Terry Grimley talks to BRB's Robert Parker, who retires at the end of the current season.
Birmingham Royal Ballet, already weakened by the departure of several principal dancers, must come to terms with the retirement of its star Robert Parker at the end of the current season.
Thirty-year-old Parker, who takes the title role in the premiere of David Bintley's new full-length ballet Cyrano at Birmingham Hippodrome tonight, has held a pilot's licence for two years and is taking early retirement to retrain as a commercial airline pilot in the United States. His wife Rachel has dual nationality.
"It's not been an easy decision but I am lucky that flying is something I am as passionate about as dancing," he says. "There is no bigger adrenalin rush than the applause at the end of the performance and I will miss that as well as everyone who has supported me through my time with Birmingham Royal Ballet."
Having joined the company in 1994 from the Royal Ballet Schools, Parker will have spent his entire career as a professional dancer with BRB. The son of a Hull builder, he began dancing at the age of seven.
In 2000 he reviewed the film Billy Elliot for the Birmingham Post, commenting: "Billy was exactly how I was as a kid. It could have been my story they were telling up there. It was quite spooky how much we had in common."
After joining the corps de ballet in 1994 he was promoted to First Artist in 1997, Soloist in 1998 and Principal in 1999, becoming something of a talisman for artistic director David Bintley, who created a number of roles for him including the Sailor in The Nutcracker Sweeties, Hamlet in The Shakespeare Suite, Orpheus in The Orpheus Suite, Arthur and Mordred in Arthur and recently the Beast in Beauty and the Beast.
Other leading roles have included the Young Man in The Two Pigeons, Siegfried in Swan Lake, the Hoofer in Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, and Will Mossop and Fred Beenstock in Hobson's Choice.
Parker was nominated for Olivier and Critics' Circle Awards during 2001 and in 2003 was given the Critics' Circle Award for Outstanding Male Artist.
"I have always had the notion that I would retire from dance while I am feeling at the top of my game," he says. "Now at the age of 30, the years of physical punishment along with a couple of knee operations are starting to take their toll. Also, I believe that if my chosen second career has any decent chance of materialising, it has to be now."
Unlike many of his fellow principals, Parker never felt the urge to sample life with a different company.
"The repertoire in BRB has been almost tailor-made to suit my own artistic needs, and I've never had the desire to look elsewhere. I grew up admiring dancers in Sadler's Wells and the Royal Ballet and when Sir Peter Wright offered me a contract in 1994 I felt I had truly 'arrived'.
"I've always believed that a job is as good as the people you work with, and in BRB I've made unique friendships that will last a lifetime.
"I have danced infinitely more roles than I ever expected to and with such a varied repertoire, I am completely fulfilled. With the classical, modern and visiting choreographers, not to mention David's works, there is always something to get your teeth into."
He adds that he has always felt a particular affinity for Bintley's choreography, but finds it difficult to pin down a favourite role.
"I particularly enjoyed doing narrative works with solid characters and real emotions. Obviously ballets like Romeo and Juliet or Edward II, which deliver the whole package, are extremely fulfilling and also the sympathetic characters like Will Mossop, Prodigal Son and The Two Pigeons are among my favourites.
Playing the complex tortured character of Mordred in Arthur II was a refreshing break from the norm and the aggressive, physically demanding aspects of Hamlet and the 2nd Seminarian in Carmina burana were guaranteed to get the adrenalin pumping.
"I can tell already from the rehearsal period that the role of Cyrano will certainly be ranked among the top ten and I can't wait to explore his character's depth."
Cyrano is at Birmingham Hippodrome from tonight until Saturday (Box office: 0870 730 1234)