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Rising through the Ranks

An Interview with Martyn Garside, Corps de Ballet Member with San Francisco Ballet

by Mary Ellen Hunt

September, 2004 -- San Francisco, CA

Laconic and soft-spoken, with an accent that betrays more than a hint of his Yorkshire origins, Martyn Garside looks like a regular bloke. Just recently turned twenty though, he’s in an enviable position as a corps de ballet member of one of America’s most acclaimed ballet companies. Still, this hard-working young danseur knows about paying his dues, from his training at the Royal Ballet’s school to his apprenticeship at SFB.

Garside got a relatively young start for a boy. From an early age he loved watching dance on TV, and he studied ballet, jazz and tap in a church hall in his hometown of Huddersfield, England. By the time he was10, his talent was apparent enough that his teacher suggested he audition for the Royal Ballet School and on being accepted, he left his family to embark on his own at White Lodge.

“In a funny way, at eleven, you just think, ‘Oh it’s going to be great, going to London, to boarding school. I guess I didn’t really realize what I was getting myself into. But I got a bit homesick,” he says wistfully.

For five years, he studied in the Lower School, where he notes the training was good, but most of all he appreciated being in an environment where he could be with people with the same interest in working hard at dance. At 16, he graduated to the Upper School, and moved to central London where he continued for another three years. After eight years of studying though, Garside was ready to move on and anxious to start his career.

“You just can’t wait to get started working,” he says, “I knew I wanted to get out of England and away from the school where I’d been for eight years and definitely travel. I’d always thought of America as an exciting place to be, so I thought about Boston Ballet and San Francisco.”

Garside had never seen the company dance, but along with a few others who later became colleagues, he auditioned in New York. His parents, he remembers with a smile, probably underestimated just how much he wanted to go to America.

“They’ve always been behind me. They’ve never pushed me or tried to hold me back. But I remember before I went to do the audition talking to my father. I think he thought ‘Oh, he’ll stay in London.’ When I went to the audition, he said ‘Oh, you’re going to New York…’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’m serious about it!’”

In his family, Garside says, he’s the only one who’s into dance. His two younger brothers, Daniel and Matt, are both more into rugby, and in a brief aside he sounds quite proud of them as well.

“They’re really sporty and I’m just not that way,” he says with a chuckle, “Daniel, he’s 17 now, and he plays under-18s. That’s kind of like a big deal, because he’s played with under-21s as well,” he explains helpfully and charmingly to his bewildered American interviewer.

After the audition, Garside returned home, still not know what his future might hold, or if he would have to find another option.

“I waited around for a long time,” he recalls, “I was like okay, they’re not going to call. Then I was driving one day when Ashley [Wheater] called and said they would like to offer me an apprenticeship.

“I said, ‘Sounds good.’” Garside says with a straight face, “I just knew that I was going to come here. I’d been thinking about it for such a long time.”

In the past year, he’s gotten to dance in the bigger productions like “Nutcracker” and “Don Quixote,” but at San Francisco Ballet, he’s also discovered a love for the energy and musicality of George Balanchine’s choreography. Besides dancing in “Stravinsky Violin Concerto” and “Square Dance” last season, he also had the chance to watch “The Four Temperaments” and says that 'Melancholic' is a role he’d love to try someday.

From his years of watching the Royal Ballet, and stars like Johann Kobborg and Carlos Acosta too, he’s developed a love for Kenneth Macmillan’s “Romeo & Juliet."

“The one thing I want to dance is Mercutio,” he says, his voice warming, “not Romeo! I know everyone wants Romeo but, if I could choose any part to dance, it would be Mercutio. I love that part!”

Garside has been back home this year already for a visit, but coming back with the company will be a little more special.

“My parents are going to come down on the train. It’ll be nice,” he says. Then he adds ruefully, “I was always on such a tight money budget after all. I did London the cheap way when I was at school, so now I’d like to enjoy it.”

San Francisco Ballet at Sadler’s Wells, 20-25 September, www.sadlerswells.com or +44 (0)20 7863 8000.

Edited by Azlan Ezaddin

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