35 of 50

2019 is our 50th anniversary and we are championing some of the people who help make Scottish Ballet a great place to work. Each week we will introduce you to a different career at Scottish Ballet and the person behind it.

Oliver joined Scottish Ballet upon graduation from the Royal Ballet School, where he danced many soloist and leading roles. After six years with the company, he took a leave of absence to dance with the Asami Maki Ballet and New National Ballet, in Tokyo, Japan. 

However, he couldn't stay away, and Oliver returned to Scottish Ballet in 2003, creating the role of the Prince in Ashley Page's The Nutcracker. Oliver continued to dance many principal and soloist roles until, in 2008, he trained as a certified Gyrotonic and Gyrokinesis instructor. On leaving Scottish Ballet, he gained a Post-Graduate Certificate in Learning and Teaching in Higher Arts Education. Oliver re-joined Scottish Ballet once more in August 2014 as Assistant Rehearsal Director and was promoted to Rehearsal Director in 2015.

We caught up with Oliver to find out more about his career and why he kept coming back to Scottish Ballet.

How did you first start dancing?

My mum would often play classical music at home and from an early age I would improvise. So, at three years old, I was taken to my first dance class at the June Rendell School of Dancing in Altrincham, where I am from. I loved it. Then I hated it. Then loved it again and went on to train at the Hammond School and the Royal Ballet Upper school.

Tell us about your journey with Scottish Ballet

Convoluted! I arrived at Scottish Ballet at 18 after Galina Samsova, the Artistic Director at the time, visited the Royal Ballet School and invited me to join the company for their tour of Cranko’s Romeo and Juliet. I was quite badly behaved. I missed London and my friends. Once, there was an announcement over the tannoy at the theatre from the Stage Manager stating all the things that were forbidden backstage and during the show. I’d done them all. However, I got over myself and buckled down. I spent the remainder of that first year in SB2 which was made up of eight to ten dancers from the company, and we toured lots of small scale venues all over the UK. That smoothed out the edges! Then, integrating into the main company, I was lucky enough to go on and dance lots of soloist and leading roles. 

After six years, I took a sabbatical to dance in Tokyo (organised for me by ex-Scottish Ballet Principal, Noriko Ohara). My sabbatical turned into four years. It was an amazing experience both onstage and off, but eventually, I knew I wanted to return to the UK. On my return, Ashley Page was just about to take over the reins of Scottish Ballet and invited me back. I stayed for another five years until deciding to retire from dancing and move on.

What was it like to transition from dancer to Rehearsal Director, and how did you prepare for the move?

Weird, because the LAST thing I wanted to do when I stopped dancing was to teach it.

Before I left the company, I trained in the Gyrotonic Expansion System (an exercise programme). I spent the first year after dancing teaching all types of people, from office workers with back problems to members of the Olympic swimming team.

The following year, the Royal Conservatoire Scotland were setting up a BA Modern Ballet programme, and I was invited to come in part-time and teach some classes. Having had some time away from dance, I was ready to give it a go. I was so glad I did, I completely fell in love with teaching and being a part of something that we were building from the ground up. I became a full-time teacher, mainly looking after the Graduate year, and gained a Post Graduate Degree along the way.

During this time, Christopher Hampson had taken over the Artistic Director role at Scottish Ballet. We were at school together, and I hadn’t seen him for over 20 years. He invited me in to teach a few times at the company and also to be an extra pair of hands on the very ambitious Dance Odysseys programme at the Edinburgh International Festival in 2013. The following year he invited me to interview for the Rehearsal Assistant post, and I joined the company that year. I had a whole new set of skills to learn (and fast). However, the grounding I had in teaching helped in the initial months while I discovered how to utilise what I knew and how to adapt my knowledge for professional dancers. I was developing my own ‘voice’ in the studio. The following year I was made Rehearsal Director which came with a new set of challenges, including leading the Artistic Team and managing our 40 dancers. It makes every day different; I’ll say that!

What has been your career highlight so far? 

In this role, being involved in preparing the company to perform at the Royal Opera House in 2017, appearing as part of the Macmillan celebrations, was an incredible achievement. Going to the other end of the country, touring around the Highlands and Islands with a main scale production, Matthew Bourne’s Highland Fling, was very special. Especially seeing the amazing response it received and oh, talking about responses, The Crucible at the Edinburgh International Festival this year. Amazing! Sorry, that was three highlights… 

What has been your favourite thing about working at Scottish Ballet? 

We are working hard together at something we all love, while laughing a lot. Sometimes when I shouldn’t be. It’s incredible to be a part of the company’s vision and be on this amazing upward trajectory. I was at a conference earlier this year with Chris, it was wonderful to hear so many people say they wanted to come and spend a few days with Scottish Ballet as they want to learn more about the way we do things. That made me very proud and very excited to see where we go in the future. 

What's your 'get up and go' song? 

Since 1990. And still... 'Better the Devil You Know' by Kylie. 

Watch Oliver in action as Rehearsal Director below: