We recently sat down with BDC Ballet Faculty member Richard Bowman for a Q & A session, and here’s what he had to say.
What was your training like growing up?
I started dancing when I was six years old. My mother was a dancer with the Royal New Zealand Ballet and my father was the company manager at that time. They settled in Auckland and my mother decided to put me into ballet class. When I was 14, I went to the Royal Academy of Dance’s International summer school in Wellington, New Zealand. They had teachers from the Royal Academy of Dance and The Royal Ballet. It was the first time I had been in a class with just boys, and being taught by a male teacher, as well.
At the end of the International Summer School one of the ballet masters was very interested in my potential. I was invited the following year to the International Summer School in Brisbane, Australia. There I was offered me full scholarship to the Royal Ballet School in London. After training there for two years I was offered a position in Vienna at the Volksoper. Shortly thereafter I auditioned for the Vienna State Opera Ballet, during my time with the Vienna State Opera I was offered a position as a soloist with the Royal New Zealand Ballet.
While performing in New Zealand, I decided I needed to learn more about my profession so I returned to Europe. I accepted a contract as a soloist with the Leipzig Ballet under the direction of Uwe Scholtz.
How did your mother affect your career?
She was the basis for my training from the time I was a child until I went to London. She is a wonderful children’s teacher.
Who has been the most inspiring person throughout your career?
As a dancer one of the most inspiring teachers that I ever had was Jiahong Wang (Mr. Wang). I trained with him in the Royal Ballet School in London and years later when I was joined the Australian Ballet he was a ballet master. It was great to work with him as a student and then a professional dancer. His wealth of knowledge was unbelievable. As a teacher there have been so many teachers who have inspired me. Most recently was David Howard.
Can you tell us about the ABT® National Training Curriculum?
My experience with the ABT NTC is that it is a wonderful set of guidelines that aims to assist all teachers in training dance students in how to use their bodies correctly, it focuses on kinetics and coordination, as well as anatomy and proper body alignment. Artistically, the National Training Curriculum strives to provide dance students with a rich knowledge of classical ballet technique and the ability to adapt to all styles and techniques of dance.
What do you see dancers falter on the most?
I see dancers falter on their posture. It is a bad habit, which can be corrected with good training.
What is your advice for preparing for an audition?
You need to be in shape. Get plenty of sleep the night before. You have to be at the top of your game when you walk in that door. You also have to look like you came out of bandbox. You have to look like you’re a million dollars in other words. You can’t have dirty shoes, holes in your tights. Your hair and makeup have to be perfect. If I am auditioning somebody my first impression is what I see. That’s a tough lesson to learn. Make sure that you are prepared for whatever is going to be thrown at you. If you are going for a ballet audition, ladies make sure to have a couple pairs of pointe shoes ready to go. Make sure that you’re prepared to maybe even show a variation. You should have one already prepared in the back of your mind that you have been rehearsing. It has happened to me before out of the blue. They needed to see a variation. “Do you have music?” Sometimes it’s necessary since directors may want to see you outside of a classroom situation. Be prepared for anything.
What has been the most challenging obstacle for you in this business?
Trying to make sure as a teacher that I help and connect with every single person in the room.
Do you still take class? What kind of styles?
I would take class if I had time, but my schedule is very full at the moment. I used to take class maybe two or three times a week but recently it has become harder. I think it’s important to take other styles depending on what you are looking for. It doesn’t matter what style of a dancer you are, ballet class sets you up for every other genre. It’s a very good foundation for all dancers.
Can you tell us about the dance school you and your wife opened?
When I retired from performing full time with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre we moved to California and opened our own school. It was an amazing experience. A few years later my wife and I were invited to direct and manage an already established school and we were able to help turn the school around and make it very successful. In 2011, my wife was appointed the assistant principal of the Jackie Onassis School at ABT. Where I also teach now.
Do you have any upcoming projects?
Yes, I do! I will be teaching at BDC this summer, as well as the American Ballet Theatre Summer Intensive in NYC.
What would you say is the biggest change you’ve seen over the years in dancers?
Over the decades, I find that the dancers are stronger now than they have ever been before. One thing I find that is missing is there are not many storytellers out there anymore. I see lots fantastic dancers who have difficulty portraying their characters. Imagination has a lot to do with that. What I mean is its not just about the steps, you actually have to become the character, a good way to work on this is to encourage dancers to think about what they are doing and why they are doing it. I think that’s where the fun part comes in. If you can’t have fun then you cannot act or portray roles. Then it becomes very superficial.
Which of your projects are you most proud of?
My passion is training good dancers, so I try to be proud of every project I do.
How has your teaching experience been at BDC?
I really love teaching here. It’s a positive experience and always filled with energetic people who want to learn and that makes it fun.