The Royal Ballet School: Getting back to normal after the COVID-19 school closures

A round-up of The Royal Ballet School’s autumn term activities.


The COVID-19 lockdowns have made life difficult for schools across the UK, particularly for dance schools that rely on in-person training. That said, The Royal Ballet School has made every effort to adapt its curriculums and engage students during the school closures and was fortunately able to re-launch its in-house and wider programmes for the autumn term.

Having wrapped up for a festive break and now welcomed students back for 2022, here, The Royal Ballet School reflects on the success of its autumn term activities.

1.          New Training Structure

In September 2021, new and returning students met at the White Lodge and Upper School studios to receive their new timetables, and year 7 and 8 students sat their GL assessments. The autumn term also saw the launch of the School’s new training structure, which enrols students on four dance programmes:

1)      A Foundation Programme for years 7-9.

2)      A Development Programme for years 10-11.

3)      A Vocational Programme for first- and second-year degree-level students.

4)      A Pre-Professional Programme for third-year degree-level students.

The Royal Ballet School’s staff have organised these programmes independently, tailoring their classical ballet training provisions to each age group. The School has also appointed an Artistic Manager to oversee each programme and coach dancers as they work towards increasing levels of artistic, physical, and psychological demand.

2.          New Artistic Staff

During the autumn term, The Royal Ballet School welcomed José Carayol as the Artistic Manager of the Foundation Programme and Zenaida Yanowsky as a coach for the Pre-Professional Programme. The School also welcomed several new members to its Artistic Team, including classical ballet teachers Giacomo Ciriaci and Liane McRae, choreographic teacher Rhian Robbins, Irish teacher Donna Makin, residential guest teacher Denzil Bailey, and contemporary programme manager Didy Veldman.

Meanwhile, Emma Northmore took over from Samira Saidi as the Head of Intensive Courses and International Relations. Northmore is now managing the School’s in-person and online intensive courses. Not only has she danced with English National Ballet for eight years, but she has also taught at Pineapple Dance Studios, Ballet Black, Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures, and BalletBoyz. She is also the founder of Ballet Boost, Surrey Ballet Masters, and The Academy of Balletic Arts.

3.          Post-Lockdown Transitional Support

The Royal Ballet School has made thorough efforts to support its students in their transition back to the studios post-lockdown and, for many, their transition to living away from home for the first time. Staff are on hand to guide students and discuss any concerns, supporting them through their journey with the School.

Students have also taken part in sessions to focus on their personal development. For example, while the School provided a transition afternoon for year 7 students, who worked on building confidence, connection, and commitment, years 8-10 took a day off timetable to learn about relationships and sex education.

The students have also enjoyed spending their free time with friends: while some signed up to partake in weekend activities, others enjoyed sessions in the School’s swimming pool. And the first-year Upper School students settled into their new home in Pimlico, spending some of their free time exploring London.

4.          World-Class Physical and Mental Health Provisions

As is the case at the beginning of every term, The Royal Ballet School’s healthcare team profiled each student in September, measuring their spinal mobility and strength and lower limb mobility. The healthcare team also collected physical maturation data and force platform power data from each student. On top of this, the School invested in a force frame for its gym, which has enabled the healthcare team to perform specific strength profiling. This is key to injury prevention and return-to-dance training.

All students also attended sessions with the School’s clinical psychologist Huw Goodwin and performance nutritionist Louise Gubb, who work alongside the strength and conditioning team.

5.          The Return of UK-Wide Classes and Training Opportunities

The autumn term saw The Royal Ballet School’s Associate students resume their weekly classes in all nine of the School’s centres across the UK. Plus, the School resumed its Primary Steps workshops for year 3 students and after-school classes in its partner schools. Meanwhile, Diploma of Dance Teaching participants completed their year-one assessments. And the School launched Enlighten webinars for dance teachers and re-opened the booking for its in-person Inspire seminars.

6.          Autumn Term Performances

During the autumn term, The Royal Ballet School’s students performed in various professional ballets, including the following.

