Published: February 15, 2011
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Meet SBF Member Ashley, a London based dancer who started studying drama at the Young Inspirations Theatre Company and soon after joined the Diane Bradbury Theatre Dance School. His great passion and talent earned him his first contract in a Sheffield's production of A Chorus Line at age 15, while he was still a student.
Ashley then graduated from the Rambert School of Ballet & Contemporary Dance.
Read his interview and find out about how his career has evolved to make him win his biggest dream:
to be part of the world renowned production of Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake...
Ashley James Orwin

Ashley warming up
  • How old were you when you started dancing and what inspired you become a professional dancer?
    Quote ...In Swan Lake everyone is given two roles to learn, and every role is triple cast. This is a safety net in case of injury etc. Every part is rotated almost every night, so in actual fact no show is exactly the same as the previous nights...
    Ashley James Orwin: I started dancing when I was 15. It stemmed from a love of drama when I started secondary school. That's when I thought I wanted to be an actor, so they encouraged me to join a youth theatre company outside of school, which I did. It was there at Young Inspirations Theatre Company (Chesterfield, UK) where they pushed me to take dance classes, as it meant I would be able to take on more principal roles if I could dance. So I joined the Diane Bradbury Theatre Dance School (Chesterfield, UK) at 15 and had my first ever ballet class, joining all the little girls who were all around 10 years of age. I also had private lessons with Diane in her very small office as she thought I had a lot to give and wanted to really support me. From here I was able to audition for the professional production of A Chorus Line at the Crucible Theatre (Sheffield, UK), under the direction of Nikolai Foster and choreography by Karen Bruce, to be a part of the ensemble. I only knew about the audition as my sister is part of the catering management for the theatre. I got the part, but being only 15, I had to take time off school for rehearsals and many of the matinee shows, however I still completed my GCSE's with flying colours. Being under 16 I also had to have my mum along for every rehearsal and show to chaperone me, legally. So I owe my entire family a lot. It is my family in fact and my love for it and the fact that things kept falling into place for me that inspired me to become a professional dancer.

  • Ashley (left) in 'A Linha Curva' You have come from the Rambert School of Ballet & Contemporary Dance where in your final year you were chosen to dance for the Rambert Dance Company in their national tour, appearing in Itzic Galili's 'A Linha Curva'. Can you please tell us about the ballet and what the experience was like for you?
    AJO: This experience was simply the ultimate joy and such a proud moment in my life! Can you imagine training for all those years and then the first reward to dance for the company you've admired for all that time? Also being selected out of all the people that could have been chosen, one of the proudest moments of my life. We had to give up three weeks of our summer holidays for intensive rehearsals, so we were up to scratch with the company who had been doing it for a season already. The choreography was brilliant, very Brazilian carnival-esque, basically a lot of fun on stage but also incredible concentration, because it was all about formation, patterns and unison. With the check-board light design meaning every single person had to be spot-on with their positioning and moving at all times. The ultimate wonder about doing this was the fact that I got to perform professionally on one of the biggest stages in the UK, Sadler's Wells, and even before I had graduated!

  • After graduating you landed a place in Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake. Can you please tell us about your audition?
    Ashley as one of the Big Swans AJO: The audition for the Swan Lake that I got was quite a rollercoaster process. I actually auditioned for Swan Lake and Cinderella over the same few days while I was still in my third year at Rambert. In which I was told that I was on the short list for Swan Lake. However in the end unfortunately too many people had renewed their contracts to do it again and they had all the replacements that they needed. So I went along auditioning for other things, where I got down to the final few for 'grown-up Billy' in Billy Elliot, when one unexpected Thursday I got a call from the producers of Swan Lake saying they were holding an 'emergency audition' as one of the cast wasn't able to carry on with the production and the audition was the next day on the Friday. So I show up with three other hopefuls and we learn and perform some Rep to Matt and the other directors for a couple of hours. The audition finishes and we all make our way back home. While on the DLR not even home yet I get a call from the producers telling me I've got the job! Not only have I got the job, but I start the following Monday, in 2 days! As you can imagine I screamed down the DLR, very embarrassing, but an amazing feeling.

  • What was your role in Swan Lake?
    AJO: In the production everyone is given two roles to learn, and every role is triple cast. This is a safety net in case of injury etc. Every part is rotated almost every night, so in actual fact no show is exactly the same as the previous nights. Also the swans are cast as 'Cygnets' (4), 'Medium Swans' (6) and 'Big Swans' (4). Being 6'1" I was obviously cast as a Big Swan, learning the parts of Swan 11 and Swan 14. Ashley serching for gravity Everyone performs as a Maid/Servant in Act I, depending on your number a different character in the Soho scene (being Swan 11, I would play 'Quentin Crisp' and being Swan 14, I would play one of the 'Kray twins'). Then in Act 11 obviously the track of which ever swan I was. In Act III, I would play the 'German Escort' as Swan 11 and part of the press as Swan 14 and then again in Act IV, I would play whichever Swan track I was down for that performance.

    What was your training and rehearsal schedule like?
    AJO: The rehearsal schedule for Swan Lake was quite intense, but that maybe because I was fresh out of training and wasn't used to six day weeks. We did Monday to Saturday for four weeks most days 10am to 6pm, apart from Tuesdays and Thursdays which were 10am to 9pm. I was knackered but loved it! Plus they provided tea and coffee (an essential in this contract I found) and biscuits!

  • How did you feel on opening night?
    AJO: In all honesty on opening night I was a bag of nerves, but the show went fantastically for me and I enjoyed it thoroughly! Come the bows I was a teary wreck of pride and happiness. The next night was not so good however, as during Act II I cracked my foot on one of the pillars (the wings, if you've ever seen the show) and sprained a toe! Like a true professional though, I carried on in agony until my next exit then was rushed to A&E and my cover was dashed into Swan costume and make-up to pick up after me. Hence why the casting is done the way it is.

  • The Swan Room What did it feel like to be part of a Swan Lake?
    AJO: To be a part of Swan Lake was simply amazing, it was actually my dream job straight sway from leaving Rambert. And going from the Rambert Dance Company to Matthew Bourne's New Adventures is a great career start.

  • What was the biggest challenge for you working in Swan Lake?
    AJO: Everyone in the company said that Swan Lake is the hardest show you will ever do, if you're a boy. As a boy you actually don't stop from beginning to end, for two and a half hours you don't get time to think about anything else eight times a week. Even in the interval, we only get twenty minutes to shower to get out of swan make-up and then redo make-up to get ready to play human characters. Imagine that in some theatres where there was only one shower between fourteen lads! Aerial Ashley flying high The quick changes are insane also, when we have to get into Swans; there's a little quick change area side of stage we call the 'Swan Room' where we all have our own mirrors and the make-up stuck to the walls for easy access, there are people from the make-up department painting us as we're rushing out of human costumes, painting our beaks and doing our eyes then were on stage before we know it, no time to think about what's coming, it's all muscle memory.

  • Quote ...I owe my entire family a lot. It is my family in fact and my love for it and the fact that things kept falling into place for me that inspired me to become a professional dancer...
    What is your favourite part of the ballet?
    AJO: As much as I love being a swan and obviously that's what Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake is all about, my favourite part was playing the German escort to my German princess in Act III. Again as much dancing a swan was incredible, that part took so much rehearsing to find the character that getting to play a human was quite refreshing and a little less taxing and intense on the brain. Plus you can find different things every night with your different partners and whoever was playing the Queen, Girlfriend, Private Secretary and Stranger in Act III, which meant you never actually knew what would come, making it rather exciting.

  • Aerial Ashley flying higher Matthew Bourne has been called "the best thing to have happened to British dance in the past 20 years" (The Mail on Sunday). What has it been like to work with the man himself?
    AJO: Matt is always very busy as even while Swan Lake was going on, rehearsals for Cinderella were just starting, so he is always needed to be torn. However, he was fully involved with the rehearsals of Swan Lake and all the shows until it was fully settled in the second week of the four week run in New York, after four weeks in the UK. Working with him was great because getting his notes, they were hardly technical as that's why we have dance captains and rehearsal directors. He would always have us delving into the characters from different angles and trying things differently so the production was fresh and not just a replica of before. He made it feel like it was all new and exciting as when it was first made.

  • Franklyn Lee, Ashley Bain, Ashley James Orwin, James Cousins, Anwar Russell, Tom Clark Have you ever performed a more tradition version of Swan Lake and if so, what are the main differences for you?
    AJO: For my graduation show at Rambert I was part of the cast who performed a section of Swan Lake. So I have literally experienced the very classical side of it and Matt's very narrative, contemporary side of it. When doing the classical version, even though it is very story telling, I couldn't help myself keep thinking about aesthetic components; am I turning out enough, are my feet pointing properly and not sickling, arms are in the correct position etc… Performing Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake, all that stuff seemed to come so much more naturally and the movement took over. I think this comes from how beautiful it feels to dance Matt's choreography and how much his story is just so magical to tell through dance. I found telling that story so glorious, there was hardly a night I performed when at the end when the Prince is dead and the Queen finds him and breaks down in tears, then above him (in his mind?) the young prince wraps his arm around the swan in an eternal embrace, that I didn't have a little cry.

  • What's the best thing about being a performer?
    AJO: I love to perform because of the feeling I get from doing something that I absolutely love. I feel so lucky to be someone who loves every second of his job! Well, actually... that's a lie! There are always, inevitably times when tiredness can take its toll or you have a down day with dance and you feel like you're not good enough, but soon enough you get back that love, the passion that drives you. Also, when my parents, my family come to see me perform, that is another 'best thing', because I know how proud I make them and how thankful it makes me. Without their continuous support I wouldn't be on that stage, taking that curtain call to a standing ovation. Both my parents worked their normal jobs as well as a second job,, each at the local petrol garage to be able to support me and keep me in training, so I really do owe them the world!
    Quote ...Matt (Bourne) would always have us delving into the characters from different angles and try things differently so the production was fresh and not just a replica of before...

    Some of the birds in Times Square: 
Danny Reubins, Lewis Wilkins, Gavin Eden, Jonathan Ollivier (The Swan/Stranger), Franklyn Lee (Medium Swan), Ashley James Orwin (Big Swan), Simon Karaiskos, Vince Virr, Scott Jennings

  • What are your plans for the future?
    AJO: Well the contract for Swan Lake finished mid December in Florence, so now I'm taking a period off for a lovely rest and then it's back to square one of a performer…working a normal job (whatever that is) and auditioning like crazy for other upcoming productions. As I am also trained in musical theatre, because before I went to Rambert I trained at Bird College of Dance & Theatre Performance I will keep my options open to all kinds of performance work whether it be West End musicals, dance companies or TV and film work. So fingers crossed and who knows what the future holds...

  • What do you think of ShowBiz Friends?
    AJO: I think that ShowBiz Friends is a wonderful tool for those in the performing industry. Not only does it connect people all over the world, but it has a huge database of performances and a wide range of information. The commitment to keep it updated is also amazing and the passion behind the people that do it, I was just standing outside stage door getting some fresh air after a performance of Swan Lake when Lindsey approached me with a world of interest and appreciation. Lovely!

    Thank you Ashley for this great interview and best of luck with your career!