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Gregory Dean: From Great Missenden to the Royal Danish Ballet

PUBLISHED: 16:49 03 May 2016 | UPDATED: 16:49 03 May 2016

Gregory Dean was set to become a flautist, but ballet became his chosen career. (Photo by Natascha Thiara Rydvald)

Gregory Dean was set to become a flautist, but ballet became his chosen career. (Photo by Natascha Thiara Rydvald)

Natascha Thiara Rydvald

Gregory Dean is a Great British ‘export’ from Great Missenden to the Royal Danish Ballet, so Sandra Smith traced his graceful steps to leading roles

Tall, toned and as equally graceful as he is gallant, Gregory Dean epitomises the elegance of an artistic dance form that has captivated audiences for centuries. Ballet, universally enjoyed by audiences of all ages, radiates style and sophistication no matter the subject, from Biblical tales and Shakespearean dramas to comedy and intrigue. At its heart intensely quixotic, this is surely the most romantic of the Arts, one which Greg’s gentle manner and charm effortlessly symbolise.

Having studied dance since he was a six year old living in Great Missenden, Greg is now a Principal with the Royal Danish Ballet and took a break from rehearsals in Copenhagen’s 18th century Royal Danish Theatre to reveal an early career dilemma.

“The mother of my best friend bought her children ballet lessons but one brother only went once. As she had paid for the whole term I was given the opportunity to take his place. It meant I got to hang out with my best friend and I loved the coordination and rhythm. I carried on doing classes – jazz and tap, too – but at the age of 13 I debated whether to become a flautist. At the time I was a scholar at Aylesbury Music Centre and my mind was more on music.”

A year or so later, winning a choreography competition facilitated Greg’s calling: “One of the judges was a teacher from Millennium School of Dance and she asked me to take classes with them for a week during the holidays. Being in London with older dancers was exciting and I got bitten by the lifestyle!”

His professional dance career began with a small company in Germany where he was one of 14 dancers. With business-like focus, this acted as a springboard for a move to Scottish Ballet where he worked on modern ballet repertoire with Ashley Page, who was keen to teach dancers how to be a tool for choreographers. The three year experience and education proved invaluable, so I wonder what prompted Greg to move to the Continent.

“I wanted to try a bigger company. I came over to Copenhagen where I took part in a company class. RDB offered me a one year contract for the first three years; now I’m on a life contract.”

With the ability to readily learn languages, Greg soon absorbed the new culture: “Somehow the Scandinavian lifestyle appealed to me. There are a lot of similarities between middle class England and Scandinavian sensibility. And I love living here. As soon as the weather is good, people go outside straight away. Copenhagen has a lot of things going on, but the city isn’t too big, it’s manageable.”

The combination of classes, rehearsals and performances result in an enviable fitness level. Maintaining such flexibility and stamina, however, requires constant devotion. Even during trips to his family home in Chesham work outs are a necessity. “I come home three or four times a year to visit family and see old friends from Sir Henry Floyd Grammar School and I try to be in the UK for at least a month during the summer. But I have to stay in shape so often go to Aqua Vale for a swim and work out,” he explains.

Having met Greg, and witnessed several beautifully charismatic performances, I can’t help but admire his calm manner. How does he maintain such serenity when a performance is imminent?

“I had fewer nerves when I was little than I do now! Then I just went for it. Being older with more structured training creates nerves. The way I deal with this is to be as prepared as possible. And I like to have a routine before performing. I eat around 5.30pm, have a nap and be very still and quiet. Others like to make jokes and be distracted, but I don’t want to talk too much before a show.”

A lifetime position with a major ballet company, and credited with principal roles such as Prince Siegfried from Swan Lake and A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s Oberon are impressive enough. But performing in front of the Danish Royal family led to further recognition of Greg’s artistic skills.

“The Queen is a huge ballet fan. Last summer she came to a gala where I’d done some choreography. After the show the Director came backstage and told me the Queen wanted to talk to me. She asked how long I’d been choreographing but she spoke in English. I was so used to speaking Danish it seemed strange, and I was nervous, so it took a few seconds to answer! I apologised (in Danish) but explained I didn’t know which language to use. She told me to speak how I pleased, so we continued in Danish.”

Perhaps Greg impressed Queen Margrethe more than he realised, for at the start of the year he was appointed Knight of the Dannebrog Order. How important is such an accolade?

“It’s one of those things you never dream will happen. I’m not from this culture so for them to recognise the work I do for their nation is very special and means a lot. It’s an acknowledgement of my work and validates my choices. I received the medal at work. Soon I’ll attend an Open House at the Palace to say ‘thank you’.”

As well as sharing his knowledge and creativity via choreography, Greg remains determined to enjoy dancing as much as possible. Meanwhile, as he prepares for a rare UK performance, British audiences have the opportunity to watch a dancer who not only possesses a heightened degree of athleticism, but is blessed with something just as crucial if far less tangible, enabling him to create memorable performances – the gift of stage presence.

“I create a story, an atmosphere on stage. I’m lucky that I look the way I do. There’s an elegance in the way my body is put together. If you put me in a prince costume, I look right.”


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