

What else are you involved in and do you miss dancing?

I’ve been so lucky to have been involved in some great projects since I retired from performing and working with Birmingham Royal Ballet, which of course I miss. I miss it all the time. It’s really strange, but what I miss the most is the smell of the theatre backstage. Would I want to go back tomorrow? Absolutely not. But I have the best memories. I have had the privilege of teaching at all of the top schools. I loved being a mentor for this year’s BBC Young Dancer competition, and I recently performed in a fantastic gala in memory of Dame Gillian Lynne. I have also performed a few times with FreeFall Dance Company – an incredible group of dancers with severe learning difficulties, which is always inspiring. My main focus, though, has been YBS and how we can help support the next generation of dancers and create as many opportunities for them as possible.

Bonus Question: Tell us a joke….

Not really a joke, however it did make me laugh. The other day my eldest son, Oscar, was with one of his friends who asked him what I did for a living. Oscar replied, “I don’t know, but he used to be quite a famous dancer”. It was the “quite” that killed me!!!!!

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