© Karolina Kuras

A good Move – Sarah Kundi, First Artist English National Ballet

It is an exciting year for ENB! When did the company move into it’s new home?

We moved in August, which has worked out well as we are coming up to our 70th Anniversary season. We were meant to move last year but everything got pushed back. We are all settled in now.

How has being in this new location affected the company?

It is completely different being in the east side of London rather than the west. It opens us up to a whole new community. I am involved in the ‘English National Ballet Roadshow’ where we are branching out to assorted communities and boroughs, bringing ballet to different audiences from diverse backgrounds which is really important. Another big pro is to have the school on site with us, they arrive after Christmas. It means they can be more involved with the productions –  no more transporting them in and out, and by sharing our space they can watch and learn.

The facilities are incredible, which makes coming in to work so much more pleasurable! There is a massive foyer and seven studios to rehearse in – we’ve never had that before! With the 70th Anniversary Gala to prepare which has such a different programme of rep, it’s come at a good time!

The Gala performances are at the end of our 6-week season at The Coliseum in January. We have 4 weeks of Nutcracker, 1 and a bit of Le Corsaire and then 3 gala performances. We’re doing Etudes for the big finale which will involve the full company, and there’s also extracts from Corsaire, Onegin, and Christopher Bruce’s Swansong. In addition there’ll be Jewels from  Beauty, Capulet Ball from Romeo and Migration from Khan’s Giselle – a really varied range showcasing the important moments in the company’s history.

We also have a production studio here, so we can actually do our own technical runs at base with full lighting, sets and costumes, so we can literally pack our bags and go to the venue and be ready! It was so useful when we had to put Cinderella back into the proscenium arch version from the round (which we did at The Royal Albert Hall,) ready for the Autumn tour.

Sarah Kundi in Akram Khan’s Giselle Photo Laurent Liotardo

Let me ask about you. Why did you begin dancing?

It was actually my sister that wanted to dance after watching Angelina Ballerina I think, so I had to do big sister duties and go along too. I took to it like a fish to water! After a few years at various local dance schools supplemented by Associate programmes and classes in London I started to take it more seriously and went to Central School of Ballet from the age of 16 for my vocational training.

Northern Ballet was your first company. What were the highlight of your time there?

The one thing that sticks out in my mind that I really enjoyed was dancing the female solo “The Man I Love’ in David Nixon’s ‘I Got Rhythm’. It was the first featured role I was pushed into and I adored it. I had a wonderful four years there, I was amongst such inspiring people, such beautiful women, and made friends for life. However, I felt that I didn’t quite match the company style so I decided I needed to take myself elsewhere to be stretched more.

Sarah Kundi and Alison McWhinney in Cinderella Photo Laurent Liotardo

From there you joined Ballet Black?

Yes. Apparently Casso (Pancho, Artistic Director) had been following my career, so when a friend encouraged me to email her she immediately asked me to attend an audition that was being held the very next Sunday! There was a contract for just one girl, and that was that! I had intended to take some time off after Northern, but ended up at Ballet Black for the next 5 years. I thrived so much there, both artistically and individually. In fact, I ‘found’ myself whilst I was there, became comfortable with myself as a person and as a dancer, which, as you know, when you spend all day looking at yourself in a mirror, is not easy! I danced everything, from hip hop to neo-classical to contemporary to ballet.

What made you move on again?

Well, it got to the point where I looked at the choreographers that were coming in for the next season and I had worked with them before, and I felt I had reached my peak. I wanted to throw myself into something different, do something new – some projects, teach a little bit, take a course, whatever. Cassa told me that the door would always be open to me so I thought – great! Being London based I did some teaching at Pineapple Studios and Danceworks, and then went to Austria and taught the Austrian Youth Ballet for 2 months which was an amazing experience. On my return I did some auditions, got a couple of jobs and then noticed that English National Ballet wanted extra dancers for their production of Romeo and Juliet in the round, which just fitted In nicely to my schedule before starting my new job in Madrid.

It was during the second week of that short 6-week R&J contract that Tamara came up to me in class and offered me a permanent place! I didn’t see it coming at all. I think Tamara remembered me from my time in Ballet Black because we shared space at the Royal Opera House, so I would pass her warming up or in the corridor. I also used to wait for her at the stage door after her shows for her autograph as I saw everything she danced!

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan with ENB company members Sarah Kundi and Shevelle Dynott at the opening of English National Ballet’s new building Photo Laurent Liotardo

A dream come true! And definitely a good move as you have danced some wonderful roles with English National Ballet.

It was so refreshing to join ENB. I had trained as a classical dancer but I’d never been in a company where you got to wear pink tights and a tutu! So I was like Wow! I’ve finally done it! The first ballet I did with them was Swan Lake and I was sooo scared!

The first couple of years I did lots of corps de ballet stuff and I relished it, but then from 2017 I started to be featured and pushed a lot more. They tend to use me for a lot of character or dramatic stuff, and in the contemporary and neo-classical as well. I couldn’t be happier! I enjoy my corps de ballet work but then 2 years ago I got to do Forsythe’s ‘In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated’ which is one of my dream pieces so it’s a great balance. I got to learn ‘The Chosen One’ in Pina Bausch’s Rite of Spring, although I didn’t get to perform it working on it was fantastic, and then of course then there’s Myrtha in Khan’s Giselle – I have adored doing that, really getting into the depths and the layers of her persona. Then there’s Madge in La Sylphide, Approximate Sonata (Forsythe), 4th Girl in Song of the Earth and most recently Hortensia, the Stepmother in Wheeldon’s Cinderella. I feel really lucky and honoured to have been trusted with the challenge of these opportunities.

And after the Gala?

We have a 2weeks break after the Coli season then come back in for 8 weeks rehearsal with Akram for ‘Creature’. We had 12 for Giselle, but this is a one-act ballet so hopefully should be enough especially as we have the production studio here. I have had brief glimpses of the costumes design – very minimalistic and futuristic!

Viki Westall