Lachlan Monaghan and Yaoqian Shang are dancers with Birmingham Royal Ballet. Together they will be performing the lead roles of Aladdin and the Princess Badr al-Budur inAladdin , which tours to Salford, Birmingham, Plymouth and London. After dancing with the ballet company for six and five years respectively, they are starting to break into principal roles and discover what it mea ns to be at the top of their profession.
Here, they talk about Aladdin , coping with long hours of rehearsal and what makes the perfect partnership.
To start, tell us a little about yourselves:
YS: My name is Yaoqian Shang, I am Chinese and Im a Soloist with Birmingham Royal Ballet. I started dancing properly at Beijing Dance Academy when I was 9 years old and went to the Royal Ballet School when I was 16.
LM: Im Lachlan Monaghan, Im Australian and Im a First Artist with Birmingham Royal Ballet. I started tap and jazz when I was about 11 because of my sister, and ballet when I was ab out 13. I went to the McDonald College in Sydney and then to the Royal Ballet School when I was 17.
Will audiences be familiar with the story of Aladdin, or is it quite different from the famous Disney film?
L: It is quite different. In the ballet our Director David Bintley goes back to the original story from the Arabian Nights rather than the Disney version. We dont have a monkey or a talking parrot but we do have flying carpets and genies!
You’re less than two weeks away from your first performances at The Lowry in Salford. How are rehearsals going?
L: Its quite nerve-wracking to think that we will perform our first show in less than two weeks. The first things you attempt to conquer in rehearsal are the pas de deux . As an audience member you might think the pas de deux or the solos are the hardest part, and they do have the most difficult steps, but actually its all the transitions, interactions with the other characters and the props that are the difficult things to get a handle on.
They take time to learn, and it s not really until we get to full cast rehearsals that we see it c ome together.
Alongside Aladdin and the Princess, do you have other roles you need to learn?
Y: Im also performing as one of the Princess attendants (one of her girlfriends), sapphires and rubies (thejewels that Aladdin finds in the cave). Its not too bad because all my other roles are quite short so its not like Im on the go all of the time.
L: Im finding it difficult with the Djinn, Aladdin and also one of his two friends.
There are a lot of scenes where all of those characters are on stage at the same time. For example, there are times where Aladdin and the Djinn are in the same scene, both fighting the Mahgrib, and the moves are one count after each other. It s certainly testing my brain, but its really fun.
There must be fine balance between relaxing after a long day of rehearsals, and thinking over the work you’ve done that day. How do you manage that?
Y: I prefer to just switch off. I like to think about the work bef ore I do it rather than later. There can be a lot of corrections, and if you keep thinking about them you just pile extra pressure on yourself, and I really dont like that. The next day, before I have rehearsals, Ill go through corrections then and see what I have to work on.
L: Immediately after rehearsal, I like to reflect a little bit on the positive things. There is always going to be something that s gone wrong – I dont think you ever walk away going well, that was perfect but thats the beauty of performing a character role because every day can be different. The way we play Aladdin and the Princess in our first show will be different from the way we play it in our second show. Thats whats exciting–the growth, and the change, and responding to each other. I like to switch off as well; watch TV, listen to music, do all those normal things. Its good to chill out and remind yourself that, as brilliant as ballet is, theres a big world out there.
What do you think makes a good partnership, both in rehearsal and on stage?
Y: Its definitely important to have fun. Weve had a lot of laughs.
L: There are some quite challenging lifts in Aladdin where, holding her weight, I ll have to go down on my knee and drop to the floor. There have been some quite heavy crash landings to laugh about. I think its really important to have a good sense of humour and to have fun.
Y: Its true. Also, Lachlan is so clever. I always say that; he just knows exactly where you are. Weve never really danced together before Aladdin but weve worked really well from the start. With partnering you need to find your co-ordination together, and things feel different from one partner to another, but for us theres been nothing difficult that weve had to fix
L: Yaoqian is brilliant; shes just such a natural dancer. Thereve been so many rehearsals where we hadnt even tried bits before, and decided to just do a section with the music. Wed do it and it would work, so wed just keep going. We enjoy dancing together so much that each section just falls into place. That s what audiences seem to remember – the rapport of a partnership, and the way you look at each other.
Finally, if you weren’t a ballet dancer, what would you be doing?
Y: Id quite like to learn some interior design because Ive always liked drawing but Ive never had time to work on it properly. Its my dream to build my own house.
L: Im very interested in photography. I think being a dancer teaches us so many skills, and being a dancer turned photographer is rare. I also play piano and my dream is to one day choreograph my own ballet, and also write the score. Thats my ultimate goal.
Alladin is at The Lowry from 20-23rd September 2017 to book tickets click HERE