Ballet Position meets Ruth Brill as she prepares to swap her pointe shoes for life as a full time choreographer
Ruth Brill is a vibrant bundle of energy, which is just as well – when we met, she was simultaneously touring as a dancer with Birmingham Royal Ballet, overseeing the company’s new production of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, which she choreographed, and regularly commuting to London to put the budding dancers of London Children’s Ballet through their paces in her new version of the much-loved classic Ballet Shoes.
Oh, and there was also the ‘small matter’ of planning her forthcoming July wedding.
Not to mention making the necessary arrangements for life as a full-time choreographer: her very last performance as a dancer with BRB will be when the company visits London at the end of June.
And yet, she seemed unfazed; rather, she clearly relishes the pressure. When I pointed out that other brides-to-be would be falling apart with nerves at this point, she just laughed:
“We’re being very very efficient. Between [lawyer fiancé] Simon and I, we have evenings when we just try and blitz a few things. I mean I’m naturally quite a planner in life, and we both have the perspective that it’s going to be an exciting, wonderful time with everyone there, but it’s one day.”
Nevertheless, Ruth acknowledges that there’s only so much she can do; and this is why, at the early age of 30, she’s decided to stop dancing altogether.
“It’s been such an exciting year, and I’ve had so many exciting opportunities that I’ve grabbed with both hands, so it’s been a very very busy schedule, I haven’t had days off at all, kind of juggling everything, so I think something has to give.
“And there’s no doubt in my mind, it feels like the right moment. I’m really content with what I’ve done as a dancer, I’m still loving the stage and I always will, but being part of a touring company is hard, and I think I have more to give on the other side of things now.”
Ruth Brill is already an experienced choreographer, having created works for BRB – Rhapsody in Blue (2014), Matryoska (2015) and Arcadia (2017), the latter her first main stage commission.
Outside her home company, she has created a wide range of work including flash mobs for Birmingham Weekender Festival and the Rugby World Cup.
Ruth Brill – The Early Days
“I’ve always really enjoyed choreography, from the very beginning at my local Judith Wilson School of Dance in Penshurst village hall. There we would do a full show and then the following year we’d do a choreographic competition.
“So, every other year I was making work, I’d spend time at my friends’ houses choreographing things; I continued at Tring [Park School for the Performing Arts], I won a choreographic cup there (…)
“The interest was always there, but when I joined English National Ballet, my focus was on dance: I wanted to prove myself as a dancer in other people’s choreographies.
I was always doing the extra things, but I wanted to dance. I promised myself, next year I’m going to choreograph a piece, but then the following year that I’d made that promise to myself  I moved to BRB and just had to take part in the first choreographic workshop there.”
As a full-time choreographer, Ruth Brill will be catapulted right into the current debate on the perceived scarcity of women choreographers. So, naturally, I wanted to know where she stood on this debate.
“Personally, I have never felt discriminated against, and thankfully not pro-discriminated either, because I’ve got my opportunities not because I am a woman but because of the work.
“I think I’ve been lucky enough to have brilliant opportunities at BRB to create and develop; and actually Peter and the Wolf is in a bill of three female choreographers, [Un]leashed (…) so I think the climate is really shifting.
“I think it’s a really good time to be a female choreographer, because I think we’re pushing forwards and it’s being talked about, which is brilliant, because then the balance will be redressed.
“I mean, you can see that the majority of those leaders and creative people at the moment are men, but then I think back to those people in the past, a lot of those pioneers were women, so I think the tides are changing and I am more than happy to fly that flag and inspire other people.”
On this point, she notes that although it was the outgoing BRB Artistic Director, David Bintley’s idea to turn Peter into a girl in Peter and the Wolf, she was happy with to go along with it:
‘We shifted [the setting] into a present day urban setting: it’s kind of a recreational ground, basketball court, with a scaffolding tower at the back, therefore all the characters are modern day, personified characters.
“I sat down with David and discussed which dancers in the company could play Peter, and actually the dancers’ names I could live with, four out of five of them were girls.
‘So, it felt right to have Peter as a girl (…) it is important that we do put females at the centre of things at the moment.”
Ruth Brill – The Future
Ruth Brill has plenty of choreographic work in the pipeline already; some things she won’t be drawn on yet, but many others have already been firmed up:
“I’m going to be hopefully doing more for London Children’s Ballet, I’m being interim Artistic Director of National Youth Ballet between July and September and choreographing a new work for them, which will be a very high energy pure dance piece, because I’ve been doing lots of narrative recently (…)
“Then I’m doing the English Ballet Theatre choreographic lab, so I’m doing a couple of hours’ worth of creation and exploration at the end of the summer, and then we’ll see if that develops into something else.”
And not only that: Ruth Brill has her eyes on other forms of theatre.
“I love the ballet world and the ballet bubble – that’s home for me – but I’m also excited to branch out and get some different experience, whether that’s movement direction or working in musicals… I’m kind of an all-rounder!”
With her talent and seemingly inexhaustible energy we’re quite sure we’ll be hearing a lot more from Ruth Brill very soon…
by Teresa Guerreiro
Ruth Brill’s final performance as a dancer will be in Hobson’s Choice at Sadler’s Wells on Saturday, 29th June at 19:30