For choreographer Olivia Pickford, Snow White is culmination of lots of hard work, finds Terry Grimley.
West Midlands choreographer Olivia Pickford saw the culmination of more than three months of hard work this week when London Children’s Ballet’s production of Snow White opens in the West End.
The company, for 9 to 14-year-old dancers, set up by artistic director Lucille Briance in 1994, stages a major production to a week-long audience of up to 8,000 people each year. Around 600 children from across the country audition to take part.
“It’s frantic, but it’s been brilliant,” Olivia told me after an exhausting day of rehearsals. “I’m a huge believer in London Children’s Ballet and really support what they’re doing. It’s not just a company for London. We’ve got kids coming from Wales and Devon for this. There’s usually only 50 places but they upped it to 60 this year because they’d got so many boys, and they’re always trying to get more boys.
“One reason I’m so impressed is it’s the only company that works with children and a full orchestra, and that experience is unique in itself. I get to work with a composer and a new score as a choreographer starting out, where you usually get a CD.
“Also, they are doing a story ballet, a full 80-minutes of storytelling. It’s been so brilliant doing Snow White. Of course I’m working on the choreography but the main thing is that the story is getting across.”
Rehearsals took 13 weeks, which sounds a lot but Olivia points out that much of that time is limited to five hours on a Sunday.
Originally from Hertfordshire, Olivia has recently moved to Tamworth with her husband, former Royal Ballet principal Errol Pickford, who is now teaching at Birmingham’s Elmhurst School of Dance.
Olivia has enjoyed a globetrotting career which included four years in Japan and time spent in Australia, New Zealand, India and Orsta, a small town in Norway which can only be reached by ferry and does not stock alcohol in its supermarkets, yet boasts an outstanding dance school.
“I wanted my career to take me to different countries,” she says. “It challenges you as a person. and dance is so different all over the world. But there’s nowhere like Britain for the arts. Sometimes it takes leaving your own country to appreciate what it has.”
A teacher and champion of outreach work in contemporary dance as well as ballet, Olivia is coordinator of Reach4Dance, which takes top quality dancers from the Royal Ballet, English National Ballet and the West End into mental health units.
She was first introduced to London Children’s Ballet when she assisted former Royal Ballet star Irek Mukhamedov on his production of The Prince and the Pauper in 2003.
“I taught his daughter at Arts Educational School in Tring and I took his son for a trial lesson. He was crying within two minutes and I thought I’d blown it, but Mukhamedov was watching and must have liked something about the way he saw me teaching.
“As a choreographer I would say I’m pretty fresh at this, and doing something like this is a really big deal. It means a bit more to me than it did in Australia. I suppose I was doing much the same there, and something of mine is going on in Tokyo in May, but I know how hard it is to make it in the arts world here – it’s so tough!”
* London Children’s Ballet presents Snow White at the Peacock Theatre, London until Sunday (Box office: 0844 412 4322 – returns only).