Mathias Dingman: ‘Ballet is not getting as many new audiences as it could’

Mathias Dingman. Photo: Andrew Ross Mathias Dingman. Photo: Andrew Ross

The Birmingham Royal Ballet principal dancer’s impressive repertory includes the roles of the Prince in The Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker and Cinderella, and now he is preparing to perform the title role in Aladdin. He tells Giverny Masso about moving to the UK aged 18, and what advice he would give to younger dancers.

How did you begin learning ballet?

I got into ballet because my mum is an artist. She used to paint pictures of my local ballet company in exchange for tickets. I went to see them with her since I was two years old. When I was eight I asked her: “Can I try ballet?” She thought I was joking and said: “Surely you want to play football and be outside?” She paid for a private lesson from a ballet teacher. After the first lesson, the teacher said said: “If he works hard and doesn’t get injured he will be a professional dancer.” It started from there.

What was it like moving to England to join Birmingham Royal Ballet?

That was a hard transition. I was 18 and I moved to a different country. The culture was very different, it was a big shock to me. It took me a long time to adjust to being by myself. I was made a principal in 2015: that was always my goal. Now I’ve finally accomplished that, where do you go from there? What’s next? Now I can enjoy being a dancer, there’s less pressure.

What are you currently working on?

I’m playing Aladdin, it’s really exciting for me. Act I is epic – you don’t stop dancing. It’s a very family-friendly ballet. The best thing about it is that it engages the audience. Right now, ballet is not getting as many new audiences as it could. We do a lot of outreach work with schools and our learning department is very busy. You need more and more young people to get into it and pass it on to their kids.

How do you balance your busy schedule with family life?

My wife is a dancer in the same company, but we have never really danced together. We have a kid, and it’s a challenge to balance the childcare. It is not about money – it’s more that as artists you can start the day at 9am and finish at 11pm. If organisations could arrange facilities at the theatre to help you support your kid, that would be so much easier.

What advice would you give to young dancers?

The key is to work hard and to listen to your teacher. You may end up thinking you are right and that your way is the right way. Don’t get blinded by what the top dancers are doing. Acting is the most important thing. If someone hasn’t been struck by what you are trying to perform, you have not done your job. If you know what many of your basic feelings are, it is easier to play a role. How can you convey love if you have never been in love – or pain if you have never been in pain?

CV: Mathias Dingman

Training: Kirov Academy of Ballet, Washington DC (1998-2006)
First professional job: Romeo and Juliet, Birmingham Royal Ballet (2006)
Agent: None

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Aladdin and Triple Bill programme can be seen through the autumn at the Lowry in Salford, Birmingham Hippodrome, Theatre Royal Plymouth and Sadler’s Wells in London