In Conversation with Pippa, Ballet Central Company Dancer

4 July 2024

Pippa Higham is the poster-girl of Ballet Central this year, where she joins her long-time friend and pas de deux partner George Linehan on the programme cover, tour posters and leaflets. If you’ve seen anything Ballet Central – you’ve seen Pippa!

Pippa began training at Central School of Ballet when she was 16, and now after four years of intensive training in which she rose to the challenge of a number of injuries, surgeries and struggles, she is now in her final year of training and a member of the Ballet Central company. Ballet Central is currently nearing the end of its annual tour, which visits ten venues across the UK with a fresh new programme of classical and contemporary dance works.

Ballet Central is a unique part of Central School of Ballet’s degree course. It was created to give graduating students performance experience and the opportunity to work with and learn from the dance industry’s most influential professionals. Alumni of the school praise the opportunity, with the exposure and experience helping their transition into performance careers.

“I’ve cried a lot, it’s made me very emotional” Pippa explained when asked how it felt finding out she was in the selected image. Pippa spoke of the pure pride and gratitude she felt, and how this would be the same regardless of her poster debut. Making it this far was more than she had ever imagined. When Pippa moved to London and started training full time, dancing changed from a hobby to a career choice. However, her journey through the school took a little longer than anticipated after she repeated her first year. Pippa overcame fractured toes and two operations on her ankles due to extra bones. “It enabled me to actually dance better. After the rehab and recovery process, I feel much stronger as a dancer and more confident within myself.”

“Everyone in the company is so supportive because we all know what it is like.” Having been at the school for four years, Pippa has a comprehensive understanding of Ballet Central and how the tour is accomplished. Last year, she saw her former classmates tour UK venues. She spoke confidently about the responsibilities of the student-led company; from unpacking the van and setting up the flooring, lights and barres, to working with costume, managing laundry, and closing down a venue. “It’s really exciting that we get to do all of the behind-the-scenes aspects.” A full performance day for the company starts at 7:00am when they meet at Central to travel to the venue, set up the stage, take class, have rehearsals, perform in the evening, and then pack everything up once again.

The students really drive the company, Pippa tells me, explaining how they have built a community amongst themselves. Last year, she told me how helping out with the wardrobe department gave her a great insight into Ballet Central. “Costume is so necessary, we can’t go on stage without it!” Another essential for the company dancers is their pointe shoes. “For a performance day in both ballet pieces, I’ll be taking six pairs of shoes on tour with me. To be overprepared is a lot better, you never know when a shoe is going to break.” Pippa describes how the two ballet pieces in this year’s programme require different finishes. With six pairs of shoes, Pippa will be using a technique called pancaking, making the satin matte, for half of her pointe shoes during the tour.

The tour repertoire performed each year consists of a mix of classical ballet and contemporary works, created by acclaimed and upcoming choreographers. Carolyn Bolton, the South Carolina born choreographer, Creative Director and Inclusive Ballet Consultant, is one of the choreographers on this year’s tour. Her piece, Night Flight v2.0, is in the neo-classical style, something that Pippa found an exciting challenge. “It was straight into pointe shoes and learning the first phrase – which was a shock. The process brought a realisation that I had total confidence in myself after injuries and setbacks. The two weeks made me reverse any negative thoughts and gave me complete confidence and motivation for the future.”

The tour began on 10 May at Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadler’s Wells. “That was definitely a baby Pip dream!” Pippa tells me excitedly when we discuss the first venue. “Lilian Baylis being the opening night made the entire tour even more exciting.” The tour ends at the Britten Theatre, which Pippa describes as a feeling of returning home. The students have performed there every year of their training, taking part in a Summer Showcase which precedes the graduation solos and certificates.

But as the Ballet Central tour continues, the conclusion to Pippa’s training at Central School of Ballet draws closer. After the excitement of graduation and the last Ballet Central performance on 18 July, the final year students will go on to carve their artistic careers in an industry that is highly rewarding and equally challenging. Working in the neo-classical style with Ballet Central has opened Pippa’s eyes to what the industry has to offer. “The goal is 100% to perform. It has always been my dream to perform on stage for an audience and to make them feel something.”

Pippa will be performing with the rest of the Ballet Central company at Britten Theatre from 15-18 July. Catch up with the Ballet Central 2024 tour here, or book tickets to watch Central School of Ballet perform at the Britten Theatre here.