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  • Writer's pictureKristyn Burtt

First Soloist Beatriz Stix-Brunell's Unorthodox Pathway to The Royal Ballet

Updated: Apr 28, 2020

As a First Soloist for The Royal Ballet, Beatriz Stix-Brunell has had an unconventional rise to the top of the ballet world. She's an American ballet dancer, who knew at a young age that she wanted to explore European training after starting her lessons at the School of American Ballet. 

As a 12-year-old, she joined the Paris Opéra Ballet School and by age 14, she was invited by renowned choreographer Christopher Wheeldon to join his company, Morphoses. Stix-Brunell came to The Royal Ballet in 2010 as an artist and rose through the ranks as a Soloist in 2012 and First Soloist in 2016.

She recently spoke to Dance Dish about her rise to the top and what it's like to be an American dancing overseas with such a prestigious ballet company.

Dance Dish: How did you come to the decision so young that you needed more than your School of American Ballet training?

Beatriz Stix-Brunell:  I saw a video of the Paris Opéra Ballet School. I fell in love with the style, with the culture, with this completely different world of dance that I had been used to. I thought this was something I wanted to be a part of as a young dancer. I knew I wanted that to be a part of my training. 

One thing that I noticed from that video was the beautiful use of épaulement [positioning of the shoulders] and also the footwork. It's very neat, fast, turned-out, beautiful footwork that the French are famous for. I wanted their style to be part of what I strive for. 

I opened my training and my eyes up to a different way of moving early on. I think it benefited me. I had such a great time there. 

DD: We have to imagine all the additional training you had also prepared you for your career overseas, too? 

Beatriz: I had a very unorthodox pathway through my training. I was pretty much a baby when I began working with Christopher Wheeldon and established principal dancers like Wendy Whelan, Edward Watson and Leanne Benjamin.

I was exposed to be different types of dancing and having to pick things up very quickly and learning how to be choreographed on and working one-on-one with a choreographer.

It prepared me for being in a company where we go from doing Kenneth MacMillan to Frederick Ashton to Petipa to Liam Scarlett to Wheeldon to Wayne McGregor. You have to be on the ball head-wise, but also body-wise. Your body has to know how to shift from classical to contemporary.

Sleeping Beauty. Beatriz Stix-Brunell as Princess Aurora. ROH 2014. Photo credit: Tristram Kenton.

DD: How is acting a part of your job as a ballet dancer?

Beatriz: Even when the ballet is abstract and there's no story, you always have to go on stage with an intention. You always have to go onstage with something going on in your head even if there is no narrative to what you're dancing.

We do so many narrative ballets at The Royal Ballet. That's one of the things that is our company's pride possession — the tradition and that history of acting and the importance of being a real person on stage. 

When you first join the company, you're surrounded by people who have been doing these roles for a long time. You dive into it headfirst, into this world of acting, that you don't get when you're training and when you're in school. Once you're here in the company, acting is one of the things you carry with you from ballet to ballet. It's incredible. 

DD: What is the best thing about being an American dancer working overseas and what is the most challenging aspect?

Beatriz: Being an American dancer, it's been great and it's also been hard because I didn't go to The Royal Ballet School. When I joined the company, I was a bit of an outsider because a lot of the dancers went to The Royal Ballet School. When I joined I was very young and the company was much older than it is now. Everyone was a big unit and I was coming from the outside. 

I felt like I needed to establish my place in the company and earn their understanding and their trust and their respect. Even though The Royal Ballet work wasn't a part of my heritage yet, it was going to be a part of my heritage.

When I was at the School of American Ballet, I did every single children's ballet — The Nutcracker, Sleeping BeautyCoppélia, Union Jack and Harlequinade. I was on stage for everything and that's where my love of dance started. So it was a wonderful thing, coming into the company here because I had confidence already on stage. I think that was one of the things that helped me to establish myself in the company.

DD: The Royal Ballet’s productions are regularly seen on the big screen, thanks to The Royal Opera House’s Cinema Season. What benefits do you see to bringing the ballet to the movie theatre?

Beatriz: I think that's one of the best things about the cinema releases and about these insight evenings that we do here that are live-streamed, where viewers see the coaching rehearsals behind the scenes. It’s important to break that barrier down between audience members and performers because the audience member only sees the finished product on the stage, they see the magic and that near perfection. 

When they see the rehearsals, they see what we've been toiling away with for weeks and months. I think one of the most important parts of what we do is the process. That is a whole journey in itself that people miss out on. So with our live streams and cinema season, ballet fans get to see the development of the work from rehearsal to the stage. It’s really special.


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