Tbilisi’s Own Billy Elliot: A Ballet Success Story

Georgia Today spoke to William Pratt, a 31-year-old British soloist of the State Ballet of Georgia, who has been living in Georgia for almost seven years, about his inspiration and the challenges he has faced in his career.

How did you get into ballet dancing?

I got into dancing because my sisters were into it. At first I did it just for fun but then the New York City Ballet came on tour to England and I went to one of their performances and that was what really made me want to pursue dance as a career.

Have you faced any challenges as a male ballet dancer?

I haven’t really faced many challenges to do with being a male dancer, though you do get the occasional comment. I’ve not had any negative experiences in Georgia- it was more when I was starting out that I had the problems. I was scared to tell my friends what I was doing but once I did, they were all great about it. That said, I do think once ‘Billy Elliot’ came out people’s perception really started to change towards male ballet dancers. [N.B. ‘Billy Elliot’ is a 2000 British dance drama film featuring an 11-year-old boy who is an aspiring dancer dealing with the negative stereotype of the male ballet dancer in 1980s north-east England].

How did you meet Prima Ballerina Nina Ananiashvili and what were your impressions of her?

I first met Nina when I arrived in Georgia. I was nervous because I’d been living quite an isolated existence in New Zealand for nine years- away from the international dance scene. But I remember at the New Zealand School of Dance we had a library and in the video section there was a DVD on Nina doing Swan Lake and I honestly cannot count how many times I watched that DVD! When I realized I was going to be working for her, it was an amazing and scary feeling.

And I’ll never forget my first meeting with Nina: I arrived in Georgia on a Sunday was taken straight to the theatre to meet the Company. I was sitting at the front of the studio waiting to watch a class and Nina walked in! When she said hello, I just remember that her face and eyes had so much energy, I could tell straight away how motivated a person she was!

How did you end up in Georgia?

Though New Zealand gave me so much that I’ll always be grateful for, I left the company there after two years because I felt like there was a huge world out there to explore. I went back home to England and basically spent time either living on my friend’s floor in Lindon or travelling around Europe auditioning. My last audition was in France and I almost didn’t go because my money was running out- but I’m so glad I did as it was there I met Frank Andersen, who had worked with the State Ballet of Georgia many times. He watched a class and after he asked for my details to pass on to Nina and within two weeks of that first meeting, I was in Tbilisi.

What do you love most and least about life in Georgia?

The thing I love most about Georgia is the people. Georgian people are so warm and loyal, which is very hard to find in a lot of other countries. I also love that Georgia has given me so many great memories and experiences- and also I met my amazing wife here, Maia, and we have two beautiful daughters, so Georgia has given me more than I could ever have asked for.

Will your girls follow in your footsteps? Will you encourage them to?

I don’t know if my girls will dance or not. My oldest daughter Ana, who is 6, loves dancing but I’m not sure whether she’ll choose it as a career, I always say ‘no way’ but, honestly, I want my kids to experience as much as I have and more. I am so grateful to my parents for all the sacrifices and time they invested in me growing up, so I want the same for my girls; I want to be able to give them everything.

You have had solo roles in Sarabande, Petite Mort, and Sechs Tanze by Jiri Kylian, Charms of Mannerism by Alexei Ratmansky, Sagalobeli by Yuri Possokhov, amongst others, and have played roles such as Rothbart in Swan Lake and danced Espada and Bolero in Don Quixote. What does it take to be a soloist?

To be a soloist I think anywhere in the world it’s not just about how well you dance but about how hard you work. I’ve known many dancers with a lot of talent but who got impatient and then lazy having to start from the bottom in a company. I don’t see myself as the most talented dancer but I always wanted it badly enough to work hard for it. I was told time and time again to give it up; that there was no future in it, but that just made me want it more! I even had one teacher ask me what my father did and when I said he was a bricklayer, he quietly suggested I think about doing an apprenticeship with him and stop dancing!

I feel so lucky that I’ve had the chance to work for the number one Prima Ballerina in the world and have travelled all over the globe doing what I love to do. So, I think being a successful soloist is about how you go about your job and I guess some talent also helps...

Katie Ruth Davies

03 December 2015 21:29