Yvette Knight - The Carnforth ballerina in the big time

PUBLISHED: 00:00 03 February 2020

The Nutcracker: Yvette Knight as the Snow Fairy. Picture by Roy Smiljanic

The Nutcracker: Yvette Knight as the Snow Fairy. Picture by Roy Smiljanic

The Nutcracker: Yvette Knight as the Snow Fairy; photo: Roy Smiljanic

Injury could have meant a very different career for Carnforth’s Yvette Knight. Now the ballet star is en pointe as first soloist with Birmingham’s Royal Ballet.

Yvette KnightYvette Knight

For thousands of little girls, the dream of becoming a ballerina in a pretty pink tutu remains just that - a dream. The harsh reality is that a dancer's life is a tough one, with daily classes followed by long rehearsals and evening performances. To make it to the top requires a combination of talent, dedication and sheer hard work.

One person who has fulfilled that dream is Yvette Knight, now a First Soloist with the Birmingham Royal Ballet. Born and brought up in Carnforth, she started dancing at the age of three. There are no other dancers in her family, but what started as an enjoyable hobby soon became more serious, without her realising it.

'To be honest, I think it just happened. I don't think I really knew what a career was in dancing - I was just good at it and it was working, so I couldn't stop it,' she says. Yvette was encouraged to become a Junior Associate of the Royal Ballet School, taking classes in Manchester. Junior Associates - or 'JA's' as they are known, are children who take classes linked to the Royal Ballet School, in addition to their regular ballet classes. These lessons prepare pupils to audition for White Lodge, the junior section of the school, which is in Richmond Park, London.

The move to the prestigious boarding school was probably more traumatic for her parents than for Yvette. 'I was absolutely fine, it didn't faze me when I was 11,' she says.

Yvette Knight. Picture by Roy SmiljanicYvette Knight. Picture by Roy Smiljanic

'It only started hitting me when I got to 16 and had to look after myself more, and then I started to want to go home a bit more, but other than that, I was ok.'

After two years in the Upper School, Yvette was offered a contract with the Birmingham Royal Ballet. Her future looked assured, but then disaster struck, when a serious foot injury put her career in jeopardy as it had just begun. Fortunately, her foot healed so she was able to continue dancing.

'You've got to understand, which is sometimes very hard when you're young, that it is inevitable that injuries are going to happen,' says Yvette. 'The sooner you understand that, the easier it is, because you can't work that hard and not get injured. It is just impossible. It takes a lot of mental strength to get through it.'

That mental strength has enabled Yvette to overcome other injuries, and work her way up through the company ranks. She has danced many principal roles, including the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker, and Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty. Citing Darcey Bussell as her inspiration, Yvette has worked with some of the biggest names in the ballet world.

For the Sugar Plum Fairy role, she was coached by Sir Peter Wright, who she calls 'my ultimate legend. That is something that was a big privilege - he is amazing.'

The Birmingham Royal Ballet is a touring company, so Yvette loves it when they are performing in Manchester, as her whole family gets the chance to see her on stage.

Nevertheless, touring can be a strain: 'Unless you are committed, it is a tough, tough slog. Touring can get really tiring, it is hard to keep up the level as the tour goes on, and I think that is something that has got harder as I've got older,' she says.

At 31, Yvette still has a few years of dancing ahead of her, but most dancers are hanging up their pointe shoes by the time they reach their mid-40s. Over the past couple of months, she has danced less strenuous roles, as she is awaiting the birth of her first child in April. Yet she has still been taking daily class to keep herself in shape for a return to the stage after the baby's arrival.

'I definitely want to come back,' she says. The sheer fun of life in a world class ballet company is probably too addictive to relinquish easily.

'You get to see a lot of places, and you are with your friends. The countries we've been to, such as Japan, China, and America…you don't get to do that in any normal job, so getting to travel the world is amazing.'

When she does eventually give up dancing, Yvette is planning a complete career change. 'I'm doing some studying in the hope that I can get an apprenticeship to become a maternity care assistant. I've always wanted to be a midwife. That would be just amazing. I want to work in a hospital, I want to help people.'

Before that happens though, Yvette will continue to delight audiences with her dancing.

For young girls who want to follow in her footsteps, Yvette has some wise advice: 'Work hard and have fun. Always find the joy in what you are doing - that's something I find really important, even now. Make sure you find the joy in it.'

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