Ahead of the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s performance of Three by Ekman, express contributor Ashna Sholehpak, managed to pull aside 25-year-old Shaun James, RNZB dancer, and get the low-down on what he enjoys about being with the company, what excites him about performing Ekman’s pieces, and all about his life of dance, travel, passion and the value of following your dreams.
Shaun’s experiences have taken him around the globe having trained and danced in six different countries including his hometown of Perth, Scotland. He has toured and performed with the English National Ballet in a number of productions, including Nureyev’s Romeo and Juliet and Derek Deane’s Swan Lake at the London Coliseum. He also worked with Scottish Ballet on Ashley Page’s production of The Nutcracker.
Graduating in 2011, Shaun took up a contract with the Tivoli Ballet Theatre in Copenhagen, where he danced solo roles in Bourneville repertoire including Napoli, La Vantaa, Flower Festival at Genzano and Le Conservatoire. He also took the title roles in Dinna Bjorn’s The Steadfast Tin Soldier and danced the Nutcracker Prince in Peter Bo Bendixen’s The Nutcracker. Shaun then joined the RNZB in 2014.
How did you first discover your love for dancing?
I always loved River-dancing and my cousin did Tap-dancing. I went to see her show and loved it and knew it was something I wanted to do. One day, my dad came across an ad for the dance school of Scotland and I signed up straight away for Ballet.
What attracted you to want to join the Royal New Zealand Ballet?
Ethan Stiefel became the Director and he’s so iconic and I love him and really wanted to work with him, so applied and I was lucky enough to get a place!
There seems to be a stigma around boys who do ballet, experiencing more bullying and having a harder time making it in the ballet world, would you stay that stigma is true?
A lot of it stems from jealousy and stereotypes I believe. When I was at school, I got to go to dance class when the other students went to normal academic classes. We got to go and do something we loved and that created jealousy. A lot of people did experience bullying but in my case, I was always strong enough to say something back. Those people see me now and are amazed seeing me travel the world and do something I love! That stigma is very old fashioned now and dance is for everyone. If it’s something you love to do, nothing should ever stop you.
Did you ever experience any insecurity being a male dancer? (I say with no sympathy having spent the last hour marvelling at the fitness of the dancers.)
Oh for sure! We look in the mirror everyday judging ourselves but as dancers we are so critical and I remind myself that it’s part of the job.
You’ve certainly followed your dreams with your dancing. Why do you believe it’s important to follow your dreams?
Because life’s short and there’s no point wasting a single day!
What advice do you have for young boys wanting to become ballet dancers?
I always say just go for it, and if it’s your dream to do it, then why not give it a chance. Give yourself the best chance to experience the life that you want. Be as passionate as you can and make it as fulfilling as possible. Not every day is a good day but you learn a lot from that.
What advice would you give to dancers experiencing bullying?
I always think about the end game and where I want to be for myself, my career and what is it about dance that keeps me going. People can find that easily if they have true passion and love themselves. It’s easy to lose that sometimes, especially when people are putting you down and you don’t have that confidence within yourself.
Dance gives me a lot of confidence and if I can make a difference to someone or help someone fulfil their dreams, I’m going to do my best.
What excites you most about Three by Ekman and why should we see it?
It starts off as quite contemporary with modern dance styles but by the second section, we are dancing to funky, up-beat music. It’s very theatrical and Ekman wants to make you laugh, but also very subtle and dry – something which I think works with the kiwi audience as it’s very tongue and cheek.
Three by Ekman will be performed by the Royal New Zealand Ballet throughout 17 May – 15 June, touring to Wellington, Auckland, Napier, Christchurch and Dunedin.
Head along to www.rnzb.org.nz for more information.