The Ballet Black junior artist, Ebony Thomas reflects on his time boarding in Brum and his return to his ‘second home’ as he prepares for Birmingham Royal Ballet’s autumn bill
The multi-award-winning Ballet Black, launched in 2001 by Ballet Now Consortium member Casso Pancho, aims to provide role models for young black and Asian dancers naturally bringing a more culturally diverse audience to ballet. Fresh from Birmingham’s world class Elmhurst Ballet School, Ebony Thomas is one of the company’s shining lights and is coming back to the city to perform in a collaboration with Birmingham Royal Ballet at the Hippodrome this month. As a boy, and a black boy at that, ballet wasn’t Ebony’s first choice of extra-curricular activity.
Always sporty and into football, cricket and rugby, Ebony hadn’t considered dancing as a hobby. His mum had a bit of a ‘ballet is for girls’ attitude too, so it really wasn’t on the radar. By chance, Ebony was at a friend’s house on the day he had a ballet lesson and was roped in. He explains: “I didn’t even know my friend did ballet! He took me to one of his classes and it was okay.”
Not immediately in love with it, Ebony stuck with ballet largely thanks to his teacher at Kingston Ballet School who was ‘encouraging without being pushy’ and he slowly got more into it. Six years later, Ebony was chosen to play one of the page boys in Sleeping Beauty at Covent Garden which was a bit of a turning point. He took classes with the Royal Ballet Junior Associates for three years and performed several times with the Royal Ballet Company. “Up until this point I was still playing football and rugby, but I had to make a decision.”
Aged just 11, Ebony was offered a place boarding at Elmhurst Ballet School in Edgbaston which was a bit of a dream. He says: “As an only child it was great suddenly being around so many people. When you’re growing up aged 14, 15, 16 it’s good to be surrounded by friends. It was probably nice for parents too!”
Ebony benefitted from the school’s strong links with Birmingham Royal Ballet, dancing in The Nutcracker as well collaborations with the Rep and performing at Symphony Hall which was a highlight. He’s danced overseas at the Virginia Arts Festival in the US as well as David Bintley’s Argonauts, Sir Peter Wright’s Coppélia and the Don Quixote pas de deux choreographed by Marius Petipa. Of Brum, Ebony says: “It’s world class. I spent nine years in Birmingham. It’s my second home and it’s so nice to be back with Ballet Black.”
Since joining the company in 2017, Ebony has danced in ballets by Martin Lawrance, Annabelle Lopez-Ochoa and Arthur Pita, and created roles in The Suit by Cathy Marston. He says he’s just trying to learn as much as possible and perform lots. Ultimately, Ebony wants to work hard and save to be able to afford a property in London. We say, forget that and move to Brum. It’s way cooler. Just saying…