He’s the Leeds dancer who hit the big time with one of the world’s top companies. Rod McPhee met Dominic North as he returns home to perform his latest role fronting Sleeping Beauty.
TOP MALE ballet dancers aren’t really meant to come from Leeds, not even from the leafy suburbs like Menston.
And, to be fair, when Dominic North was a lad he was into rugby and football like virtually every other youngster in West Yorkshire.
That all changed when his curiosity was sparked by his parents taking his twin sister to dance classes. After satisfying his curiosity he was hooked and by his mid-teens it was obvious he had a gift.
But even though he attended the local comprehensive, St Mary’s in Menston, and lived in a sporting heartland, Dominic didn’t get the grief you might expect.
He said: “Whenever I do workshops and speak to kids who might be getting a hard time I feel a bit bad because I didn’t get any hassle really. By the time I got to secondary school and I was in the papers and that, I was about 15 or something, we’d be going out and most people thought it was cool actually.
“In fact, the only bother I had was when the local paper printed I was still 17 and I’d been going out to pubs in the area and the landlords were like: ‘I thought you were 18!’ The fact is I had good mates and they were supportive.
“Plus, girls think it’s cool that you can dance, don’t they? Not any more though as I’m very happily settled down with a girlfriend of six years, but I used to get a bit of attention, you know, when you bust out a couple of moves in a nightclub. It’s always handy.”
Back in the late 90s the teenage North was a regular sight in the heart of Leeds. First drinking in bars then, by the Noughties, a regular in clubs like Mint and Space where being able to dance was a major bonus.
But it was only when he moved to London to attend the Central School of Ballet 12 years ago that he realised how much his conventional Leeds background was at odds with that of other budding dancers.
“There were all these other lads who’d been to boarding school and been doing ballet since they were 11 or something,” he recalls. “They already knew about dance companies and choreographers and famous dancers. They could name all these famous ballet stars from the West End that they aspired to be like. Then they’d ask me which dancer I wanted to aspire to, and I’d be like: ‘Er, I dunno, Michael Jackson?’”
Undeterred he upped his game and was subsequently snapped up by New Adventures, Matthew Bourne’s company and the creative force behind the acclaimed male-dominated version of Swan Lake.
Fast forward 12 years and Dominic, now 29, has travelled the globe taking on leading roles in virtually all of Bourne’s ballets, the latest of which, Sleeping Beauty, he also fronts when it arrives in Bradford next month.
It’s not the first time he’s performed on home turf, nor will it be the first time that his family have descended en masse to see him perform. Thankfully, this time around he won’t have to suffer the embarrassment of them viewing his bottom.
“I’ve had to be a bit nude sometimes – sometimes in front of my nan!” he laughs “That was in Dorian Grey and The Car Man. It was nothing too grotesque, you know, if it’s a sexy show with a bit of sexual content, then it happens.
“I’ve been lucky to fit the bill for a few things. If you fit the bill and you’re right for it then, well, it has to be believable, doesn’t it? You have to believe that you are that character.”
Often that has required Dominic to play quite vulnerable, gentle characters too, like the prince in the aforementioned Swan Lake. As a result people are often surprised when they subsequently meet him to discover his deep voice and Leeds accent, which hasn’t been diminished by a decade in the capital.
“Bless you for saying I haven’t lost it,” he says. “But when I come back up and go out in Guiseley they all say I sound like a southerner. Then when I go down South they’re all like: ‘Eee, by gum Dominic’. I just can’t win.”
This time around Dominic’s role isn’t quite so far removed for a regular Leeds lad, at least not to start with.
In Sleeping Beauty he plays a gardener on a Victorian royal estate where his love interest, a princess, is sent to sleep for 100 years as a result of a wicked fairy’s curse. He then returns to fight for her love a century later and undergoes something of a transformation in the process. (We won’t give too much away). But it’s everything that Bourne fans will expect.
“It is similar to all his other productions,” says Dominic “It’s a family story and a similar style of dance theatre, but the difference is I think it’s on the biggest scale of any of the shows I’ve been involved with – and I’ve done nine out of his 11 shows.
“It’s visually epic. Then there’s the timescales, costume and design – they go hand in hand with the choreography and all the emotional drama. My family have already been to see it in London and they say it’s their favourite.
“There is this ‘other element’ to the story and, honestly, when they told me I was like: ‘What?!’ Then they explained the vision and, in a way, it makes perfect sense. I just don’t know how they come up with the ideas.”
Something else to consider is his future which, given the fact that he hits The Big 3-0, he ought to seriously ponder in a sphere of the arts where youth and vitality help keep you centre stage.
“Yeah, I’ve been in the company for 10 years now and I’m definitely not the youngest members any more, not by a long shot.
“Fortunately, we have varied roles and different things to do, and our dancers range in age from 19 to 45 anyway. Plus, I’m lucky because I look very young too. So, as long as my body doesn’t give up on me, I’ll be all right for while yet.”
Yet another hit from Bourne
Sleeping Beauty is the latest in a long line of Matthew Bourne ballets produced to huge acclaim over the last 21 years.
Aside from The Car Man, Dorian Grey and Swan Lake, the acclaimed choreographer has also reworked other masterpieces such as Cinderella and Edward Scissorhands.
Bourne’s first reinterpretation was Nutcracker! which was commissioned in Leeds by Opera North in 1992.
Sleeping Beauty is at The Alhambra, Bradford, from March 26 to 30. Visit: www.bradford-theatres.co.uk or call: 01274 432000