  • Pre-professional students performed ‘Romeo and Juliet’ with The Royal Ballet.
  • Year 8 students performed Wayne McGregor’s ‘The Dante Project’ at the Royal Opera House.
  • Pre-professional students performed alongside Birmingham Royal Ballet dancers and The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in ‘The Beauty of Ballet’ at the Royal Albert Hall. This event featured performances from Tchaikovsky’s ‘The Nutcracker’ and ‘Swan Lake’, Prokofiev’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’, and Minkus’ ‘Don Quixote’. The students also performed the Garland Dance from ‘The Sleeping Beauty’, which they had already performed at the Royal Opera House for the School’s Summer Performances.
  • A variety of students performed in The Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet’s productions of ‘The Nutcracker’, which they had spent several weeks preparing for. While year 8 students danced as party children, second-year and pre-professional year students danced as angels. The pre-professional year students also performed a special staging of ‘The Nutcracker’ featuring a mirror wall at the Birmingham Hippodrome.

7.          Ursula Moreton Competition

During the autumn term, the School’s pre-professional year students showcased their choreography in the annual Ursula Moreton Emerging Choreographer competition. This programme first ran in 1973 and has been encouraging choreographic talent ever since. The competition enables students to develop choreography experience and focus on all the elements that contribute to a successful performance, such as lighting, costume, props, and staging.

Students usually choreograph their pieces in workshops with Mikaela Polley, the School’s course coordinator and tutor, and then perform to an audience of family and friends. Unfortunately, COVID-19 disrupted these plans in 2020. However, student choreographers Aidan Buss, Arnon Herring, Jack Easton, and Jessica Templeton enjoyed partaking in a rescheduled performance with a small audience last year.

8.          Lynn Seymour Award

In November 2021, second-year students embraced the opportunity to enter the annual Lynn Seymour Award for Expressive Dance. Students who enter this competition independently choose, prepare, and perform an expressive solo without any coaching. The 2021 competition saw students perform for the School’s former and current directors, Dame Monica Mason and Kevin O’Hare, and The Chairman’s Circle.

The 2021 winner was Caspar Lench, who performed ‘Takademe’ by Robert Battle. Milda Luckute and Noah Seidl shared the second-place title for their performances of ‘Carmen Suite’ by Alberto Alonso and ‘Nijinsky’ by John Neumeier. Bethany Bartlett and Alexander Larsson shared the third-place title for their performances of ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland — Alice Alone’ by Christopher Wheeldon and ‘Spring and Fall’ by John Neumeier. Finally, Ariana Allen and Liya Fan were commended for their performances of ‘Cinderella — Act III, Cinderella Awakens’ by Alexei Ratmansky and ‘The Sleeping Beauty — Act II, Aurora Variation’ by Nacho Duato.

9.          The Return of In-Person Preliminary Auditions

Usually, The Royal Ballet School’s preliminary auditions take place in person. However, COVID-19 restrictions meant that the School had to host virtual auditions during 2020 and most of 2021. That said, November marked the School’s first in-person preliminary auditions since 2019. These auditions took place in Newcastle.

Every year, the School holds auditions for its full-time and mid, senior, and advanced Associate programmes between November and January. Each audition takes the form of a regular ballet class and begins with a warm-up. The School’s audition teams tailor the auditions to the age group taking part and enjoy meeting young people who are passionate about ballet. Successful applicants enrol on courses from the following September.

Applicants can audition at centres in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle, Leeds, Bath, Dundee, Eastleigh, and Totnes.

About The Royal Ballet School

Students who join The Royal Ballet School train with some of the UK’s top choreographers and coaches as they prepare for professional careers with leading companies like The Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet. The school is renowned for shaping some of the world’s most celebrated ballet dancers and choreographers, including Marguerite Porter, Darcey Bussell, and Kenneth MacMillan.

Students team their classical ballet training with other forms of dance training and academic classes, enabling them to develop a range of skills in preparation for a strong, fruitful career. Students also have access to outstanding facilities to help them make the most of their training, including the Fonteyn Studio Theatre, which converts from a large studio into two smaller studios or into a theatre that seats 250. Other facilities include a healthcare suite, a Pilates studio, a physiotherapy treatment space, and an audiovisual studio.

Learn more about life at The Royal Ballet School.