Meet Toby Batley - Rivington's Prince Charming
PUBLISHED: 00:00 13 October 2014
Rivington-born ballet star Toby Batley talks to Roger Borrell about schooldays and making sure Cinderella gets to the ball
It wouldn’t fair to say Toby Batley disliked school. He actually loathed it.
However, by a strange twist, his unhappy years at a Quaker boarding school helped to get him where he is today as one of the country’s leading male ballet dancers. ‘You could say I was never one for exams or classrooms,’ laughs the affable 30-year-old.
His days at Rivington Primary were not such a problem but when he was dispatched over the Pennines as a boarder he sought an escape.
His younger sister Loui was making a name for herself in dance competitions and Toby joined his parents in watching her compete. ‘It involved a lot of travelling for them and eventually my mum said if we were going to carry on I had to start taking part.
‘At first I started dancing classes just to get away from school but then I began to enjoy it. I would sneak out of school to classes. In those days, it wasn’t something you talked about to the other boys. I was just too embarrassed.’
Toby was 14 when he started modern and jazz dance - he’d assumed he was too old for ballet. ‘I’d always thought you needed to start very young to develop the strength and flexibility required.’
After a couple of years at The Hammond Theatre School in Chester he got into the Royal Ballet, much to his own amazement.
With a fair degree of self-deprecation, Toby added: ‘These were the days before Billy Elliott had changed things so it was rare for a boy to want to dance ballet. I suppose they took what they could get. Once you were in, the world was your oyster.’
After the cosy surroundings of the Hammond where he was one of only two boys among 20 girls, he was pitched into the demanding lifestyle of a professional ballet dancer working with 15 other young men. ‘Suddenly, I wasn’t quite so special but that was good for me because I got to see what other dancers are capable of.
‘It is gruelling. People are right when they say you have to dedicate your life to it. I go to sleep thinking about it. Did I ever ask myself why I was putting myself through this? Yes, a lot.’
It was worth the physical effort and the sacrifices – fast food, late nights and alcohol do not feature large on the ballet dancer’s diet sheet – and he is now one of the premier dancers with Northern Ballet.
In November, he’s heading back to his native county, dancing the male lead in Cinderella at the Palace Theatre, Manchester. Like several recent parts, this one was choreographed especially for him. ‘It means I’m the first person to ever dance it. That’s quite special, but there’s a lot of pressure, too.’
Being in Manchester is an opportunity to dance for family and friends and then catch up over dinner. His Oldham-born dad dad, Taffy Batley, was a well-known television set designer for Granada TV and his mother, Elisabeth, has been a jewellery designer. Sister Loui has been a dancer and had a part in Hollyoaks. These days she is developing a singing career.
Toby, as Prince Charming, will be dancing with his regular partner Martha Leebolt in a production that also includes Matthew Koon, from Manchester, and Pippa Moore, from Liverpool.
‘Cinderella is a really good show,’ says Toby. ‘We’ve had acrobatic classes from a circus school and we’ve been taught tricks by a professional magician. In one scene people turn into dogs pulling a sledge. It’s really spectacular.’
Cinderella is at The Manchester Palace Theatre from November 18-22.