Getting hit by a London bus while out skateboarding was never going to stop former Gisborne man Joseph Skelton from dancing. He endured multiple breaks in his shin bone, calf bone, foot and knee.
Skelton was studying at the Royal Ballet School at the time but after surgery had to spend nine months in intensive rehabilitation.
“They took my knee apart to put a steel rod down my leg,” he says.
“I had to learn to walk again. It was an uphill struggle but that’s where dance helps.”
The discipline required in dance rests on physical work and mental focus, he says. Skelton is noted for his technical flair, especially in full-length classical works, says a biographical note on the Royal New Zealand Ballet company (RNZB) webpage.
Now with the RNZB company, Skelton is part of the popular Tutus on Tour programme that returns him, and the troupe, to the rebuilt War Memorial Theatre stage for two nights this month.
The company will revisit its roots with a performance of August Bournonville’s Napoli, and Flower Festival at Genzano, which have been part of the company’s repertoire since the 1950s. Award-winning choreographer Brian Enos’s contemporary work Nae Regrets that was inspired by Scottish folk music; Vasily Vainonen’s virtuosic Flames of Paris pas de deux, and the Fairy Doll pas de trois, based on ETA Hoffmann’s 1815 story of The Sandman is also part of the programme.
Born in Gisborne, Skelton started dancing at the age of four and during his early years performed in competitions on the old War Memorial Theatre stage.
“My brother and sister did dance so I did it because they did it,” says Skelton.
“The biggest appeal of ballet for me is the music, the physicality and challenge of dance. You’re paid to push your physique to extremes.”
As important as physical discipline is mental focus, he says.
“There are always a few injuries but a lot of the training is about maintenance and pushing through it.”
After moving from Gisborne to Pukekohe, Skelton trained as a ballet dancer and was accepted into the Royal Academy of Dance at the age of 16. He trained in the UK at the Elmhurst School of Dance and The Royal Ballet School. On returning to New Zealand he joined the RNZB in 2011. Solo roles since then include Don Quixote; Zoltan in Coppelia, Lysander in a 2015 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the Wizard in the RNZB’s The Wizard of Oz.
Despite his family’s move to Pukekohe, Gisborne was still where they returned for their holidays. Skelton still has strong family connection with Gisborne. His grandparents live here as well as his brother Nat, manager of Raglan Roast.
Accessibility is key to the RNZB’s Tutus on Tour programme. The mixed bill of family-friendly, classical favourites and contemporary works is designed to appeal to ballet aficionados, dance students and newbies. The tour also means people outside the main centres have an opportunity to see Royal New Zealand Ballet company dancers perform.
“Accessibility is a big part of it,” says Skelton.
“Unless you come to the main centres you don’t often get an opportunity to see professional dance.”
Ballet in a Box
During Tutus on Tour, the RNZB also present free Ballet in a Box events for local schools. These give students the chance to observe the dancers’ daily warm up, watch them perform brief works in full costume, and explore their world with Q&A sessions.
Visiting schools from this region include Whangara School, Gisborne Homeschool Group, Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Mangatuna, Awapuni School, Te Hapara School, Gisborne Central School and Ngatapa School.
RNZB dance educators will also run workshops in local schools including Gisborne Girls’ High School and Makauri School on May 9, the day before the performance. The dance workshops are based on the repertoire from Black Swan, White Swan which tour New Zealand from May — July.
Tutus on Tour, War Memorial Theatre, Friday 6.30pm and Saturday 1pm. Tickets available from Stephen Jones Photography or www.eventfinda.co.nz