Caspar Lench In Conversation with Christopher Marney

March 11, 2024

The Chair of the London Ballet Circle, Susan Dalgetty Ezra, warmly welcomed Caspar Lench to the evening’s In Conversation. Born in Bristol, Caspar is an exciting young dancer who trained at The Royal Ballet School. While there he was awarded the London Ballet Circle Dame Ninette Award for the Most Outstanding Male Graduate. He is now an Aud Jebsen Young Dancer in the Royal Ballet. This evening he would be conversingwith Christopher Marney, newly appointed Artistic Director of London City Ballet, who Susan also warmly welcomed.

Christopher congratulated Caspar that his potential as a dancer had already been recognised, and then asked about his introduction to ballet. Caspar started to dance at the Bristol School of Dancing at the age of four. Over the years he had been pretty relaxed about ballet andnot taken the lessons too seriously; he had no expectation that it could lead to a career. It had been his mother who had spurred him on to audition at about age eleven for The Royal Ballet School at White Lodge. At the time Caspar felt his interests lay more in musical theatre; he enjoyed all types of dance as well as ballet – modern, tap, jazz, etc – and was extremely grateful that he had already been able to try out such a range of styles.

From the start he felt that his body was not naturally ‘made’ for ballet and accordingly considered that he had to nurture other attributes if he was to draw attention to himself. Thus he concentrated on artistry and musicality in addition to trying to perfect his technique, and this led to many opportunities to perform. Christopher commented on the awards he had won while at the RBS including, of course, the prestigious LBC Dame NinetteAward for the best male dancer in his year. 

The repertoire of the Royal Ballet (RB) itself was hugeand this was reflected in the diverse range of work undertaken at the RBS; Caspar took full advantage of the opportunities available. He believed that he had always been a hard worker, constantly trying to learn from others. Nevertheless, he soon realised that no dancer could do everything and he needed to allowhimself some leeway.

Christopher went on to ask about one particular performance which had received considerable critical acclaim, for example, that he was ‘blisteringly characterful’ in the role.  Takademe was a solo performance choreographed by Robert Battle. An unusual piece, danced to a score by Sheila Chandra, full of complex and syncopated rhythms. How did it come about that Caspar decided to perform it?

He replied that it had never been his intention to presentthis piece; in his second year at the RBS he was already rehearsing a solo by Maurice Béjart, in preparation for the Lynn Seymour Competition. Unfortunately he picked up an injury a couple of weeks before the competition, and started to panic. He had, however, recently been studying the work of American dancer Alvin Ailey and so went on to research his male solos. He discovered and became intrigued by Takademe, a clearly challengingpiece full of quick and intricate movement. At the end of the piece the dancer comes to the front of the stage and ‘shouts’ (actually lip-syncs) to the audience. It was exciting, a piece in which the dancer’s body had to be completely co-ordinated with the music, and he decided to perform it. 

Initially he had presented it as something of a humorous piece; it contains a certain element of comedy. Later, in his third year, he was coached on Takademe by a dancer from the Alvin Ailey company who had performed it many times over the years. During this process he formed a completely new perspective on the piece. He came to better understand its depth and so it became much more personal to him; he was able to build in his own experiences and felt it had become much more authentic to the choreographer’s intention. 

And so how did you receive the invitation to join the company? Caspar replied that it had been immediately before the start of the Christmas holiday, with informality the order of the day. His parents had been invited to watch class at RBS and he himself had come to work dressed as an elf…..    He had been called out of class to see Kevin O’Hare and so, borrowing a jacket, he went into his office – and was invited to join the company as an Aud Jebsen dancer. He was both surprised and delighted; one of his best ever Christmas presents.  ‘Lucky elf’ said Christopher!

Becoming the newest member of the RB was not easy –he was just a small fish in a big pond whereas at school he had been the big fish, while obviously realising that every other member of the company had in their time experienced similar emotions. At school he had looked up at those dancers who were maybe a few years ahead of him as somehow different; now he was one of them and they were his direct colleagues. His experience in working with the company in a number of productions while still a student helped considerably. He’d already been on the iconic stage of the Royal Opera House and was confident to at least somedegree. He was, however, extremely conscious of the history of the company and the enormous on and off stage talent of those around him and thus did not yet feel ‘professional’ in the role. 

For some time he missed the feedback which teachers at school would give all the time; they would not miss the chance to offer advice on perfecting his technique.No longer a student, he himself had to take the responsibility of ensuring that his work was the best it could be. He accepted this, and worked hard. Nevertheless, it could be challenging and it would be a while before he really felt comfortable. Company members were extremely friendly and he could always seek help or advice from others, even the more senior dancers.

Christopher then asked him to describe his first day in the company. Just half a day, mostly meetings, replied Caspar. The whole of the first week was relaxed, with class every day and various other functions such as a mental health workshop. He was also coming to terms with living in his own flat, having responsibility for it and paying the bills! He considered his first ‘proper’ day came after two weeks, when rehearsals for The Cellist and Don Quixote started in earnest. That was somewhatoverwhelming; the ballet was already very familiar to his fellow dancers and he had to catch up. He felt he might never get on top of it, and spent many nights learning by watching videos of the show. 

And then Liam Scarlett’s Swan Lake was a beautiful production – although one in which there was relatively less involvement for the male dancers. He was in the first Act, in which the Waltz was a great moment for the corps, and then in the Czardas in Act Three. Covering for more than one spot, again he had much to learn and sometimes you had to rely on your partner to ‘drag you around’. To many, however, Swan Lake is the epitome of classical ballet, and Caspar could really begin to feel that he had made it as a professional dancer.

Draft Works, a regular showcase at the Royal Opera House for emerging choreographic talent, was discussed next. Caspar and fellow RB dancer Martin Diaz had performed a duet choreographed on them by Denilson Almeida, using Portuguese songs. It contained complex movements which they evolved together with the choreographer. Relating to deep emotions, religious feelings, etc they had two sections ready for the December show and then were able to add a third. Once again, Caspar’s work had been critically acclaimed. 

What would his next shows be? Caspar responded Swan Lake and the MacMillan Triple Bill. He would be appearing in Different Drummer and Requiem, providing cover in the latter. MacMillan’s ballets included so many inspiring individual roles and pas de deux, all of which were for him dream roles. Later would come Christopher Wheeldon’s The Winter’s Tale and an Ashton Triple Bill including Rhapsody which was one of his favourite ballets.

Christopher indicated that there was much critical speculation as to what role Caspar might in time make very much his own. And did he himself have a truly dream role? Hans-Peter, in The Nutcracker would bring him full circle from the time he had performed it at RBS. Des Grieux in Manon would be great, with the gorgeous final pas de deux. And Romeo, and Prince Siegfried…..  Caspar said that he was inspired by his colleagues and was content really just to watch and learn. He wanted more challenging roles and loved performing, that’s what prompted him to get up in the mornings.

In conclusion, Christopher congratulated Caspar on his obvious strong motivation for dance, most inspiring andwonderful to see. He would be a terrific role model for future dancers.

In concluding the evening, Susan, as Chair of the London Ballet Circle, thanked both participants in the conversation. She noted how articulate Caspar was, even though still a young dancer; she also noted with approval his infectious smile. He seemed to already be the complete package! The evening had been very entertaining and she thanked both contributors most warmly.

Written by Trevor Rothwell. Approved by Caspar Lench and Christopher Marney.

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