Terry Grimley meets Birmingham Royal Ballet's new star couple.
Why would you want to give up Sydney in summer in favour of moving to Birmingham in winter?
For New Zealanders Matthew Lawrence and Gaylene Cummerfield, it's a question of professional development. The award-winning former Australian Ballet dancers have just joined Birmingham Royal Ballet as a principal and first soloist respectively, and for them it's all about connecting with European tradition.
"It's something we've discussed for years, to come to this part of the world, because it's such a ballet world, there's such a huge tradition," says Gaylene.
"As dancers you feed off other dancers, choreographers, ballet masters, teachers," Matthew adds. "All of that is important to keep your game up. It's like any artist, they have different things to inspire them. I guess the feeling was we wanted a different perspective at this stage."
In Australia, they point out, Paris Opera might visit once in 10 years, whereas in London international companies are passing through all the time.
"That was more to the point of why wanted to come - we wanted to experience a different kind of art," says Matthew. "But that's Australia's strength as well. Because it's isolated it does grow in a different way, which is interesting too."
And by Australia standards of distance, I suggest, it must feel as though they have moved to London. In fact, Gaylene admits she has had to stop herself telling people just that.
Both have previously been to Europe on scholarships and they paid one non-dance-related visit. But how much did they knew about Birmingham and its company before deciding to make the move?
"We knew it was an industrial city," says Gaylene. "We spoke to a variety of people. People who were a bit older remembered Birmingham 20-30 years ago and then other people were saying it's a lot better now."
Matthew adds: "Birmingham is an interesting city. It has this new architecture coming through, like Selfridges. The city has its own identity, and it's good that the company is part of that.
"We like doing a diverse repertoire with classics and something funky on the side, which is the situation with David [Bintley]'s company. Probably the work we knew most from here was Peter Wright's because we knew about Sleeping Beauty , which is a fantastic production. Also David's work, Penguin Cafe.
"We knew his style and were really interested to work with different movement from what we had been used to."
The couple, who coincidentally were born in the same hospital in Christchurch, met when they were students in Melbourne. How foreign do New Zealanders feel in Australia?
"It's a bit more of an affectionate relation-ship," says Matthew. "New Zealand is a bit more competitive with Australia than Australia is with New Zealand. New Zealand hates losing to Australia, it really takes a stab to the heart, particularly where the All-Blacks are concerned."
Having arrived barely three weeks ago, Matthew and Gaylene were plunged straight into rehearsals for Swan Lake and David Bintley's jazz triple bill, and have just managed to find themselves a city centre apartment. They make their stage debut with the company in Belfast on February 20.
Suddenly our 30 minutes are up and they move seamlessly into donning studio gear even as we're wrapping up the conversation: "It's been all go from day one," says Matthew. "Which is pretty good!" * Birmingham Royal Ballet performs Swan Lake and All That Jazz at Birmingham Hippodrome from February 19-March 1 (Box office: 0870 730 1234).