As he takes to our TV screens for another season of Strictly at the same time as he steps into Miranda Hart’s shoes taking over from her to play the evil Miss Hannigan in the West End musical Annie, Craig Revel Horwood is a busy man! But he took time out to speak to Theo Bosanquet about his work on the new BalletBoyz production which is currently touring the UK.
How does it feel to be collaborating with BalletBoyz again?
I had a fantastic experience with BalletBoyz a few years ago, creating a tango for two men as part of a gala show which re-opened the Royal Festival Hall at the Southbank Centre in London. So I was thrilled when they asked me to come back and create a new work. I really admire them as a company. They’ve really pushed the boundaries of ballet and made it sexy and cool.
Can you tell us more about the concept behind the dance in 14 Days?
I didn’t really know what I was going to do until I visited Australia as part of Who Do You Think You Are? and discovered that my great, great grandfather was a champion clog dancer. My family were goldminers, so I thought ‘wouldn’t it be interesting to get the miners clog dancing?’ Story-wise I based it on my hometown of Ballarat where there was a revolt of miners in the mid-19th century, known as the Eureka Stockade. So the concept is a clog dance battle between the miners and the soldiers.
Was it challenging working with clogs?
I was a novice myself - the first time I wore clogs was in Who Do You Think You Are? So it was a real challenge for me and the boys, who are trained in classic ballet. It’s almost the polar opposite to ballet as a discipline, because your feet are so heavy. But we started improvising and having some fun with it and it was extraordinary to see it evolve. They’ve done brilliantly well.
And you had to put it all together in just fourteen days
Billy and Michael [co-founders of BalletBoyz] were a bit shocked when I took the concept to them. I think they were expecting something a little more conventional. They said “Craig, is this going to be possible in two weeks?” and I replied “of course - God made the world in seven days and I’ve got double that time!”
What is it that distinguishes BalletBoyz as a dance company?
Each Ballet Boy is an individual, they all have characters. That makes it different, because you’re not getting a corps de ballet as such, you’re getting to know each individual dancer. But they’re very generous as a company, they very much work as a team. And of course they’re all boys, but that doesn’t restrict the opportunity to convey romance or sexiness.
You’re a busy man with several projects happening at one time - how do you stay focused?
I’ve learnt to compartmentalise. I have to. For instance, at the moment I’m directing a new musical, preparing to act in the West End and working on Strictly Come Dancing. On top of that I’m doing a one man show on my days off. But I just love everything that I do, so it doesn’t feel like work. I keep saying yes!
How similar is your Strictly persona to how you are in the rehearsal room?
It’s a true representation of how I direct. I’m hard on people because I want to push them. I tell my dancers what’s wrong so that we can make it right. After all, we want to make the piece as good as it can be. It’s sometimes misconstrued on Strictly that my criticism is not constructive, but that’s completely wrong. I want to help people to improve. But that said I do wear different hats, and when I’m at home I take them off and I’m myself. I’d probably go a bit made otherwise!
How are you finding life on Strictly after Len?
It’s a complete change of dynamic, but I like that. I always change my casts around in my shows for that reason, to keep it exciting. Shirley Ballas who has taken over is fantastic, and really knows her stuff. And it’s nice to have another lady on the panel. I miss Len, of course, but it’s nice to start another chapter.
Bruce Forsyth’s death was a poignant moment for the show
It was. Brucie was a legendary performer but he was also a wonderful human being, who loved other people and entertaining. He reacted so well to live audiences, which is what made him so good at his job. People also forget that he was a brilliant tap dancer, and he left such a strong legacy to the dance world. Strictly is a celebration of him.
How did you get into dance in the first place?
I was always a bit of a show off, especially at Christmas when we had lots of cousins round. We’d always put on a show for the adults. I would put on feather bowers and wigs on and play all kinds of characters. A reason I got into dance specifically was because I was a fat kid and I was getting teased at school. A friend advised me join an exercise class, and it just happened to be jazz ballet. It turned out I could naturally do it, so the teacher advised me to get some formal training. He enrolled me into ballet school and that started me down the path.
What would you say to kids out there wanting to follow in your footsteps?
Do what your heart says. You’re always going to be better at something you’re passionate about, so you have to find what that is and do it. If you’d told me as a kid that I’d be directing and starring in productions in the West End I would have laughed you out of Ballarat. But it’s happened. So listen to your heart, and follow it.
BalletBoyz are on tour throughout the UK this autumn. Details and tour dates can be found on their website balletboyz.com
- Craig Revel Horwood was speaking to Theo Bosanquet
Theo Bosanquet is a freelance journalist and was Managing Editor for the UK website WhatsOnStage.com for seven years. His work has appeared in publications including Time magazine, Time Out, Fest, The Stage, Theatre.London and Teaching Drama magazine.