The award-winning choreographer, George Williamson tells Shelley Carter how he pushed his parents to take him to dance classes as a youngster and fell in love on day one
Young choreographer George Williamson will see his ballet Embrace world premiered in London this month followed by Birmingham on 20 June. Embrace has been created almost entirely in Birmingham with George becoming a regular at the Birmingham Royal Ballet studios working collaboratively with dancers since January, as well as spending time in New York with commissioned composer, Sarah Kirkland-Snider.
A very personal piece, Embrace explores the idea of sexuality and identity and how they can conflict with societal expectations. George explains: “I knew the sort of story I wanted to tell and researched several angles before developing the narrative as it is today, a story arc that I hope makes the movement itself more immediate and impactful. This is a very personal ballet for me, one I feel deeply connected to, and I hope that comes across.”
Dance has been part of George’s life for as long as he can remember and having pushed his parents to take him to classes he immediately fell in love with it spending many evenings, weekends and holidays in the studio and at competitions. As a child George was always active and sporty, but it was dance that made him feel most himself. He says: “It let me be creative and impulsive. I love the freedom it can bring, as well as the impact it can have on all sorts of audiences. It’s like a magical language.”
Aged just 13, George applied to ballet school without telling his parents and won a place at Elmhurst Ballet School in Edgbaston. “It was a bit of a shock when I won a place but my parents let me make the move to Birmingham where I began my training, before moving down to London to attend English National Ballet School.” While at ballet school George realised that he didn’t actually want to be a professional ballet dancer and, instead, found his true passion in choreography. He recalls: “I was always keen on creating dances, making things up and trying things out. That said, it wasn’t until English National Ballet School that I had the opportunity to begin choreographing.”
There were several competitions open to students and George jumped at every chance. He won the Choreographic Competition for three consecutive years along with the CTRL-ALT-SHIFT Award. George’s ballets included Round the Corner in 2009 which was presented at the Peacock Theatre and the City of London Festival as well as Ana-Chro-Po for the English National Ballet School’s summer performance.
After just a year out of school as a professional dancer with the Polish National Ballet and having choreographed Animus for the company, George was given an incredible opportunity by Wayne Ealing, then artistic director at English National Ballet, to create his first professional commission, to rework Firebird at the Colosseum in London which was well received and proved a pivotal moment.
While awards and accolades are not the be all and end all for George, they are encouraging. He says: “It’s always encouraging to have pieces recognised in a positive way. Especially when you are relatively new, it can feel daunting to try and forge a career as a choreographer. The opportunities can be scarce and it can be a bit of a lonely journey in comparison to working as a dancer for a company.”
For now, all the focus is on Embrace, but George is excited and ambitious about the future. “I would love to have a big enough body of work behind me to be able to choose the opportunities I take, and the types of work I can devote myself to developing. I want to work with companies and other artist who are uncompromising in their passion for committing to their own unique style, breaking boundaries and attracting new audiences to their work.”