60 Seconds with the English National Ballet School

In response to the pandemic, the English National Ballet School (ENBS) partnered with CW+ to give patients and staff exclusive access to ballet performances – and classes, rehearsals and talks – via Virtual Connections, the digital platform that delivers our award-winning arts in health programme to their patients. Since COVID-19 restrictions have eased, ballet dancers have started to come into the hospitals to perform live. Emma, 16, a student in her first year at ENBS shares a valuable insight into the partnership and what it means for students as well as patients and staff, especially now dancers can perform live in the hospital.

Why did you choose to perform at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital?

I was given the opportunity through the school as part of their partnership with CW+. At the height of the pandemic the school shared performances virtually with the hospital to support the health and wellbeing of patients and staff, whether they were in-hospital or isolating at home, and so it is now very exciting to be able to finally perform in person. I feel particularly lucky to have had the opportunity to give back to the community and perform for patients and staff, especially after all the incredible work the staff have done throughout the pandemic.

What was it like to perform in front of patients in the hospital? 

I found it heart-warming and touching to perform in the hospital. It was lovely to feel the appreciation from both patients and staff, and to know that we helped transform the hospital experience and environment, and made a difference to their day. Some patients even mentioned that our visit had inspired them to watch live ballet in the future, which was particularly rewarding.

How important are initiatives like the CW+ arts in health programme?

I think it is incredibly important to be able to give back to the community, and it’s amazing to be part of the programme at the hospital to support the recovery of their patients in this way. The arts, including dance, have a positive impact on the health and wellbeing of both those who participate and those who watch, and so initiatives like this programme are important as they take the arts to places where people can benefit most. The arts bring comfort and happiness to patients at a difficult time, helping to relieve pain and aiding in their recovery, both physically and mentally. It allows patients to relax and interact with something engaging, and performances like ours help to momentarily spread joy.

What did you perform at Chelsea and Westminster? How did it differ to performing in a theatre setting?

Whilst visiting the hospital I performed an extract from the piece we have been working on for our upcoming summer performance by Andrew McNicol, and part of the solo I created for the Young Choreographers Showcase. We performed in the wards of the hospital, and since this space is different from a theatre setting, with the audience much closer, I found I was more able to emotionally respond to and acknowledge the audience, creating a more personal connection which benefitted the patients too. To adapt to the space, the movements we performed had a focus on the upper body. We also concentrated on connection with the eyeline, as this is mainly what the patients would engage with.

Tell us a bit about your time at English National Ballet School so far. How has it been training during the pandemic?

Since starting in September my time at the English National Ballet School has been incredible. The opportunities, support and training have been second to none, and I feel truly lucky to be a student here. I have been particularly impressed with the support the school have continued to provide throughout the lockdown despite the impact of the pandemic, doing their upmost to make sure our training is not impacted. Alongside the training, performance opportunities provided by the school have been brilliant, and I can’t wait to see what is to come.

What are you currently working on?

We are currently working towards our upcoming summer performances in July. I am super excited to be rehearsing pieces by Andrew McNicol and Didy Veldman in preparation for this, and excited to perform once more! I have also been working on the Young Choreographers Showcase. I was fortunate enough to be selected to perform the choreographic solo I created as part of my choreography assessment, and collaborate with the London College of Fashion, filming at the Wallace Collection. It was an incredible weekend and such an interesting collaboration to be part of.

Find out more about our arts in health programme here or visit the English National Ballet School website. Since this article was published English National Ballet School has had to pause its live activity in the hospital due to COVID-19, but hopes to resume in-person dance as soon as possible.